Though I consider myself to be a reading junkie, the whole three cueing thing was new to me. It is interesting because my lowest reader is totally a context clues reader. My other students that have a stronger knowledge of sight words and can break apart words are those that are at and above grade level. I would not be a fan of this type of instruction at all. Guessing words is definitely a strategy that I teach, but it certainly is not the first one! Good grief. That doesn't even make sense to me.
I've read these articles before (and other similar books/articles,) and totally agree with the ideas behind them. To me they make perfect sense and match my own teaching experience at all grade levels. I've taught for 33 years in primary, intermediate and now I work with teenagers too.
Currently I share three jobs all with the same teaching partner. We share a grade one classroom, each working one half of the week. During our other half of the week we work with students (aged 10-19) at two other schools; a regular middle school and an alternate middle/high school. We purposely chose to take on these other jobs to clarify our understanding of reading problems which we suspected originated from the way in which reading is being taught in the very early primary grades.
Almost all of our older students are referred to us with the concern that they have very poor comprehension--and it's true they do have terrible comprehension! However,when we check just a little further (and it doesn't take much checking!) we find that none of these kids can accurately read individual words!
In other words, what looks like a comprehension problem (to those who don't listen to them read aloud or to those who have little understanding of the skill of decoding) is actually a result of students who have been given the wrong impression about the process of reading. The problem stems from the fact that they think that reading is a process of guessing (through context clues or through pictures.) And they didn't come by this of their own accord. They were taught to think in this way by the emphasis on context and pictures in the early primary grades. Although some of them can struggle inaccurately through grade 3-5 material, many are stuck at a grade one level.
Naturally, many of these older students are incredibly inaccurate readers! They continually confuse and guess at similar words... (If it says "sprinkle", they might read "sparkle." If it says "straggler, they might read "strangler." It just depends on their own frame of reference. The 17 year old boy who read "strangler, loves horror movies! He has "strangler" on the brain... His habit of "reading" is NOT to look at the letters to read, he looks at the overall whole word and then... guesses! To one degree or another, all our older students are like this.
They confuse came/come, he/she, thirty/thirsty, poach/pouch and on and on and on! Just as the articles you posted suggest, they don't actually use letters to read. In fact, many of the kids we see have no understanding of how the letters can help them at all! Most don't know their alphabet sounds and they certainly don't understand that certain combinations of letters have predictable and fairly consistent sounds attached to them.... tion, /ur/ir/er, etc.
Once again, on the surface, it looks as if they are poor comprehenders--that something is wrong with their brains so that they can't understand the simple sentences that people are asking them to read. But in fact, the problem is that they don't know how to use letters to read words. If you can't accurately read the words on the page, of course you have limited comprehension.
The wonderful thing is that when you return to the beginning and teach them to use letters to read (that is, decoding as opposed to using primarily semantics and syntax to guess) these students can change their habits... they can learn to read accurately, then fluently . Finally they have comprehension ... and they no longer assume that they are just stupid!
In our five years at the high schools we've seen this process work over and over again. All of our students can easily go from grade one level inaccurate reading to highly accurate grade 7 reading levels in less than a year of lessons. Among other things we primarily use a one-on-one program called "Right Track." The author, based her program on the research your articles sited and came to the same conclusions as the authors of the other articles you sited. In short, that approach can be summed up as one that proposes that kids need to understand that reading is a process of reading individual words (from the letters) as opposed to guessing from the general look of a word, guessing from context, guessing from what would make sense in the sentence or guessing from pictures.
The Right Track author has many reading articles on her site too if you're interested. Here's her free "Reading Information Page."
I may be flamed, but this is my honest opinion...
I've heard of the three cueing system and have rejected it. Any system which asks students who are learning to read to look at the context or syntax of an unknown word before looking at the letters within the word, is getting the cart before the horse.
Reading these articles reminds me of my own experimental education. (Yes, I said experimental...'new math' and 'letters don't have sounds'.) I'm older than most of you and didn't learn to read until I taught my DD how to read. (College would have been easier had I been a better reader.)
would you reconsider how you have used this system in teaching children how to DECODE words.
