RMA Helps Readers Revalue Themselves

Retrospective Miscue Analysis invites readers to explore their own sense making. One result is a positive shift in how readers view themselves. That’s revaluing. In her post Reading That Makes Sense, Susan Warren shares another result—a shift in reading proficiency.

Reading That Makes Sense: A Reader Revalued by Susan Warren

“By exploring our miscues, James was developing the idea that reading was not about reading words fast and accurately. He was beginning to understand that reading was about comprehending. When James came to a word he did not know, he needed permission to make a meaningful substitution. We practiced this until he was doing it on his own. Instead of begging me to tell him the word, he started demanding that I not tell him the word, but give him a hint about what it might mean. Success!”

The potential of bringing about these sorts of changes in our readers fuels our enthusiasm for doing RMA.

Read the full blog post here.



For retrospective miscue.com

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:  http://www.retrospectivemiscue.com

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

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.


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


For retrospective miscue.com

In the previous blog post on this site Alan Flurkey describes the pedagogical confusion he’s encountered in his career as a reading educator. He argues that much of this confusion would disappear if more stakeholders in children’s reading education knew and understood miscue analysis. In this blog I intend to examine in more detail the nature of this pedagogical confusion by addressing the question in the title, i.e.

Why Is Reading Education So Pedagogically Confused?

I began teaching in 1956. When I entered the profession Reading Education had a culture of on-going ‘turf battles’ and/or ‘paradigm wars.’ These battles have continued to rage within the profession for at least the last sixty years. Not only have they become increasingly destructive and counter productive for the field, they have attained the status of “Reading Wars.” As such they have generated a confusing array of contradictory interpretations of so-called ‘effective reading,’ ‘effective learning,’ effective assessment, and ‘effective pedagogy’. One consequence of these  “Reading Wars” is that we now have a professionally insular culture in which competing groups of reading researchers and theory builders stay rigidly within their own theoretical and research ‘silos,’ rarely crossing theoretical or paradigm borders, talking to and writing only for each other, rejecting ideas that do not support the conceptual frameworks they value. Attempts by policy makers to invoke ‘science’ and ‘evidence-based research’ as a way to reduce this theoretical confusion haven’t helped. Instead a new round of argument and debate about ‘whose science” and ‘whose evidence’ has erupted.

Such a state of affairs begs the question posed in the title.

Here are some ‘dot-point’ thoughts which explore, expand, and (hopefully) offer a possible explanation for this state of affairs.

  • The ‘Reading Wars’ are really about what a ‘scientifically valid pedagogy’ of reading instruction should ‘look like’.
  • Because a ‘ scientifically valid theory of pedagogy’ can only be derived from, (and based on) a ‘scientifically valid theory of learning,’ then the ‘reading wars’ should more accurately be described as ‘learning wars.’
  • After a hundred or so years of research and theory building, psychology as a domain of scientific endeavour hasn’t been  able to develop some sort of consensual agreement on what human learning ‘is’ and how it ‘works.’
  • Instead an abundance of extant (often conflicting) learning theories are continually emerging from experimental psychology. (http://www.hyperkommunikation.ch/seminare/gruppenprozesse/tip/theories.html)
  • In other (historically older) theoretical domains such as physics, biology, astronomy, evolution etc.,  after a century of research and theory building , broad “umbrella” theories which lack either internal and/or external validity  are eliminated from serious consideration. New data and research which converge toward a single set of derivative, explanatory principles begin to emerge.
  • When it comes to one of its key theoretical concepts (learning), after more than a century of experimental research and theory building, psychology has not yet reached this degree of theoretical maturity. Psychologists are still squabbling about the nature of learning.

Until the profession converges towards a single, tested, derivative theory of human learning which accounts for the complex abstract knowledge humans continually construct and apply in the world the Reading Wars will continue to be fought, and we will continue to be perceived as an internally dysfunctional, epistemologically immature, and scientifically naïve rabble. Little wonder politicians want to take control of the field away from those who call themselves ‘Reading Educators.’

Brian Cambourne for retrospectivemiscue.com


For retrospective miscue.com

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 transactionLouise 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

JUST GET STARTED by Yetta Goodman

For retrospective miscue.com

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 retrospectivemiscue.com


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