Monday, April 09, 2007

Reading fluency, automaticity and prosody

Reading Fluency has recently been mentioned as being an important reading subskill in the identification of students with with significant reading disorders. In CHC theory this factor has been labeled "Reading Speed" (RS), and is defined as "the abiilty to silently read and comprehend connected text (e.g., a series of short sentences; a passage) rapidly and automatically (with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading)."

I just skimmed the intro section of the following article (I often find the intro sections of articles very informative even if I'm not interested in the primary purpose of the study) and found the definition of the components of reading fluency informative, esp. the emphasis on the cognitive process of automaticity. The one new bit of information I learned was the potential importance of the concept of "prosody" in the definition of reading fluency.
  • Kuhn, M. R., Schwanenflugel, P. J., Morris, R. D., Morrow, L. M., Woo, D. G., Meisinger, E. B., Sevcik,R. A., Bradley, B. A., & Stahl, S. A. (2006). Teaching children to become fluent and automatic readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(4), 357-387. (click to view)
Select extracted text
  • Fluent reading is typically defined by three constructs (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003; National Reading Panel, 2000). Most commonly, these constructs include quick and accurate word recognition (Jenkins, Fuchs, van den Broek, Espin, & Deno, 2003), and, when oral reading is considered, the appropriate use of prosody (Cowie, Douglas-Cowie, & Wichmann, 2002; Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Kuhn, Wisenbaker, & Stahl, 2004). Some definitions also include comprehension as part of fluent reading (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Wolf & Katzir-Cohen, 2001), as fluency is seen as a factor in readers’ ability to understand and enjoy text (e.g., Jenkins et al., 2003; Rasinski & Hoffman, 2003; Samuels, 2006). According to automaticity theorists, reading is composed of several concurrent elements, including decoding and comprehension (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). However, individuals have a limited amount of attentional resources available for reading (or any other cognitive task). As a result, attentional resources spent on decoding are necessarily unavailable for comprehension (Kintsch, 1998; Stanovich, 1984). Fortunately, as word recognition becomes automatic, less attention needs to be expended on decoding and more cognitive resources can be devoted to the construction of meaning.
  • According to automaticity theory, the most effective way for students to develop such automatic word recognition is through extensive exposure to print (Adams, 1990; Samuels, 1979; Stanovich, 1984). Such practice leads to familiarity with a language’s orthographic patterns and allows learners to recognize words with increasing accuracy and automaticity, thereby permitting readers to focus on text meaning rather than simply on the words.
  • In addition to automatic word recognition, prosody may be an important indicator of fluent reading (Schwanenflugel et al., 2004). Reading prosody consists of those elements that comprise expressive reading, including intonation, emphasis, rate, and the regularly reoccurring patterns of language (Hanks, 1990; Harris & Hodges, 1981, 1995). When readers are able to apply these elements to text, it serves as an indicator that they can transfer elements that are present in oral language to print (Dowhower, 1991; Schreiber, 1991). Some recent research has suggested that prosody in fluent reading may serve primarily as an indicator that a child has achieved automaticity in text reading (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006; Schwanenflugel et al., 2004). However, the exact role of prosody in reading comprehension is open to further research (e.g., Cowie et al., 2002; Levy, Abello, & Lysynchuk, 1997; Schwanenflugel et al., 2004; T. Shanahan, personal communication, December 2, 2004).
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