Tim Rasinski is a renowned professor of literacy education whose research on reading fluency and word study has made him a literacy hero to many. Below, he shares his thoughts on prosody.
In my previous blogs, I described how word recognition automaticity is an important component of reading fluency and how automaticity can be developed through authentic repeated readings of poems, songs, scripts, and other texts that are meant to be performed for an audience. In this blog, I’d like to focus on another component of fluency that doesn’t get as much attention as word recognition automaticity and reading speed – prosody!
Prosody is a linguistic term that refers to the expressive or melodic aspects of oral language and reading. When I think about someone who is a fluent speaker or reader, it’s not someone who speaks or reads fast, but someone who uses her or his voice to convey and enhance the meaning of their speech or text. A growing body of research over the past 20 years has shown that prosody is consistently and significantly associated with reading proficiency. That is, readers who read orally with good expression (prosody) tend to be proficient readers (comprehension) when reading orally or silently. This association has been found with students in the primary and secondary grades.
Think about the students who struggle in your classroom as they do their best to read word-by-word, in a staccato and monotone manner. Clearly, these students have not enjoyed the reading experience, nor are they likely to be fully comprehending the text they are reading. In addition to working on improving students’ word recognition accuracy and automaticity, would working their prosodic or expressive reading also improve their reading? The answer is yes. But, just how can we improve students’ prosody?
Interestingly, the answer to that question takes us back to my previous blog – authentic repeated readings of texts that are meant to be performed or read orally for an audience. Think about it – poems, songs, scripts, speeches, stories, and the like, are meant to be performed orally. And for an oral performance to be satisfying for a listening audience, the text needs to be performed not only with perfect or near-perfect word recognition, but it also needs to be performed with appropriate expression or prosody.
Listen to the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech. Notice how he used his voice (intonation, rhythm, cadence) to convey his intended meaning. Not only are the words he used important, but also in the way he read and delivered them to the nation. I am certain that before delivering his speech, Dr. King rehearsed it many times in order to achieve the level of prosody that he felt would have the greatest impact on listeners.
Can we use a similar approach in our classrooms? I think so. Find texts that require expression, intonation, emphasis, phrasing, rhythm, and other aspects of prosody. As I mentioned in my previous blog, these texts could be stories with a strong voice, but they could also be scripts, poems, songs, dialogues, monologues, and more. Allow students opportunities to rehearse (or engage in the repeated reading of the texts) over several days with coaching and feedback from you. Then, on a designated day, allow students to perform their assigned text for an audience of classmates or others.
In doing this form of repeated readings or rehearsal, we actually get more with our instruction. Students will improve both their word recognition accuracy and automaticity as well as improve their prosody in their reading. In addition, you will find students’ comprehension improve, their confidence in themselves as readers will grow, and they will have great joy and satisfaction in learning to read something well and performing it for a grateful audience.
I have often said that teaching is difficult because it is both an art and a science, and we tend to focus on one at the expense of the other. The best teachers I know are both artists and scientists. This authentic use of repeated readings is a good example of the art and science of teaching reading. The science of teaching reading focuses on reading competencies required to be a good reader (phonics, fluency, automaticity, prosody, comprehension). The art of teaching reading involves finding authentic experiences for students to engage with poetry, song, theater, stories, and other texts that make reading an aesthetic experience as well as an academic exercise.
Miller, J., & Schwanenflugel, P.J. (2008). A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(4), 336–354.
Paige, D. D., Magpuri-Lavell, T., Rasinski, T. V, & Smith, G. (2013). Interpreting the relationships among prosody, automaticity, accuracy, and silent reading comprehension in secondary students. Journal of Literacy Research, 46(2), 123-156
Rasinski, T. V., Reutzel, C. R., Chard, D. & Linan-Thompson, S. (2011). Reading Fluency. In M. L. Kamil, P. D. Pearson, B. Moje, & P. Afflerbach E (Eds), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume IV (pp. 286-319). New York: Routledge.
Rasinski, T. (2010). The Fluent Reader. New York: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T. & Smith, M. C. (2018). The Megabook of Fluency. New York: Scholastic.
Tim Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational Research. Read more about Rasinski here, or connect with him on Twitter @timrasinski1.
For more from Tim Rasinski, continue to follow us for his exclusive VocabularySpellingCity blog series and be sure to watch a video recording of his webinar “Automaticity (Fluency) in Word Learning Improves Comprehension”
Rasinski’s research on word fluency is cited in the report, “Applying Best Practices For Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” written by VocabularySpellingCity in partnership with McREL International.