California Standards for the Teaching Profession: Standard Five
5.1 Establishing and communicating learning goals for all students
5.2 Collecting and using multiple sources of information to assess student learning
5.3 Involving and guiding all students in assessing their own learning
5.4 Using the results of assessment to guide instruction
5.5 Communicating with students, families, and other audiences about student progress

      Miscue analysis is crucial in helping students learn to read. It can be used to track progress, as well as indicating areas that need special attention for each particular reader. I have found that when students are trained in understanding their own miscues, they become better readers. Rather than giving up because they feel they cannot decode perfectly, I see students noticing all of the words they do know and understand, and continuing their reading. The following essay discusses some of the important cues that are given by informal miscue analysis.

 One day, as I was working with a struggling reader in my fifth grade classroom, I witnessed literacy in practice. Julie and I were reading a story about a boy in Central America. The story had many difficult names in it; and Julie had been stumbling over them for the first page or two. Finally, she asked, “Can I just call him Alex instead of Ale-whatever?” I smiled and told her what a great idea I though it was. She had a strategy in mind to read the story with meaning intact, and without confusing her tongue. It was a moment of success for her, and a moment that taught me a great deal about what happens when children work at developing literacy. 

 Learners like Julie are immersed daily in the process of learning language. This learning is hardly confined to the classroom. As Goodman describes in On Reading, reading is only one facet of language. Listening, speaking, and writing are all included in the language that children spend their first years developing. The cumulation of these is literacy, the ability to hear and be heard in the wide world of letters and words. So how does this learning happen? What things can help its process? What things detract from it? What is the teacher’s role in each child’s literacy? This paper will explore the process by which literacy is developed in the process of learning language.

Reading as a Transaction

 As Julie and I read our story, she found a strategy to get the important parts of the story without becoming distracted by the less important parts of the transaction. She understood from the context that the word she was stumbling on was a name that could be replaced with another similar name without changing the overall meaning of the story. In this way, she avoided frustration and furthered her development as a reader. What she did can be a way of seeing that reading is a transaction. In transacting with the text, the reader constructs it meaning (85). How does the transaction of reading take place?  Three main concepts are involved: semantics, syntax, and graphophonics (46). 

 Semantic cues are the pieces of meaning that the reader brings with them into the story. This could be in the form of context or pictures included with the writing. By looking at a picture, clues are given as to what will be said in the text. For example, when I pick up a National Geographic and start looking at an article on a shipwreck, I connect my prior knowledge of shipwrecks to the pictures, and then to the new text I will read.

 Cues from grammar are called syntactic cues. Grammar is developed with oral language, so even emergent readers have knowledge of it in a basic form. It is the word order and format of language. Each word in a sentence serves a grammatical purpose, and, though the reader may not be able to give its formal name, most readers know what “sounds right” in any given slot.

 Lastly are the graphophonic cues. These are the marks on the paper, the orthography, spelling, and punctuation. It also includes the system of phonics, the way that phonology, the pieces of sound that make up spoken language, and written language fit together. Now, put the semantic, graphophonic, and syntactic cues together in a social context, and you have all the components for the transaction of reading. What happens as language learners begin to piece these things together? How do readers learn to use these tools? What happens if a learner is missing part of the puzzle?

 Readers constantly work through puzzles like these while transacting with the world around them. Another student I worked with struggled with reading because of his fluency level of English. When we first began reading together, I assumed that he was a struggling reader on the basis of his test scores. I know better than to trust those as an accurate indicator now. Robert is an excellent reader, though a grade level or two behind due to language difficulties. As we read together, I learned that his need was not so much that of basic meaning, but of refined skills to acquire the depth of meaning that is found in more difficult texts. He needed a different set of strategies than I expected.

Reading Strategies

 Language learners go through a process of inquiry while encountering new language events. They begin by predicting what the event will yield, testing for confirmation or correction of the prediction, and integration of the new concepts learned (Remick 9/29). As the learner develops a larger set of tools for testing and correcting, their language process becomes more efficient and effective (Goodman 52). How can teachers help promote strategic behavior?

 Regie Routman discusses this in her book, Conversations. Modeling behavior and verbalizing skills are two of her most prominent strategies. We need to model “reading as an inquiry process in which the reader self-questions, monitors, reflects, and revises in order to make sense of text” (131). In this way, the process of prediction, confirmation, and integration becomes natural. 

