Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book Outliers that researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really become good, or fluent at anything. 10,000 hours! Mem Fox tells us in Reading Magic that in order for kids' brains to be ready to learn to read, they need to hear 1,000 stories, because then their pump is primed and fluent at how stories go and the relationship between print and the spoken word. Richard Allington tells us in What Really Matters Most to Struggling Readers that in order to maintain a student's reading level, he or she needs to read 2 hours a day.
In writing, there are many aspects to fluency. Students have to be able to spell words without much concentration. They also need to be able to write as they talk, or better than they talk, or they'll realize that they'll write, as many of us speak, in short, choppy fragments. They have to have variety to the lengths of their sentences. While doing all of this, they also need to pay attention to the many punctuation marks they'll use, and how each sentence contributes to the overall meaning of the entire piece.
You can imagine how this fits in other subject areas: knowing math facts, applying mathematical operations, conducting certain scientific processes, finding something on a map, or looking up a word in a dictionary or online.
Yes, fluency is important, but here's the essential question to today's post...Wait for it...
With certain tasks, that is it! We want a mechanic to be able to do an oil change in under 10 minutes, so we can go home. He can then do more oil changes in a day, and make more money. We want the chef in a restaurant to be able to cook our meal quickly, so that we can go home. She can cook the many meal orders that come in at one time. However, is that the point with reading? Is that the point with writing? Is that the point with math, science, exercise, music, art? Not really.
When students can do anything with fluency, it allows them to apply the work to some greater cause. If kids can read fluently, they can achieve deeper comprehension. Writing fluency leads to greater expression. We can move toward greater depth in a process of something through fluency in any of these areas: scientific discoveries, mathematical problem solving, playing an entire piece, or winning at a sport! Fluency leads to a higher accomplishment. It allows them to become engrossed in the process they are undertaking. It gives them pleasure, a rush so to speak, because they're not expending all their energy solving words, remember what 4 times 6 is, or concentrating on every stroke of their paintbrush.
If you've gotten this far in this post, congratulations! You've got pretty good reading fluency, but you're also probably interested in the topic. It's causing you to read and grow ideas. You're reading with fluency to get the words right, but you're also reading with something called flow.
In Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi writes, "Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person's skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding." There is a connection between effortless fluency in any task and the pleasure that you can achieve, something he calls the autotelic experience, internal motivation that is a reward itself!
Yes, fluency can lead us to deeper thinking. It creates engagement, immersion, and a sense of reward if we push students and ourselves to that deeper level. It's the motivation to do more and to do better! It's the drive that should be leading us down roads to new professional learning as teachers, never really mastering our work, because we're trapped in the four (sometimes fewer) walls of any specific program. We might feel fluent at teaching any one particular thing, but that means we have to do more with it to make our work as rewarding as it was when we started many years ago!