The Reading Matrix
Vol. 2, No. 1, April 2002
The Power of Retrospective Miscue Analysis:
One Preservice Teacher's Journey as She Reconsiders
the Reading Process
Research has shown that teachers
are strongly influenced in their pedagogical decisions
by their own prior educational experiences. This
article describes a case study that used Retrospective
Miscue Analysis as a research tool to assist one
preservice teacher, Sophie, as she reconstructed
her perception of the reading process. Sophie
came to the research with a strong belief in a
text reproduction model of reading. Listening
to audio recordings of self-produced miscues became
the basis for discussions that centered on the
sociopsycholinguistic transactive nature of the
reading process. Over the course of the research
the preservice teacher examined her assumptions
about reading, became acutely aware of and revalued
her reading strategies, and came to the realization
that efficient effective reading does not result
when readers focus on accurate text reproduction
Teachers' recollections of their own experiences
as students in a classroom setting are the greatest
single predictor of how teachers will teach (Lortie,
1975). In other words, teachers teach the way
they remember being taught. Other predictors of
teaching style include personal experiences (ethnic
and socioeconomic background, gender, geographic
location, religious upbringing etc.), and, to
a lesser degree, experience with formal knowledge
of pedagogical and curricular areas (Richardson,
1996). If as the research indicates this is true,
how do teacher educators help preservice teachers
reconstruct their belief systems about teaching
and learning with respect to the sociopsycholinguistic
nature of the reading process?
Richardson states that collaboration in research
is a particularly important component contributing
to a change in attitude or beliefs. She references
Bussis, Chittenden, and Amarel (1976) who write
that "personal exploration, experimentation,
and reflection" (p. 17) must be present for
significant teacher change to occur. These statements
speak directly to the nature of this research
In this article I will document the three month
journey of one preservice teacher as she closely
examines her personal reading strategies and uses
that new knowledge to reconstruct her perception
of the reading process. I begin by describing
Retrospective Miscue Analysis, the research tool
used in this case study, and the procedure of
the research sessions. Next I will introduce the
preservice teacher and present excerpts from the
research sessions. Following each excerpt I will
provide an interpretation of the research session.
I will conclude with a discussion of the effectiveness
of Retrospective Miscue Analysis as a research
tool with respect to this case study.
Retrospective Miscue Analysis
Throughout my research I focused
on reading as a meaning-making authentic language
process. Because I believe literacy and literacy
learning are social events, I used a research
technique called Retrospective Miscue Analysis
(RMA). In RMA, readers listen to audio recordings
of their own oral readings and, with the help
of a researcher, discuss to what degree their
miscues are syntactically and semantically similar
to the printed text and to what extent they affected
comprehension. RMA combines the power of personal
interaction with constructing knowledge in a social
During the course of the research I met with Sophie
five times. In our first meeting, I interviewed
Sophie using the Burke Interview Modified for
Older Readers (Burke, 1996). The interview questions
were designed to help Sophie reconstruct memories
from her early childhood reading experiences and
help her describe what she believed were characteristics
of good readers.
Each time Sophie and I met, with the exception
of our last session, I audiorecorded Sophie reading
a previously unseen text. After each meeting I
analyzed Sophie's reading using Procedure 1 of
the Reading Miscue Inventory (Goodman, Watson,
& Burke, 1987). The Reading Miscue Inventory
examines a reader's miscues to determine the degree
of graphophonic similarity, syntactic acceptability,
and meaning change when compared to the expected
In preparation for each session I preselected
five to eight miscues to discuss with Sophie.
Based on responses from the initial interview,
I chose miscues that I thought would most provide
insight for Sophie into the transactional sociopsycholinguistic
nature of reading. As an example, Sophie viewed
reading as accurate text reproduction, so I often
chose miscues which were syntactically and semantically
acceptable and were not self-corrected. I coded
a miscue as syntactically and semantically acceptable
if the resulting sentence was syntactically accurate
and contained no major semantic changes.
For each RMA session I had two tape recorders.
One contained the recording of the reading we
would discuss and the other was used to audiorecord
the RMA session. I gave Sophie a typescript copy
of the previous reading that was prepared to represent
the original reading as much as possible duplicating
length of lines, special fonts, punctuation, and
Before we listened to and
discussed the preselected miscues, I directed
Sophie to the appropriate portion of the typescript
and often asked her to read the sentence which
contained the miscue. This gave her the opportunity
to reflect on what may have occurred during the
first reading. As the selected miscues were replayed,
Sophie followed along on the typescript copy and
I used the following questions to guide our discussion:
1. Does the miscue make sense?
2. a. Was the miscue corrected?
b. Should it have been?
