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Reading Fluency in Dyslexic Brain

Practice makes perfect. Better said, practice makes progress.

Learning a new skill requires repetition to automate it. Similarly, every beginner reader needs to practice reading to improve fluency. Add dyslexia to the equation, and this becomes even more critical.

The definition of reading fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression and understanding. First, a reader learns to read a word accurately and then, with practice, fluently. With fluency skill comes better comprehension.

Understanding fluency and how the brain works is critical to building a successful reading fluency strategy. The brain has two hemispheres: right and left. The left hemisphere includes most of the areas responsible for language processing and reading. The non-dyslexic reader activates the front and back parts of the left brain while reading. For the dyslexic reader, however, these reading patterns are different and the brain matches the sounds with letters in more steps using longer pathways.

Our brain functions by transmitting electrical impulses across neurons--similar to the way relay racers pass the baton from one athlete to the other, or the way electricity runs through a circuit. In an electrical circuit, the more the it is activated, the more it wears out. In the brain, however, the more often a circuit is activated, the faster and stronger it becomes, because the connections between the neurons multiply each time we activate the circuit. Similarly, the less often circuits in our brain are activated, the weaker they become.

By practicing reading fluency, the most direct and efficient circuit for reading becomes dominant. When the dyslexic brain practices reading with the new connections, the l connections disappear. Repeated oral reading, exercised consistently, can help a dyslexic child improve fluency.

Another key thing is the amount of load we put on the circuit to make it stronger. Just more reading practice, however, is not enough for fluency. It has to be reading the right difficulty level of words. Another analogy I like is going to the gym for a workout. If the workout is too weak or too heavy, we do not get the best result. If we push ourselves just a bit regularly, then we get stronger. The key is to choose the right reading materials with decodable words at the right reading level. This not only allows them to decode and build the new pathways in the brain to store the word and its meaning, but also build self-confidence as they are able to see the fruits of their hard work. And this may just be the bridge between reading as an obligation to reading for fun.

Reading fluency passages are a great way to get the job started. Choosing the right books written with building fluency for dyslexics in mind, however, will bring an emotional dimension of support. Simple Words Books are written with this in mind. Our books use mostly single and closed syllable decodable words and frequently used Dolch Sight Words that are commonly recognized by early readers. The word lists are included in the books and our website so parents and educators can match the reading level to the reader, as well as use the list as a tool to practice each word with the reader to improve fluency.

Cigdem Knebel is founder of Simple Words Books.

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