For several decades, repeated reading (RR) has been employed as a means to promote reading fluency in L1 settings, which was later adapted to ESL/EFL contexts. In short, RR is defined as “rereading a short, meaningful passage several times until a satisfactory level of fluency is reached” (Samuels, 1979, p. 404) and is based on LaBerge and Samuel’s (1974) automaticity theory: as lower-level reading processes (e.g., word-level decoding, lexical retrieval, and sentence parsing) become more rapid and automatic, comprehension also improves because cognitive resources are freed up to focus on comprehension. In short, it should follow that as readers engage in RR, their reading rate should increase as a direct result of increased decoding speed. In this article, I report on two studies in which I participated. In these studies colleagues and I examined two elements of a RR program in an ESL setting: (1) intensity, or the number of readings per session and (2) the duration of treatment.
In the first study (Lynn, forthcoming), I compared changes in reading rates between two treatment groups of adult ESL students at the intermediate level. Both groups engaged in two RR sessions per week with one group engaging in five readings per session while the other group engaged in three readings per session. Reading rate was assessed at five points during the semester: pre-test, three mid-tests, and a post-test. Background knowledge was also controlled for as it has been shown to affect reading behavior (Shin, Dronjic, & Park, 2019). Unfortunately, gains in reading rate were not realized during the course of the treatment, nor were there any differences between the two treatment groups. A qualitative assessment indicated that the RR treatment of three readings was better received than the treatment of five readings, which was viewed as more cumbersome. It was reasoned that the lack of gains could be attributed in part to lack of student motivation, which could have been precipitated by irrelevant and uninteresting texts.
In the second study, colleagues and I compared changes in reading behavior across three treatment groups of intermediate-level adult ESL students. Each group engaged in two RR sessions per week with one group reading the text three times per session, another group reading the text two times per session, and a final group reading the text one time per session. Eye-tracking technology was used to assess reading behaviors at three testing points: pre, mid, and post. The results indicated that there were no differences across treatment groups, but there were differences across time points: Students had large gains in reading rate from pre-test to mid-test. Other eye-tracking measures confirmed this pattern of increase from pre-test to mid-test. Based on reading rate gains and eye-tracking data, it appears that RR not only increases decoding speed, but it may be even more effective at helping students with lexical retrieval and integration of what they decode.
What does this mean for teachers and their students? From the results of these studies, perhaps less is more. Engaging in fewer readings, even only one reading per session, may be more efficient than reading multiple times per session. Reading a passage only one time would allow students to realize maximal gains while preserving valuable instruction time for other purposes. Teachers could verify this claim for themselves by experimenting with their own students and specific learning context. To apply RR in your classroom, I would recommend Lynn’s (2018) guide if you want to do multiple readings or Millett’s (2008) framework for single readings.
Here is a website to access passages specifically designed for reading fluency: https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/lals/resources/paul-nations-resources/speed-reading-and-listening-fluency. As noted earlier, though, while the texts found on the link are linguistically sound (they are controlled for length, vocabulary, and grammar), they may not be relevant to students, which could result in decreased motivation and engagement. Sonia Millett also recorded a video tutorial showing teachers how to implement a reading fluency program to their classroom using her materials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JshOs717wwo.
Finally, I recommend three resources, which contain additional ideas for implementing reading fluency in the classroom: Anderson (1999), Cohen (2011), and Lynn (2020). If anyone has issues understanding or accessing those resources, please feel free to send me an email.
LaBerge, D., & Samuels, S. J. (1974). Toward a theory of automatic information processing in reading. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 293–323.
Lynn, E. M. (2018). Developing reading fluency by combining timed reading and repeated reading. English Teaching Forum, 56(3), 28-31.
Millett, S. (2008). A daily fluency programme: The key to using what you know. Modern English Teacher, 17, 21–28.
Samuels, S. J. (1979). The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher, 32(4), 403-408.
Shin, J., Dronjic, V., & Park, B. (2019). The interplay between working memory and background knowledge in L2 reading comprehension. TESOL Quarterly, 53(2), 320-347.
Ethan Lynn is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. His current research focuses on (1) evaluating the vocabulary and grammar of reading materials designed for ELLs through corpus methods and (2) ESL reading instruction with an emphasis on reading fluency. https://sites.google.com/view/ethanmlynn