Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dear Mr. Huey


Huey and the early reading researchers started by looking at reading as a visual act
Studied what the eye does.
Intention to inform teaching.
Wanted to know what the brain does. But didn't know how
Kohlers revived Huey in 1968 affected research but not that of psychologists
Slide 2

When I decided to study the reading process I had children read texts they hadn't seen before and discovered a window on what happens in the brain through miscue analysis,
Bringing both together in Emma gives powerful view of brain
Slide 3

But I would like to differ from you in two respects.
  1. You say if we understood reading we would understand "the most intricate workings of the human mind" and I agree with that but you said it would be psychology which would achieve this understanding. Psychology alone is not enough partly because psychology became too narrowly experimental and not sufficiently open to seeking broad theoretically sound ways of studying the structures and processes of reading. It took a few educationalists like Margaret Spencer and Harold Rosen and my mate Brian Cambourne, just honored by your Queen. Literacy wonks like Brian Street and David Barton and linguists like Michael Halliday and Peter Fries and neurologists like my colleague Steve Strauss and Child Development folks like Marie Clay And a few synthesizers like Frank Smith to pull it all together. But from all vantage points we have to be looking at the organic, dynamic process of reading as an integrated whole. Otherwise we are like the blind men of Hindustan- each examining a piece of the elephant but not seeing what it is as a whole. I have this drive to make it all fit – and just enough arrogance to call what I've found a comprehensive theory of the reading process. I promised in my title to bring you up to date on what we've learned in the last half century about reading but I should be honest and admit that I am mostly sharing what I've learned from these great colleagues and from my own miscue research and that of my students and colleagues and my life companion Yetta Goodman.


2. Language is the real miracle. Reading and writing are part of a language continuum that extends the range of language.
A general mistake reading researchers made was not recognizing that reading is language not some abstract code for language.


We have so taken oral language development as granted that we have failed to recognize why and how language is so easy for humans to learn and use.

All human children are born with three characteristics that produce the remarkable ability to invent and use language.
  1. They have the ability to think symbolically- that is to let meaningless signs represent things, experiences, ideas, and feelings.
2. They are born immature and totally dependent on others into an inter-dependent family with complex needs to connect with others as they mature. From birth they must make their needs evident to survive and thrive.
  1. They are intelligent- what would be the point of language if we didn't have something to say to each other.
Within the first three years of life they have developed ability to speak comprehensibly and to understand one or more very complex languages. I say or more because there are many children who simultaneously learn two or more languages by the same age. Ironically these multilingual children are at both ends of the continuum –rich kids with nannies and poor kids in Africa who are growing up in multilingual communities.
This achievement is so amazing that some very smart people have decided it must be innate and not learned at all. I disagree with that. I believe that there is a reason why language development happens so rapidly: that is human language parallels the way the human mind works- the way we organize and store what we learn in our brains.
Language is consistent with the way the brain works The brain must represent everything it understands and stores with patterns of signs which are part of patterns that are organized into more complex patterns. And we know that the brain must have flexible rules for how all this system works because it has both a set for ambiguity: the signs can change their values within the same utterance and it can take advantage of the redundancy of language to be very efficient in the way it makes sense and generates responses.
Slide 5

1.Language is both a personal and social invention. Each of us has the ability to invent language and we do but the need to connect with others serves as a constraint on our inventions. The interaction of our personal inventions with the conventions of the language(s) that surround us cause the language to move toward the language of family and community.


