Is Reading Speed Overrated?
Counting the number of words a student can read in a minute has become a popular method of measuring that student’s reading fluency. It’s certainly well established that slow, choppy reading can interfere with comprehension. But reading too quickly and focusing only on the words can also interfere with reading comprehension, not to mention reading satisfaction. Trying to churn out as many words as possible within a time limit interferes with many of the processes of effective readers such as self-talk, wondering, pausing and rereading.
Reading rate is only one aspect of fluency, and maybe not even the most important one. (See The Fluency Five.) Furthermore, rate isn’t just about speed; it’s about smooth and appropriate pacing, and allowing for pauses, repetitions and reflections.
In reality, good readers frequently adjust their reading rates according to the difficulty of the text and the purpose for reading. Sometimes we skim our eyes quickly over a text and sometimes we need to slow down to get every detail. It’s important to teach students how to set their reading speedometers for different situations.