Monday, February 27, 2012

“I’m stuck on a word, can I skip it?"

Everyone has done it. You’re reading along well, and you come to an abrupt stop when encountering a word you are unfamiliar with. Children experience this often, and the strategies and insights we provide them to make it through these sentences while retaining the meaning are pivotal. How often is the word we are stumped on integral to comprehending the meaning of the reading? What if the word is a noun? Adjective?

Let’s use this example provided by Debra Goodman from The Reading Detective Club:

The Three Little Pigs

1 Once upon a ______ there were three little pigs.
2 One day the ______ pigs decided to go out into the
3 world to make their ______ .
4 Each little pig ______ a house.
5 The first little pig built a house of ______ .
6 The ______ little pig built a house of sticks.
7 The third little pig built a ______ of bricks.
9 One ______ a world saw the three little pigs.
10 “A little ______ will make a tasty meal for me,”
11 he ______ .

Read this passage, filling in the missing words with your best inference.

Some of the techniques that we can suggest for children to pay attention to include:
- Using our background knowledge of the story
- Using the cues in the text to infer the missing (or unknown) words
- Read the sentence without the missing word, go back and try it again
- If the sentence makes sense without the missing word, move forward in the text

You may notice as you naturally fill in the missing text that your background knowledge, context clues, and natural ability to form conventional language provide enough information to successfully complete the passage with the intended meaning.

Look back at line 2. Most readers will naturally fill in either “three” or “little.” Do either of these words change the meaning of the text? No. Both choices are rational and the story continues unchanged regardless of this word. Even if we omit the adjective completely: “The pigs decided to go out,” the story continues accurately. We can use this concept to teach our children techniques to understand adjectives and their role in a sentence. We want children to be able to read every word in a sentence, but when a tough word comes in the way of comprehension, we can empower our students to carry the meaning of the text through the barrier of the unknown word! Teach your children to omit unknown adjectives, and move on through the text. The meaning, fluency, comprehension, and confidence will be preserved. Debra Goodman suggests thinking of unknown words as “smudges” on the paper.

Now look at line 5. Here some responses may have differed. I initially read “straw,” and so did my colleague. Other people may have added another noun here. Examples include mud, candy, Jell-O, snow, etc. Unlike omitting and changing our adjectives, if we veer too far away from the intended noun (something like straw or hay), we lose the writer’s intended meaning, and our comprehension fades. Our brains are naturally search for language clues, and would suggest to us that the missing word has influence in our sentence. We cannot simply omit or replace unknown nouns in sentences, but we can tell our children to remember background knowledge, look for context clues, and read through the sentence without the word and try again with a “running start.”

Understanding what words are necessary for comprehension and meaning making can help our students to feel empowered when reading independently. Children want to be good readers, and we can empower them with the techniques to be exactly that!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stop Correcting and Start Listening!

"In all walks of life, we know that humans learn from their mistakes. We have mistakenly believed that if teachers do not correct, errors will be reinforced and students will continue to make them forever." 
- Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman

Children learn best through self-correction in all facets of their learning, including literacy development. One of the hardest, and most powerful, skills that a teacher has at her disposal is her power to listen to a child read out loud. Using the information gathered during the uncorrected or influenced reading, teachers can guide their instruction in small group or large group settings. Children reveal their understanding of reading concepts and strategies through their miscues. A miscue is anytime a child reasons through changing the written text on a page and changes the text by adding a word, changing a word, or omitting a word. Many times, a child is capable of self-correct during the struggle with a word, or later in the story as context builds. 

In order for a teacher to complete a Miscue Analysis with a child, he needs: 
- A new relevant, interesting, and rich children's literature book
- A recording device
- Note cards, or something to take notes with
- A pen
- A transcript of the text from the children's literature book chosen, divided/numbered by line
- (Possibly) A list of questions to ask the reader after the uninfluenced-reading

The teacher should introduce the child to the activity, and warn them that you will record them, take notes, and never interfere with their reading; you will not help them when they get stuck. Have the child begin to read, and make notes over the transcript when a child changes, omits, or makes a change to a miscue. After the child finishes, ask the child to tell you about the story. If she has challenges with this, make suggestions like, "Tell me more about _______ (fill in with something of the child's language that she mentioned)." This should allow you to realize if the child has truly comprehended the story. If your student can recall main points in the story, he is focused on the meaning of a story, which is wonderful. 

The marks/notes that you made on your copy of the text can now be used to address some of the child's miscues with the child. First, you need to assess if the child's miscues made grammatical sense (substituting nouns for nouns, adjectives for adjectives), and it made sense in the story's context. For example, if a child repeatedly substituted a word throughout the story, but the context did not match, the teacher can now use this to ask the child what that particular line meant. Usually, the student will express confusion, and we can use this to guide a child to focusing on the meaning of a passage. If the text does not make sense in your brain, the words are probably pronounced differently. A teacher can use this to help a student self-correct. 

During the intervention portion of this assessment, ask questions like:
- What else could you do in situations where you are unsure of a word?
- Do you know what you read in line _____? (When a child miscues, this might trigger a memory that he knew it was not quite making sense)
- What are the smart things you did in your reading to decide that word was _____? (After a self-correction)
- What could it say?
- What would make sense?
- What would you say there?

Using Miscue Analysis allows a teacher to understand how his students individually think about reading, the strategies they use, the concepts they use proficiently, and the areas that challenge them most. When a teacher performs a Miscue Assessment correctly, she has the opportunity to adapt her small group, individual, or large group instruction to meet the needs of her children. Through these experiences, children will learn strategies to self-correct, which is the most powerful instruction a child can learn. Through self-correction, a child will truly learn to read to gain insight into the meaning of the text, and worry less about the text representations on the page.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We Don't "Sound Out"

Children are not sounding out. They are using specific reading strategies to form words, jog memories, and correlate pictures and text, but children hardly ever use the technique of "sounding out." According to a study performed by Catherine Compton-Lilly, a professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, children and parents both cite sounding out as their main reading strategy. Children claim that when they come to a word they are unfamiliar with, they sound out the word until they get it. When children ask parents for help on a particular word, parents are urging their children to sound out the word. When Compton-Lilly watched her children struggle with words out loud, she noticed, over and over again, that children were not sounding out. They are using specific strategies, but the times that "sounding out" is used are few.
Some other strategies that children suggest that "good readers" use include:
- go back and try again
- he thinks in his brain
- they ask their friend can you help
- try the first letter or the last letter
- spell
- look at the pictures.
These strategies are children explaining complex and effective reading strategies. Picture cues, peer help, dividing words into parts, retrying, first and last letter help, and thinking about context clues are all wonderful strategies for reading unfamiliar words. Instead of using these phrases, teachers and parents continue forcing children to think of "good reading" as a process of  sounding out. We have been taught this way, and we usually do not know any other techniques to suggest to our children, so telling them to "sound it out" becomes the most practical and easy suggestion. Well, instead of producing readers, we are creating frustration. Children cannot look at a word and simply "sound it out." They need a method. A great way to end this cycle of forcing children to "sound out" words is to educate our parents on true reading techniques.
Some great techniques to research and educate parents about include:
- Looking at the pictures
- Dividing the word into parts
- Trying again
- Asking a peer for help
- Looking for familiar parts in other words
- Looking at the first and last letters for the whole word meaning
If teachers and parents can cite these suggestions, instead of demanding children to "sound it out!" we might have better success with all readers, regardless of ability, culture, or any other demographic.

Remember! We don't sound out!