This past summer, my colleagues and I hosted another of our biennial conferences on miscue analysis at Hofstra University. One thing that keeps coming back to me is a question asked by some participants after learning the basics of miscue. “Why haven’t I heard about this?” It’s an important question, and its complicated answer is rooted in the entwined histories of such diverse disciplines as cognitive psychology, sociolinguistics, literary criticism, child development, and anthropology, and in the competition among those disciplines over the past 50 years to influence theories of education. It is a competition of ideas that has itself been influenced by shifts in politics and economics—all of which have had a bearing on educational policies and classroom practices. To put it bluntly, “Why haven’t I heard about this?” is a question that gets asked because, as Frank Smith would say, education has “backed the wrong horse.”
As the miscue conference progressed, a second question soon followed the first. “Why doesn’t everyone know about this?” This question was asked, I believe, for the same reasons I asked it myself when I first learned miscue analysis several years ago. I asked it because of the sudden and unparalleled insights miscue analysis afforded me—insights that came from directly observing the strategies readers used as they went about making sense of print. Simply put: miscue changes things. Grasping the miscue concept in reading, and rejecting the concept of “error,” changes the way a teacher views the capabilities of learners. And when RMA is used to share these views with students, they themselves begin to change the way they think about their own capabilities. For teachers, these insights lead to more questions: How do we change our teaching practices to take advantage of the newly recognized capabilities of our students? How can we rethink curriculum to build on students’ interests and curiosities? If education is our social arrangement for fostering our young, then miscue analysis provides the nursery for ideas about growing curriculum up from the roots of learners’ experiences with language and their interests in exploring the world.
I believe that miscue analysis is the shortest, quickest path to understanding reading as transaction—Louise Rosenblatt’s term for a reader’s personal response to text. I also believe that miscue analysis is the shortest, quickest path to understanding reading as a language process—that what’s true of language must also be true of reading, as Ken Goodman puts it. These two key constructs, transaction and reading as a language process, are crucial to understanding how reading works, and to effectively supporting reading development. But miscue also puts us on a path that runs headlong into the official policies of the Common Core and the educational-industrial complex that influences those policies.
So who should learn miscue analysis? All teachers, of course. And parents. But then imagine what would happen if your principal and superintendent and school board members grasped the essentials of a transactional socio-psycholinguistic model of literacy and language learning. What would happen then to the sweatshop classrooms, and the joyless day-in day-out routines that pass for curriculum in many of our country’s classrooms if administrative leaders were to do a few miscue analyses on a few typical readers? Imagine the implications of members of Congress coming to terms with insights that result from doing just one miscue analysis. Would they think again about the pipeline that funnels public money to global publishing consortiums? The cost of doing miscue analysis is quite low in terms of time and materials, but the returns would be very high.
Miscue changes things. In the previous post to this blog, Yetta Goodman asks us to just get started. In this post, I ask the uninitiated to just. do. one.
Alan Flurkey for retrospectivemiscue.com