I'm just so grateful to hear of others who are willing to look more carefully at this situation.
I just looked up the exact "Right Track" link that leads to the page that discusses the importance of developing correct neural pathways in the brain for reading. People on this thread may be interested to read this page in particular.
It describes how proficient readers come to be proficient and why poor readers are put "off track" when they are encouraged to use context clues and guessing to figure out what the words on the page MIGHT say.
Here's the paragraph that describes why this problem doesn't show up immediately:
Sometimes students ‘get by’ with incorrect processing in the lowest grades (K, 1st). The easy reading material, illustrations, context clues, oral directions and limited depth of content can disguise their difficulty decoding print. For example, if the child looks at the picture or memorizes repetitive text it appears he can ‘read’. However, students who have not developed necessary phonologic processing rapidly run into problems as vocabulary expands. The incorrect strategies of ‘whole word’ visual memorization, word guessing, context clues and predictable text fail as reading level advances. This is often why ‘reading problems’ often become evident in 2nd or 3rd grade. In reality, the ‘difficulty’ processing print already existed. To read proficiently, the student must process print phonetically. Students who don’t develop phonologic processing pathways face persistent difficulty reading. For additional information see the article Students Who Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia.
This paragraph describes the students that my partner and I see at the high schools where we work that I mentioned previously. Many are stuck at the grade one level or somewhat above because they have never been taught to develop those neural pathways for reading individual words (and yes, naturally it greatly affects their comprehension but that's not the underlying problem!)
This information really helped my teaching partner and I decide on how we now run our reading program in our grade one class. Having seen so many older students who cannot read words (and suffer greatly for it,) we make that our number one priority in grade one. Once you can read words (accurately), then you can speed up to a fluent level which allows you to comprehend.
We NEVER teach so-called "decoding strategies" that encourage kids to 1) look at pictures to guess, 2) use context to guess, 3) use syntax to guess, 4) use "memorize whole words as sight words" to guess 5) use "find a sentence pattern" to guess etc. Instead, when a child doesn't know a word, we teach them how to use the LETTERS to decode.
There really is only ONE overall strategy to decoding... use your knowledge of letters and letter patterns (the same ones used for spelling) to decode the language. (There are many comprehension strategies though, just to be clear.)
When a person can't decode... teach them to decode, not guess, is my approach. Teaching someone to decode is a slow process (at first.) Unfortunately, in North America we are impatient and this gets us into trouble. We want to see immediate reading results. We want kids to read sentences and full books before we teach them to read individual words. I don't know why so many people don't ever question that concept! (Would we ever expect a music student to be able to play a concerto before we taught them first the individual notes and the scales? In music do we not teach the basics, slow and steady at first with lots of practice? Why can't we teach the basics in reading and allow kids time and sufficient practice with individual word reading before we insist that they read more complicated and lengthy material?)
Just to be clear, proficient readers DO use context clues but not in the way that the 3-cue model proposes. They don't use context to help them decode. They use context to check that what they read made sense, or to find out the meaning of a word they've never heard before. They DON'T use it to find out what the letters might be saying so they can pronounce the word.
Unfortunately far too many children are being led down the wrong path, of actually being guided to learn to guess as their number one strategy for reading. Unless they're clever enough to figure out the process of decoding on their own, they are doomed as they grow older and the material gets more sophisticated.
I do NOT THINK these articles are accurate in their presentation of the three cueing system! They seem to depend primarily on the semantic leg of the triangle which is quite unlikely to be effective 100% of the time. Neither will the syntactic leg of the triangle which is not so detailed as to encourage children to think about parts of speech at the early stages especially. Rather it is intended to get children listening to what they are reading to be certain that what they are saying sounds like an appropriate English sentence. Even so, it is not the only thing children are encouraged to do to check themselves as they read. They are also taught to look at the visual aspects of the unknown word to see if they can recognize the spelling pattern or similarities to words they already know in their sight vocabulary. This would entail looking at more than just the initial letter! Children are encouraged to do all three things at difficulty and them quickly.
