In a quiet McCord room where the harsh florescent lights have been filtered to a calmer blue, seventh grade student Tyler sits and introduces himself to Anne Frank. He does so by reading an informational text passage about the historic girl and her struggle, but meeting her is only incidental to the real task on Tyler’s agenda: reading fluency. Tyler is enrolled in an essentials English class where we works on developing his reading fluency. As he reads, he reads the Anne Frank passage aloud to his Chromebook through a program called Fluency Tutor. All of that might sound a bit straightforward, but Tyler’s teacher, Tim Nottke, describes the digital process as a “night and day” difference between his current reading instruction and previous approaches.
“Before, I would have to take a kid back and listen to him read. I would be able to get about one done per class period, and it took away instructional time.” Now, the game is totally different. The student accesses Google Classroom, where they click on the reading passage link. This opens Fluency Tutor and the passage the student is assigned to read. The student clicks “record,” reads, and clicks “stop.” That recording immediately appears on Tim’s teacher dashboard (in fact, a notification window even appears to him if he’s logged into Chrome-he can see the instant a student is finished, even if that student is working in another room).
The dashboard is where some powerful tools lie at Tim’s command. At a glance, he sees data about classes overall, such as their total reading time and average Lexile proficiency. A single click brings him to his student list, where he can see individual student data. The most important data there is the WCPM, “words correct per minute,” and he can see graphs for progress on that score.
Some of that data is generated automatically by Fluency Tutor, but the rest is generated by Tim’s review. Take Tyler’s recording, for instance. Tim will listen to it while looking at the text and mark each word that Tyler misses, indicating the type of problem Tyler demonstrated with the word through a simple pop-up menu that appears when Tim clicks on the word. Once Tim has assessed the entire recording, Fluency Tutor compares the WCPM to the simple WPM, or “words per minute.” Tim can even add simple evaluative statements to the recording, such as descriptions of the pacing or enunciation. All of the statements are pre-generated and require no extra typing, just simple clicks to select. Within minutes, Tyler’s profile is richer with evaluative data, which will help Tim build IEP, keep parents informed, re-evaluate, and make other instructional decisions regarding learning. That control of data and ease of assessment has convinced Tim that this approach is light years better than the traditional. He’ll never go back.
And Tyler likes it. He notes that this method is easier and faster than previous approaches to verbal assessment. I note that his ability to separate himself into a calm environment, without the pressure of a live observer seems to put Tyler at ease and allow him to perform his best. It’s a quality of performance that Tim will have easy access to for the end goal: helping Tyler become the reader we all know he can be.
Note: Fluency Tutor is available for a small fee per teacher per year.