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.



For retrospective

Dorothy Watson, our colleague, highlights the power of miscue analysis with her concept “Miscues I’ve Known and Loved” (Watson & Stansell, 1980).  Miscues helped Ken Goodman discover a window into the reading process and when teachers working with readers discover the miscues they and their students make, they discover windows into their students’ knowledge about language and understandings about their reading. Miscues reveal readers’ sense making.  There is no reading without meaning making/comprehension. That is the goal all readers share.

In this post, I select a few of my favorite high quality miscues I’ve known and loved that reveal the successful predicting and confirming strategies readers. These miscues result in sentences that are semantically and syntactically acceptable that make little or no change to the meaning of the text.

Brian, an eighth grader, is reading a short story.  Attached is a transcript of the first seven lines of text marked with his oral miscues. He makes three miscues in these four sentences.  Let’s look at each separately.  In the first sentence, (line 012) Brian reads fruit for fruits.  In coding this sentence, I read it as Brian did: “having fresh fruit and vegetables.” I code this miscue and the sentence in which it occurs as semantically (Y=Yes) and syntactically acceptable (Y=Yes).  In other words, the sentence sounds like language (grammatically acceptable in English) and makes sense in the whole story.  I also code it as causing no change to the meaning (N) of the story.  Fruit is a high quality miscue. According to our research, these are the kind of miscues proficient readers make. Brian predicts fruit for fruits because in English grammar both fruit and fruits can be treated as plurals depending on the context such as this one.   Just a Short Trip

In the next sentence there are two miscues: the substitution of to for a and the omission of of the prior to apples.  Brian reads, “I turned to….  self corrects immediately, repeating the beginning of the sentence with the expected response: “I turned a sharp corner” continuing into the next clause reading: “and apples rolled a…  all over the floor of the car.”  I code this sentence as semantically and syntactically acceptable.  The sentence makes sense now that Brian self corrected his prediction of to.  “I turned to….”   is perfectly acceptable with the prior language of the sentence but not with what follows. His immediate self correction shows that he knows “to sharp corner” would not be acceptable as he disconfirms his prediction. He does not self correct the omission of the prior to apples because this sentence is semantically and syntactically acceptable without the determiner prior to apples.

Brian is selective about what he chooses to self correct. He self corrects miscues that will not result in an acceptable sentence, but doesn’t bother with miscues that do not disrupt acceptability. He uses the meaning of the story and its grammar to make decisions about when and where to self correct. Because readers focus on meaning making, they are usually unaware of their high quality miscues and their predicting and confirming strategies in such contexts. In the next sentence, Brian again does not self correct his omission when he predicted “kick some apples” which results in acceptability and again there is no need to self correct.

As teachers do miscue analysis, they also discover the power of such high quality miscues and understand that miscues are an aspect of how we all read. I have similar miscue data throughout Brian’s reading of this story and can share his reading patterns with him to help him understand that all readers make miscues. His fairly complete retelling also corroborates his comprehension

We also have research data on large numbers of readers that provide corroborating evidence. (Y. Goodman, 2016).  Brian is an efficient and effective reader. He gathers the least amount of surface information from the print in the text (efficient) in order to make sense (effective). And he brings his background and linguistic knowledge to his reading.

It is inefficient for readers to correct all miscues. In our large database studies, no group of readers reading a whole text overtly self-corrected more than 40% of their miscues. Efficient and effective readers make decisions about when to self correct. When readers make miscues that are fully acceptable in a sentence, they are usually unaware of those miscues. They confirm their miscues silently (no need for correction) and continue reading. Readers disconfirm and self-correct miscues that disrupt the acceptability to a much greater extent than acceptable miscues in fractions of seconds. Self-correction strategies are rarely for the purpose of accuracy nor do they need to be. They are for the purpose of the reader constructing a meaningful text.

So what does this mean for reading instruction? Encourage lots of reading for Brian so he becomes confident as a reader. Most important is for teachers to understand that miscues are an ongoing part of the reading process and that not all miscues should or need to be corrected.   Readers’ miscue patterns in a whole story plus their retelling provide evidence about readers’ sense making. Readers should become aware of the nature of their own miscues through conversations with their teachers. This is the central theme in The Essential RMA. In future posts, I’ll discuss other miscue patterns with alternate suggestions for instruction.

Yetta Goodman

The Essential RMA:

Richard C. Owen:

Goodman, Y., Martens, P., Flurkey, A., (2014) The Essential RMA: A window into readers’ thinking. Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.

Goodman, Y. (2016) Miscue Analysis: A transformative tool for researchers, teachers and readers (p. 1-19).  Literacy research, theory, method and Practice. Literacy Research Association Yearbook.

Watson, D. & Stansell J. (1980) Miscues We’ve Known and Loved. Reading Psychology 1(2). 127 – 132.

JUST GET STARTED by Yetta Goodman

For retrospective

Analyzing miscues of good readers is as powerful in learning about the reading process as engaging vulnerable readers in miscue. The more we see readers with a range of proficiencies transacting with written language and examining what they do, the more we understand how much readers know about the language cueing systems and how our brains are working to make sense.

Learning to do miscue analysis with your students is easier than you think—but just get started. You need a recording device, an appropriate text that will be interesting for your reader, a transcript of the text and sharpened pencils to mark miscues. Give a copy of the transcript to each student involved in listening and marking miscues. More specifics about miscues, miscue analysis and miscue markings are in RMI references available in this website.

Get everything ready and you are set to go! The more experience you get with miscue, the easier it becomes and the more you understand. Tell students: “we will discover interesting things about what we do when we read. Miscues show how much each of us knows about language and reading. What we will hear are NOT mistakes, but miscues.”

Involve students in doing miscue analysis on one reader in the class or pairing up and miscuing each other, or organize a small group working together on the miscues done by one reader in the group. Start out with an effective reader for the first miscue analysis you do — a reader who may not seem confident in reading, but usually comprehends fairly well. And remember to turn on the recording device so everyone can listen to the miscues and discuss what they hear after the reading.

As teacher, it is best to listen to the reading once before you listen with the students. Discuss the high quality miscues the reader made first —those that make sense in the sentence even though the meaning may have changed some. And include miscues self-corrected by the reader. As you discuss miscues with students, ask the reader:

“Why do you think you made this miscue? What cues in the story/article did you use to make the miscue and how did you handle that?”

Keep in mind that miscues analysis is a “window into the reading process” providing ways to discover what humans know about language and the world as they read.

Yetta Goodman for