Fluent reading requires you to be able to automatically and correctly recognise and understand the meaning of an ever-growing bank of words, effortlessly and with speed.
How long does it take for a child to be able to learn to read a word automatically (i.e., without spending time decoding the word because it has become a sight word – in the true definition of the word meaning that a word can be immediately recognised, not that the word can’t be decoded and so must be recognised as a single unit)? This question was explored by Megherbi and colleagues (2018).
These authors noted that children’s ability to rapidly read words steadily increases throughout primary and secondary school until they reach adult levels of around 200 to 300 words per minute.
The aim of Megherbi and colleagues experimental study was to investigate the emergence of automatic reading of children in the first year of reading instruction. They found that automaticity developed in tandem with the development of word decoding. In other words, acquisition of the alphabet code (phonics) is the foundation required for the development of automaticity. This letter-sound association is the “glue that connects orthographic representations to the phonological representations of the whole word. Without this glue, sight word acquisition (i.e., automaticity) would develop very slowly and would continue to be error prone. (p.661)”
The underlying message is that for students to become fluent readers, they must first be taught how words are coded (i.e., phonics).
Megherbi, H., Elbro, C., Oakhill, J., Segui, J., & New, B. (2918). The emergence of automaticity in reading: Effects of orthographic depth and word decoding ability on an adjusted Stroop measure. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 166, 652-663.