Improve Reading Fluency with Orton-Gillingham

Fluency is important to the end goal of Orton-Gillingham instruction: reading comprehension.

For many students, the solution to better reading comprehension is reading fluency. 

A new audiobook is available for purchase, and you have the option to have Amazon’s Alexa™ read it or the author. Who would you choose, Alexa or the author, to guide you through the text, painting each phrase as a picture and detailed perspective of the story?

The difference between reading words and comprehension is reading fluency. While Alexa may successfully read most words accurately, considering the high capacity of word recognition, parts of the story will be lost, or the listener may lose interest due to the monotone cadence. Disrupted oral language comprehension is the result of the lack of adequate fluency. Therefore, linguistic comprehension is not reached. You would potentially become frustrated, not completely understand the story, or possibly give up entirely. Without fluency, reading comprehension – and the enjoyment of reading – is lost. 


Fluency Is…

Fluency is the link between word recognition and reading comprehension, according to the National Institute for Literacy and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2006). To achieve reading comprehension, students must accurately recognize words and successfully process oral language, as illustrated in the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). Orton-Gillingham is just one method on how to achieve fluency. 

Students must learn the basics of reading—to adjust their tone based on punctuation, learn to group words into phrases, and apply elements of prosody (intonation, stress, and pausing); before they are then free to focus on reading for understanding. “The essence of fluency is not reading speed or oral reading expression, but the ability to decode and comprehend at the same time (Rasinski, Ph.D., Blachowicz, Ph.D., & Lems, EdD, 2006).”

“Fluency can change, depending on what students are reading, familiarity with the words, and practice with reading text. Be aware, however, that just because a child is a fluent reader does not mean the child comprehends. Students may be reading words without thinking about or visualizing what they are reading. They may recognize words with automaticity and be successful at decoding, but are not reaching a deep level of comprehension (Jeup, 2020).”  


Reading Fluently Through Orton-Gillingham Instruction Sounds Like…

“Please, Mommy, read to me in a robot voice again!” a boy (age 4) exclaimed. While the reader is reading as a robot character, fluent readers work hard to avoid robotic-sounding reading. Revisit the example of Amazon’s Alexa™. If asking Alexa a quick and simple question, the fluency of her speech typically does not impact the ability to understand the answer.

Similarly, a student’s fluency at the phrase level will not likely impact understanding, but no one is requesting Alexa to narrate a podcast series or audiobook. Therefore, while reading aloud, fluent readers should model how to decode and comprehend at the same time using appropriate fluency. This reinforces that reading aloud with children is extremely valuable.


Orton-Gillingham Instruction Can Help Students’ Fluency Improve by…

To develop the ability to read accurately and quickly with good expression, phrasing, and comprehension, teachers must model fluency for students. Teachers should read aloud to students, listen to students read, provide a wide variety of activities, and encourage parents to remain diligent when reading at home in order to hone these skills.


Read to students: When teachers read aloud, they model comprehension strategies, including predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing, as well as fluency. Differentiating characters’ voices allows students to follow individual characters, and relaying the mood of the story with subtle changes to tone, cadence, and stress, children learn how to read for understanding. From this, students can learn to paint visual images based on the text and benefit from exposure to a more expansive vocabulary than they may presently access during independent reading. It’s important that adults model approaching various passages with excitement, driving a love of reading in their students as they read aloud. 


Listen to students read: As students begin reading on their own, they mimic holding a book, turning the pages, and using each page’s pictures to adjust how they read the words aloud (decoded or memorized) to reflect the story in a reasonable manner. Because they’ve observed others read fluently, they try to apply those strategies themselves. It is important to listen to students read aloud in order to support students in reading with appropriate fluency. Fluency assessments (such as measures of oral reading fluency, or ORF) ask students to read a passage as teachers mark errors and calculate the words correct per minute (total words read in one minute – errors = words correct per minute). While using ORF assessments to monitor student progress and inform instruction is valuable, students require ample opportunity to read aloud without it becoming a mechanical task. To support positive feedback and document growth, students must be provided self-reflection scales, partner feedback forms, and fluency rubrics. 


Fluency activities: Orton-Gillingham instruction followed by fluency practice at the word level, phrase level, and sentence & passage levels is so critical. When one strives to become skilled in a new activity, one can not immediately participate at the highest or most elite levels. The same applies to evolving as a fluent reader. Extensive reading develops fluency in coordination with skilled word recognition and oral language development alongside listening to reading and reading aloud. Practicing once a day over the course of a week by rereading passages, students improve accuracy and overall fluency. 

In the Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (Fry, Ph.D. & Kress, EdD, 2006), there are several activities to teach and rehearse elements of fluency requiring little to no supplies. For example, in repeated and timed readings, students use the same short passage to improve accuracy and prosody. Pitch (high and low tone of voice), volume (soft or loud voice), speed (fast or slow), and phrasing (short or long pauses between words and groups of words) are all prosodic elements. Students will infer meaning from each of these. A good example of this is when a parent exclaims, “Ah.” The manner in which the “ahh” is stated will change the meaning greatly. “Ah!” implies fear or surprise, while “Ahhhhhh….” relays relief or satisfaction.

Another activity is audio-assisted reading for comprehension of text (from an independent reading level). Students are asked to read along with their books as a fluent reader reads aloud an audiobook. The fluent reader should read anywhere from 80-100 words per minute without having sound effects or music behind their voice. Students will be asked to follow along with the audiobook while having their finger point to the words and help guide their eyes across the page. This should be followed by a rereading of the book where the student reads aloud with the audiobook and should be repeated until the student is able to read the book independently.

A positive outlook on reading is extremely important. Fluency instruction and rehearsal can be engaging and inspiring for students of all ages, especially as they successfully transfer the skills to reading their own preferred texts. For many students, fluency is not only the link but the solution to better reading instruction.