New Online Course: Creating Fluent Readers

The ability to read text accurately and fluidly, with appropriate inflection and pace, is critical to becoming a proficient reader.  Fluent readers have learned to recognize printed words automatically, without requiring the use of significant cognitive resources, freeing up these critical resources for use in the application of critical comprehension strategies, such as drawing inferences.  Disfluent readers, in contrast, must devote so much of their attention to the word identification process that little or no capacity is available for the attention-demanding process of comprehending.

A new training module within the Literacy Learning Center, entitled “Creating Fluent Readers”, is designed to empower teachers to build reading fluency for their students who struggle with reading – particularly those with complex disabilities. The course is divided into three sections.  The first, entitled “What Exactly is Reading Fluency: Looking Beyond Reading Rate and Accuracy,” is directed at dispelling the prevalent notion that fluency is simply a reflection of an student’s reading rate and accuracy, but also of the reader’s prosody and inflection.  The second section, “The Fluency-Decoding Connection,” focuses on the often overlooked relationship between decoding automaticity as a requisite skill for developing fluency.   Finally, “Fluency and Comprehension: A Reciprocal Relationship” addresses the interrelationship between reading fluency and comprehension, and the role each plays in developing the other.

The course will be highly collaborative in nature, utilizing many of the technologies made possible through the Moodle Personal Learning Environment (PLE), including: electronic content via a wide array of electronic media, such as video podcasts; weekly online forums for participants to share strategies, pose questions, and present any challenges encountered;  a collaborative document in which participants can share their experiences with implementing fluency interventions and strategies;  and an electronically-submitted final project.

Click on the “Literacy Learning Center” link under this page’s “Learn Online!” header to join in!

Literacy Best Practices: What’s on the Horizon

The number of students receiving high school diplomas in the United States has been declining in recent years, with research showing that that as many as one-third of our nation’s ninth graders never graduate from high school (Khadaroo, 2010).

A Florida High School student "shows off" her spelling and grammatical skills on her mortar board during her graduation ceremony last Spring. (Khadaroo, 2010)

A major focus of this site will be the implementation of universal learning principles – that is, practices that research has shown to increase learning for all students, regardless of learning style or abilities (or disabilities).  Over the course of the next several months, a wide array of teaching practices and other tools will be explored that facilitate learning for entire school communities, with a different practice/tool explored at the end of each month.  It is my hope that by this time next year, this site will serve as a sort of digital community for the sharing of ideas pertaining to best practices in literacy instruction.

This current blog explores the use of technology as a universal design tool to empower students to learn – to maximize engagement, and enable them to access content and express their ideas more completely.  Such technological tools can also serve to “level the playing field” for students with a wide range of disabilities, diagnosed and not.

Research shows that the more tools students use, the more engaged they are with their reading, and the better they perform at school (CollegeInFocus, 2009).  An innovative college program at Laney College uses literacy-based technology to empower students who have been failed by our educational system in the past, creating successful, lifetime learners.  As stated by one student, in traditional classrooms material is frequently not presented in “the format I need to excel” (CollegeInFocus, 2009).   The program brings together students with and without learning disabilities in an environment where they all can be successful – in one class, using the same technologies, and all advancing in their learning.  Watch as the program’s participants – including administrators, mentors, and students – describe their experiences:

Laney’s “Kurzweil Project” utilizes the cutting-edge Kurzweil 3000 system to engage students – converting textbooks into audibles, multisensory, and ebooks.  This text-to-speech technology enables students who learn differently to all be successful; as one student very profoundly articulated:

“I’ve always been excited about learning.  The issue is: can you reach me?

And then will you give me the opportunity to show you what I am learning?”

(CollegeInFocus, 2009)

An additional, core benefit of this technology is that it facilitates collaboration, with students helping each other learn – or, as one student explains, enabling students of forge a “community” with each other.   In this environment, textbooks serve as a central, engaging class tool  as opposed to a solitary, non-pivotal – and, for many students, confusing – element.

Professors can also add components or other content to text to make it more engaging.  Kurzweil’s study skills features also facilitate increased engagement and higher-level thinking skills – for instance, enabling students to can annotate certain text, to organize content and take notes, to find synonyms for words – and then download everything to their MP3 player or ipod.

The features of this program are consistent with the predictions for education and learning in the future presented by this year’s visionary Horizon Report.   (New Media Consortium, 2011).  This report challenges educators to revisit their roles, becoming “coaches” and otherwise facilitating students’ access to content and learning as opposed to being direct disseminators of this content.  It envisions an innovative learning environment that is increasingly group-oriented and collaborative (New Media Consortium, 2011, p. 3).

Another trend highlighted by the Horizon Report is that students expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want (New Media Consortium, 2011, p. 3).  The report predicts that, within the next 12 months, electronic books and mobile computing will move closer to the mainstream in educational institutions (New Media Consortium, 2011, p. 5).

To read the 2011 Edition of The Horizon Report in its entirety, go to:



CollegeInFocus. (2009, March 11). Universal learning design: Empowering the next generation. Retrieved March 3, 2011, from YouTube:

Khadaroo, S. T. (2010, 10 June). Graduation rate for US high-schoolers falls for second straight year. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from The Christian Science Monitor:

New Media Consortium. (2011, February 9). The Horizon Report — 2011 Edition. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from NMC Publications:

Learning Interactively

According to research conducted in 2008 by Project Tomorrow®, a national education nonprofit organization, students and educators nationwide are growing increasingly aware of and interested in online learning – yet few students had been offered the opportunity to take online courses.  Close to half of the middle school and high school students surveyed reported having researched or being interested in taking an online class; however, only 10% reported have taken an online class through their school (Project Tomorrow, 2009).

