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The Fluency Factor: Authentic Instruction and Assessment for Reading Success in the Common Core Classroom


reviewed by Lara J. Handsfield & Aline B. André - May 11, 2016

coverTitle: The Fluency Factor: Authentic Instruction and Assessment for Reading Success in the Common Core Classroom
Author(s): Timothy V. Rasinski, James K. Nageldinger
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807757470, Pages: 160, Year: 2015
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In their new book, The Fluency Factor: Authentic Instruction and Assessment for Reading Success in the Common Core Classroom, Timothy V. Rasinski and James K. Nageldinger offer a practical guide to fluency instruction for teachers and literacy interventionists. The book’s dual purpose is to push back against the read for speed approach (p. 6) and make a case for integrating fluency instruction into teachers’ daily routines. The authors ground principles and practices in teacher vignettes that consider how to meet the specific needs of readers who have not yet found success in reading. The authors’ emphasis on the multidimensionality of fluency and meaning-based fluency instruction provides a powerful counterweight to the reductive assessments and instructional practices that tend to permeate school curricula.


In Chapter One, Rasinski and Nageldinger argue that teachers should devote more attention to fluency instruction across the K–12 grade span. Perhaps their most powerful statement, and one that reverberates throughout the book, is that “speed in reading is a consequence, not a cause, of fluency” (p. 2). Chapter Two defines reading fluency, contextualizes fluency instruction historically, and explains its relative decline in terms of instructional focus. Chapters Three and Four are devoted to addressing principles and practices of fluency assessment and instruction respectively.


Rasinski and Nageldinger offer thoughtful alternatives to questionable practices like round-robin reading and the overemphasis on speed in fluency assessment. This includes their 3-Minute Reading Assessment (3MRA) (an alternative to standardized assessments and reading inventories), reading in phrases, and using closed captioned television among many other strategies. They frame these practices as both scientific and artful, existing within the realm of performance. This sets the stage for Chapter Five, which focuses on reading strategies that involve music and poetry. The authors remind us that oral reading is a performative act that relies on careful selection of texts, elements of drama, and the importance of rehearsal. In Chapter Six, the focus shifts to strategies for students who are labeled as struggling and experience difficulty with fluency. Chapter Seven turns readers’ attention to how caregivers can support reading fluency at home and Chapter Eight offers advice regarding how readers can apply the book’s ideas in their own classrooms.


The Fluency Factor offers detailed descriptions of instructional practices that emphasize meaningful reading while still being responsive to the realities of assessment saturated classrooms (Kontovourki, 2012) and sensitive to teachers’ time constraints. These strengths should not be understated. That said, this book could be improved by incorporating the specific strengths and needs that culturally and linguistically diverse students may bring to fluency instruction. Rasinski and Nageldinger are quite thoughtful regarding differentiating assessment and instruction. However, their focus is on students’ differing skill sets with respect to fluency rather than their diverse cultural and linguistic funds of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). In what follows, we explain our critique and suggest additional strategies and adaptations to the practices shared in the book to support the fluency development of students from a wide array of linguistic and cultural communities.


Rasinski and Nageldinger correctly point out that fluency involves automatic word recognition and prosody. Indeed, as a speaker and reader of English as an additional language, quickly recognizing words helps Aline (the second author of this book review) avoid overloading her working memory to support comprehension. Nevertheless, at times she needs to slow down to identify unfamiliar words, making her reading “slow, laborious, and inexpressive” (p. 31). Importantly, the conscious application of strategies (e.g., rereading, identifying cognates) when needed supports her comprehension rather than hinders it. As such, emergent bilingual readers may need these conscious strategies more frequently.


Similarly, the authors’ Multidimensional Fluency Scale suggests that expressive reading “sounds like natural language” (p. 29) and that phrasing should include “reasonable stress/intonation” (p. 29) rather than sounding like a list of words. This leads to the following question: how are judgments regarding what sounds natural or reasonable made and by whom? Should Aline read in English with the lilt and expression of native English speakers, which is still difficult and unnatural for her? Or should she use prosody more common to her native Portuguese or German, which she also speaks fluently? What if she mixes prosodic elements of different languages? Some may argue that she should apply the appropriate expression of the language of the text; but as anyone speaking or reading in a new language can attest to, that is easier said than done.


Aline is already an accomplished reader in Portuguese, and can transfer what she knows about reading to support her understanding of English texts. But what about young emergent bilingual readers who may still be developing an understanding of what fluent reading sounds like in any language or students whose community language varieties differ in expressive elements from the standardized forms they encounter at school? What will sound natural and reasonable to them? We know that comprehension is supported when emergent bilingual learners recruit their full linguistic repertoires to make meaning (August, Shanahan, & Escamilla, 2009; Jiménez, García, & Pearson, 1996; Pacheco, 2010). However, this may not always result in oral reading that monolingual teachers would recognize as fluent or natural, even if the level of comprehension is high.


Similar issues apply to students whose home and community literacy practices would not be characterized as mainstream. In Chapter Seven, Rasinski and Nageldinger suggest that teachers should ask parents to try to emulate home activities to benefit their children that we know through our experience promoted our own literacy development. The key is to be sensitive and willing to allow parents to adapt approaches so they can fit these activities into the individual circumstances of their own families (p. 94).


