For the past several years, the typical American public school classroom has been overrun by business and politics. The Common Core Standards, as well as federal and state mandates to “hold teachers accountable” for students meeting those standards, have placed a stranglehold on teachers. Collectively, they have had a deleterious effect on rich reading and writing instruction in the classroom. This said, for the present moment, let us suspend the current state of affairs and pretend that what goes on in a classroom is simply dependent upon one thing – the needs of our students.
Reilly is twelve years old, and in seventh grade. Diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in third grade, she spends her days in a self-contained special education classroom for all mainstream subjects. “Specials” like art and gym are general education classes. Reading has been such a frightening experience for Reilly over the last seven years of schooling that all of her teachers are given strict instructions each year to refrain from asking her to read anything aloud in front of her peers.
As a reader, Reilly’s identity has been constructed primarily at school. She described herself as a failure since kindergarten, when she first had difficulty sounding out letters and words. Her perception of her own ability to read is so fragile that her IEP requires counseling twice per month to support her self-esteem.
But last Friday, during her twenty-ninth session with me, she asked if she could bring a friend. Under her own volition, she read out loud to a peer. This led me to the quintessential question. How did we go from a mandate that she never read in front of another student to her asking to read with a friend?
Over the last nine months, Reilly and I have carved out space to help her revalue herself as a reader. Using rich texts such as Winnie Flies Again (1999) and The Napping House (1983), we began with miscue analysis and moved on to Retrospective Miscue Analysis (RMA). The idea, in the very beginning, was to prove to her that she was actually reading (she did not think she was). Her focus on fluency and decoding through various intervention programs obscured her vision of her own meaning making process as a reader.
We used RMA as a tool to demonstrate the remarkable high quality miscues she was making, and how high quality miscues are indicative of the incredible predictions her brain was making as she read. She came up with all kinds of excuses. I am just using the pictures. I memorized the book. Each time I quickly came to her defense, pointing out other amazing things she did, like her predictions that were either spot on, or far better than the author’s original story.
Over time, miscue analysis and RMA helped Reilly build a strong foundation upon which she was able to build strength as a reader and writer. We rewrote picture books using her powerful language. We wrote original stories using dictation and voice to text applications. She read her writing to me, I read to her, we did shared readings together. We illustrated her stories and conducted research online when a topic piqued our interest. The last “research project” was a query online to determine whether the cafeteria was serving the lunch it claimed to be serving on its online menu. Our work is authentic and always begins from her vantage point.
What has become abundantly clear, is that in contrast with the innumerable interventions that can be bought, and for the time being shall remain nameless, none is as powerful as a student and teacher working with authentic texts for authentic purposes. As powerful, authentic classroom assessments and practices, miscue analysis and RMA are the rich instructional engagements for all readers no matter where we find them, and how broken they may appear, especially to themselves.
Thomas, V., & Paul, K. (1999). Winnie flies again. N.P.: Oxford Children’s Press.
Wood, A., Wood, D., & Hartman, D. (1983). The napping house. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, Inc.