GIVING READERS THE WORD by Kenneth S. Goodman and Yetta M. Goodman


Recently, Stephanie McAndrews, director of the literacy program at Southern Illinois University. Edwardsville, asked the following question on the Literacy Research Association listserv.

Does anyone have any research to support not telling students words during assessment using running records or miscue analysis?  While I strongly advocate against telling students words during assessment as it discourages problem solving and self-correction, several manuals (DRA, AIMS web, etc.) still advocate for it.

We responded and decided to write this post because it is important for teachers to consider how they respond to oral reading miscues.

Our view of “telling kids the word they are stuck on” while they are reading aloud comes from many years of studying oral reading miscues. We have concluded that the teacher’s role is to provide as little support as possible during the oral reading itself, other than encouraging readers to continue reading on their own. Retrospective miscue analysis (RMA) research provides evidence of students’ growth as a result of discussions they have about their reading. After an oral reading and retelling, the reader and the teacher talk about the reader’s miscues and strategies to highlight and explore the reader’s strengths. RMA helps readers discover that only they are in charge of what they do to make sense as they read.

We ask teachers to consider:  “Is reading always knowing the next word? Or is it making sense of text?” Many readers suffer from the “next word syndrome” and develop the notion that “good readers” always know all the words they are encountering.  But how does a teacher know which word the reader is stuck on? Is it the next one after the one already read?  Eye movement research make clear that readers’ eyes fixate at a point in the text well ahead of the last word read aloud. When the teacher “gives the reader the word,” the reader is often unaware what word the teacher is referring to. If the teacher and the reader are focusing on different segments of the text, insecure readers (often those needing the greatest support) become confused. Sometimes readers hesitate at a “known” word that they read frequently without miscues because it doesn’t fit with what the reader has predicted. Telling the reader the word without taking into account what the reader is doing sends the message, “Say it anyway even if it doesn’t make sense.”

The messages teachers send in their responses to readers become important instructional information for the reader. Teachers can send unintended messages that keep the reader focused on sub-skills and distract them from meaning making. When the teacher says, “Look at the word closely for the little words in the big words,” or “Check the beginning and ends of the words to make sure the sounds are right,” the reader interprets this as “Here’s the right way to say the word; say it my way and you’ll be fine.” Rather than taking a risk to make personal meaning, readers become very good at manipulating the teacher’s help. If they pause long enough and keep their eyes cast down, or look up with a pleading expression, they can get the teacher to say the word. If the reason for telling a word to a student is to get through a lesson, then that also becomes the pupil’s goal.

However, if the purpose of reading is to make sense as we believe, then the teacher must be patient and cheer for the learner as a problem is solved even when the solution, while meaningful,  isn’t the expected word. Miscues provide insight into the ways in which the reader is transacting with the text for meaning making purposes. If readers are “given the word” such evidence becomes unavailable to illuminate the successful strategies they use to make sense as they read. In RMA discussions after a reading, the reader and the teacher explore thoughtfully selected miscues to consider what the reader was thinking about when the miscue was made.  Perhaps the reader is following an unintentionally taught strategy – such as sounding out a word. Or perhaps the reader is using prediction and confirmation strategies that reflect the reader’s knowledge and his or her search for meaning making.

In our RMA conversations, students use their own miscues as evidence that they are engaged in making sense. The messages we send to readers while they explore their miscues includes: “Can you make sense of that? Why do you think so? What else could you have done to make sense? While you were reading, what do you think the author was trying to say?” When the reader asks for help during a reading, we remind the reader to keep on reading, to think about what they have already understood and what they think will happen next. “Keep reading to see if you can figure it out.”

Working in this way, readers continue to develop meaning making strategies and become more confident as they revalue their own reading and thinking strategies. We help readers understand that they are in control of their own meaning making. Readers need to know that how a word sounds doesn’t provide the best information for understanding. The reader’s focus needs to be on comprehension — making sense.


One thought on “GIVING READERS THE WORD by Kenneth S. Goodman and Yetta M. Goodman”

  1. This is a great article. Thanks for writing it. It summarises the issues I try to explain but often ended up confusing my audience because I haven’t been able to say what I intend as crisply and clearly as this. My only criticism is that this sentence initially confused me: “Our view of “telling kids the word they are stuck on” while they are reading aloud comes from many years of studying oral reading miscues.” I would have liked a ‘NOT’ inserted before “telling”, i.e. “Our view of “ NOT telling kids the word they are stuck on”.
    Brian Cambourne


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