 For emergent readers, this process includes much positive response from the teacher, as there is not as much confirmation to be found in the context of the reading. An example of this is with early emergent readers learning the alphabet or just beginning to recognize printed words. They are achieving steps towards the goal of reading, whereas an older reader might derive confirmation and satisfaction from knowing that an entire sentence made sense to them. 
 Within the idea of teaching strategies are several concepts. First, word-solving strategies are important, as they help the reader make sense of the basic written sentence. This includes using the semantic and syntactic cue systems discussed earlier. Some important prompts for word solving include sounding words out, comparison to words in the reader’s vocabulary, or reading the rest of the sentence with just the first sound of the word. Encouragement when a reader tries any strategy on his or her own is extremely important. 

 For example, as I read with Robert, I saw that he was making high-quality miscues, mostly by substituting words of similar meaning for words he did not know yet. In light of this, we talked about ways to find meaning of words in word studies, using only a few words from a chosen text to keep from becoming overwhelming. We also read from a comedic text, stopping frequently to talk about what made the stories funny, like exaggeration of facts. We also talked about rereading stories to examine what kinds of things surface in second or third readings of text.

 There are many ways to create a forum for discussion on individual strategies in the classroom. Routman suggests that there are five basic ways to develop reading in the classroom: reading aloud, writing aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. In reading aloud, learners have a chance it sit back and watch as reading takes place. The teacher can model strategies in a natural way, and enjoyment is had by hearing a story. In writing aloud, students can see how a writer puts the words together that they, in turn, read. With shared reading, the learners have a chance to test their theories in a low-stress, fun situation by reading along with the teacher and the group. Guided reading allows for a more instructional format where coaching on the various strategies is displayed and practiced. Independent reading allows for personal exploration of the strategies in chosen text (26-45).

Phonemic Awareness

 Phonemic awareness is the understanding that speech is composed of a series of individual sounds, as well as the ability to manipulate those sounds to make oral language (Remick 10/6). Children develop phonemic awareness in much the same way they develop knowledge of grammar. As they are exposed to oral language, they develop a set of ideas about how the patterns and rhythms of speech occur. By hearing and repeating rhymes, and engaging in word play, children will develop the understanding that words are made of sounds. This translates over to the use of decoding written words back into text in order to read. Most children know this technique of “sounding words out.” Since this technique has obvious power, many teachers and parents overemphasize its value.

 Goodman and Routman both stress that, though it is important to provide activities for children to develop phonemic awareness, it is also important not to overemphasize it for fear of handicapping the child (Goodman 73, Routman 102-106).  Goodman also expresses that readers do not need to translate everything the read back into oral language to understand it. Texts and phonics are ambiguous, but the mind is still able to decipher meaning. He then comes back to the initial statement of this paper about reading: “meaning is constructed by the reader in transacting with the text” (85). Through reading and exposure to reading, children will develop phonemic understanding, most of those without specific instruction (Routman 101). 

 I tend to agree with Routman and Goodman on the issue of phonics. If a child struggles with not having enough phonemic awareness, it should be approached similarly, as one would teach any other reading strategy: look at miscues, ask questions, and help the child verbalize their thoughts. 


 Much work goes into creating a situation in which children can learn to read. As I mentioned in the beginning of this paper, I have learned much recently about how readers transact with text. Most importantly, I have learned what I take for granted as I read. I am learning to recognize where children get stuck in their transaction with text. It can be as easy to see as knowing when they get “that look” in their eyes that they are frustrated and do not know what to do. In Julie’s case, she has many strategies, but struggles to trust her intuition in choosing to use them. In Robert’s case, the new strategies need to be introduced to keep reading from becoming stale. Both children have an important quality that teachers need to be wary of extinguishing the desire to go deeper into text. This is such a fragile thing, especially for struggling readers. 

 So what role can assessment play in this? As I mentioned before, my understanding of Robert at first was quite different, even after one meeting. This was because our first meeting was a basic assessment. We spoke about attitudes revolving around reading, and I ran an informal miscue analysis on his reading. In assessing his reading, I was able to see where I should head and what strategies to focus on with him. We worked at deeper meaning through discussion, visualization, and artwork reflecting recently read text. We also created a reader’s theater piece to help develop his skills at inflection in reading. Assessment gives direction to teaching, as well has preventing wasted time in the classroom.


 It is important for teachers to develop and maintain an awareness of their students’ understanding of reading as a transaction. Without this awareness, reading will eventually lack depth and meaning for children. With it, motivation can grow, and interests will be sure to rise.

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