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The connection between oral and silent reading fluency

Oral reading fluency is learning to read, and silent reading fluency is reading to learn. Oral reading fluency is a prerequisite to silent reading fluency. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the connection between the two.

What is oral reading fluency?

Before students can approach silent reading fluency, they begin their reading journey with oral reading.

Oral reading is generally the focus of Early Years to Key Stage 1. This is where students build foundational skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics skills. During this exciting time, they learn to decode words, combine sentences, and make it through their first books. This is often referred to as the learn-to-read phase.

During this phase, it is easy for teachers to track their students’ speed, accuracy, and expression as they read aloud. It is immediately apparent when a student doesn’t read a word or sentence correctly, and a teacher can intervene appropriately and quickly.

What is silent reading fluency?

Silent reading fluency is the ability to read silently with concentration, at appropriate reading rates comfortably, and with clear understanding. This skill bridges the gap between word recognition and reading comprehension.

Silent reading combines three skills that actively work together as a student reads. These are:

  • Physical – When students read, their eyes move across each word of a sentence in a specific order and an efficient manner.
  • Cognitive – Once students have moved their eyes across the text, they identify the vocabulary of each word and string the sentence together to comprehend the meaning.
  • Emotional – When students finish reading, their feelings contribute to the outcomes. If students feel confident about reading and are interested in the content, they are more likely to continue reading.

Students cannot achieve silent reading fluency without the ability to recognise and understand words immediately and decode unfamiliar words. Strong fluency is created by automaticity, language comprehension, and a solid vocabulary. It allows for improved text comprehension and empowers readers to build their vocabularies, enabling greater comprehension of more complex texts.

When fluent readers read silently, they:

  • Recognise words automatically.
  • Group words quickly.
  • Gain meaning from text.

Students must continually master all these skills while engaged with reading to become proficient silent readers.

Unlike oral reading fluency, effective silent reading fluency is difficult for teachers to monitor and intervene if students need support. Silent reading fluency is an unseen and unheard skill, and it is necessary to become a proficient reader.

Why is silent reading fluency important?

There is a dramatic shift in the reading journey around the time students reach Year 4. Around this time, the expectation for students is that they will be ready to use reading to learn class content. This is the reading-to-learn phase.

Students will continue sharpening these skills as they progress through school by reading and understanding increasingly complex texts. This ongoing phase will continue throughout each student’s academic career and beyond. This work is mainly executed through silent reading.


Silent reading fluency is the skill that is taught the least yet tested the most.

Students use silent reading skills every day across all areas. Therefore, nonproficient reading affects the ability to learn in ALL subject areas. They also use the skill during high-stakes exams, such as the SATs and end-of-year assessments.

Data has indicated that silent reading fluency is a common struggle for many students.

  • 70% of nonproficient students are not fluent in silent reading.
  • 30% of proficient students are not fluent in silent reading.

Why is silent reading fluency overlooked so frequently? 

Teachers are trained to listen to students for struggles during oral reading. However, these signs aren’t as easy to spot during silent reading.

Early readers have a small visual span and can only see a few letters at a time. They also haven’t developed eye movements that naturally move from left to right, knowing where to land on words. When researchers looked at eye-movement recordings of students reading, they noticed that students who read inefficiently will often:

  • Make many extra fixations or eye stops.
  • Move very short distances and make regressive eye movements.
  • Move backwards to check words or confirm what they saw.
  • Invest a lot of time trying to move their eyes to the right place within the text.

As a result, reading becomes exhausting and making sense of the content becomes difficult.

This example shows a non-fluent Year 8 student reading at a pace of about 140 words per minute. This student is reading at a Year 3 level. As this reader regresses back across the text, the words scramble, and the reader must reorder the words before trying to comprehend the content. This extra work leads to low comprehension levels and low motivation.

All of this extra energy is largely invisible to teachers. Without insight into these inefficiencies, teachers may not intervene, and students will struggle in classes for years.

Methods to improve silent reading fluency.

Becoming a fluent reader enables a student to focus more on comprehension, reading increasingly complex texts, and becoming a more confident and engaged reader. Educators can use technology to guide and support this work.

There are three critical elements to drive reading fluency:

  • Targeted instruction – Reading solutions with embedded assessments can help identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses. This data should inform fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, confidence, and interest. With greater access to student data, educators have insight into where students are and what they need to grow further.

Reading Plus offers a silent reading assessment (InSight), which is used to screen students, identify individual instructional needs, place students within the program, and evaluate their progress over time. The InSight assessment measures reading motivation, vocabulary knowledge, comprehension, and reading rate.


Structured practice

Students must practice the right lessons to become better readers. Technology can match students with the right content for their fluency levels and adapt to ensure they remain within their zone of proximal development. As they build skills in every area, technology should provide personalised scaffolds and support based on student behaviour and needs.

The Reading Plus Learning Guided Window™ provides personalised, structured practices by moving according to the rate at which a student reads and adapts based on the student’s performance with comprehension questions. The Guided Window makes reading comfortable by scaffolding the silent reading process, freeing up the mental energy needed for the ultimate goal of reading: comprehension.

Student engagement

Students should have the choice and control to pursue knowledge. By allowing students to select the content that interests them most, educators empower them to build their skills in the most meaningful way and motivate them to become lifelong readers. This means providing diverse content with mirrors, windows, and doors. Students can see themselves and others within the text and learn about new experiences.

The Reading component of Reading Plus offers students a wide and diverse choice of curated text selections that align with their reading proficiency level and interests. All of the text selections provide rich educational content. They are intended to deepen knowledge of familiar topics and broaden students’ horizons by introducing new topics.

How does Reading Plus help with silent reading fluency?

Reading Plus is the only adaptive literacy tool that addresses the hidden hurdle of inefficient silent reading.

Reading Plus focuses on fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary – three of the five essential pillars of reading. These three pillars are critical as pupils shift from the learning-to-read stage to the reading-to-learn stage of reading development – ultimately leading them to become proficient readers who can effectively use reading for learning at their expected level.

The programme also focuses on pupils’ intrinsic motivation for reading by measuring their individual self-improvement beliefs, confidence, and interest in reading. All of these components come together to develop reading proficiency.

Interested in learning more about how Reading Plus is the only reading solution to address silent reading fluency directly? Enquire with the form below.


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