A highly anticipated audiobook is finally available for streaming or download. Would you prefer to have Apple’s Siri™ narrate the audiobook, or would you rather have the author’s (or an experienced actor’s) voice guide you through the text, painting each phrase as a picture and detailed perspective of the story?

Reading fluency is the difference between these two options. While Siri may successfully read most words correctly (a high degree of word recognition), parts of the story will be lost, or the listener may lose interest due to the monotone cadence. The lack of adequate fluency disrupts oral language comprehension, and therefore, linguistic comprehension is not reached. You’d likely become frustrated, not completely understand the story, or possibly give up entirely. Without fluency, reading comprehension – and the enjoyment of reading – is missed.

Fluency is…

Often defined solely as reading accurately with speed, fluency is the bridge 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).

Once students learn to adjust their tone based on punctuation, learn to group words into phrases, and apply elements of prosody (intonation, stress, and pausing), they are 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 Sounds Like…

“Please, Mommy, read to me in a robot voice again!” a boy (age 4) exclaimed. Aside from voicing a character who’s actually a robot, fluent readers work hard to avoid robotic-sounding reading. Revisit the example of Apple’s Siri™. If asking Siri 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 Siri to narrate a podcast series or audiobook. Therefore, while reading aloud, fluent readers at home and in classrooms should model how to decode and comprehend at the same time using appropriate fluency. This reinforces how reading aloud with children is extremely valuable.

Be sure to check out the rest of our blog series on Reading Fluency & How to Improve It:

About the Author

Ginny Simank is a Level 4 IMSE OG Master Instructor living in Dallas, Texas. She has a master’s degree (M.Ed.) with a Reading Specialist certificate and holds certifications in special education, English as a Second Language, and generalists for Early Childhood through 6th grade & ELA 4th-8th grades. She is an IDA-certified Structured Literacy Teacher and full-time instructor for the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE), whose mission is to train others across the country (teachers, administrators, tutors, education professionals & parents) in the Orton Gillingham methodology of multi-sensory language instruction. Ms. Simank previously served on the national board of directors for the Learning Disabilities Association and was a member of the LDA’s Education & Nominating Committees.


Fry, Edward, Ph, D & Kress, Jacqueline, Ed. D. (2006). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists. San Francisco, California: Jossy-Bass.

Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6-10.

Jeup, J. (2020). IMSE’s Comprehensive Training Manual, p. 99-106.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. 

Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading Instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (n.d.) Retrieved January 10, 2015, from http://nichcy.org

Rasinski, PhD, T., Blachowicz, PhD, C., & Lems, EdD, K. (2006). Fluency Instruction: Research-Based Best Practices. (p. 9). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.