We appreciate the authors’ call for flexibility and adaptation. However, the assumption is that their experiences or an adaptation of them will benefit students who may thrive in very different sociocultural contexts. Maybe they will, but we would instead encourage educators to learn about the language and literacy practices already occurring in students’ homes (González et al., 2005) and suggest how these practices may be incorporated to support fluency.


To be fair, many of the strategies in the book will support culturally and linguistically diverse students’ fluent reading and comprehension. For example, students learning English as a new language will benefit when teachers read texts aloud to model fluent reading and practices like choral reading and using audio books can serve as essential scaffolds. Moreover, reading in phrases and highlighting common proverbs and idioms (Chapter Four) can be particularly helpful for emergent bilingual readers. Rasinski and Nageldinger also recommend selecting culturally appropriate texts, including religious prayers or stories (p. 104). When they suggest songs teachers may use to support fluency, their recommendations represent a variety of genres and cultural experiences including: “What a Wonderful World,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Shenandoah.”


However, there are many texts and strategies that would be particularly useful for culturally and linguistically diverse students that we would add to this list. For example, although hip hop music is not mentioned in the text, its emphasis on expression, variations in pace, attention to complexity (including imagery, metaphor, and irony), and relevance in both pop culture and current politics (Lee, 2007; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002) make it an ideal genre for fluency work. And when preparing for dramatic reading activities such as those described in Chapter Five, students could translate phrases or characters’ lines in a script into a different language or language variety. Such translanguaging practices (García, Flores, & Woodley, 2012) may support both students’ fluency and metalinguistic awareness. Students could also assume an ethnographic lens to investigate and document episodes of fluency in different community contexts: church, home pleasure reading, battle rap and playing the dozens (Smith, 2014), comedy, jumping rope, etc.


Rasinski and Nageldinger may not have intended to write a book for teachers of emergent bilingual students or multicultural classrooms. As the book’s title suggests, the book is targeted toward the Common Core classroom. That said, the Common Core classroom is multilingual and multicultural. While the authors frame their strategies as “appropriate for all students” (p. 8), this is based on the tacit assumption that fluency and reading in general will look the same for all readers regardless of linguistic and cultural background. This assumption is certainly not unique to this book. The vast majority of literacy research and curricula operate within and sustain monolingual and monocultural norms.


In the end, we encourage educators to explicitly move beyond this frame in order to successfully teach their linguistically and culturally diverse students. This does not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater; as we’ve noted Rasinski and Nageldinger’s The Fluency Factor offers much to celebrate. Rather, it means recognizing that mainstream classrooms are multilingual and multicultural spaces that require seeking out pedagogies that build on students’ diverse strengths and needs.

 

References

 

August, D., Shanahan, T., & Escamilla, K. (2009). English Language Learners: Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language minority children and youth. Journal of Literacy Research, 41(4), 432–452.


García, O., Flores, N., & Woodley, H. H. (2012). Transgressing monolingualism and bilingual dualities: Translanguaging pedagogies. In A. Yiakoumetti (Ed.), Harnessing linguistic variation to improve education (pp. 45–75). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.


González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Jiménez, R. T., Garcìa, G. E., & Pearson, P. D. (1996). The reading strategies of bilingual Latina/o students who are successful English readers: Opportunities and obstacles. Reading Research Quarterly, 31(1), 90–112.


Kontovourki, S. (2012). Reading leveled texts in assessment saturated classrooms: A close examination of unmarked processes of assessment. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(2), 153-171.


Lee, C. D. (2007). Culture, literature, and learning: Taking bloom in the midst of the whirlwind. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Morrell, E., & Duncan-Andrade, J. M. R. (2002, July). Promoting academic literacy with urban youth through engaging hip hop culture. English Journal, 91(6), 88–92.


Pacheco, M. (2010). English-Language Learners’ reading achievement: Dialectical relationships between policy and practices in meaning-making opportunities. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(3), 292–317.


Smith, A. L. (2014, October 16). Not just yo’ mama but rap’s mama: The dozens, African American Culture and the origins of battle pap. U.S. Studies Online. Retrieved from http://www.baas.ac.uk/usso/not-just-yo-mama-but-raps-mama-the-dozens-african-american-culture-and-the-origins-of-battle-rap/.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 11, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20668, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 9:53:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Lara Handsfield
    Illinois State University
    E-mail Author
    LARA J. HANDSFIELD is Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University, where she teaches courses in literacy, teacher education, and bilingual education. Her research centers on literacy instruction in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms, teachers’ negotiations of political and pedagogical demands in their literacy instruction, and implications for student and teacher identities. Her recent book, Literacy Theory as Practice: Connecting Theory and Instruction in K–12 Classrooms, offers a classroom-based view of theories of literacy learning and teaching.
  • Aline André
    Illinois State University
    E-mail Author
    ALINE B. ANDRÉ is a doctoral candidate in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University, where she teaches courses in literacy. Her research centers on second language acquisition, second language reading and, and motivation in learning a foreign/second language.
 
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