3. Why do you think you made the miscue?
4. Did the miscue affect your understanding of
5. What does this tell you about what readers
do as they construct meaning from a text?
I often expanded on these questions to strengthen
the retrospective nature of the process by asking
"Why do you think so?" or "How
do you know?". I did not ask all questions
of every miscue, but rather used them as a road
map for the discussion to help Sophie focus on
her use of reading strategies and language cue
systems. I exercised caution to ensure the questions
did not become formulaic or predictable, taking
instead my cues from Sophie's responses. Flexibility
in interactions is part of the procedure for RMA
(Goodman & Marek, 1996).
Traditionally RMA has been used as a tool with
readers experiencing difficulty to help them reexamine
the reading process and revalue their personal
reading strategies. Along with several colleagues,
I had successfully used RMA with proficient adult
ESL readers as they examined their L2 reading
processes (Wurr, Theurer, & Kim, 1999). I
knew potential existed for the use of RMA with
skilled readers and I also knew that careful study
in a discipline enlightens the learner. I was
curious to discover whether RMA would help a preservice
teacher revise his or her perception of the reading
process. This interest led to my research with
Sophie: A Proficient Reader
Sophie was enrolled in the College
of Education at a major research university in
the Southwest United States. She lived in a nearby
suburb with her husband and two young children.
Sophie decided to returned to school to complete
her education degree when her daughter entered
first grade. She agreed to participate in my research
to fulfill a requirement for one of her education
Sophie recalls growing up in a literate environment.
She said her parents were "reading all the
time, always reading the newspaper, magazines,
books" and she remembers her father reading
bedtime stories to her. Her earliest memories
of first grade include "using phonics ...
[and] sounding words out."
Sophie describes herself as a "good reader"
who loves to read. As a full time student she
said, "Every single day I'm reading something
mainly to do with school." She went on to
say that she has not "read a good book in
a long time because of school, but I used to read
novels." Sophie is following her father's
model and reads to her children every night before
bedtime. "Arthur books are their favorite
and Dr. Seuss books. Any book they get from the
library that they bring home I read to them."
Sophie describes her father as a "really
good reader ... he was the one who always read
to me. He's just so good at it. It's like he seems
to know every single word. He knows all the meanings.
He knows how to pronounce everything."
When I asked Sophie before our RMA sessions began
what she would do to help someone who was having
difficulty with reading she said she would have
them read "very slowly over each word ...
[and] just practice, practice, practice."
This comment reflected Sophie's early school experiences
of reading as a text reproduction process. She
believed that good readers accurately read every
word as it is printed in the text with no room
RMA Session 1 "You Have to Read Every
Word the Correct Way"
In preparation for our first RMA session I audiorecorded
Sophie reading the short story Godfrey Cambridge
and Fame (Angelou, 1997). Two weeks later Sophie
and I listened to and discussed sample miscues.
The miscues I present in this article are samples
from our discussions which are representative
of the entire session.
When Sophie read the following sentence in her
initial reading she substituted around
Those who dared to watch him timorously
sat or stood away in
Figure 1. Substitution
We listened to the recording and
I asked Sophie if the sentence made sense the
way she read it. She replied, "Yes,"
and then questioned the author's use of the phrase
stood away. "What's stood away? That doesn't
make sense to me ... I guess I just saw the next
letter and put in what I thought would make sense
I asked Sophie how her comment related to what
readers do when they read and she replied, "I
guess you bring with you what you know."
She agreed that her miscue did not change the
meaning of the sentence but she also believed
that if she were a teacher and her student produced
the same miscue she would immediately correct
them. "I think it's because that's what I
was trained to do. Teachers did that to me in
school ... I just think you have to read every
word the correct way."
Sophie reminisced about her schooling when she
went on to say, "We always had to read everything
correctly or our teacher would correct us out
loud." When I asked how that made her feel
she responded, "Probably a little bit stupid.
