What is a rocket card?

Sometimes students return to school after the holidays reading slower than they were before the missed lessons. If I think that a student is still capable of reading faster I might reach for a masking card.

I use a card that looks like a rocket.This card encourages the eyes to sweep ahead of the words being said out loud. As the student reads a known book, I move the card along the line of the print (just a little behind the student’s oral reading, but at a constant speed). If the student is reading too slowly the card will cover the words before he / she sees them, and therefore the student is greatly encouraged to look ahead as quickly as possible.

Some students (who are very familiar with the rocket card) pick up the pace of their reading when they see me reach for the card. They realise that they need to speed up, and they want to show they can do it without my interference!

I do not use a rocket card on the new book as the ‘reading work’ is understandably slower, and I want to promote problem solving over guessing. (If there is too much emphasis on reading quickly the student can treat it as a race and neglect the meaning or look of the words.)

A masking card can be a very useful tool but it should be used sparingly and l would not recommend that you use it at home as it can be a distraction or a hindrance if it is not used very carefully.

Finger pointing

Here is a video of a lovely girl reading a familiar book, i.e. a book that she has read before.

She is reading so well that l want to take that pointing finger away!

Pointing has it’s place. I have written a previous post about Pointing to words or not? As previously stated, we do not encourage our students to continue to point once they are doing the one-one matching of voice and print because pointing generally slows down the reading and potentially gets in the way of maintaining meaning.

Pointing to each individual word can prevent the eyes from scanning ahead to see what is coming next. Scanning ahead adds to the meaning and context of the word currently being read / solved. It is obvious that this is not a problem for the girl in the video. She seems to know this book very well.

If your child is reluctant to stop pointing, and he / she no longer seems to need to doreading this, a compromise can be to run a finger along underneath the words. But it is best to remove the finger as soon as possible. I have my students firmly hold the book with both hands to keep the fingers occupied if pointing has just become an unnecessary habit.

When Kids Don’t Read Fluently

not fluentAmy Mascott has written a useful article on the Scholastic website called What To Do When Kids Don’t Read Fluently.

If you would like to read the entire article you can access it by clicking on the picture.

The main points are:

  • Fluent readers  understand what they are reading.
  • Fluent readers sound natural and conversational.

What can parents do to help their children read more fluently?

1. Avoid frustration. Stop the reading if your child is struggling to solve the words and is not running the words together in a meaningful way. Close the book and let the child have some time to de-stress.

2. After a while invite your child to open the book to a favourite page.  You can model how it should sound. Encourage your child to join in. You could take turns to read the parts to each other.

You and your child can read the story at the same time and  / or  ‘Echo Read’. (This is when one person reads a sentence or phrase first, and then another person reads it immediately after.)

Fluency is assisted by listening to fluent reading and by practicing fluent reading. Relieving the frustration of stilted, word-by- word reading and sharing the task can be very beneficial for the struggling student.

See also Why do we want students to be fluent readers?

Share the reading

To vary home reading, you can sometimes share reading the book. Take turns reading a whole page, or a part of a page, to each other. This is useful if you are in a hurry (it will take less time to read if you are reading half of it), or if your child is not so keen to read that day (make it more fun).
Children are great at copying what the adult is doing. If you add lots of enthusiasm and drama, so will your child. Encourage him or her  to add  expression by using different voices for the different characters,  and varying the volume (e.g. loud and soft voices) and pace (e.g. faster for excitement, slower to emphasize something).

The character might sound angry or be scared or be laughing etc. A tiny mouse will have a different voice to a roaring lion. Children enjoy hearing adults change their voices as they read- the sillier the better!

Prompts for fluency

See the post below this one to read about the importance of fluency.
Choose the prompts that work for you and your child:
  • Are you listening to yourself?
  • Did it sound good?
  • Let’s put ‘here comes’ together quickly.
  • Can you read this quickly?
  • Put all the words together so that it sounds like talking.
  • How would you say that?
  • Make it sound like …..(a favourite book read well).
  • Read it all smoothly.
  • Make your voice go down at the end of the sentence.
  • Make your voice go up at the end of the question.
  • Change your voice when you see these marks on the page. (! ? “ “)
  • Can you talk in a little voice like Baby Bear?
  • How would you sound if you were …. (cross, scared, excited, laughing etc.)?

Click on the picture of the boy reading if you wish to view a YouTube video about fluency.

Why do we want students to be fluent readers?

Fluent readers ‘sound like good readers’. They read aloud easily and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word, and sound ‘like a robot’.

Fluency can be important for motivation. Word-by-word reading takes a long time and it can be exhausting. Most students who learn to read fluently discover that they can enjoy reading!

Fluent readers recognise many words automatically, and they group words quickly into meaningful chunks / phrases, to help them understand what they read.

Readers who read word-by word are usually only thinking about one word at a time, i.e. they are not thinking about the surrounding words to understand what is happening.

By running words together, like talking, it is easier to predict which words are likely to come next.

E.g. Jack’s ……red…….car……..went………up…….and………d_____.

If you are only thinking about one word at a time you are not as likely to guess that the last word will be ‘down’. (The student may say a different word, e.g.  don’t , which does not make sense.)

Fluent readers can focus their attention on what the story, or text, means. They can make connections between the ideas in the book and their background knowledge (what they already know / have experienced). Fluent readers are more likely to recognise words and comprehend / understand at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on solving the words, leaving them little energy for understanding the text / book.

From the very first lessons, Reading Recovery teachers insist that the students read fluently. They model the difference between fluent, and word-by-word reading. They prompt- how are you sounding? Are you reading with your slow voice? Even just the comment ‘robot’ can prompt the student to sound better.

As you are hearing your child read, check how the reading sounds. Is your child dragging out the words like: ‘said……….…Billy’ or putting them together quickly like ‘said Billy’?