The Reading Process

In 1976 the Reverend Jesse Jackson highlighted the importance of prioritising time to practice reading (at school and at home):

“We keep saying that Johnny can’t read because he’s deprived, because he’s hungry, because he’s discriminated against. We say that Johnny can’t read because his daddy is not in the home.

Well, Johnny learns to play basketball without daddy. We do best what we do most, and for many of our children that is playing ball. One of the reasons Johnny does not read well is that Johnny doesn’t practice reading.”

It’s much easier for students to learn to read if they have used language in many ways:

  • talking
  • listening
  • thinking
  • using his/her imagination
  • following directions

Learning to read is one of the most important things we expect students to learn when they go to school, but learning to read is only one part of their total language growth and development.

Reading is understanding the meaning of written text.

It is easier to read and write about that which we know, things we have experienced and things we are interested in and care about. These are the things in our own prior knowledge and experiences; in our cultural tool-kit.

Students learn to read by reading

Students will read if:

  • they have people read interesting stories to them
  • they want to learn to read
  • they see others getting pleasure from reading
  • they have someone they trust to help them
  • they have someone who knows how to provide effective support
  • they have books that are exciting, interesting to them and at their level of instruction
  • they have opportunities to read.

All readers bring their own oral language system to the reading process.

By school age a child’s oral language approximates very closely to the dialect of the adults and peers in their family.


Video 5: Relational Based Response

Key thought

“Putting them in a strong position to learn positively.”

Key questions

  1. How do the practices of the leaders, teachers, tutors and parents in this video clip support students to be in a strong position to learn positively?
  2. What implications, opportunities and questions does this video clip highlight for your school?

Hearing sounds in words is part of reading

While hearing the sounds that letters stand for, and knowing the names of letters, can help students who are learning to read, there is a more to reading than this. Most adults have ideas about how they learned to read.

For example:

"My goodness, we had to know our sounds in those days!"

But reading is far more than syllabification or sounding words out.

The poem on the following page (Resource 2) provides tutors with an opportunity to discuss what range of reading prompts are necessary, and why reading is more than just sounding words out.


English [Download 2]

I take it you already know of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, though, slough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there,
And dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go, and thwart and cart -
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Why, man alive!
I’d learned to talk it when I was five,
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five. - Anon.

Key questions

  1. What does this poem exemplify or tell you about the English language?
  2. What cognitive strategies did you draw on to read this poem?
  3. What are the implications for readers who depend on sounding out letters?
  4. What are the implications for readers who have learned to read in another language first, for example te reo Māori?

Some basic ideas about students reading

Opportunities to read orally in a one-to-one situation provide an important assessment context.

  1. Students learn to read by reading.
  2. Praise and support will encourage their attempts to read successfully.
  3. Students reading and their attitudes towards reading will improve when:
    • they are working with someone who gives them encouragement and appropriate help;
    • they are provided with interesting material which is at their instructional or independent level;
    • their behaviour leading to independent reading is encouraged and praised.


Selecting a suitable book

Successful use of Pause Prompt Praise depends on readers having access to a variety of text material that is:

  • of interest to the reader, and
  • of appropriate difficulty.

If a text is too difficult or challenging for the reader they are likely to make too many errors. This can result in the text losing meaning and the reader becoming disheartened and frustrated.

Conversely, if a text is too easy and too few errors are made, there will not be sufficient opportunities for the tutor to utilise the Pause Prompt Praise strategies and for the reader to learn to practise the skills needed to correct their errors when they are reading alone.

Successful use of Pause Prompt Praise, therefore, requires regular monitoring of the readers accuracy levels so that the levels of the text can be adjusted (upwards or downwards) to maintain an optimal difficulty level of challenge for the reader and tutor to work together.

This is often referred to as the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978).

A useful guide to selecting texts that are the appropriate level of difficulty is to count off 50 words from a selected book or story.

If the reader makes five or more errors within those 50 words then the text is too difficult and another text will need to be selected.

However, if the reader makes two or less errors, it is too easy to use in Pause Prompt Praise tutoring sessions as there will be insufficient challenge for the reader to develop their reading strategies. Ideally text should:

  • be of interest to the reader
  • be within their range of experiences
  • be what they can talk about
  • provide about three to five opportunities in every 50 words to practice their self correcting skills.


Video 6: Finding the Right Text

Key thoughts

“Decisions need to be made about children’s interest and level of the text.”

“In order for the child to be able to apply the reading tutoring strategies it does need to be at a certain level. Three to five errors in 50 words is perfect.”

Key questions

  1. What systems are in place to support this exercise?
  2. What needs to happen in your school to prepare most effectively for this exercise?
  3. Who is best placed to do this work?

Video 7: The Preview Setting Up for Success

Key thoughts

“It’s one thing to read, it’s another thing to understand what you’ve read.”

