What is fluency?
At mastery, skills can be performed with 95 percent or greater accuracy, but they might still require some thought and they cannot necessarily be performed quickly and effortlessly. Fluent skills can be performed quickly and effortlessly, nearly without error, and more or less automatically without even thinking about it. Most people are fluent walkers, writers of their name, speakers of their name, readers of newspapers, and many other skills. But, that leaves many skills at which we tend not to be fluent. We’re not very good at reading manuals, for instance, nor at organizing our important personal papers, or our closets.
Benefits of fluent skills
Once fluent, skills tend to be retained or maintained much longer, they tend to be able to be performed for longer periods of time and under distracting conditions, and they are more available for higher-level skills. Fluent readers, for example, are skilled even if, perchance, they have no opportunity to read for a long period of time; they can sustain reading for long periods; they can read successfully even if there are distractions; and they can learn many new things by reading. Disfluent readers are just the opposite in every respect. They become more disfluent in the absence of practice; they can’t read for very long; distractions easily disrupt their reading; and it is very difficult for them to learn much of anything from text. Performing any of the so-called basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, calculating in a fluent manner is critical to academic success.
The role of practice
Practice is important and practice is best when it is done fast and accurately. In a wonderful interview of Ray Charles aired on NPR, the entertainer was asked if he practices. He said that he practices every chance he gets. Then, the interviewer asked him if he practices the songs he is scheduled to play for the evening’s concert. “No, no, no, no, . . . , for what seemed to be at least two dozen “no’s.” He said he practices the classic etudes, the exercises that permit him to play what he’s scheduled to play more easily. Pianists, musicians in general, athletes of all kinds, and artists are examples of individuals whose expertise has emerged because of continuous practice of the fundamentals. In TIEE’s schools students practice the fundamentals for rate and accuracy every day.