This week my students took the Gates-McGinnity reading test for the second time this year. The first time was back in mid-September. The results, after three solid months of choice-driven reading workshop instruction??? Good. Very good.
A couple of my guys, who I had to fight to protect from getting pulled for "interventions" based on their damn DIBELS and CRT scores, did particularly well. They've both made substantial progress; both are up two whole grade levels!! Yeah!! I knew they'd become stronger readers quicker by reading lots and lots of cool books (not by reading boring fluency passages over and over). Here are some of the books these two particular guys have recently finished: Hugo Cabret, Cirque Du Freak, The Sea of Monsters, Holes, Esperanza Rising, Here B. Monsters, and How To Train a Dragon. No wonder they're making such great progress.
Honestly, I believe fluency interventions do have a proper time and a place. I've seen many kids make an impressive leap in their decoding skills after a few weeks of doing daily timed, repeated readings of short passages. But I think this specific strategy is best for kids who are around a mid-third grade reading level---it's not so great for fifth and sixth graders, even for those fifth and sixth graders who are "low". It's also best to turn right around and put those newly developed decoding muscles to great use---reading fantastic literature.
My current metaphor (and, again, I'm not dogmatic about this) is that if you want something you can grow in six weeks, like a dandelion, then stick kids in intervention pull-out groups where they read and reread contrived, boring texts. If you want something that takes 12 years to grow, like, say, an oak tree---or critical, habitual, responsive, lifelong readers--then put kids in year after year of strong reading workshops. I'm just super glad to have some data right now to support this metaphor and belief. I think it's fair for educators to be asked to back their "instincts" with results. What a nice December gift I've been given.