When we think of “fluency,” we typically associate it with language.
In fact, if you Google a definition, the first one that pops up is “the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately.” The second definition, is far more interesting: “the ability to express oneself easily and articulately.” With that, applications for the arts start swirling.
Fluency is not a word that belongs exclusively to literacy teachers.
Although standards in all four strands of ELA standards build skills contributing to students’ fluency in language, the only explicit mention of fluency in the K-5 Common Core Standards for ELA appears in RF.4: Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding (kindergarten) and Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension (Grades 1-5). Meanwhile, there are several mentions of fluency in the Common Core Standards for Mathematics.
First, there is mention of procedural fluency, which is defined as “skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately.” In addition, there are references to fluency associated with skills at the Grades 1, 2, 4, and 5 (fluency with mathematical operations).
If we look at fluency as a means of communicating thinking rather than solely as a means of expressing language, the arts, in addition to promoting fluency processes and skills of their own, are a fantastic tool to help our students develop fluent thinking skills. True fluency is characterized by “the quality of creative expression, and the ability to construct new associations and meanings” (Matney, p. 27).
If we take fluency to mean not only a student’s understanding of the structure and meaning of a content area and the accuracy of its application, but also students’ ability to generate ideas, apply flexible and creative thinking, and to explain their reasoning within these contexts, the arts are the truest form of fluency.
Each art form has its own form of fluency.
In each art form, musicians, actors, dancers, and visual artists combine the elements of their art to not only decode and produce/perform the work of others, but also to create and express their own ideas to an audience, much like a writer builds upon their foundation of literary fluency to generate and produce their own work.
Not only do the arts provide opportunity for fluency in and of themselves, they can provide support for fluency in Common Core. Students can use a piece of visual art as a writing prompt by quickly generating a list of ideas about the piece, and then choosing one of these ideas as an essay topic or prompt for a short story. Using song lyrics is a fantastic tool for choral reading to increase fluency. Associating rhythm with poetry is another great strategy.
If true fluency is measured by a student’s ability to use their understanding of a content to creatively and flexibly express their own ideas in that content, the arts provide opportunity. Students use their fluency in skills and procedures to create something original. We can use drama to create a reader’s theatre based on repeated readings of a piece of literature. We can ask students to create a melody using known pitches and rhythms to accompany a piece of poetry they have written.
And therein lies the beauty of arts integration.
It is vitally important to provide students opportunities to make sense of problems and apply their understanding. A prescribed, “one-size-fits-all” method of learning and expression does not work for all learners, and so we have to be striving as educators to promote fluent learning and thinking by providing our students the skills, strategies, and opportunities to solve problems, to explain their thinking, and to apply those problem solving skills to new situations and problems, and to apply those understandings to creative expression.
Matney, G. (2014). Early mathematics fluency with CCSSM. Teaching Children Mathematics, 21(1), pp. 27-35.
See other references and resources in my LiveBinder