University of Iowa

Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders Study

Students read and write in class
The Iowa Reading Research Center studied an alternative approach to improve the quality of literacy instruction in general education classrooms through the Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders study.

PDF iconClick here for the full “An Investigation of Two Approaches to Fluency Instruction in the General Education Classroom: Repeated Reading Versus Varied Practice Reading” report

The Iowa Reading Research Center’s Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders study showed an alternative approach to improving students’ reading fluency was effective, while both approaches studied resulted in exceptional growth.

During the Spring of 2018, students at 21 elementary schools across Iowa were randomly assigned to either Repeated Reading or Varied Practice Reading for the study.

Students in the Repeated Reading group read one passage three times in succession. This has been the most common approach to improving reading fluency. However, this approach can lead students to read in ways that are not authentic to how skilled readers approach texts. For example, some teachers have directed students both in class and for home reading to read each page of a book three times. There is no evidence that this approach is effective for book reading, however. 

For the Varied Practice group featuring the alternative approach, students read three different passages, one time each. The passages used similar words, which is referred to as “word overlap.” Students had the chance to practice many of the words in a passage several times, but did so while seeing them in a different order and used in different contexts across the second and third passages of the set.

A total of 827 fourth-grade students practiced 3 to 4 times per week for 20 minutes per session, for an average of 26 sessions. They read with a partner, and helped each other review any missed words.

The study results show the Varied Practice group statistically significantly outperformed the Repeated Reading group. In fact, Varied Practice achieved slightly more than an extra week’s worth of improvement in reading fluency over Repeated Reading. Students in both groups showed growth near the 90th percentile, which would be considered very ambitious growth.

These findings are encouraging, study authors say, and indicate that reading fluency practice through means other than Repeated Reading may be beneficial. However, more research over multiple studies would need to show improvement to establish an evidence base for Varied Practice.

Varied Practice Passages Available for Teachers and Parents

PDF iconClick here to view or download the Varied Practice Passage Sets for Improving Reading Fluency

To support teachers and families who are interested in using an alternative reading fluency exercise to repeatedly reading the same passage, the Iowa Reading Research Center’s Varied Practice passages are available for use in school or at home. Included are suggested instructions for using the Varied Practice passages. 

The passages are intended for use in Grade 4. It is possible they may be appropriate for students in Grades 3-5, but the passages were only researched with students in Grade 4.

Study Partners

The Iowa Reading Research Center thanks the following school districts that are participating in the study: