Alan D. Flurkey, Yetta M. Goodman, & Prisca Martens


Frequently Asked Questions About Retrospective Miscue Analysis

1.      Why do you suggest that we begin with high-quality miscues?

Readers need to know that their miscues are evidence of their thoughtfulness. We  quickly introduce the notion that all readers make “miscues” and that miscues are not necessarily “bad”. They happen whenever anyone reads text (regardless of the  reader’s proficiency). And high-quality miscues don’t need to be corrected because they don’t disrupt meaning making. This is often a novel idea for readers and gives them permission to keep reading even though they may be aware of their miscues. To make this point, we start with examples of their own high-quality miscues and also share examples from readers they consider proficient such as our own miscues, or miscues of other adults, family members, or even professional oral readers like newscasters.

If we begin with low-quality miscues, readers tend to interpret this as a focus on “not getting the word right.”  We want to focus the reader on “making ssense” and thinking about reading language not just reading words. When it comes to making miscues, Yetta Goodman says, “Everything readers do, they do because of what they know about the world and about language.”  That’s the message we want to get across to readers.

2.      What kinds of stories work best for RMA?

The miscues we select for RMA come from an oral reading and are, whenever possible, recorded during miscue analysis. However, miscues produced during any oral reading can be used for RMA. That said, when we ask readers to read orally, we use a complete and authentic text. Whole texts that aren’t abridged or intentionally shortened provide language and concepts that readers use when reading. These authentic texts contain grammar and ideas that real authors use when they write. Texts that are contrived and inauthentic contain language structures that make reading more difficult. They don’t give a clear picture of how readers deal with authentic language and content.

The texts we usually use for RMA include narrative picture books, folk tales or short stories, and expository texts such as news items or other interesting informational texts. Any authentic text that would be read as part of any daily activity or event is suitable. See Appendix D p. 49 in The Essential RMA for an in-depth discussion.

3.      Do I have to ask the RMA questions in the same order each time?

Once you and the reader become familiar with doing RMA, the conversations become open and spontaneous. Once readers grasp the idea that miscues are evidence of their own thoughtfulness and “strength,” they begin to enthusiastically take the lead in the conversation as they analyze their own miscues. When this happens, it’s good to have the RMA questions on hand as a reminder to touch on points that are missed, but it is not necessary to ask all the questions each time or march through the questions in order. To do so stifles the spontaneity and sense of co-exploration that characterize RMA conversations.

4.      I don't have the time to tape record, and then listen and mark miscues.  Are there ways to shorten the process?

Miscues that are produced spontaneously during any oral reading can be used for RMA. In her book Miscues, Not Mistakes: Reading Assessment in the Classroom , Ruth Davenport describes a procedure called “Over the Shoulder Miscue” in which miscue analysis is done whenever the teacher has the opportunity to conduct a spur-of-the-moment assessment as a reader is involved with a book or article. Once a reader has finished reading aloud a segment of text, if the reader or teacher notices an interesting miscue, a spontaneous RMA conversation can be had. In Reading Conversations: Retrospective Miscue Analysis for Struggling Readers Grades 4-12, Rita Moore and Carol Gilles share a procedure in which small groups of readers listen to a recording of a classmate’s oral reading. When a group member hears a miscue, the recording is stopped and the group has a conversation about the merits of the particular miscue. We call this procedure “Collaborative RMA.” See The Essential RMA p. 40-44 for more on CRMA.

And there are additional options. For example, teachers often produce miscues when sharing a story by reading aloud to a group. Some teachers may stop the read aloud to discuss an interesting miscue they made (of course, this disrupts the flow of the read aloud). Miscues can be heard and discussed when newscasters read or when the principal reads an announcement over the public address system.

We do, however, want to raise a concern. Thoughtful conversations about the reading process initially require some preparation. We encourage teachers and tutors to familiarize themselves with doing RMA by selecting miscues from a recorded oral reading to use for discussions. Once the teacher is familiar with RMA and the types of conversations that ensue, more spontaneous versions of RMA become easy and are more satisfying for all participants.

5.      Do you ever discuss miscues with readers that disrupt their reading comprehension?

As we discuss in #1 above, we do not begin RMA experiences with low-quality miscues because we want readers to appreciate that miscues are often a result of their good thinking. Regardless of what we tell them, readers are likely to view these miscues as “mistakes”—something to be eradicated from oral reading. And we don’t want to give readers the impression that the goal of reading is “getting words right.”

But once readers understand that RMA is not punitive, but rather that it seeks to reveal the reader’s strengths, we do investigate readers’ thinking that occurred when they produce disruptive miscues.  Here are a few examples. Such discussions also focus on the strengths of the reader’s language and background knowledge.  

Rolando, a 7th grade so-called struggling reader, produced the non-word shrickled for shrieked in the sentence “Judy shrieked and jumped up in her chair.” He said during the subsequent RMA session, “Well, it means (to me) that she kind of crinkled up in her chair—pulled her legs and arms in and made herself all small because she was scared.” For Roland, the apparent non-word expressed a meaning; something like a conflation of the meanings of shrieked and jumped up. The lesson we explored with Rolando from this example was that even when he produced a “disruptive” miscue, a miscue that he said didn’t make sense, he was still thinking about how his miscue made sense and helped him develop insight into Judy’s character.