A little bit embarrassed that I didn't get it
right. So I think that made me concentrate even
more on reading it just the way it is." Sophie
admitted that in the second grade classroom that
she was observing she also corrects children immediately
when they produce a miscue. "When somebody's
reading a book and they skip a word that's really
where it doesn't matter if someone skipped it,
I will actually correct her. So I'm doing the
Another miscue we discussed was Sophie's substitution
of said for asked in the following
As we neared his parked taxi, he asked,
"Somebody said you
have been talking to some
Figure 2. Substitution
"I don't know why I did that
one," Sophie said when she listened to the
miscue. She thought about it for a few seconds and
continued, "I wonder if it's because when I'm
reading along I'm always looking ahead at the next
word. So if I think I can finish it on my own I
just assume what the word should say." She
agreed that other readers use the same strategy
but as a teacher in a classroom she would expect
accurate word reproduction. "I think it's important
that the kids say each word correctly because they're
learning how to sound out words. They're trying
to memorize the most frequently used words in stories."
When I asked Sophie why she thought it was so important
to read the text exactly the way it is written she
replied, "Maybe to get the meaning from the
author's point of view, to really understand what
she was trying to say. Maybe, I think, if I even
change one word it might change the whole meaning
of the sentence."
Throughout our discussion Sophie made comments that
supported her text reproduction model of reading.
The following statement is reflective of that belief.
"I guess I noticed that I didn't read it correctly
... I wanted to read it exactly the way it was written."
Sophie came to this research with definite ideas
about how young readers learn to read. Her prior
educational experiences formed the basis for her
practical theory (Zeichner & Liston, 1996).
Prior to this research she had never articulated
or reflected to this extent on her beliefs. Anzul
(1991) addresses this issue when she writes, "People
who have never before articulated their beliefs
and customs now are asked to do so, and what may
never before have been examined has now become verbally
objectified" (p. 197). On 13 different occasions
during this discussion Sophie spoke of children
"saying each word correctly." Her practical
theory indicated that she believed children first
need to develop a sight vocabulary and word recognition
skills and then develop the skills to extract meaning
from a text. However, she was never able to articulate
how or when the change from recognizing words to
understanding text would occur. She could not envision
"reading as a process of thought-getting [that]
begins with meaning and with words in context"
(Smith, 1955, p. 14). She knew that at some point
reading needed to involve meaning, but she had never
thought about when that might occur. It just seemed
to be something that miraculously happened somewhere
sometime in the primary grades.
RMA Session 2 "I thought I Read Everything
Word for Word"
In preparation for this discussion
Sophie read Floating (Brennan, 1991), a short
story in which the events are not presented in
chronological order but shift repeatedly between
real and imagined events in the past and present.
In the following sentence Sophie omitted the word
had, read to the end of the sentence, and
then reread the sentence correcting her omission.
| (C) ----
\ So I had to, she
Figure 3. Omission Miscue
I asked Sophie why
she read to the end of the sentence before she
went back and corrected the miscue, "When
I said, So I to she told reporters, I realized
that did not make sense. Something was missing.
So I went back, looked over it, and found the
word I missed and then I repeated it." I
asked Sophie why she thought she might have made
the miscue. In disbelief she answered, "I
don't know why I would have done that ... Maybe
I just predicted what was gonna happen."
This led to a conversation about omitting words
while reading. I showed Sophie four omission miscues
she produced in this reading. "Wow! ... I
always thought I read everything word for word,"
she exclaimed. As we brainstormed possible reasons
as to why Sophie was omitting words she said that
she found this story interesting and was focusing
on "what was gonna happen next in the story"
as opposed to focusing on the printed text. I
asked if she believed this had implications for
teachers in the classroom. "Oh yes, I think
it would ... I think kids need to choose their
reading material ... I think they need to be interested
in it to get something out of it."
We also discussed Sophie's substitution of
holding for hold in the following sentence.
I let myself slowly down beside her, hold
her in my arms, sing to
her in almost a whisper.
Figure 4. Substitution
When we discussed
this miscue Sophie believed her version of the
text "sounds better." She went on to
say, "And I should have said ... singing
to her in almost a whisper ... If I was going
to write it I would have said holding. In fact,
I even remember coming to sing and even though
I didn't say singing I remember thinking I don't
like the way that sounds."
This was the first time Sophie began to look at
her miscues from a different perspective. She
valued her miscue and questioned the author's
choice of words. Sophie was beginning to recognize
that reading was more than just focusing on words,
"I'm trying to analyze the sentence and get
meaning from it and reading more than just words."
Sophie then told me about a conscious decision
she had made since our last meeting. She was volunteering
in her second grade observation classroom and
was listening to a group of students reading aloud.