2. But the creative process never ends- that's why language is continuously evolving both to meet new needs but also as users are divided by time space, class or experience.
Slide 51. it is language and not just reading that is mankind's most profound achievement; reading and writing are the inevitable extensions of humanity's really most amazing achievement: Language
To illustrate how each child invents language consider four of my great grandchildren ( the other two are not yet a year old and only beginning to talk.On father's day I had a visit from Arabella who at 9 months took her first steps at our house. She and I had a great time turn taking she would say mamamama and I would repeat it then she would say wawawawa and I would say wawawa. This went on for several minutes until I lost interest.
Ezrial, the oldest, focused in her language development on intonation. For a very long time her speech was eloquently dynamic- even dramatic accompanied by gestures as she expressed herself . But the phonology was missing. One time she picked up a spring type door stop, held it in front of her mouth and clearly was imitating a news person on television. Now she is six, graduate of a sweat shop kindergarten and fully conversational.
Juliette, her sister, is now four, She followed a more typical pattern, gradually producing short utterances that were comprehensible within appropriate contexts and steadily developing toward comprehensible English.
Her cousin Madison took a somewhat different path. Her language became grammatical before she fully had control of English phonology. Her language had that charming characteristic of not quite the conventional sounds. Twa wa wa wa wa uh she sang in one song.
Levi with two older sisters had picked up on social pragmatics. He focused on semantic units in appropriate contexts. At two and half in a science museum I said to him "Levi, did you know this place is about science?" He responded. "I knew that " " At one time when his maternal grandmother was visiting he introduced her to his paternal grandfather," Zafta, this is Pops"
What all my dear little ones have in common is that without any instruction they themselves have become conversational in English. That means that they control the phonological system, the grammar, a considerable vocabulary and much of the social pragmatics such as thank you. Please, I love you etc. Madison told me she wanted to go to the "book area" in our house.
Slide 6

What have these 2-3 year olds learned?


They've learned that :

  • people connect through language (it's social).
  • people use language to express their needs (It's communicative)
  • people share their experiences and feelings through language (It's interpersonal)
  • how to organize their thoughts and learn through language.(It's psycholinguistic
They've also learned:

  • the systems of one or more languages (However many they need)
  •     They can produce and attend to the systems of sounds that are
the signs of a language

  • They've learned the wording and grammar of the languages
  • They've learned to use the language to express what they need to
say and understand what others say to them and others



But these children of the 21st century are also digital natives. Ezrial has a partly functional cell phone and with her mother's help writes me text messages. Juliette and Madison are masters of the Ipad and Levi's been talking into a toy cell phone since he could walk. We skype so often that the children have been somewhat startled to see us in person.
I mention this digital competence to introduce another important concept I have learned.
Written language is the inevitable extension of oral language. It comes about when our human need to connect is beyond the capacity of voice and ears. We need to connect over time and space. It's a parallel language system sharing grammar and vocabulary.
Written language is not a secondary representation of oral language. It is an alternate way of connection. It uses sight more than sound but it is language in every sense and it is no harder to learn than oral language in fact it is easier because it shares so much with oral language

There always have been children who moved into literacy easily and without instruction. My middle daughter Karen was reading before she started school. In a combined kindergarten first grade the teacher had kindergarten Karen listening to the first grade children as they learned to read. At home she lined up her dolls and read to them. The first article Yetta and I did together was on her spelling ability when she started kindergarten.
But now many more children are reading online and on mobile devices and merrily texting with their thumbs well before they start school.
Slide 7

The more complex society becomes the more we humans need to connect with each other. I've said elsewhere that Gutenberg's invention of the
printing press didn't make mass literacy possible rather the need for expanded literacy made the printing press necessary.
I'm briefly share some important things I've learned about how our species makes sense of print but I'll be coming back to this amazing ability of children to learn language and how that relates to them becoming literate.
Slide 8


Einstein has been quoted as saying that all scientific discovery begins with intuition.
Early in my research with miscue analysis I had such an intuition, I characterized reading as a psycholinguistic guessing game. At first I considered that a metaphor. But modern brain theory is confirming my intuition. Our brains are continuously predicting what will happen

It uses those predictions to tell the senses what to look for and where to look and it is selective about what it chooses to use from the sensory input. What I called psycholinguistic strategies in reading are general strategies of the brain. Reading is a very good example of the brain at work.


Now, in this digital ag, the functions overlap. Oral language can be preserved and written can be immediate as in texting. Reading as language then cannot have basic differences with how any language process works.

With this mind here are some key ideas we've learned about reading.


Idea 1: Reading

is a process by which the brain constructs meaning from printed texts



Making sense and constructing meaning are two ways of saying the same thing
Reading is an active process in which meaning is created by the reader.
Though reading begins with the eye scanning the text to provide input to the brain. The brain specifically in the cortex is where meaning is constructed.
Slide 10

A common sense view is that the eye scans word by word and the brain then makes sense of the words. In that view accurate word recognition is very important and the letters in the words are used to identify the words.
But a century of eye tracking and half a century of miscue analysis has shown something quite different.
    About a third of all words are not fixated in reading. At times the eye regresses.
Words may be fixated but omitted in oral reading and words may be read in oral reading which were not fixated.
We've identified what we call the grand illusion in reading: Readers think they see all the words but they don't. The brain constructs perceptions based on visual input but also based on what it knows and what it expects to see.


