Topics: Featured Reading Fluency Middle School

Prioritizing Fluency Practice in the Middle Grades

McLean Beto

by McLean Beto

June 15, 2023
Prioritizing Fluency Practice in the Middle Grades

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Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > Reading Fluency Middle School > Prioritizing Fluency Practice in the Middle Grades

This month, we focus on fluency. Wit & Wisdom® lessons incorporate best practices for fluency instruction at every grade. As educators prepare for the next school year, they might consider strengthening fluency instruction to support their classroom students in comprehending the exciting and challenging texts they will encounter. McLean Beto, a Great Minds® PD Fellow and literacy coach in Baltimore, shares how investing in fluency instruction in the middle grades leads to positive student outcomes.

The Value of Fluency

Many middle grades students admire athletes or musicians who make their work look effortless, motivating some students to try their role model’s sport or instrument. Learning these new skills, while fun, can lead to frustration. Students often learn that what appears effortless is quite complex. Based on the science of reading, we now know that, like a favorite sport or hobby, fluent reading proves more complex than it first appears. So when a Grade 7 student says, “I’m bad at reading,” I hear their frustration.

When our students think of good reading, they likely think of fluent reading. Just as we hope our students continue practicing and improving their skills on the soccer field or in band class, they need to regularly practice fluent reading. Fluency goes beyond a student’s reading rate. Literacy researcher Timothy Rasinski explains that “fluency is reading with and for meaning” (517). When students comprehend the texts they read, they read with improved expression and prosody that attend to the material’s deeper meaning. When students read with automaticity and accuracy, they expand their bandwidth to grapple with the meaning of complex text. Fluency and comprehension are two sides of the same coin.

"Fluency is more than mere reading fast, more than reading orally, more than an instructional issue for only young readers, more than a separate area of the reading curriculum" (Rasinski 521).

As a literacy coach, I work with teachers to effectively implement Wit & Wisdom fluency instruction for our older students. Our goal is to ensure students improve their fluency and comprehension while engaging with module texts. As educators wrap up one school year and plan for the next, I want to share what we have learned.

In Wit & Wisdom, targeted and intentional fluency supports are available at all grades. Although these supports remain optional in the grades 6–8 curriculum, we decided to use them for all students. Prioritizing fluency demonstrated the following benefits:

  • Strengthening Comprehension. Students read Ramayana: Divine Loophole in Grade 6 Module 2. While students enjoyed the exciting epic and beautiful artwork, they were unfamiliar with the book’s Sanskrit names and terminology. Students’ fluency and comprehension slowed as they tried to parse out the characters and unfamiliar words. Instead of making the fluency homework in Lesson 5 optional, all Grade 6 students practiced the excerpt. As they noted unfamiliar words and practiced pronouncing characters’ names, they could better comprehend, discuss, and write about the text. Words that once challenged our Grade 6 readers became automatic. This allowed students to go deeper into the text’s meaning.

  • Building Confidence. Since all students participated in fluency instruction, our classrooms developed a culture of improvement. One teacher asked students to circle challenging words in the assigned fluency passages. As students shared these words, they realized that their classmates also experienced similar hurdles in the text. After practicing these words together, students noticed themselves and each other improving. Our school also serves a large multilingual-learner population. Repeated readings of key passages during fluency instruction helped these learners develop the confidence to speak about texts in Socratic Seminars.

  • Providing Targeted Support. Teachers noticed that implementing fluency instruction provided insight into students’ specific needs. Some students clearly needed support with phrasing, expression, and vocabulary. In other cases, fluency practice uncovered deeper decoding gaps. Instead of comments such as “This student struggles to read,” I heard teachers remark, “This student needs support with words that have a long a” or “This student struggles with words that have the th digraph” in our planning meetings. From there, teachers could plan supports based on their students’ needs. Sometimes this support took the form of traditional small-group instruction. Yet teachers found that having knowledge of specific gaps allowed them to provide better in-the-moment support, such as highlighting those tricky th digraphs while reading in class.  

Some Practical Approaches to Fluency

When I observed teachers earlier this school year, I noticed they often skipped fluency instruction to save time. After our team committed to implementing fluency instruction for as few as five minutes a day, we witnessed the positive impact on students’ comprehension and confidence—a worthwhile investment. 

Here are ways our team maximized fluency practice, ordered from the lowest to the highest time investment. As you plan for the upcoming school year, perhaps you can try these too!

  1. Prepare with fluency in mind. Carefully read lessons and highlight fluency instruction. To introduce or practice fluency, prioritize the repeated readings and performance opportunities often included in lessons.
  2. Adjust instruction. Adjust fluency practice to offer more support. For example, form a small group needing additional fluency support to conduct an Echo Reading instead of a Partner Reading.
  3. Maximize time for English language development. Incorporate fluency passage practice into time set aside for English language development. The Multilingual Learner Resources for grades K–5 and Prologue for grades 6–8 include opportunities and protocols for practicing fluency.
  4. Bring practice into instruction. Instead of assigning fluency passages as homework, use five minutes of class time daily to practice fluency. Elementary teachers may have more flexible schedules for fluency practice, while middle school teachers might consider adding this time to homeroom, study hall, or intervention blocks.  
  5. Incorporate technology. Facilitate fluency practice by using technology tools such as Flipgrid, Vocaroo, and Microsoft Teams Reading Progress.
  6. Monitor students’ fluency progress. Schedule fluency conferences with your students to listen to each student read aloud, set fluency goals, and reflect on their progress. The Focus on Fluency professional learning session teaches educators how to coach students on fluency and respond to common dysfluency challenges.


Reading, like many activities, is a complex skill. Older students who think reading should come easily can grow discouraged when they read dysfluently or miss key ideas in a text. Creating space for fluency instruction in your classroom can help students improve their fluency, comprehension, and confidence. As you prepare for the school year, I encourage you to try new approaches to fluency instruction.  

Continue Learning

These Melissa & Lori Love Literacy podcast episodes continue the deep dive into fluency practice:


Works Cited

Rasinski, Timothy. “Why Reading Fluency Should Be Hot!” The Reading Teacher, vol. 65, no. 8, 2012, pp. 516–522. 

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Topics: Featured Reading Fluency Middle School