"Some of the kids would replace a word and
it still made sense so I just left it," she
said. When I asked if the children corrected the
miscue she exclaimed, "No! I was surprised.
I thought for sure a kid would go 'That's not
right. That's not the right word.' And no one
said anything." Sophie was trying to prove
to herself that what she was learning in our sessions
together would have no practical application in
a classroom. She was not ready to abandon what
had felt comfortable to her all her life, the
idea that children should "try to read word
RMA Session 3 "You Don't Have to
Read Word for Word"
"One of the things I've
learned is that you don't have to read word for
word ... I'm beginning to change my views on reading
... It's hard. It's really hard." That quote
from Sophie began our third meeting. Sophie had
read Thief (Grenir, 1996) in preparation
for this RMA session.
"Polite," I finally said. "Polite.
Don't you believe me'?
Figure 6. Reversal Miscue
We listened to the
tape of the miscue, but Sophie was more concerned
with talking about the written text. "Does
that make sense?" she asked. "What does
that mean? Polite, I said finally. Polite.
Don't you believe me?" We rewound
the tape and as we listened to the miscue a second
time Sophie said, "Oh, I switched words!"
She had been so concerned with making meaning
of the reading she had not heard her miscue. When
I asked why she thought that might have happened
she answered, "When I was reading this I
kept looking at the word polite. I must
have glanced at the next three words but I went
back to look at polite thinking I must
have misread it."
We talked about her strategy of scanning ahead
as she was thinking about what she had just read,
while simultaneously trying to construct meaning.
The audiorecording showed no hesitation in her
voice as she scanned the words I finally said.
. I asked Sophie to relate this knowledge to strategies
readers use as they read and she responded, "They're
constantly trying to get meaning from it. So they're
doing 10 things at once very quickly."
In the following substitution of was for were,
Sophie once again questioned the author's choice
He shook his head as if he were disappointed
in me, then turned
Figure 7. Substitution
All right, shouldn't
it be was? Why is it were? Were is proper
English?" she asked. "Yes," I replied
but Sophie was not convinced. "I still
think it should be was," she said indignantly.
In the sentence containing Sophie's miscue, were
is used as a subjunctive. The conjunction as if
introduces the conditional clause in which
were is used to indicate an action that
is doubtful. There was a good grammatical reason
for using were but, in Sophie's dialect,
the subjunctive mood is not as consistently used.
Once again Sophie was rewriting the text as she
was reading in an effort to construct meaning
As we closed the session Sophie said, "I
seem to have the same strategies every time when
I'm reading. I bring my own background of my reading
knowledge, how I speak and how I would write things.
That's why I add words and take out words and
change things around."
She admitted she was surprised to discover her
reading strategies. Sophie no longer felt that
it was her job as a reader to ferret out the author's
one intended meaning. This was a tremendous change
from our first discussion when Sophie believed
that if she changed even one word she thought
"it might change the whole meaning of the
RMA Session 4 "I Wasn't Reading
Word for Word"
For our last session together
Sophie read an informational article, Reading:
The Psycholinguistic Guessing Game (Goodman, 1991),
which explains strategies used by readers as they
transact with text. This article was Sophie's
only other exposure to miscue analysis theory
during our sessions together. We discussed the
following insertion and substitution miscues.
|Did you use your usual cursive handwriting?
Did you print?
I printed. actually
thing you didn't do was to accurately reproduce
the print font
of the original.
Figure 8. Insertion and
As we listened to
the tape Sophie noticed that she paused briefly
in her reading. "I said, 'Did you print?'
and then I stopped and what did I say?" When
I explained to her that she was answering the
question posed in the text she exclaimed, "Oh!
I couldn't figure out what I was doing."
Sophie readily admitted that at this point in
the reading she was fully engaged in the article.
"I wasn't reading word for word. I was reading
When we discussed the substitution miscue, Sophie
referred to the issue of text placement. In the
original text read by Sophie accurately was hyphenated
with ac- printed at the end of the line and curately
beginning the following line. "It's probably
not a very good word to split up ... You should
have accurate together and maybe put the -ly
somewhere else ... I guess I was sounding it out
... making a prediction of what the word was gonna
As we continued to listen to the tape Sophie laughed
as she exclaimed, "Oh, I'm just making miscues
all over the place!" She readily admitted
she had no idea she was producing miscues because
she would have "corrected it. Obviously I
didn't know ... Somehow it made sense to me. I
must have been getting meaning from it."
