When we think of reading and reading instruction there are two things that become important to focus on and distinguish: reading skills and reading strategies/behavior. Reading skills consist of things like phonemic awareness (can students hear, isolate, and blend sounds in words?), knowledge of the alphabet letters, clusters and sounds, and knowledge of high-frequency words (words that appear most often in books like “they”, “said”, many”, etc). Of course, young readers need to have some of these core skills as they learn to read which is why we spend time purposefully teaching these skills.
Even more important, however, are the strategies and behaviors (self-monitoring and self-correcting) that a child uses when reading. The skills are the base and the strategies are how well readers know and are able to use their skills to create meaning as they read.
One problem that is typical for struggling readers (and particularly for some of my students this year) is a lack of self-monitoring or self-correction. In simple terms, self-monitoring is the ability to notice errors and self-correction is the ability to fix them. Many kids who struggle have the skills they need to succeed in reading, but are weak at detecting errors and fixing them. What that looks like are students who read a text and neglect to stop when their reading does not make sense, or students who read and neglect to stop when their reading doesn’t look right, or a combination of both. Students who do not notice their own errors are actually trickier to teach than students who need to be taught certain skills. Self-monitoring requires that you:
- Notice your mistake (you hear it or see it)
- Stop your reading when you notice
- Employ some strategies to go back and self-correct the error, or at least ask for help
So what can we do for students who don’t self-monitor? Those students who read on, making numerous errors, without ever noticing or stopping to fix them? It’s an issue that you want to address early and with vigor because it will shape who they are as readers for years to come.
First, be their eyes and ears: If a student is not noticing errors, you may have to show them what it means to notice an error. If the child reads something that does not make sense, repeat their words back to them saying
“You said_____________….does that make sense?”
You are hoping that they will recognize that no, it does not make sense. At this point, let them know that they have to listen to their own reading and stop when the reading does not make sense.
If the child reads something that does make sense and does not look right, wait until they finish the sentence or the page (to encourage smooth processing and comprehension) and then bring them back to the error saying
“You said_________ and that made sense. Does it look right?”
What you mean when you say this is “do the words you said match the words you see?”. So, if a child says “bunny” and the text says “rabbit”, that makes sense, but the child is not checking that the reading looks right. Encourage this checking.
Second, encourage them to stop when they notice an error: Some students begin to notice errors, yet don’t stop to fix them. Perhaps they have an idea that they made an error, but feel uncomfortable stopping because they think it’s not what readers do. If a child makes an error and shows any signs of hesitation, pausing, or uncertainty, praise them.
“I like how you stopped…what did you notice?” or
“I like how you stopped when it didn’t make sense.” or
“I like how you stopped when it didn’t look right.”
Make it known that stopping and noticing an error is very important and something that great readers do. It requires attention, both to meaning and to visual information, and is a strategy they need to become independent.
Finally, show them what to do when they do notice and error: If the child does begin to stop and notice errors, that is wonderful and now they can be shown what to do next. Options include going back to reread, thinking about the meaning in the story, or decoding the tricky word. Showing them what to do will give them the tools to self-correct independently and they will feel more confident stopping the next time they make an error.
Teaching young readers to notice errors and fix them is the first step in creating independence. I worry about students who read words on the page without thinking, never stopping to notice errors or asking for help when it’s tricky. These students haven’t really grasped the concept of what it means to be a reader – to use the words on the page to create a meaningful message using the author’s words. Without a meaningful or accurate message, kids are just word calling, and that won’t create lifelong readers who love to read.