"He has great comprehension, but he makes lots of errors with word accuracy on the assessments."
Here are the steps I recommend for addressing this problem.
1. Name It
Talk to the student about what you are noticing about his/her reading accuracy. Name the problem by telling the student that you notice they are having difficulty with word accuracy. As teachers, I think it is important for us to give purposeful feedback to students to help them improve. I am definitely from the camp that believes that it is hard for students to improve something if they do not have specific feedback.
2. Explain It
Explain why word accuracy is important to the student. Even though some students may have good comprehension with decreased word accuracy at first, their comprehension will likely decrease when they encounter more complex texts in the future.
Some struggling readers are used to being challenged by word accuracy. They constantly need to use strategies to decode words. Around 3rd and 4th grade, the children who tend to struggle with word accuracy are often those who had no trouble learning to read in previous grades. These are the children who did not necessarily have to use strategies at first. Words just came easy to them and when they begin to encounter multisyllabic words in 3rd and 4th grade, they have difficulty decoding the words. They often tend to only focus on the beginning portion of the word.
3. Check for Discrimination
It is important to determine whether or not the student can discriminate when someone else makes errors as they read. If they can't tell when someone else makes an error, then it will be hard for them to self correct their own errors.
To work on this, I give the student a copy of a book at their level and I read a few paragraphs (or pages if the text is short) from another copy of the same book. I ask the student to track the print and either knock on the table or ding a bell (just because that is more engaging) every time they "catch Mrs. Gillow" reading a word incorrectly. Taking the focus off the reader, but asking them to focus on my reading accuracy helps me determine if they are able to discriminate the correct vs. incorrect words that I read.
I practice this for the first few minutes each day during small group instruction with students who have good comprehension, but reduced word accuracy. Then I simply remind them about the importance of word accuracy and continue on with their small group instruction for the day.
4. Reverse Roles
Once I know the student can discriminate word accuracy in someone else's reading, I reverse the roles and practice the same routine with the student doing the reading and me knocking quietly on the table. Competitive students often beg me to ding the bell, but I only use the bell if the student requests it.
5. Try Tracking
Over the years, the single most effective strategy that my readers have used to improve their word accuracy is tracking the print. I encourage my students to use their finger (since it's always with them). From time to time, I give students a color overlay bookmark to help them track the print.
I disagree with the folks who have recently recommended that students should stop tracking print at level D. As an adult, I sometimes track my print to help focus my attention. If it works, you are never too old to track the print.
Now off to walk my doodles!