What the reader thinks he/she sees is more important than what is actually seen. Prediction makes it possible for the eye to be selective in where it fixates. That's efficient because it saves time and energy.
Slide 11


Within our construction of meaning, the brain (specifically the cortex) predicts what the eye will see and constructs mental images based on the visual information but also on the predictions it has made. It only needs enough input to confirm what is expected or not and to make further predictions
It uses these perceptions to construct the wording and other features of the text. The brain actually constructs a mental text—we call it the reader's text—based on the published text. Remember what you are seeing as you read is not meaning but patterns of ink. You as the reader must construct from them a meaningful text and make sense of it. It is this reader's text which the reader comprehends.
There are two elements in how the cortex controls an ongoing process The lements are looping and corrective mechanisms. In driving a car in traffic or in reading, a series of decisions are continuously made; each maintains a connection between the cortex, the sensory systems, and the organs of the body. Each decision involves predictions on the basis of perceptions based on sensory inputs. But they also contain predictions of what is likely to follow.
Consider a few seconds of driving:
I'm driving in the speed lane but my exit on the motorway is coming up:
Cortex to foot: keep the foot steady on the accelerator but get ready to change lanes.
Cortex to eyes /eyes to cortex: check the mirrors for a break in traffic, start turning the wheel—whoa, where did that guy come from? Nice recovery, feet and hands!
Reading is much like that:
Cortex: message to eyes, eyes to cortex. Ready: hands on page: Initiate reading.     Eyes get me some input from left of line. Here's what we're looking for: quick few hundredths of second focus eyes. Thanks eyes: got a hunch of the pattern, predicting, wording, skip ahead now pretty sure what's coming…yeah we know what's coming—got the image yeah that's it. Understood! And here's what we're expecting. That's nice input—Whoa, eyes go back to the way this began—hold on—never mind I already know what it said..

Comprehending is this rapid continuous looping: sensing, thinking, muscle action: cortex makes sense. Occasionally the eye is sent back reversing gears to recheck input and then rolling on.

Idea 2: Any text—whether oral or written—is a complex system of abstract symbols with no intrinsic meaning.

And here is the miracle of human language: We are able to think symbolically—that is, use abstract symbols to represent meaning. We connect with each other, communicate our needs, our thoughts, our experiences, our feelings. But there is no meaning in the symbols themselves. The meaning cannot pass from one head to another. It is in the head of the writer who creates the text and the reader who makes sense of the text.
The meaning that we produce is never exactly the meaning the writer had—we all bring our own views and experience into the meaning construction. Poets particularly have understood this.

Idea 3: To make sense of what is read the reader must bring meaning to the text.

Both oral and written language texts have the potential to be understood. But understanding, to any degree, depends on readers bringing meaning to the text. We have it wrong when we say, "Does that make sense to you?" Rather, we should say, "Can you make sense of that?" We don't "get meaning" from the written text, we make our own meaning .By that we mean that the writer creates a representation of what he or she means but the writing itself is an array of abstract symbols that has no intrinsic meaning. If the text is well written, a reader who shares the language constructs meaning from it.
    Both the reader and the writer are trying to communicate through language. How well they succeed depends on two things:
    1. That they share the same language, at least substantially enough to understand each other. (Indeed they may share the same language but use it differently.)
    2. That the reader brings to the reading the background of knowledge and experience the writer has assumed the intended readers will have. The writer has a sense of audience.
Slide 12

Idea 4: Making sense of written language uses basically the same processes as making sense of oral language


Another common illusion is that it is necessary to first turn print into sounds (sound out) and then understand it as we do speech. In this view, written language is not real language but a code for language. But in our extensive research on oral reading miscues we found no evidence for that. We all read silently much faster than we speak. Rather, the two systems—oral and written language—are parallel. If reading were dependent on turning print to speech then deaf people lacking hearing could not learn to read. Deaf sign languages such as American Sign Language constitute a third parallel language system. The symbols are manual signs and they represent meaning directly just as speech and writing does. Sometimes people talk about "cracking the code" in reading. But language systems are all codes. The symbols have no meaning but in the systematic way they encode meaning.
Of course in listening you make sense of the language as you hear it. If you don't understand something in normal conversation, you can ask the speaker a question. In reading you can reread to get more understanding. In both cases, though, both thought and language are involved.
We use language to represent ideas. Whether the input is oral, written, or sign. We construct our own meaning in comprehending what is being said. And we are not limited by speech in how we can connect with each other.
    In any case, there is an ongoing transaction in which meaning is expressed in language and comprehended from language. So in reading, the text the reader comprehends is the text the reader is constructing parallel to but not identical to the writer's text. It is no longer just the writer's text, the parallel text is based on what the reader perceives, knows, believes, and understands. So what is comprehended will be a composite of author's and reader's meaning. Exactly the same thing happens in listening. The listener is also constructing a personal text and that is what is comprehended. So when a husband insists that his wife said one thing while his wife insists she said something else, they are both right since what they understood were two different but related texts.

Idea 5: How well any reader can make sense of anything that is being read depends on how efficient and effective the reader is and what they knew before reading.

An effective reader, like an effective listener has a good understanding of what is being said. But efficiency is a matter of how much time and energy the reader must expend to make sense.
Efficient readers use the least amount of time, energy, and cues from the text to make sense of what they are reading. Research has shown for a long time that there is a correlation between the speed of reading and comprehension. That has led to the mistaken notion that if we teach readers to read faster their comprehension would improve. Fortunes have been made from speed reading courses.
However, it isn't speed but efficiency that is related to comprehension. Efficient reading is relatively fast. That's because the reader uses the least amount of cues from the text, selectively, to make sense of what is being read. But proficient reading is always a combination of how efficient the reading is and how effective. Proficient readers are also flexible—they vary the speed at which they read to suit the density or the quality of the text, speeding up when the going is easy and slowing down when they need to use more cues from the text to get to the meaning (even rereading when the reader is unsure of the meaning). And many readers read more slowly or reread when they relish the text they are reading.
The general admonition of teachers is to read carefully. But reading efficiency will vary depending on the nature of the text, the purposes for reading and how predictable the text is for the reader. So efficiency and effectiveness are not general attributes but specific to each transaction between a reader and a text.    
Each of us is illiterate to some extent. We read some texts with great efficiency using fewer fixations, sampling the text very effectively, making highly successful predictions. And there are other texts that we have to read ploddingly and repetitiously to get some tentative sense of the meaning. In texts of great interest to us we bring the necessary background to fit ourselves into the intended audience it is written for. When I have to sign an important document such as a mortgage agreement, I get a lawyer to do my reading for me.
So let's come back now to what all this means for how teacher support literacy development.
Consider one eight year old child. Now finishing third grade, he had been subjected to DIBELS from his first day in kindergarten, He was thoroughly convinced that he was a non-reader because nothing worked for him. He was indeed a non-writer because all his time was spent on being tested taught to the test and then retested with DIBELS,
DIBELS is a test funded by the US Department of education developed at the University of Oregon by a group of direct instruction advocates who were put in charge of determining what states could put in their funding proposals under NCLB. That meant that without review by state and local authorities it was mandated in many states for all k-3 students.
Slide 13 and 14

The sub tests purport to test the five big things in reading according to the findings of the National Reading Panel, Each of the sub tests is given one to one preferably by someone other than the teacher on the school staff. Each test is timed at one minute and the child has three seconds to respond, Only correct responses are counted, each test is considered prerequisite to the next. Only the last of the five is a connected "story" and it is scored by the number of words read correctly in one minute.
After some pressure from teachers a retelling was added but the score is the number of words used in the retelling.
At one point this boy became so agitated by the time pressure of the test that he knocked the timer off the desk and left school and walked all the way home.
Now comes the happy ending. A neighbor began tutoring the young boy using retrospective miscue analysis. That's a process where he reads orally a story or article which is recorded. Then his tutor selects some of the miscues starting with those that show some evidence of some success in constructing meaning. In the short period of four months the boy began to be more comfortable in trusting his own learning and letting go of the nonproductive strategies he'd been drilled on. He had indeed been learning all the time he was in school and through the RMA sessions he began to revalue himself and the reading process. At school the DIBELS instruction continued but now a reader he even did better on that- his grades improved and his teachers noting the progress attribute to the success of his school instruction. But they told the tutor that he had the bad habit of making "educated guesses" and would need more instruction to get him to stop doing that.
I've told this sad story because it illustrates the great irony that the more explicit and virulent instruction becomes the more it interferes with the language learning children are capable of accomplishing on their own.
On teaching and learning of literacy 