Sophie approached this final discussion with confidence
in her voice and conviction in her new-found knowledge.
She described her new beliefs about reading this
way, "I think they [readers] make predictions
and when the predictions match what's in the text,
or close enough, they keep on going. But when
they don't then they have to go back and correct."
As a proficient reader Sophie had the ability
to handle all the semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic
cue systems and continue reading even when she
miscued, as happened when she was dealing with
text placement in her final reading.
Sophie was no longer concerned with producing
a reading that reflected a text reproduction model
of reading. She now believed it was permissible
to "skip over" sections of text when
she realized that she "didn't need to know
this information." She also agreed that,
depending upon the purpose for reading, it would
be acceptable for children to use the same strategy.
As Sophie reflected on the change in her belief
system she said, "In the beginning I strongly
thought reading was reading word for word. I didn't
think reading was just for meaning ... you have
to read for meaning or what's the point"?
During the course of the research
Sophie had ample opportunity to question, investigate,
test, and apply her new knowledge. In our first
meeting Sophie said, "I want to read it [the
text] exactly the way it was written." Sophie
had been taught as a child that good readers produce
a mirror reproduction of the text and any deviation
from the printed text needs to be corrected. The
influence of formal schooling combined with past
experiences of overly simplified education was
especially strong (Knowles & Cole, 1996).
That influence was so overwhelming it prevented
Sophie from considering any other approaches to
learning to read. An important part of this research
became the "unlearning and rejecting [of]
dispedagogic experiences" (Goodman, 1996,
Sophie came to the research valuing her ability
as a reader, "I'm a good reader," she
declared. Participation in the RMA sessions helped
her revalue herself as reader. She gained renewed
confidence in her reading ability which helped
her take more risks and become an even more effective
reader. She also began to value the constructivist
transactive nature of the reading process (Goodman,
1984). She no longer believed it was necessary
for children to read slowly over every word. She
said that children who used that strategy would
be "missing out on the meaning of the story."
By the end of our time together Sophie realized
she herself "wasn't reading word for word."
She came to understand that, as readers transact
with text, they bring the sum total of their background,
belief system, and personal knowledge of language
as they construct meaning (Goodman, 1984; Rosenblatt,
When summing up the changes in her belief system
Sophie said, "I'm just more aware of what
goes on, everything that happens in a split second,
all these decisions a person makes when they're
reading and predicting. I didn't know all that
was going on and I had no idea I was making so
many miscues ... I always thought that to be a
good reader you had to read word for word ...
I realize it doesn't matter if you make miscues.
I'm still getting meaning out of it. In fact,
I get more meaning out of a reading it seems if
I make more miscues because that means I'm not
reading word for word."
Weaver (1994) cites Krashen (1982; 1984; 1985a;
1985b) when she describes "the constructivist
nature of learning" (p. 65). She believes
that students learning about language in a stilted
formal school setting never fully acquire the
same expertise as those who learn the language
in authentic constructivist settings. Weaver continues
by saying that acquiring language is a subconscious
process in which an individual is in charge of
his or her own learning, continually constructing
more sophisticated rules of language. While Weaver
was discussing language learning in general, I
believe parallels can be drawn to my research.
The collaborative setting in which I worked with
Sophie allowed her to acquire an understanding
of the reading process. Rather than provide a
list of theories or rules about the reading process,
I helped Sophie build on the knowledge and experiences
she brought to the research with each subsequent
RMA session building on the learnings of past
sessions, thus remaining true to the collaborative
nature of RMA. Sophie began with her personal
background knowledge and during the research she
set the pace for her own learning. Through the
process of revaluing, Sophie developed a greater
understanding of reading and her own personal
reading strategies. Our sessions together had
a profound effect on Sophie. "In the beginning
this was just an assignment. I didn't think I'd
get anything out of it. But towards the end I
realized I can take this with me when I'm a teacher,
because I just totally changed my mind how I perceived
reading and how you should teach reading."
1. The following are miscue analysis
markings used in the text excerpts: substitutions
are written above the text, omissions are marked
with a dash above the text, insertions are indicated
with a caret, (C) means the miscue was corrected,
an underlined portion of the text marks a regression.
|Dr. Joan Leikam Theurer
is an Associate Professor of Education at
California State University, Long Beach, teaching
reading methods courses. Prior to her appointment
at CSULB, she was an Associate Professor of
Education at CSU, Northridge and received
her Ph.D. in Language, Reading and Culture
from the University of Arizona.