Doing More With Less Since 1972

Tag: fluency

Modeling Instead of Correcting

Yesterday I was listening to Pea ramble on and on about princesses and all of things that being a princess entails. She was using some of her own Spanglish words in her descriptions,  and I was reminded of something I heard a couple of years ago on an airplane.  The man in the row behind me was traveling with two small kids.  Based on the conversation I could overhear, these kids were obviously very sharp.  One of the kids mentioned that someone had “shutted” the door.  The dad was quick to correct him–“It’s ‘shut’, not ‘shutted’.”

This dad’s heart was in the right place.  He obviously wanted his children to speak correctly, and that’s a good thing. But his method was a little off.  The better response would have been, “Yes, he ‘shut’ the door.”  See the difference?  The second method is called modeling,  where the correct past tense of the word “shut” is demonstrated for the child instead of making a correction of what the child said.

In this case, the kid was actually a lot smarter than the dad realized.  The child is becoming fluent in the English language and has realized that the usual way to make a word past tense is to add the -ed suffix to it.  He incorrectly applied this approach to the word “shut”, but that’s ok.  He just demonstrated that he has a firm grasp on one of the rules of our language.  Modeling the exception for him is a way to positively reinforce one of the many complicated exceptions to the rule without pointing out his error.

Modeling is a strategy commonly used with students who are learning a second language to correct them without making them self-conscious and accidentally discouraging them from continuing to practice.  It only makes sense to do the same thing to help encourage fluency in a small child who is learning his or her first language.

Readers and Golfers

Tiger Woods -- GolferI love to play golf, but I’m not a golfer…yet. That raises the obvious question–what are the differences between a golfer and someone who plays golf? Well, they’re basically the same differences between someone who can read and a reader.

Golfers have spent countless hours practicing chip shots and bunker shots. They’ve hit thousands of buckets of balls with their drivers and irons. They’ve spent time and effort tweaking small nuances in their swings in their basements. They are prepared for every situation the course, which they’ve played dozens of times and know intimately, can throw at them. As a result, they score well on the weekends when they play.

Guys who play golf (like me) usually go out once a week or less to play 18 holes. Maybe we hit a bucket of balls before we play to warm up. We get a little stressed when put in the situation of having to chip downhill onto green because we don’t really have that shot. We lay up instead of going for greens because we can’t hit our 2 iron well every time and can’t rely on it. We basically play every hole shot to shot, reacting to the latest situation we’ve created for ourselves instead of setting ourselves up and executing a strategy.

So what does this have to do with reading? Maybe you can see where I’m headed with this…
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Seven Year-Old Super Reader

Here’s an example of a child who reads to learn and shows it off. Gary from Homeschoolbuzz shares a story about seven year-old Emily Salva, a homeschooled student from Franklin, TN, who decided to make a film for her history project on Ancient Greece. This seven year-old narrated and created all of the graphics for her film, Odysseus and The Cyclops, with the help of her dad (a fellow film maker). Her film was so noteworthy that it was accepted into Nashville’s Film Festival. Very impressive indeed!

Most impressive is the fact that she understood The Odyssey. I know high schoolers who didn’t get it! Check it out and pay attention to her effortless reading…great fluency!

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Nine Months Old and Learning to Read!

Ok, I’m sure you don’t believe me, but it’s true…just let me explain.

Our nine month old is learning to read already. She can’t read yet, and she probably won’t be able to read for years, but she’s already learning how. She’s learning because we started building her reading foundation months ago by doing a few simple things. At our house, we call it “reading with a purpose.”

Like most kids, Chick Pea has a favorite book. For her, that book is Marcos Counts. We read this book to her at least six or seven times a day. At times it’s the only way I can get her to calm down while Mom cooks or writes. We’re very fortunate that she shows an interest and loves everything about books, whether it’s listening to us read, looking at the pictures, or eating them. But every time we read this book with her, we read with purpose. Just a few simple things make all the difference (we hope) in helping her catch on to the idea of reading long before she has the ability to really read. Here are a few techniques you can use with babies and toddlers:

Repeated Readings
If you’re like us, you don’t have much of a choice in this one. Small children love repetition and pretty much force you to read the same book over and over. But these repeated readings help them build vocabulary and fluency early on.

Tracking the words in the book
Even though you’ve memorized the text from repeated readings, tracking the words with your finger as you go along helps them make the connection that the scribbles you are pointing at with your finger (text) have some meaning and are related to what you are saying. Resist the urge to recite the words and turn the pages on queue.

Let your child turn the pages
With repeated readings, you child will learn pretty quickly when the page needs to be turned, and they’ll be anxious to do it to get to next part of the story. Along with tracking, which will be paused while waiting for the page to turn, kids quickly figure out that the story needs the next page to continue. In our case, she’s figured out that pages need to be turned, but her timing’s a little off. That’s ok too–it’s good practice.

Look at the book while you read
Again, this may be tough to remember to do because you’ll have the story memorized pretty quickly, but directing your attention to the pages and text gives your child a visual cue that the information is coming from the book, not from you. You can expand this using tracking by pointing at the pictures in the book and talking about them. For instance, Marcos Counts objects, but the book never mentions what those objects are in the text. We always point out what Marcos is counting on each page (ducks, cars, crayons, etc.) to help her learn to identify these objects.

This is the main purpose of our reading sessions. The single most important thing you can do to instill a love of reading in your child is to make it fun. Don’t force a reading time on your small child, and don’t chase them around insisting that they listen to the story. Even though it’s her absolute favorite book, Chick Pea often crawls away 3 pages in to Marcos Counts to go inspect a wooden block or chase a cat out of the room, and that’s ok. I usually just sit quietly and read silently to myself to find out what happens at the end of the story. 🙂

Let’s Read It This Way – Lesson Idea #15

Big books work well for this, but you can use any book with large print. Try to use a book that you’ve already read with your child and one that has a good amount of dialog in it.

  1. Tell your child that you’ll be reading xyz book, but that you’ll be hunting for different things this time. Write, or show them what an exclamation mark (!) and question mark (?) look like.
  2. Tell them that you’ll be hunting for these in the book and that they should let you know when they see one because you’re going to have to read it differently.
  3. Begin reading the book (maybe with less expression than you normally do) until your child lets you know that they’ve spotted one of the marks. Say “Oh, thanks – that’s an (!), that mark means that we have to read this sentence with a lot of expression. Listen to me first and then we’ll try it together.”
  4. Reread the sentence modeling good expression and then have them read it (or repeat after you if they can’t read yet) with you. Try to have them imitate you as much as possible so that they get into the habit of learning to change their voice when they see these marks.
  5. Do the same with question marks – Teach them that our voices sound different when we ask questions and that they should sound like that when we read questions too.
  • This is one of those easy activities that you can do to lay a strong foundation for good reading habits and fluency. It can be done whether your child can read or not because all they have to do is practice sounding like you (a good reader)!
  • Change this up for older kids (2nd grade and up) that need help with expression by skipping the “hunt” and just calling their attention to the marks when they read. Having them listen to you, reread it with you, and then again by themselves will give them the practice they need to improve their fluency.


Fluency … the great bridge. Fluency acts as the bridge between decoding words and comprehending what they mean. But what does fluency mean? Here’s the National Reading Panel’s official definition:

Fluency: The ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression.

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