Musings on Fluency


Photograph: Larry McGone, 2016 (fellow waterman)

Although I haven’t posted in quite a while, CEG is alive and well. We still offer tutoring and consultation. Although I (Kate) have taken a full-time position with Volusia County Schools, as has Mikel, we are both available after three on school days. If you need help during the school day, one of our other consultants will be happy to assist you. Please simply use the form under “How we work.”

As many of you know, I am a big fan of professional educators. It is one of the reasons I am cautious regarding both home schooling and private schooling in Florida. In Florida, one doesn’t have to have attended any college to teach either of those (although many who do, have).

Fluency is a term educators are, well, fluent with! Many components, carefully managed, build educational fluency. Why is it so crucial? Let’s look at an example. First there is skill acquisition, then there is fluency. Here’s a bit about fluency, and as the link implies, it is an oversimplification:

“An Oversimplified Overview of Fluency

Fluency strategies are designed to take an existing skill, and increase accuracy and speed of skill performance in order to develop competence. For example, a child may be able to tell someone his name 10 seconds after being asked, but if he’s already lost the attention of the person asking, that skill isn’t going to help his social success. The goal of fluency training for this child would be to increase his rate of performance of telling people his name until it became fast and accurate and therefore meaningful for the child.

Precision Teaching Literature suggests that teaching a skill fluently (achieving accuracy plus speed as a requirement of mastery) achieves the following goals:

  • Retention
  • Endurance: The ability of the skill to be performed at a particular level over time.
  • Application: The ability to combine elements of a behavior to create a more sophisticated behavior.”–(citation:

Such crucial educational concepts are standard for professional teachers. As well, they learn in college and continue to address in professional development at which developmental stages to introduce new skills; when to revisit mastered concepts and skills to continue fluency-building; strategies for enhancing engagement.

I had a real-life reminder of the crucial nature of skill acquisition, mastery, and fluency this past week.  Our twenty-five year old son was surfing near the north jetty at Ponce Inlet when he was bitten by a large (the surgeon estimated eight feet) bull shark. Sam, our son, who was in deep water, used his surf leash to bring his surfboard to him, got on, “whitewatered” in, and calmly used his surf leash as a tourniquet until help arrived. He remained calm. He never went into shock. Beyond treating himself, because he was calm and lucid, he was able to assist in his own care once the ambulance arrived. Now, Sam is a strong young man, and tends to be calm rather than stressed–he’s a true Type-B personality. However, it is my belief that fluency played a key role in saving his life.

Sam has been surfing just about every day for the past dozen years. Even when the waves are very bad, he is out there, skill building. He is as fluent in the water as a twenty-five year old surfer can be. That’s key. He has acquired the needed skills, retained them, built his endurance, and when the need came to apply his skills to a new situation, he was able to combine elements of a behavior to create a more sophisticated behavior.

The key here is supervised skill acquisition, and practice to build retention and endurance. Because Sam was a fluent surfer, as his friends put it on the fundraising page, “…..local icon, rolemodel, and all around waterman Sam Cumiskey. On August 29th Sam was attacked and mauled by a 7 ft bullshark while surfing ponce inlet. Sam is starting his road to recovery and made it through a successful surgery this  morning.”…he is alive. (citation:

Surfers and boaters understand the term “waterman.” It means the individual is fluent. Sam’s fluency helped save his life, because all that practice kicked in to make space in his brain available to deal with a brand-new situation: his skills such as retrieving his board, surfing to the beach, and remaining calm in the ocean, as well as reading the water, became so automatic that he was able to focus on the emergent nature of the situation and concentrate on getting out of it, stopping the bleeding, saving his own life.

Now, I realize this dramatic, real-life situation may have you scratching your head and saying to yourself, “What does this have to do with education?”

Fluency is a very real need when it comes to learning. Let’s take reading. First, students acquire the skills needed to read, then, they practice, practice, practice to build fluency. Once students become fluent readers, the necessary skills are automatic when they are faced with new learning which they must read and retain! I am continually surprised at the questions which come from fluent readers regarding new textural information, as opposed to those which come from students who still struggle with fluency-building. Fluent readers are able to key in to new concepts and new information and make the necessary cognitive leaps which lead to new skill acquisition. That’s learning. That’s education. And that’s why educated teachers are crucial to your child’s learning.

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