“The tutor needs to have read the text themselves…”

Key questions

  1. How does the preview exercise set the reader up for success?
  2. Often preview is seen as merely asking readers questions about the text, what are the potential risks in this?
  3. Preview is about ‘activating the reader’s prior knowledge’. Discuss how you think this played out in the video clip and why it would be a worthwhile thing to do.



1. Preview on your own

As a tutor it is vital to take time to read the book or the section of the text you will be using, prior to commencing tutoring.

You need to know what the story is about.

During your previewing, look for words that your student may find difficult. Think about possible meaning prompts.

If you think a word may cause difficulties, think about how you could bring it into your previewing conversation naturally but without necessarily pointing the word out.

2. Preview with your reader

Flip through the pages talking generally about what is happening on each page.

If you are able, relate the story to your reader’s background experience.

Bring in any of those words that you identified as being particularly difficult in your own preview.

Your task in previewing is to set the reader up for success.

Video 8: Building On Prior Learning

Key thought

(After a visit to the place where the story was set) “He was able to relate to the scenery, everything about the story. He understood so he got a good clear picture in his mind so when he was reading it, he read like he had been there.”

Key questions

  1. This student and his whānau were able to visit the site where the story occurred. This is not always practical. How else might you work to use, when possible, texts that connect to the lived experiences of students?
  2. What benefits are there in using texts that connect to the lived experiences of students?


Video 9: The Pause

Key thoughts

“Resisting the urge to help means you are passing the control over to the learner.”

“If there is never a pause, because the adult is telling the word, then the child never has a chance to learn to self correct.”

Key questions

  1. What connections do you make between ‘the pause’ as a strategy and the pedagogical notions of power sharing and self-determination?
  2. Many tutors have said that this is the hardest thing to do. Why might this be so?

The Pause

The first thing to do after a student stops at a word or makes a mistake is to refrain from doing anything – to pause. (Sounds easy doesn’t it?)

This means:

  • don’t say anything
  • don’t signal with your face
  • don’t point
  • in fact – don’t do anything.

This allows time for the child to do their own thinking.

Being able to problem-solve is an important part of reading.


The issue of learned helplessness

Sometimes, in our endeavours to support students to read successfully, teachers, parents, or more able readers can be overly helpful and create a condition that Stuart McNaughton refers to as ‘learned helplessness’ (Personal communication, 2013).

McNaughton contends that learned helplessness or learned dependence is where a learner comes to depend on somebody else to help them do their work, whatever that was.

The person helping receives reinforcement because they can help, and the learner receives reinforcement because all they have to do is plead, or show some sign of needing help.

The implication of this is that students can easily become trapped in the situation where they are reliant on somebody else.

By pausing, rather than jumping in with support, we are providing the reader with the space to think about what they might be able to do themselves.

Video 10: Learned Helplessness

Key thoughts

For some students, stopping when they come to a word that they don’t know has become an effective strategy for learned helplessness and not having to think for themselves.

Without a pause the student does not get a chance, because he’s told the right word, he doesn’t get a chance to engage with the text and think about what could it be, what might it mean.

Key questions

  1. Where might you have caused or experienced learned helplessness yourself?
  2. How can the Pause reduce learned helplessness?
  3. What might the tutor need to unlearn?


Thinking about the mistakes students make in their reading

Student’s mistakes in reading contain important information. By carefully studying these mistakes you can find out something about how children are learning.

Readers make two types of mistakes.

1. Leaving out words and stopping

These mistakes occur when readers leave words out, or when readers simply stop at a word they don’t know. When most of a reader’s mistakes are of this sort it is difficult to know how to help the reader to attempt them.

Readers who are afraid of being wrong may have learned that it is safer to say nothing when they come to an unknown word, rather than risk being criticised. Also readers may have learned that all they need to do is stop, to be told what the word is.

2. Reading incorrect words

These mistakes occur when readers read a word, but it does not match the word in the text, or when they add a word that isn’t in the story. Sometimes incorrect words do not make any sense in the context of the sentence and sometimes incorrect words do make sense. It is important to be thinking about this when providing tutoring support.

Incorrect words that do not make sense might be supported with a prompt about meaning. However incorrect words that do make sense might need a prompt about the way the word looks or sounds.

When most of a reader’s mistakes are incorrect words you can be fairly sure that the reader is confident enough to ‘have a try’. When you listen carefully to these mistakes you often find that the reader is on the right track, so you can praise them for being ‘nearly right’.

The Prompt

  1. If the word is not attempted – go looking for more clues.
    • “Read on”
    • “Try that again”
    • “Go back to the beginning”
  2. If the word does not make sense – give a meaning prompt
    • ask a question about meaning.
  3. If the word read makes sense but is incorrect – give a visual or sound prompt
    • direct attention to what the word looks or sounds like.


Video 11: The Prompt

Key thoughts

Students make three different types of errors and the faster we can provide the most useful prompt for the error that is occurring the more quickly we will get them on the road to more independent reading.