Unfortunately, when very BEGINNING readers are initially given strategies other than grapho-phonemic (in other words, looking at the actual letters,) they often start to rely on these other strategies; I would imagine because they take less skill and are quicker. But quicker/easier/less skill strategies are not always very reliable in the long run. Such is the case here. It's slower to learn to decode with the letters only, but it's a reliable process in the end. All research indicates that kids who learn by a systematic phonics approach are better off in the end--they become exceedingly accurate readers.
Beginning readers are extremely fragile in this regard. If they are given a VARIETY of strategies for figuring out the words, they may easily pick up the guessing ones as their first habit of reading. That's the problem.
How many times do we see the following scenario?
A beginning reader is taught that "picture-looking" is a strategy for decoding. That student comes to a word they don't know. Their eyes leave the print to look for a picture to help them out. This child has developed a habit of FIRST using picture guessing strategies to help them figure out a word. This student is now on the WRONG track to reading. Instead of developing a habit of first relying on neural phonemic pathways (that research shows is how the brain reads) they're on a side route going...? nowhere really. For how long can this limited strategy help?
In contrast, a child who has never been introduced to the idea that pictures can help them read will continue to look at the letters and try out various possibilities until they get it. Even if they finally need help with that word, by an adult leading through the process or by even 100% modeling it for them, they still are developing the correct habit of decoding--they are using the grapho-phonemic system to read. Eventually with enough practice, they will get it. They will have a habit of relying on letters to read.
Likewise, how many times do we see a beginning reader come to a word they don't know and they simply look at the general shape of the word, or the first few letters here and there and come up with a similar word instead of the accurate one? (For example they read house instead of horse etc.) A child who has never been taught to guess from context will continue to work with the letters on the page. They will look at the letters IN ORDER, trying to find spelling patterns and blending IN ORDER. Again, even if they need help at this beginning stage, they still are gaining the correct picture of reading, the most reliable (in the long run) process of reading... that letters help us decode, not context.
One of the most common problems with my older readers is that they frequently can't read a simple unfamiliar word by the letters. Just as an example, two words appear in one of the Right Track lessons that I use with my older students. Almost every student we have runs into problems with these two simple (but unfamiliar to them) words... silt/slit. They can't see the difference, they can't read the difference. Why? Because they're not used to processing letters and letter sequences in order. Another example, "Bryon, Byron" A student whose been taught to read mainly relying on context or other such things cannot distinguish between two such words. A student who has the habit of reading letters in order has no such difficulties. Naturally it affects spelling. How many times do we see older students write "gril" for girl? Again, they have no understanding how letters are used to represent sounds in words.
Just what I see...
Thanks for contributing to the discussion!
Last edited by cvolcteacher; 03-20-2010 at 09:24 AM..
A beginning reader is taught that "picture-looking" is a strategy for decoding. That student comes to a word they don't know. Their eyes leave the print to look for a picture to help them out. This child has developed a habit of FIRST using picture guessing strategies to help them figure out a word.
You've explained this so clearly.
I've got a child who transferred into our tiny school the end of Oct, in my 1st/2nd class. She's getting better, but she ALWAYS looks to the picture when she doesn't immediately know a word. She's in 1st, but WAS in 2nd at her old school and they'd already told her mom (at the beginning of the school year) that she's have to repeat 2nd! Then WHY was she in 2nd and not placed back in first THEN? I'm glad she came to us. Another year of picture guessing would have done even more damage.
Anyway, she needed phonics, which her old school DIDN'T teach. The child was upset that I placed her in 1st. She said she already knew phonics. I told her that's good. Now she can learn to USE what she knows. As you can guess, she didn't know phonics, but is learning.
I will read your link above. Thanks for your clear explanations. I wish somebody like you had been on my side years ago.
Thanks for your clear descriptions cvolcteacher. This is my second year teaching. I was formally a school psychologist. One of the reasons that I decided to go into teaching was the repeated statements by teachers, "But have you ever taught children how to read." I would evaluate children and realize that half the problem was initial reading instruction in kindergarten and first grade. Try writing up these reports! I once infuriated a group of kindergarten teachers because I mentioned that there is no research evidence to support looking at pictures as a decoding strategy. Even after I tried to explain that semantics and syntax are useful after you already read the word correctly. They are useful to make meaning of what you have read, not as a strategy to decode words. Many teachers actually had to excuse themselves from this discussion as they became irate with me. I was just casually discussing the research. This is my favorite one. Our school still sends home bookmarks for parents to guide early readers. Sounding out the word is the last strategy on the bookmark. Looking at pictures, asking does it make sense, and skipping the word come before actually sounding out the word. Furthermore, some teachers really dislike it when people say to sound out the word. Well last year (my first as a teacher) my median DIBELS score was 106wpm in my first grade classroom. My median F & P running record score was a level O. Only 1 student didn't meet the DIBELS benchmark of 40 - she read 38wpm. All my students were at a level I or higher instructionally on running record assessments. Not bad for a first year teacher that says, "Sound it Out!" Let me repeat this statement as the word repeat is on our vocabulary wall, "Sound it Out!"
Furthermore, some teachers really dislike it when people say to sound out the word.
While young, I asked my teacher in my new school how to sound out a word. I'll never forget how she acted. "We don't sound out words here. Where are you from?" I knew letters had sounds, but couldn't figure out that word. Shortly after that I stopped trying to sound out words. By then, I was so far behind in learning all those words by sight...
Thanks to both of you for sharing your experiences... they mostly mirror my own in many ways!
It's interesting for me that you were a psychologist, vocabfreak. It makes sense that you would well understand the importance of using phonics to decode.
Since I don't often meet like-minded reading teachers, I'm wondering if you would share with me how you structure your reading lessons. I'd be very interested also to know how you approach the teaching of spelling. Either one of you or both, if you have time.
Last edited by cvolcteacher; 03-21-2010 at 03:24 AM..
I'm guessing I might be the only one on here who's using Bob Jones Univ. Press curriculum. I really like their reading program. (It's a lot like the way I taught my own DC.) It's intensive phonics using word families and review. The readers are interesting and the kids often ask me how the story ends. I tell them they will read it tomorrow. The kids reread their daily story to their parents that night and they often tell me they read ahead to see how the story ended. There are also 'service words' which are sight words, like 'give' and 'love'. I don't always have time for all the review I want, but I know they're better off than in a class which teaches guess, guess, guess. (I'm in a 1/2 class and it takes almost all day to just do LA and Math.)
Recently, I told my class that many kids are told to look at the word 'like' and they notice the 'l' and a few other letters, but that they are to just LEARN that that word is 'like'. They were amazed and the little girl, who was failing in another school, said, "That's right!" The class is always amazed at what she says she had to do at her old school.
PS...Thanks for the other links. This will be good reading!
So my first grade son comes home today. He says, "Daddy Johnny told me today if you get to a word you don't know ask GOD for help. He'll tell you the word." I laughed out loud and then realized that this strategy will most likely be put above sound it out. Here is what the new strategy list looks like.
When your child gets to a word that he/she doesn't know follow these guidelines
First, supply the word before asking her to sound it out.
Next, ask your child, "does it make sense."
Then, ask your child to look at the picture for help.
Next, tell your child to ask GOD for help.
Finally, try to sound it out
Thanks for the message you sent me regarding how you structure your reading and spelling program. I did reply but couldn't post my letter to you through PT personal messages... it was far too long and it wouldn't go through.
I then tried to send it to you through your classroom blog email and I wonder if it got lost in cyberspace or if you received it.
Could you let me know. If you never received it, I'll try again!
You are right on! It amazes me that we are taught to teach students to "guess" when it is just as easy, if not easier, and consistently accurate to teach them to READ!
It's like asking a baseball player to hit the ball without using a bat. He can look around at the field and the players on the field, talk about what he sees, watch other players hit and catch, get excited about the game but never hit the ball, himself, without a bat in his OWN hand!