Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

The next component that Konza identified as necessary for the teaching of reading is fluency. This blog will summarise her original paper and the supporting paper on fluency.


Fluency Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly and with expression. Background knowledge of the text being read, rapid retrieval of relevant vocabulary and knowledge of syntax and grammatical forms assist students to predict upcoming vocabulary with accuracy and speed.

A student reaches a pivotal point in their reading development when they become fluent. It is the point where ‘learning to read’ changes to ‘reading to learn’. Fluency includes reading rate, appropriate phrasing and intonation. It is interesting my last blog looked at vocabulary and the symbiotic relationship of mutualism. An example of a symbiotic or co-dependent relationship is fluency and comprehension.  If a reader is not fluent, the student will have difficulty comprehending and a reader can only read fluently if comprehension is occurring.

If a student is reading slowly and with many pauses, attention will be focused on decoding and word recognition. To comprehend, a reader needs to be reading 90-100 words a minute which usually develops by the end of year 2 for simple text.

Fluency emerges from extensive practice of independent level text (Konza, 2011). Children who need to practise more often don’t because it is difficult and labour-intensive. They need extended practice reading easily decodable texts – ones that have a controlled vocabulary, allowing students to read a whole book and to develop confidence, fluency and automaticity.

Struggling readers will not develop fluency without practice at their independent level. For older struggling readers, there are now many titles that match their interests but have simple vocabulary and repetition of target words.  Reading aloud to these students and engaging in oral language and word consciousness will help to develop the necessary advanced language structures and vocabulary.

An interesting caveat from Konza’s paper is the research found around the use of Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR). The National Reading Panel found little evidence of this practice supporting the improvement of fluency and comprehension for poorer readers. It is suggested that this time would be better spent assisting these  students to develop the component reading skills.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I personally do see value in USSSR as it allows time for independent reading. As the teacher however, I take the opportunity to sit beside individual students. I am able to listen to individual reading, collect a quick running record and to ask questions about their reading and the text.

Konza’s supporting paper on the reading component of fluency has a number of interesting sections. It includes elaborations on the three core components of fluency: accuracy;  rapid rate of reading; and prosody (reading with expression).  It has a table reflecting the average rates of reading in the primary years and a description of how to calculate fluency, along with a fluency scale.


Konza mentions a number of strategies that assist in the development of fluency. Fluency EmmaThese include:

  1. Modelling fluency in read alouds.
  2. Letter fluency exercises.
  3. Sight word building through word wall activities.
  4. Explicit teaching of punctuation.
  5. Choral reading.
  6. Repeated readings.
  7. Echo reading.
  8. Paired reading.
  9. Poetry reading.
  10. Song rereading.
  11. Readers’ Theatre.
  12. Dialogues an monologues from plays.
  13. Partner reading.
  14. Partner reading with graphing.
  15. Read along books with CD.
  16. Wide independent reading.

Achievement of fluency is the mastery of the components skills whereby a reader can focus on gaining meaning – a cause for celebration.

Woman reading at the beach


Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

I am really enjoying reading Konza’s series of articles on Understanding the reading process. She has synthesised the research beautifully and written the articles in a practical and teacher-friendly way. I wish I had known a lot of these things when I was first teaching in the early years.

So far, I have summarised oral language and phonological awareness – two incredibly important foundational skills for reading, writing and spelling. Today’s blog will look at the section on phonics in her first paper and the supporting article Phonics.


matPhonics is understanding there is a relationship between the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language and the letters (graphemes) of written language.  Once children understand that word can be broken up into a series of sounds, they need to learn the relationship between those sounds and letters – ‘the alphabetic code’ or the system that the English language uses to map sounds onto paper (Konza, 2011).

There is a lot of debate around how and when phonics should be taught but Konza stated that the empirical evidence points towards a synthetic approach. My summary will focus on this approach. The single letters and common letter combinations are taught in a discrete, systematic and explicit method that facilitates blending.

Early blending is critical and begins as soon as students know letters can be blended into vc or cvc words. This is then practised in easy, decodable text which will benefit all students but particularly those who are struggling to learn the relationships quickly. Decodable texts should be a short-term strategy to build automaticity and fluency needed to read for meaning.

Although simple, decodable texts are used to practise phonics, the research is very clear that children should be using their newly developed phonic skills in the context of motivating, connected text as soon as possible and that they should continue to have high quality texts read to them (Konza, 2011).

I really like how Konza stresses the importance of phonics instruction for most beginning and all struggling readers but that it has be to be part of a balanced reading program, one that includes rich oral language instruction and modelled and guided reading. She also states that phonics instruction should never take more time in a day than the other elements of the literacy program.

Konza also states that phonics instruction will not assist students when they encounter irregular or sight words.sight words Sight words need to be taught explicitly and systematically, followed by regular practise in context.

The goal of teaching phonics and sight words to the point of automaticity is rapid word recognition. Immediate and accurate recognition of words allows the reader to concentrate on meaning rather than decoding.

When to start and for how long?

If phonics instruction begins in prep, single letter-sounds and common combinations should be completed by year 1. By this time, letter-sound knowledge should be automated and students should be able to read simple material accurately and comprehend it. Phonics instruction continues after that in the form of spelling instruction and word analysis and continues until students are competent.

Guidelines for teaching phonics systematically

  • Teach letter-sound correspondences: in a sequence that introduces the most common sound for a letter; that occur frequently; and to begin with, separate those that look and sound alike.
  • Begin with continuous sounds (/s/, /m/ and vowels) as they are easy to blend.
  • As soon as students know letter-sounds that blend into words, help them combine them with magnetic letters.letters
  • Provide practice with connected text comprised mainly of simple vc and cvc words (eg Fitzroy and Dandelion series).
  • Extend phonics instruction beyond single letter-sound correspondences to include more complex letter patterns (double letters, consonant digraphs eg th, ch), vowel digraphs (eg ea, ai, ou) and vowel consonant digraphs (eg aw, ay, oy) and other commonly occurring patterns (eg –igh, -ear) in junior and middle primary years.
  • Extend phonics instruction to include morphological elements and structural analysis in upper primary years.

NB Do not hold students back if they are moving quickly through the sequence – the speed with which some children learn this material when explicitly taught can be surprising.

Like phonological awareness, phonics is not an entire reading program for beginning readers. Young children should also be listening to stories and information texts, reading texts both aloud and silently, and writing letters, words, messages and stories. The explicit and systematic teaching of phonics in the beginning phases of reading instruction assists students to master the code that underpins the written form of our language. The goal is for students to read for purpose – reading to understand, learn and enjoy.