The overwhelming reason for their interest was the belief, particularly among older students, that they would be more successful at school when they have more control over their learning.  Teachers who had taught online classes concurred, with just over three-fourths stating that online learning benefits students by putting them in control of their learning – as compared to only 10% of all teachers who participated in the surveys, most of whom have never taught an online course. (Project Tomorrow, 2009).

The report, and associated presentations and podcasts, can be viewed directly at:

This research was conducted in collaboration with Blackboard Inc., the provider of a widely used online, interactive classroom – or what is known as a Learning Management System (LMS).  An LMS – also referred to as a Course Management System (CMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – provides a web-based platform for an interactive classroom, allowing not only for the presentation of content (particularly multimedia) electronically, but also for extensive online collaboration through electronic discussion boards and chat functions.  Such an online classroom puts students in charge of many facets of their learning, including when and where they are “in school”; they can access content, participate in discussions, check their grades – and even take exams – at any time of day (or night).

This site will host an LMS which is scheduled to be “live” next week.  Another widely used online course management system called Moodle (originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) will be utilized.  This open-source software is used all over the world by universities, schools, companies and independent teachers in order to produce Internet-based learning sites; the Moodle “community”, found at,  touts it as “a global development project designed to support a social constructionist framework of education” (Moodle, 2010).  A screen-shot of a portion of a sample Moodle unit, on Romeo and Juliet,  follows, for illustration purposes:

Sample Moodle Unit: Romeo and Juliet

My LMS will focus on disseminating information regarding best practices for phonics instruction.  The first “course” will explore the six syllable types in the English language, beginning with an introduction to each type and culminating in an in-depth exploration of each.  In addition to teaching the core concepts associated with this topic, it is my hope that this LMS will also open the doors to future exploration of online learning and collaboration – in essence, relaying all the potential inherent in LMS’s through the use of these interactive learning environments.


Moodle. (2010, June 17). About Moodle. Retrieved February 12, 2011, from

Project Tomorrow. (2009). Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update. Retrieved February 12, 2011, from Blackboard K-12:

Illiteracy and Incarceration: The Indisputable Link

Boys who drop out of school prior to high school graduation are more than three times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers who graduated.  A whopping one in ten male high school dropouts (or one in four African American dropouts) is in jail or juvenile detention, as compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates (Dillon, 2009).

While it is oversimplistic to conclude that future criminal activity is directly and solely attributable to weak reading skills, or that every (or even most) student(s) who struggle with reading will wind up in jail, the link between literacy and criminal activity is indisputable.  Poor academic performance – due to either instructional or socioeconomic factors, or specific learning disabilities – have been found to be among the greatest factors contributing to adolescents dropping out of school (Hammond, Linton, Smink, & Drew, 2007).  In fact, many states are doing prison capacity planning based on 3rd grade illiteracy rates – long considered to be one of the greatest predictors of future criminal activity (The Imprisonment of America, 2010).  

The link between illiteracy and criminal activity is also evidenced by the impact innovative prison-based academic programs are having on the future behavior of inmates.  Inmates participating in literacy programs have been found to be significantly less likely return to criminal activity following their release.  One major success story is the Point of the Mountain prison in Utah, where inmates are given the opportunity to attend a literacy program at the publicly run South Park Academy. 

Video Courtesy of


In addition to teaching critical literacy and language skills, the program offers a mentoring program whereby inmates serve as tutors to other inmates.  The results have been nothing less than astounding, with those completing higher grade levels tending to re-offend less; in fact, at the time of this video, the prison’s recidivism rate for inmates was only 14 percent, versus 60 percent nationally.  Moreover, the benefits of the Tutoring Program extend to the inmate-tutors as well, as they learn about positive self-satisfaction and the benefits that come through helping others’ succeed (Utah Department of Corrections, 2010).


Inmates in the Utah Department of Corrections' Literacy Program at South Park Academy



Dillon, S. (2009, October 8). Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts . Retrieved February 3, 2011, from The New York Times:

Hammond, C., Linton, D., Smink, J., & Drew, S. (2007). Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from All About Adolescent Literacy:

The Imprisonment of America. (2010). Retrieved February 4, 2011, from Literacy Alert:

Utah Department of Corrections. (2010). Educational Opportunities: Utah State Prison. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from Inmate Programs — Rehabilitation, Education & Employment :

Wimmer, N. (2010, April 26). Illiteracy is strong indicator of future incarceration. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from KSL Newsradio:

Input needed!

I’ve envisioned this site for so long, yet now that I’m trying to pull it all together I realize how much I’m missing…

I am therefore appealing to all my fellow literacy zealots:  let this site be your “voice”!  A “place” to share your thoughts and experiences, your dreams and philosophies.  What can you do?

  • Share your experiences — what works and doesn’t; when (and your theories why) a certain program/intervention is successful, and when it fall short.
  • Share your tried-and-true sources — where do you go when you want more information on a program/intervention (or diagnosis)?  Try to recall the last great article you read or podcast you viewed, and post a link!
  • Share your “experts” — including both professionals and laypeople; both those in the literacy arena and not.
  • Share this site with friends and colleagues — anyone who, by choice or circumstance, has become immersed in the world of literacy.

I’m hoping that, together, we can create a generation of readers.  We’re all on the same “side” — the “side” of our children — so let’s put our differences aside and collaborate on solutions to our nation’s literacy crisis.


This site is truly a “labour of love” – the culmination of several years of research, experience, and networking in the very controversial world of literacy.

My vision for this site is to to serve as a clearinghouse for the most current, unbiased information regarding what research has shown to create the best outcomes in reading for students.  We need to change the way we are teaching students to read in our country, and hopefully this site will start moving us in the right direction…    please join me!

Sheryl Knapp, M.Ed., A/AOGPE

President, Literacy Learning & Assessment Center of Connecticut