Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Learning from Their Miscues: Differences across Reading Ability and Text Difficulty

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Learning from Their Miscues: Differences across Reading Ability and Text Difficulty

Article excerpt

This study examines the semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic systems used during oral reading by an Australian sample of young readers. Patterns across these systems can reveal how young readers approach the task, and have implications for reading instruction. Reading research is yet to identify every skill required in reading or exactly how children learn to read, although it is clear that three language cueing systems, semantic (meaning), syntactic (sentence structure) and grapho-phonic (visual and sound), contribute to the reading process (Hempenstall, 2003; Adams, 1998; Goodman, Watson & Burke, 1987; Clay, 1982; Buettner, 2002; Mitchell, 1982). Farrington (2007) believes that we should teach children to act as 'reading detectives, looking for clues to work out the meaning of a text' (p. 8) across the three cueing systems.

The semantic system relates to the meaning conveyed by language, including the reader's prior knowledge about the world and about language (Parker, 1985). The semantic cueing system is employed when readers ask themselves whether what they read is making sense.

The syntactic system refers to the structure of a sentence, including the parts of speech, and grammar (Goodman et al., 1987). Readers use this cueing system to check that the text 'sounds like language' (Goodman & Watson, 1998, p. 122) and that what they are reading follows the rules of language.

The grapho-phonic system describes the combined use of letters (orthographic system) and sounds (phonological system) (Goodman et al., 1987). This system may help a beginning reader to decode a word by assessing its visual and oral properties. If it is a regular word, such as bed, where there is a direct one-to-one correspondence between the letters, b-e-d and their sounds, this may lead to successful decoding. The debate

The exact contribution that each system makes towards the acquisition of

reading has been the subject of popular debate, often characterised as the whole-language versus skills-based approaches. The whole-language (or top-down) approach characterises reading as a process of active meaningmaking (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (Victoria), 2007). Whole-language proponents such as Goodman and Goodman (2004) argue that all three language cueing systems work together to help a reader make sense of what they are reading, although these are believed to operate at differing levels of importance. Goodman et al. (1987) consider that semantic cues are deep structure processes, while grapho-phonic cues are surface structure processes. Smith (2004) explains that deep structure processes involve knowledge and meaning, while surface structure processes are the physical characteristics of text such as the visual and sound properties. Goodman et al. (1987) put the most emphasis on semantic followed by syntactic cues in the reading process. They suggested that grapho-phonic cues are utilised only when the former systems are unavailable. Whole-language advocates believe that skilled readers are more likely to depend on meaning and grammatical cues and are less likely to use grapho-phonic cues than are less skilled readers (Stanovich, 2000). Goodman (1979) claimed that the semantic acceptability of a reader's miscues prior to correction is the greatest predictor of reading ability. Consequently a focus on meaning is expected to lead to skilled reading (Robinson & McKenna, 2008).

The skills-based (or bottom-up) approach focuses on reading as the breakdown of a whole into parts so that it can be understood. Skills-based theorists place a greater emphasis on the role of the grapho-phonic system. They propose that proficient readers rely initially on visual and sound properties of text, and then on semantic and syntactic cues (Wren, 2008). Less proficient readers tend to rely on semantic and syntactic cues because they do not have sufficient skills to use the graphic and phonic features of text (Nicholson, 1993). …

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