When your child substitutes words when reading, think of the miscue as an opportunity to provide feedback. Reading mistakes are necessary for growth. We all make reading errors. Even kids at grade level can expect to miscue on leveled texts. If a student is not making errors, the book is too easy!
READING ERRORS AND STRATEGIES
When your K-2 child substitutes words when reading, the mistake can seem strange. For example, a child might read, “The penguin slid on his belly” as “The penguin stands on his belly!” Some errors imply that your K-2 child has not been taught the alphabetic principle—the idea that words are composed of “sounds” that must be decoded.
When a child has not been exposed to the alphabetic principle, many reading errors seem random, sometimes startlingly inaccurate. “Stand” and “slid” have virtually nothing in common except “s.” How can a child mistake these words? Well, the child is guessing!
WHY DO KIDS GUESS WHEN READING?
The answer is more startling than the error itself: we teach them to guess. Schools use reading strategies like, “What makes sense there?” and “What sounds right?” These methods basically communicate to the child: “Use context to guess. If you get the word wrong, guess again.” When this method inevitably fails, the student thinks he’s stupid. But he’s not. Nothing is wrong with him. Everything is wrong with the “guess by context” method.
When your child substitutes words when reading, he’s been taught that reading is a guessing game.
READING IS NOT A GUESSING GAME
Even expert readers are incredibly poor guessers. Reading researches tested the “What makes sense there?” method on adult readers. They blacked out words, and had adults “guess,” or try to figure out “what makes sense there.” The adults were only right 5-15% of the time (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985; Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999). That’s failure.
It’s your turn to try the “guessing by context” method:
[The answers are at the end of the post]:
Jani, a baby mandril, whose name means A in African Yoruba language, made his appearance last November, and he has been B visitors ever since.
-taken from ZOONOOZ, March 2017
“And being of a sociable nature, I C a large number of friends.
-taken from The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
He jumped into the closet and shut the door. He stayed there for a long time, just feeling very D .
-taken from Frog and Toad
If you guessed just one of the above fill-in-the-blanks correctly, that’s miraculous. Guessing by context is hard, almost impossible. There are simply too many words in English. Authors write to tell stories and convey information, not to help readers “guess.” Guessing by context is like trying to win the lottery. Sometimes guessing even leads us to the OPPOSITE connotation the author intended (check out answer D).
Advocates of the “What makes sense there?” method argue that readers can guess when they know a story well. For example, if you’re familiar with the characters in a novel, you can guess what “Emma” and “John” would say. Aside from this not being true…
Then, what about nonfiction? The bulk of kids’ reading will be in nonfiction—math, science, history—don’t we want kids to succeed in these areas too? Kids can’t guess what “mitochondria” or “xylem” or “phloem” would do. Or do we NOT want today’s kids to be doctors, engineers, business leaders…etc?
How to Correct Reading Errors in a Way that Works:
Errors are opportunities to teach your student about the alphabetic principle. Pull him away from guessing. Follow these steps:
1) Underline his error
If a student reads “sat” as “sit,” underline the “a.”
2) Cue the student for the correct sound
Ask the student to say the sound of the underlined section of the word. Have your student hold the sound if possible: “aaaaaa.”
3) Use a phonics sound chart
Bring out the student’s phonics sound chart. Point to “a” on his chart. Ask him to say the sound again while looking at the chart. A chart gives the sound a “location.” For example, “aaaa” in “sat” is a short vowel and belongs with other short vowels.
4) Point to the word
Ask the student to say “aaa”(or the sound he read incorrectly) while looking at the word.
5) Finally, ask the student to read the word
Encourage the student to read the word. Amazingly, he’ll go through the word sound-by-sound without your encouragement. The above method results in a self-correction. You guided the student to the answer. You didn’t “give” him the answer. He also didn’t “guess.”
BREAK THE WORD GUESSING HABIT
The above correction method teaches the K-2 student about the alphabetic principle—a method that will serve him well on his literacy journey. When a child substitutes words when reading, he can break his habit. Use the above method enough, and he’ll form a new habit, a habit of analyzing phonics. He’ll begin to self-correct on his own.
In solitude, he’ll read words he’s never previously seen in print. He’ll read words he’s rarely heard. Struggling readers have tons of reading potential. Don’t get swept up in the “What makes sense there” hype. Correct him in a way that fosters true reading independence. Teach him how to correct himself.
If you found “When a Child Substitutes Words When Reading” helpful, you might also like 5 Tips to Solve Reading Problems.