Slide 15


Let's consider what are we teaching if we teach kids to read and write? We should be trying to support their learning to do what readers and writers do.
And let's consider how children- virtually all children learn language at a tender age without our help.: through the dialectic of invention and convention. They invent their language as they try to connect to those around them but they are constrained by the language others are using to communicate among themselves and with the child.
This dialectic is very productive because the universal ability to represent things, ideas, experiences feelings symbolically is also the way the brain organizes what if learns and remembers. The oral and written symbols move from random to those effective in connecting with others and the grammatical structures and morphology or wording of language are learned at the same time- since grammatical designs and morphemes must match and be assigned at the same time. Since what the child is learning: connecting through language the social conventions shape the inventions and they move closer while the grammar and lexicon grow together.


The ability to think symbolically is totally flexible and recursive, Signs can change their values in the same unit and signs can represent signs. As complex as the system is it is easy to learn because the brain works in much the same way.- organizing what it learns and storing the patterns that it creates to store and learn meanings.
Linguists understand that natural languages only exist as they are used in some context for some purpose and that the functions are processes and not isolatable skills.
From this it follows that language is universally developed and continues to be developed in the context of its use to connect people.


While language can be studied as any dynamic system can be studied. It cannot be learned by deconstructing it into pieces or constituents like pieces of a jig saw puzzle
This understanding of how language is learned leads to a conclusion others have discovered. The role of teaching is to support and facilitate learning in the context of using language to connect.
Furthermore this natural way of learning while using language is going on continuously
regardless of how young learners are taught.
Now let's compare this with the almost universal view that reading and writing are school subjects, that written language needs to be broken down to its components- building on the smallest and moving toward the largest. Reading then becomes learning part by part and bit by bit, letter by letter, word by word, rule by rule, skill by skill.


While young children are remarkably able to learn language, they are notably much less able to deal with abstraction. No wonder then they do not succeed well in learning sets of abstractions which not only are what they are taught but which are reified as reading in their tests.
Every attempt to create a scope and sequence for learning to read and write- what must be learned in each grade or as prerequisite to further learning is arbitrary and is likely to interfere with learning rather than support it. Fortunately most children will learn anyway though some will doubt their success and others will come to consider what they are taught more important than what they are learning themselves. Even when they are successful they think they have somehow cheated in making sense the wrong way.


Reading from the point of the school is what the tests test and the fact that a child is reading is not valued – what is valued is performance on the tests. Reading then is not making sense of print it is moving through an instrructional sequence and pasing tests.


Though I gave you an extreme example of dysfunctional instruction, it is the logical extension of what happens when the instructional program is reified as reading, It reaches the level I call the pedagogy of the absurd.


Vygotsky understood that language is learned in its use. Frank Smith has his 12 easy ways to make learning to read hard and one hard way to make it easy: Find out what the child is doing and help child do it. With informed teachers who understand what reading and writing are and how they are learned, every child can learn easily and effectively.


Then the role of the teacher is to provide challenging experiences in school that will expand on the growing literacy and produce more critical readers and more effective writers.
Happily children with access to digital devices, wherever and whoever they are, are finding their way into literacy much as they have found their to oral language as they use it to connect with their peers.
And predictably they are told when they arrive at school to put away their cellphones and tablets and get ready to be taught to read and write.
Slide 16

Responsive teaching for Literacy
  • There is no sequence of skills in literacy development
  • Reading and writing are not school subjects
  • Like all language literacy develops in the context of its use
  • Digital natives are already developing literates before they come to school:
  • Teachers need to build on what learners are naturally doing and provide access for those that haven't had it
    • Provide access to materials and experience of literacy
    • Immerse in literacy activities
    • Accept and build on texting and email
    • Plan literacy activities that expand need to read and write
  • The Double Agenda
    • Students are focused on what they are doing with written language
    • Teachers are monitoring both what they are doing and how they are doing it
  • The key is to support learning and avoid teaching anything which is at cross purposes to that learning or has to be unlearned