Reading Backwards

Despite what the title may suggest, I am not going to talk about the myth that Dyslexics read backward. Instead, I am going to point out how purposely reading backward (word by word, not sound by sound) can help break a guessing habit.

In David Kilpatrick's book, Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, he provides a good overview of how we read, including using decoding, context, and contextual guessing. He states, "For weak readers, contextual guessing allows them to bypass the orthographic mapping process, which secures a particular written word in memory for later, instant recall." (page 39) Hmm, skipping the process that secures a written word in memory for later, instant recall. That doesn't sound good.

So, what do you do when your student, who may have been taught specifically to guess the word from the context, keeps guessing instead of slowing down to decode the word?

Several strategies can be used, including using highly decodable text in reading instruction, to discourage guessing. One strategy is to read backward. Start reading at the last word of the sentence. Decode the last word and move on to the 2nd to the last word. Once the student has read all the words correctly, then try to read the sentence in the proper order.

When I write decodable text, I am very careful to not use any concepts that have not been previously taught. But my brain thinks in oral language. It is so easy for me to use a word that is not decodable for that level. What is worse is that it is extremely easy to overlook such "errors." I will read a passage several times and not catch a word that is out of sequence for the chapter.

But, I have found a secret weapon.  You may have guessed it. I read my passages backward word by word. The context melts away and I can really focus on if each individual word belongs. It is crazy how the context grabs my brain and distracts it from the task I really want to focus on.

I'm sure it is similar for students learning to read. Sometimes context is a distraction. Of course, context is critical to reading, but when the task is to learn how to read and map those words into the brain, and a student is prone to guessing a word, context can get in the way. When editing a decodable text, context gets in my way.

So, if the context is encouraging guessing when words need to be decoded, try taking a break from context. Start reading backward.

P.S. Grammarly is driving me nuts. I keep writing backwards. Grammarly corrects it to backward.  I want to be as proper as possible, but "backward" sounds so odd to me. The nerd in me went to Google. I need answers. Upon a quick review, I guess both are correct. Backward is more "American" while backwards is more "English." For now, I'll let Grammarly win this one - except for the title. I have to change the title.


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