Note: This product recently underwent a massive transformation! Read about our new and improved fluency homework in this post.
Do you DIBELS?
Doesn’t that sound like it should be something fabulous? Or scandalous! Not so much when you know it stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Basically a very long name for reading fluency assessments.
Prior to my school adopting the program I hadn’t given much thought to assessing and tracking reading fluency. Once that became part of our literacy routine, my level of concern regarding fluency went way up! I nosed around on-line to see what other teachers were doing to help their kids improve their reading and came across a literacy coach’s blog. I’ve long since lost the link to her site (sorry anonymous literacy coach!!), but she suggested weekly fluency homework. My team started using this in the fall of 2008. At the time I’d just write a random story and put it in the homework template. I had a huge ah-ha moment in the middle of that year when I gave the kids a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier. That story came up in discussion the following week and I was amazed by the thoroughness of their retellings.
>Cue the lightbulb over my head.<
If I’m going to make them read a story 4 times, it should be worthy of rereading and it should meet more standards than just fluency!
Over the past 4 years I’ve tweaked and edited and revamped. In fact, of that original batch of stories only The Steadfast Tin Soldier remains. So what do we have? 35 original weekly passages organized with the story on one page. Parent tips and comprehension questions are on the back. Each four week section is organized around a theme and includes fiction and nonfiction passages. Over the course of the year the passages cover a variety of genres: informational text, fable, biography, myth, folktale, tall tale, etc. All of it is common core aligned. For example, the core for 2nd grade says:
Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.
So we have 4 passages on koalas. The students read an informational text, fiction story with koalas as the main characters, Australian myth about koalas, and a nonfiction piece about the koala rescued by firefighters in 2009. The students are asked to find similarities and differences among the different passages.
Under the core, students are supposed to read folktales from various cultures and point out their theme. Going along with that, my favorite set of stories focuses on the same theme: eat me when I’m fatter. The kids get a kick out of these, too! There’s the Three Billy Goats Gruff that we’re all familiar with. Also a folktale from Tibet and a story of Brer Rabbit. And (I’m rather proud of) an original story involving a helpless seal and a hungry orca. (Don’t worry the seal tricks the orca and gets away safely!)
Our fluency topics:
- School and friendship
- Things that come in 3s
- Eat me when I’m fatter
- Fable vs. Fact
- Denmark: Legos and Hans Christian Andersen
- India: the Mongoose and Rudyard Kipling
- Mississippi River lore (7 weeks)
This is part of our weekly homework. On Mondays I distribute the story to the class. I read it to them while they follow along with their plastic witch finger (you have to make them follow along or about half of them drift off). Then we choral read it as a class and complete the comprehension questions together. This goes into the homework folder and I don’t see it again till they turn it in Friday morning. While it’s at home, it’s expected that a parent or older sibling time them for 1 minute and record the total words read correctly.
The pages is set up to make this run as smoothly as possible for mom and dad. The main focus is, of course, the story. The number of words for each line is noted to the right side.
Because the ultimate purpose of reading fluency is to improve comprehension, we have to give the students stories that are long enough to require some thought. So even though the goal for 2nd grade is to read 90/minutes by the end of the year, these stories are longer than that.
Also, fluency passages have to be on the students’ independent level. Since 2nd graders are shooting for the 90 words/minute goal, the first 100 words (or so) I tried to keep to a 2nd grade level. (Let me tell you that was a trick with some of the biographies!) I figured kids who could read faster than that needed more of a challenge, so the text gets harder the further you go. Also, as the year progresses the overall texts get more complex.
I tried lots of different formulas to figure the readability for each story and, you know what? Nobody agrees on what exactly grade-level is! So I went with my best guess. Very scientific! I figured I’ve taught 2nd grade for 11 years. That’s 11 years of guided reading with books on level C,D,E…N,O,P. I can pretty closely determine a guided reading level just based on my own experience. So, in my opinion, the first 4 weeks would level about an F. (Lower than a 2nd grade level, but remember we’re shooting for independence here!) After that it goes up: G, H…I don’t think it gets much harder than about an L/M. (
At the bottom of the story is a place for mom or dad to record the words read. (Update: this portion now reads “day 1” etc. instead of the days of the week so you can use it more flexibly.)
If you notice in the corner there: RF.2.4. That’s the core standard.
Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.
See, I’m learning to include these things.
[Part legitimate question/part snarky rhetoric: Teachers who are required to document the core standard on everything, does this actually make you a better teacher or is it yet another meaningless, time-swallowing hoop to jump through?]
On the 2nd page there’s a box for Parent Tips.
I tried to balance straight procedural tips (like the one above) with quotes from experts about the importance of reading fluency.
Then there are 4 questions: three multiple choice and one open-ended essay question intended to help the kids connect with the story on a personal level. These questions lead to some great classroom discussion, just FYI.
And what’s that in the bottom corner? That’s right–more core documentation! This time it relates to the Reading Literature or Reading Informational Text standards that the questions support.
- 35 common core aligned weekly 2nd grade passages and comprehension questions that cover a variety of genres
- Parent note explaining how (and why) to do this assignment