Often parents go straight to the phonics prompt, the sounding out which is probably the least effective and the last prompt you will ever need to use.

It’s better to get students to focus on meaning.

Key questions

  1. What key messages about prompting readers do you take from this video clip?
  2. What did you find surprising and/or what affirmed your understandings about supporting students to become fluent and independent readers?

Self corrections

One of the best and most encouraging signs of independence in reading is when a reader, given time, corrects their own errors without help. This is called self correction.

Self correction happens when the reader corrects an error they have made. This might happen when:

  • a word read incorrectly is corrected
  • a word omitted at first is then rerun and read correctly
  • a word not attempted at first is then processed correctly and included
  • a word originally put in, but which was not part of the text, is then excluded.

Self correction shows the reader is confident enough to take chances with their reading. Some students will not self correct their errors for fear of being wrong. We need to encourage attempts at self corrections as these are good signs. Self correction shows a student is on the way to independent reading.



Praise can (and should) be given for:

  • correct reading
  • self corrections
  • attempts
  • prompted self corrections
  • effort
  • answers
  • positive participation.

Praise should also recognise correct reading

This happens when a reader processes text without any errors occurring.

Not only are the words read correctly, the reader shows a clear understanding of what has been read.

Teachers, parents, and tutors are very good at establishing when a reader makes an error. However, something we might all be able to improve upon, is responding positively to the correct reading of our children. Out of all the pages of text read, it is often only upon the errors that we focus.

It is essential to consistently and positively acknowledge correct reading. This could occur at the end of:

  • a difficult word
  • a line
  • a paragraph, or
  • a page.

Positive acknowledgment of correct reading should at the very least balance the attention paid to a reader’s errors.

If readers feel good about what they read, they are more likely to want to read more often.


Video 12: Praise

Key thoughts

It’s feedback so he will actually learn from it.

It’s really important with praise that we are really specific about what we are praising for.

Key question

  1. How does the reader benefit from hearing praise?

More about Praise

Praise lets the reader know when they are doing the right things in learning to read. Praise also motivates them to keep on trying.

When you praise readers, it is important to tell them why you are pleased with them so that they can see for themselves what they are doing right. Praise such as this is often called specific feedback. When readers lack confidence in their ability to read, and when they have been used to embarrassment and criticism about their mistakes, you should praise often, even for quite small beginnings.

Book: Shining packets lay on the ground like treasure chests.

Student: Shining packets lay on the ground like treasure … checks.

Parent: Great, you were nearly right with that last word, I could tell you really thought about what it might be.

To encourage readers to be independent readers and to work things out for themselves, you should try always to notice and praise their self corrections. Tell them you are pleased that they corrected an error without your help.

Book: The tornado destroyed the village centre.

Student: The tornado destroyed the vintage centre…. destroyed the village centre.

Parent: Great. You realised that vintage centre did not make sense so you corrected yourself. Well done!



The Review follows the reading task. Your main task in reviewing is to help ensure your reader has understood the story.

This can be achieved by asking general questions like:

  • what do you think of …?
  • tell me in your own words …?
  • what do you think is going to happen next …?
  • what would you have done if …?

Reviewing is not testing the reader about the story, however it clearly signals that we expect to gain meaning from what we read.

Video 13: Review

Key thoughts

By asking the reader to tell you about the story in their own words the tutor will be able to tell from the response where their understanding is at.

Key questions

  1. What do you understand about this statement and why is it important?
  2. How is it the same as the Preview, and how is it different?


Video 14: Feedback

Key thoughts

“After they’ve come to the workshops we offer some back up support… we don’t want to just leave them isolated in their homes working with the kids.”

“Any feedback is helpful. It’s all to do with helping him, and me: it’s a two-way thing.”

Key questions

  1. How might you use the feedback conversation to develop a reciprocal relationship with whānau? What are the implications of seeking to do this with regard to the way feedback is given?
  2. How might you establish feedback loops so that the whānau and students involved are able to contribute to the on-going learning and development of the programme within the school?


The Pause Prompt Praise process
[Download 3]


Video 15: Making it Happen

Key thoughts

“I would encourage people to not be afraid to ask the teachers and schools for support to develop their understandings of how they can help their children.”

“Our sessions have gone from me telling him what he should be doing to us engaging really, really well.”

“I would like to see these strategies taken on the marae so that communities can participate. If we are honestly looking at Māori and thinking about how we are going to overcome the terrible statistics for Māori failure – then as a community we all have to take responsibility for that – not just the school.”

Key questions

  1. What sense do you make of these reflections and communities from Māori whānau?
  2. What implications might this have for your school?


Pause Prompt Praise guidelines
[Download 4]

Resources for tutors

The following pages are designed to be used as resources in the monitoring of students participating in the Pause Prompt Praise tutoring programme.


Pause Prompt Praise scoring sheet
[Download 5]


Individual reading monitoring sheet
[Download 6]


Reading interest inventory
[Download 7]