The Science of Learning Blog

August 9, 2017

Why Silent Reading Doesn’t Work for Struggling Readers

BY Carrie Gajowski, MA

A group of children readingReading fluency is understanding what you read, reading at a natural pace, and reading with expression. How will your students, or your child, become more fluent this year?  It’s tempting to think that reading more is the key.

It turns out that silent reading does not build reading fluency in struggling readers. According to the National Reading Panel, “there is insufficient support from empirical research to suggest that independent, silent reading can be used to help students improve their fluency”. Knowing this, if the student isn’t proficient in reading, should they continue “reading” a not-right selection in the hope of becoming a better reader?

I liken this to me learning how to paint. I have recently started to go to local painting outings. With some coaching/instruction, I am starting to understand the basic techniques. The instructor goes around to everyone to make sure they are doing what is asked of them. The instructor breaks each step down, section by section, and then checks back in with everyone as we progress.

Shouldn’t we do the same with our students — making sure they are reading proficiently, every step of the way, similar to how my painting instructor goes to each student to make sure our technique will get us the end result that we want? If I stayed quiet and fumbled through my painting, would I get better in terms of technique and form? This is similar to having a student stay quiet when they are struggling with reading the text at hand.

This being said, silent reading does have an important place in students’ lives. Once a student is a fluent reader, they should continue reading anything and everything that is available to them at their just-right level. 

Here are the best practices for building reading fluency for those who struggle with reading:

  1. Model fluent reading: Model what reading aloud should sound like. Other adults can also read to them – parents, older adults, siblings, etc.  This way, they can hear what the text should sound like and they can get a better understanding of natural prosody, which involves pausing at ends of sentences, using rising intonation with a question mark, etc. 
  2. Reading aloud: Have your students read aloud and with accuracy, not necessarily speed. Once they become more proficient, their speed will likely improve.
  3. Choral reading (or reading in unison): This is a group activity where you read a passage to your students. They then read it back to you in unison. This provides practice reading aloud in groups and it might also help the students who are less confident reading in front of others.
  4. Reader’s Theater: This is a fun twist on reading aloud where students perform a play for their peers. To participate, each student needs to work with their peers while reading aloud for both expression and meaning. Not only can this help build reading fluency, but it can also help students build teamwork and cooperation.
  5. Compliment when they read fluently: A little bit of praise from you can go a long way. Also, gently point out their struggles so they know what to work on. Reading fluently for some students is hard work. Be sure to encourage them to keep working on it!

Now that you’re aware that silent independent reading doesn’t help struggling readers, what approaches will you incorporate into your literacy block to make this time more effective? Fast ForWord for K-12 now includes a guided reading tool (Reading Assistant) that listens to students as they read aloud, providing a modeled reading, vocabulary support, and help with pronunciation and decoding when students struggle. It’s like a personalized guided reading coach built into a computer, and is particularly effective for students who are not benefiting from silent reading.

Practice, especially the right kind with the right supports, is critical to their success.


Fluency: Instructional Guidelines and Student Activities
Paired (or Partner) Reading
7 Ways to Improve Reading Fluency

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Return to Blog Index
Copyright © 2021 Scientific Learning Corporation. All rights reserved.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram