Groves Literacy

Groves Academy: Where the art of teaching meets the science of learning

Is Guessing An Effective Way to Teach Reading?

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Believe it or not, emerging and struggling readers are taught that guessing at a word’s identity is an effective way of identifying the word.  Teachers teach students to guess at a word’s identity based on context, the visual appearance of the word, or even pictures on the page.  Many professors of education advocate for this practice, placing guessing at a word’s identity as a more valuable strategy than using letter-sound identification.  These are the people who are training our nation’s teachers, and using this approach to “read” a word is a primary reason for the literacy crisis we now face in this country, a crisis in which almost 40% of our nation’s fourth graders do not read at a basic reading level.  They can’t identify the words they are trying to read.  It’s a crisis in which almost two-thirds of our nation’s fourth graders do not read proficiently–with good comprehension.  Instead of looking at teaching practices which lead to instructional casualties, these purveyors of reading knowledge blame the students.  The students are not motivated to read; they come from homes which don’t value reading; they have parents who don’t read to them; there are not enough books in the home; etc.

Guessing is a terrible strategy for emerging or struggling readers to use to recognize words.  The simple example below will demonstrate this.  Using context and the first few letters of the words, identify the words that are missing letters.  (I apologize.  There are no picture cues to help you with this.)

From the Wikipedia definition of covariance:

“Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) is a general lin __ode__ which blends ANOVA and re__s__on. ANCOVA e___t__s whether po___tion means of a de___nt variable are equal across levels of a cat____ in____nt variable often called a tr____t, while statistically controlling for the effects of other c______s va____s that are not of p____ interest, known as covariates (CV) or n_____ variables. Mathematically, ANCOVA de____es the variance in the DV into v____ce explained by the CV(s), variance explained by the categorical IV, and re___al variance. Int____y, ANCOVA can be thought of as ‘ad___’ the DV by the group me__s of the CV(s).[1]

Clearly, guessing is not an effective strategy for identifying the missing words.  While guessing might work for skilled readers who have an adequate background knowledge of the subject matter, it is not an effective strategy for reading the above passage because most readers do not have the background knowledge to predict the identity of the missing words, even when letters are provided to aid the guessing process.

The following is the above passage with the missing letters of the words supplied.  Can you read the paragraph?  How did you read it?

“Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) is a general linear model which blends ANOVA and regression. ANCOVA evaluates whether population means of a dependent variable (DV) are equal across levels of a categorical independent variable (IV) often called a treatment, while statistically controlling for the effects of other continuous variables that are not of primary interest, known as covariates (CV) or nuisance variables. Mathematically, ANCOVA decomposes the variance in the DV into variance explained by the CV(s), variance explained by the categorical IV, and residual variance. Intuitively, ANCOVA can be thought of as ‘adjusting’ the DV by the group means of the CV(s).”[1]

More than likely, you used your knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence to decode the words in the above paragraph.  Emerging and struggling readers must have this knowledge to unlock the code.  Teaching another method as a primary means to recognize unfamiliar words not only does a disservice to emerging and struggling readers, it is unethical.

John Alexander, Head of School

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