Tag Archives: expression

#SOL16: March Challenge Day 11 – Black and White


“I only read 76 wpm.”

“Why do you say ‘only’?”

“Because I didn’t do very well.”

“Why do you say that?

“Because I thought I was reading in order to remember so I could answer the questions.  But there weren’t any questions. Others read a lot faster than me.”

black and white


It’s a huge, huge area of conversation as students strive to meet the benchmarks set by the literacy screeners. All too soon the spring benchmarking period will be upon us.  What spring scores are you anticipating?  What does your instruction look like? What have you done to ensure success for your students? (Check here for the last post on a way to organize repeated reading.)

What do the standards say about fluency?

Here are the grade level standards for students in grade 3 for fluency:


Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.
Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.”

So what does this mean?

The grade level standard clearly states that a student will “read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.” And this language is repeated over and over. That seems so straight-forward and so black and white.  The goal is comprehension and both accuracy and fluency support comprehension.  No question there!

But what about RF3.4B?

It says “Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.” So students are to pay attention to “accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression” as they read the prose / poetry text on “successive readings”.

That also seems straight-forward and black and white.  All three terms are used frequently in fluency instruction and make sense.  There may be some variation in teacher’s use of “appropriate rate” – would that be “slow down on your first read to make sure you are accurately reading the text as printed” on the first read?  And then would there be an expectation that the rate would increase over time with practice?

Make sense?  What do you think?

So what’s the problem/issue?

1. How big of a deal is “rate”?  Is accuracy more important than rate?  

One of the major goals with assessing and instructing in fluency is to get to that “automaticity” level.  Students need to know many words instantly – there isn’t time or sufficient mental energy to decode every single word and put all the levels of comprehension together.  Tim Shanahan reports that Hasbrouck and Tindal are in the process of renorming and are looking at their current fluency rates and complex texts here.  Consider your purpose / goal in your work. If your plan is to allow students to be successful at a high level of accuracy AND rate AND expression, then you may choose to begin with easier texts so that students get the feel for “what fluent reading looks and sounds like”.  I like this quote from Diane, trainer for 95% Group, “You have to clean it up before you speed it up.”  I see no point in reading inaccurately at a fast rate.  That could be me. But accuracy is important to meaning so when would reading faster with more errors ever be acceptable?

2. What about the screener?  Why does it seem to privilege “rate” over “accuracy”?

The screener used three times a year records both accuracy and rate.  The median rate score out of three passages (each read orally for 1 minute), is used to determine whether the student meets the benchmark.  One score.  The median score. The correct words per minute from a timed one minute reading.  This is a “predictive score”.  The adults “get that”.

But in their hearts and brains and the minds and hearts of students, there is a disconnect. The screener does NOT align with the expectations of the ELA standards or the classroom instruction.  Not black.  Not white.  Gray zone.  “What am I supposed to do? Read for understanding?  Read for rate? How do I know?”

What is the answer for students?

Well, it depends.

This is the non-black as well as non-white step out into the gray zone. Fluency is a puzzle that is complicated.  Fluency is not the sum of all of its parts!  I believe you continually “nudge” the different characteristics to higher levels. This. Then this. Now this.

White:  Is it fluency according to the standards “accuracy and fluency to support comprehension” (and on successive readings or rereading as necessary)?

Black:  Is it fluency for the screening benchmarks “median rate in 1 minute of oral reading from three passages (3 x a year)”?

Is it gray:  Both?

What does fluency mean to you?  How would I know? 

“So open your book and read to me.”

 My child reads to me as I time his reading on my watch.  I’ve never timed his reading.  Is he really reading too slowly?  After a minute I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  There’s nothing wrong with his reading.  He truly did not know the purpose of his reading. Now what do I say?

“What do you think of your reading?

“I like reading to myself. Why do I have to read a test out loud? And why does anyone care how fast I read?”

Writing Process:   I had this piece in mind even as I wrote the post yesterday about repeated reading/fluency practice centers/volume of reading.  This is not an easy topic so I considered my audience and how to best convey this complicated issue.  I continue to believe that a question and answer format works best.  The idea of “black and white”  – that either /or helped me decide on a title and sent me in search of a graphic. I drafted and revised the central part of this post twenty-two times (# courtesy of WordPress).  And then I considered whether this was truly a slice.  That wondering caused me to add in both a new beginning and a new ending (an event that did happen – 18 years ago).

slice of life 2016

Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.  It’s the March Slice of Life Challenge so be ready to read DAILY posts!

Editing Sticks

ImageTuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.  Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating that place for us to work collaboratively.

What is the purpose of punctuation?

Many believe that punctuation is most important in writing because it signifies both the beginning and ending of sentences as well as indirect (paraphrased) or direct reporting of speech.  Students in kindergarten are exposed to end punctuation marks (. ? !) as well as these marks associated with speaking (,  “  “).  But is the bigger purpose of punctuation to give the reader the necessary clues to understand exactly what the author has written?  If yes, then the reader also needs those punctuation marks.  Why? Punctuation marks are very important when considering phrasing and smoothness of reading as a part of prosody for fluent readers.  A review of the CCR Anchor Standards found these six as possible considerations when thinking about the value of punctuation for both authors and readers.

CCRR Anchor Standards Considered:



Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.



Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.



Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

My Version of Editing Sticks

2014-08-22 15.01.39

My tools for this work are editing sticks that I created after seeing some that looked more like clear acrylic chopsticks on Twitter.  The size of the sticks that resembled chopsticks does make them more accessible to working “inside text” but the main feature is that they must be clear.

(Clear disks with a variety of punctuation including:     .   !   ?   ,  “  “ )


Inquiry Mini-Lesson for Professional Development with Teachers


Remember that we are working with narratives and one way that we “show” instead of “tell” is to add dialogue to our small moments story.  Sometimes as a reader, it is hard to know exactly what a character says because when a speech bubble is not used, the writing does not clearly say or show who is talking.

Name the Inquiry Question:

How do I decide what punctuation to use in my dialogue?  How can partners move the editing sticks around to show exactly what a character says in a story?

Inquiry Set-Up:

With a partner, decide which editing sticks you will use, where you will put them and why.  Jot a note to record your thinking and any questions that develop.


   The   principal   said   the   teacher   is   a   great   leader.


Active Engagement:

Listen for conversations and watch for jottings that show there is more than one possibility for this statement. (Who is talking? The principal?  Or the teacher?)  Chart some of the jottings to help remember the lesson later. (Possibilities – The principal said, “The teacher is a great leader.”  “The principal,” said the teacher, “Is a great leader.”)


Authors have to be very careful when they write dialogue in order to make sure that the reader clearly understands who is talking.  Changing the punctuation can change the speaker and/or the speaker’s words.  Continue to study conversations / dialogue as you read to find more examples from mentor texts.  Take time to double check the dialogue in your stories with the editing sticks to make sure that the reader can clearly tell both who is talking and what they are saying.

What kinds of mini-lessons are you using for punctuation, specifically quotation marks for dialogue?  How is this lesson different from Daily Oral Language editing?  How do you combine the “editing” from writing and the “language” conventions for meaningful practice with text that transfers to student learning? 

After all, is the goal “perfect punctuation” or “increased understanding”?  What are your thoughts?

10.26.16 Tweet from Elise Whitehouse (@OAS_Whitehouse):

punctuation sticks.JPG

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