TEXT MATTERS: PREDICTABLE vs. DECODABLE TEXTS by Prisca Martens

For retrospective miscue.com

Brian Cambourne’s recent post explores the “pedagogical confusion” in reading education due to a lack of understanding of the learning process as well as the reading process. One of the powerful aspects of miscue analysis is the window it provides to observe and analyze the reading process “in action”. By studying reading through this window, miscue observers gain insights into the reading process, learn how efficiently and effectively readers integrate language systems reading strategies to construct meaning, and evaluate reading materials for how well they support readers and reading instruction.

Materials used for reading are critical. In miscue analysis we use complete authentic texts, not parts of texts or contrived texts. Miscue analysis research shows that all texts are not “equal” for all readers. The predictability of texts for readers matters. Predictability is a concept that grows out of a socio-psycholinguistic view of reading. While all authentic language is predictable to some extent, predictability for readers depends what readers know about language and the world in relation to the content of the text and their familiarity with the syntactic structures, concepts, wordings, vocabulary, and organizational structure of text. What is predictable for one reader, such as books on chemistry or engineering, may not be predictable for another reader.

Decodable texts are inauthentic texts and popular in some reading programs. These texts are based on the word recognition theory of reading. Readers are considered proficient when they identify words fluently and effortlessly. Decodable texts are distinguishable from other texts by the high degree of phonic regularity in the texts and the match between the letter-sound relationships in the text and those that have been taught.

Miscue studies document that while students can read decodable texts, they “look” and “sound” different due to the features of these texts. As an example, 6-year-old Lydia read one of each type of text for me.  First she read the predictable book titled I Love Mud and Mud Loves Me (Stephens, 1994). In this story, Mom asks, “Sam, why are you all muddy?” [followed by “why are there worms in your pocket”, paint on your arms, jam on your face, etc.].  Each time Sam replies, “Sorry, Mom, but I love mud [worms, paint, etc.] and [mud] loves me.” While Lydia had some pauses for less familiar vocabulary, she read the book relatively efficiently and effectively, supported by picture clues and patterned language. She also had a strong retelling.

Then Lydia read Pat and Sam, a decodable text produced by Open Court (1995). In this story, Pat leaves her cat Sam home to take a nap when she goes out but instead of napping, Sam gets into mischief. The text emphasizes the short <a> and <e> sounds in short sentences, such as “Sam taps a pan,” “Sam bats a pack of ten pens,” and “Sam sets off for the mat.” Lydia read this text slowly and haltingly and had more miscues, but retold the story well.

Lydia read and comprehended both texts. Both texts were “readable”. Just because decodable texts are “readable”, though, does that mean we should have students read them?  Miscue analyses of Lydia’s readings revealed that the decodable text did not facilitate her reading as the predictable text did, due to compromises the writer/publisher necessarily made to produce readable texts whose purpose was to teach skills, rather than support meaning construction. Should Lydia and students like her spend time with decodable texts just because those texts can be read? Or, should we immerse students in rich authentic texts that by nature are predictable and thus support students in integrating language systems and reading strategies to read more effectively and efficiently and construct meaning?

Prisca Martens

The Essential RMA:  http://www.retrospectivemiscue.com

Richard C. Owen: http://www.rcowen.com

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LEARNING ABOUT READERS THROUGH the BURKE READING INTERVIEW by Prisca Martens

For retrospective miscue.com

There was a time in my life as a teacher that I didn’t consider what students believed about reading or themselves as readers when we read together. What mattered then was only how the students ‘sounded’ as they read, whether they made ‘mistakes’ or not and how ‘fluently’ they read.

Years later, through miscue analysis, I realize how off base I was then.  By understanding miscue analysis I hear the wealth of strengths students reveal about themselves as readers. These include their focus on constructing meaning, their knowledge of grammar and phonics, their prediction and self-correction strategies, etc.  I’ve read with LOTS of readers and have yet to meet one without strengths. Miscue analysis helps me understand where students need support and where I can use strategy lessons to build on their strengths so they read more efficiently and effectively.

Before I first read with a student I always begin with the Burke Reading Interview (BRI) because it gives me insights into the students’ beliefs about reading and themselves as readers. I use this information as I design strategy lessons and retrospective miscue analysis sessions with readers.

The BRI [Burke Reading Interview]  includes questions that probe students’ beliefs of what reading is, how it works, and who they are as readers.

  1. When you’re reading and you come to something you don’t know, what do you do? Do you ever do anything else?
  2. Who is a good reader that you know?
  1. What makes __________________ a good reader?
  1. Do you think _________________ ever comes to something they don’t know?
  1. “Yes”: When ____does come to something s/he doesn’t know, what do you think s/he does? “No”: Suppose ____comes to something s/he doesn’t know. What would s/he do?
  1. What would you do to help someone having difficulty reading?
  1. What would a/your teacher do to help that person?
  1. How did you learn to read?
  1. What would you like to do better as a reader? Do you think you are a good reader? Why?

The same type of question is asked in different ways to more fully flesh out students’ beliefs. I learn what students believe about the reading process, how reading works, and strategies they use from questions 1 5, 6, and 9. Students who identify strategies such as ‘sound it out’, ‘ask you’, or ‘break it into parts’ I know most likely have a more skills-oriented view of reading than meaning-oriented students who respond ‘think about what makes sense’, ‘keep reading’, or ‘skip it and come back later’.  The ‘something’ in question 1 is critical because students’ responses indicate if they believe reading is about words/skills or meaning.

Responses to questions 2, 3, 4, and 5 help me understand students’ beliefs about good readers.  Some students believe good readers ‘know all the words’ and ‘read fast’ while others believe good readers ‘understand what they read’. Questions 6 & 7 give insights into students’ perceptions of instruction while question 8 reveals students’ memories (positive or not) of learning to read.

Questions 9 and 10 are eye-opening!  Often I can guess students’ responses before we get to those questions. I’ve come to value the critical importance of these questions too because I KNOW that students who don’t have positive perceptions of themselves as readers will make little progress until those perceptions change (which is where retrospective miscue analysis and other strategies come in).

The BRI questions are jump off points and not intended to be strictly followed.  I often ask follow up questions to clarify students’ responses and deepen my understandings of them as readers. The BRI has been adapted for older readers [BRI for Older Readers] and bilingual students [BRI in Spanish]. With bilingual interview it’s good to include questions about students’ other language(s) and strategies they use in those languages as well as English.

Please try the BRI and let me know what you learn about your students!  Enjoy!

Prisca Martens  (pmartens@towson.edu)

The Essential RMA:  http://www.retrospectivemiscue.com

Richard C. Owen: http://www.rcowen.com/PB-Indv-ERMA.htm