Reading for Relevance AND Fluency

In the past, I (Clive) have posted about the need to teach for relevance. When recently re-visiting two of Richard Allington’s wonderful books on reading instruction – What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006) and What Really Matters in Fluency (2009) – I was impressed with his discussion of the link between relevance and fluency in reading. In his view, there are at least 4 instructional causes of reading difficulties:

  • Texts are too difficult
  • Texts are not interesting enough
  • Insufficient time is given for actual reading (as distinct from studying reading strategies)
  • Reading is interrupted for instructional reasons

Because of these factors, students don’t do enough reading to become fluent. Teaching reading strategies is important, but a balance is needed. Allington says:

[To increase their] store of at-a-glance words, readers need to consistently and repeatedly read a word correctly. [This requires] a lot of accurate reading…struggling readers [should] read at least as much as the achieving readers at their grade level. (2009, p. 38).

He cites what he sees as “one of the greatest failures of the [U.S.] federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs: Neither program reliably increased the volume of reading that children engaged in” (2006, p. 43). In fact, the amount of reading was often reduced.

But struggling students won’t read very much – either at school or at home – if texts are uninteresting to them. This is where relevance comes in. According to Allington, if we want students to read a lot they must see the point of reading. But if we force them to read books they aren’t interested in and bombard them with reading strategies, along with “comprehension” tasks that just require them to recall and retell, they may never realize that reading has a point. He comments:

I fear that we will continue to develop students who don’t even know that thoughtful literacy is the reason for reading. (2006, p. 116)

So relevance is valuable in two ways: it helps students learn about “life” and the real world, and it helps them learn how to read.


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