Another reader, Tommy, also a 7th grade struggling reader, was asked to evaluate his production of the non-word cupŸboard for cupboard. From our RMA discussion, it became apparent that Tommy assigned the non-word pronunciation of cupŸboard as a placeholder for the concept of “cabinet,” a word that he was familiar with but which was not in the text. Tommy then had an insight about using placeholders as a strategy to help him deal with unfamiliar words. He said, “That’s what I can—I can put in for it! Cabinets!” Tommy was proud to have invented this helpful strategy that he could use on his own (see The Essential RMA p. 1).

6.      Don't you ever help or prompt the reader so they continue to read? Sometimes they just stop and wait or the other kids jump in with corrections.

It is important for teachers and tutors to raise questions about the practice of having students read aloud. We think of three situations that warrant reading aloud by students: for assessment (such as when conducting a miscue analysis), for sharing written information with an interested friend or teacher, or when giving a performance, such as a choral reading. Teachers and tutors should consider whether other instances of oral reading really serve important purposes for learning to read.

While “round robin reading” or “popcorn reading” are often used to hold students accountable for paying attention to a text or help them understand what they are reading, there isn’t much evidence that such practices do either. The result is that readers try to read their assigned portion of text flawlessly so as not to attract negative attention from the teacher or their peers, and then divert their attention to something else until it’s time to read aloud again.

Prompting students by supplying a word when they hesitate during oral reading has several consequences that we wish to avoid. First, teachers assume the reader is stuck on a word when they hesitate. But miscue analysis and eye movement research show that readers usually are hesitating because they need to think about something they have just read that requires time for reflection, or because they are silently reading ahead or regressing to make sense of a concept or structure that they are predicting and even wondering about.

Secondly, when we prompt students with a word, we are depriving them of the opportunity to solve a problem by themselves, and learn more about how to deal with new concepts and language structures in text. For example, when a reader produces a miscue that indicates a prediction, they will very often go back and correct themselves. Prompting a reader interrupts self-monitoring for meaning making. and the reader may get the message that they are not capable of problem solving their own construction of meaning. Self-correcting is a strategy that readers need to employ when they feel it is necessary, and one they will naturally use if they are encouraged to maintain a focus on making meaning.

Finally, when we prompt a reader by supplying the next word, our actions imply that “getting the next word” is the most important reading strategy. We don’t believe that, and we certainly don’t want readers to get that message.

If and when a reader pauses for several seconds during oral reading (30 seconds or more) and seems hesitant to continue, we ask the reader what they can do if they’re stuck. Sometimes readers ask for “permission” to omit or substitute and then continue. We encourage readers to do whatever they think is necessary to maintain a focus on making meaning and keep reading.

When it comes to “prompting” readers, we are informed by renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget. While Piaget was not referring to the reading process specifically, his words are relevant nonetheless: “…each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered for himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.

7.      I work with readers who are not always very responsive when we are discussing their reading.  What can I say to encourage the dialogue?

RMA takes time. We agree with Frank Smith when he says that the one thing the brain does well is making sense. Non-productive responses to text is learned often as a result of narrowly conceived reading instruction. If learning non-productive strategies takes time (and this can take several years), it is reasonable to expect that learning productive strategies in place of non-productive ones will also take time. Give yourself and your reader time to think, consider the process and revalue yourselves as teacher and learner.

We are reminded of Zachary, one of our early RMA students. Zachary was in fourth grade at the time, and although he willing and voluntarily attended every RMA session, he was not particularly talkative. There were times when we were not sure if he was responding genuinely in our conversations, or merely repeating what we had said to him in previous sessions. Many years later, Zachary, who was still living in the area and working as a successful tradesman, was asked to visit one of Yetta’s miscue analysis class sessions. He described clear memories our RMA sessions and the class and credited the sessions with learning how to read and his subsequent success in high school and beyond. Who knew? So even if a reader isn’t responsive, they often are learning from RMA.

We have learned that if readers are hesitant about discussing their own reading, it is often productive to create a little distance. Having a reader evaluate the miscues of another reader—perhaps a reader their own age on an archived recording—often shifts the spotlight away and creates a level of comfort that enables the reader to respond. We ask readers to conjecture with us, and we continually remind them that we are exploring the reading process with them; there is no correct answer that we are searching for.

8.      How might I share RMA data with other teachers, reading specialists and parents to demonstrate language strength?

RMA conversations are positive and informative. Depending on the readers’ level of comfort, these conversations often involve a variety of participants. Family RMA is a  version in which parents are participants in RMA sessions with their children. Parents use RMA and their own miscues to explore the reading process as they co-explore the process with a teacher/tutor and their own child, revaluing the reader and the reading process as a result. Parents become collaborators in the teaching.

Teachers, reading specialists, and parents are invited to observe and participate in RMA sessions. Each person can speculate about the miscues they themselves produced during miscue analysis.

Miscue analysis is the best tool available for helping teachers, reading specialists and parents learn about the linguistic and transactional nature of reading. We strongly encourage teachers who know how to do miscue analysis to engage in professional development that enables them to share what they know with others.