WHY IS READING EDUCATION SO PEDAGOGICALLY CONFUSED? by Brian Cambourne

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

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WHO NEEDS TO KNOW MISCUE? by Alan Flurkey

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

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

Twitter In the First Grade Classroom

For retrospective miscue.com

Molly Meck’s blog post is a wonderful illustration of how young children begin to control written language conventions at early ages. They do it because they have the need to communicate and because they’re in a place that encourages and supports their efforts. It’s exciting to read about. What will the upcoming school year bring?

connect capture create

Three years ago as I began my journey at a new tech focused school,  I set up a classroom twitter account. Through that whole year I gained 12 followers about half of which were spam twitter accounts. The next year I didn’t touch my classroom twitter account once. A great deal of this was due to my discomfort and misunderstanding of the technology. I wasn’t sure how to use twitter to share anything other than reminders directed towards families.  Last summer I traveled to NYC to be part of the Teachers College Writing conference. TC heavily uses twitter to tweet out quotes, information, articles, the list goes on and on. Bravely, one day I tweeted out a quote that struck a chord with me and hashtagged it #tcrwp and was thrilled when my tweet was retweeted. I began to follow teachers and presenters I met at the conference. From this…

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READING IS THINKING by Alan Flurkey

For retrospective miscue.com

A colleague recently wrote to tell me that her school had just adopted a DIBELS-like evaluation system, even though she had argued against the idea. Her main objection was the use of the oral reading “fluency” measure that counted correct words per minute. She was sure there was something wrong with this assessment, but she wasn’t sure how to put it into terms that would support her argument.

I agree with her that adopting this reading assessment is a terrible idea. Renowned reading researcher P. David Pearson said in reference to the original, “DIBELS is the worst thing to happen to the teaching of reading since the development of flash cards.”

The topic of “reading fluency “is fresh on my mind because I am currently working with a 5th grader who reads slowly and tentatively. Using miscue analysis, I timed his uninterrupted oral reading of several pages of The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. His reading rate was about 60 words per minute, and he produced several substitution miscues. All of the miscues were either uncorrected high quality miscues (i.e., they did not disrupt meaning), or they were partially acceptable miscues that were then corrected. His understanding of the text demonstrated through his retelling in which he was able to summarize the plot and describe the characters without any prompting. His retelling was complete.

So, why then did he read so slowly? The brief answer is that he was engaged in solving problems he encountered, and that he was savoring the story—commenting aloud on the text as he read.

There were several instances in which he read very slowly, or paused and took several seconds to produce an oral response. For example, he read the second half of the following sentence very slowly: “The inner walls of the [small intestine] were covered with tiny “fingers” called villi.” Then he paused for a couple of sentences and said “‘Fingers,’ okay, I get it.” Our subsequent RMA conversations revealed that it wasn’t a pronunciation that caused him to pause, it was the placement of the particular word in a new context that caused him to reflect and integrate this new information with what he previously knew. It was the word “fingers,” a word he knew, that caused him to pause and reflect, not “villi,” a term that was new to him.

There were other instances in which he seemed to be wondering aloud about some problem he had just encountered. For example, he read crunching and munching for churning and mashing in the sentence, “The walls of the stomach moved in and out, churning and mashing the food into a thick liquid.” At the end of the paragraph, he stopped orally reading and said “One thing I don’t get about this is ‘crunching’ and ‘munching.’ If you’re munching, don’t you have to, like, grind it against something like your teeth?” And then moments later, after glancing back at the text he said, “Oh, that’s mashing…Well, it kind of means the same thing, so it doesn’t bother me.”

Each miscue observation and RMA conversation has  helped me understand that reading is so much more than quickly identifying words, as the DIBELS-like assessments would lead us to believe. Reading is thinking, and thinking takes time. Readers deserve time to think.

Alan Flurkey for retrospectivemiscue.com