History of Literacy

History of Reading News. Vol.XXIII No.2 (2000:Spring)
by Kenneth S. Goodman

I grew up in Detroit, working in car factories off and on as I pursued my BA. I finished my degree in economics at UCLA. The influences of progressive education were still strong in California when I began my teaching in 1949, and they influenced my teacher education courses and the school policies where I taught. But it was also the height of Mc-Carthyism. I eventually left teaching for several years, work-ing as a social group worker with pre-schoolers, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens. I met my wife, Yetta Goodman, when we were both counselors in a Jewish Center day camp in a changing ghetto on the Eastside of Los Angeles.

I began my doctoral work in education at the same time that I returned to teaching. I was John Goodlad's first doctoral graduate at UCLA. My doctorate was a study of traits teachers value in pupils. But while I was writing the dissertation I became interested in conflicts going on in the National Council of Teachers of English over grammar that turned into a deep split over the nature of language and how it should be studied. I became aware that reading had not been treated as language in most of the research. I saw immediate possibilities for understanding how readers made sense of written language through applying the tools and concepts of descriptive linguistics.

In 1962, I moved back to Detroit to take a position at Wayne State University. Detroit had changed in my absence from the most segregated city in the North to being a leading center for advancement of minorities. The auto union produced Black leaders who could bridge the gap with the Black middle class and thus constitute an important political force in local politics.

Wayne State University was part of the Detroit school system until the end of WWII when it became a state university. It is in the heart of the city, adjacent to the cultural center. As it grew it replaced some of the decaying neighborhoods, which still continue to surround it. Long before the civil rights movement, Wayne State's College of Education had a substantial Black enrollment.

When I arrived, the baby boom had produced its bumper crop of school entrants and a great teacher shortage. The College of Education at Wayne State was rapidly expanding. I had a plan for how to use linguistics to study reading when I arrived back in Detroit. I would select a range of stories from the earliest preprimer to the eighth grade books of a basal series. From the beginning, I determined that I wanted to do research in the real world. I went to a racially mixed blue-collar community with high numbers of low achievers.

A word list for each story was developed that sampled the words of the text. It was the only time in my research that I asked anyone to read a word list. It served two purposes. Mainly it was a quick way of gauging level of difficulty. My goal was that each reader would read for the study a story somewhat difficult for him or her. That would help to demonstrate what young readers do when the text is challenging. Ultimately then, within each grade, there were children reading a wide range of stories of variable difficulty.

A second purpose of using the word lists was to provide data to test a widespread belief among teachers that students can read words in story context that they cannot read in lists. No one was surprised at the results since it followed what teachers had observed over the years. First graders were able to read two-thirds of the words in context they missed on the list and third graders read four-fifths of them.

The study was the beginning of miscue analysis. I found my readers, even the most advanced, made errors. Quickly I began to call them miscues because I recognized that, when the oral response didn't match the expected response, changes were not random but showed use of language knowledge. These miscues offered a window on the reading pro-cess since I could compare what was expected to what actually was produced. Something as simple as a substitution of a for the showed the reader using linguistic knowledge in replacing a definite article with an indefinite one. Miscues were produced by use of the same cues in the text as expected responses.

I didn't consider that this exploratory study with a budget of $250 was of much importance to anyone but me. And it was all but forgotten until other researchers challenged the finding (published in Elementary English, now Language Arts) that words were easier to read in story context than in lists. This dispute had at its center paradigm differences over what role context plays in reading (Goodman, 1965a).

The study launched a series of small funded miscue studies that eventually led to a plan for a research program and some major federal funding. Over the decades since, hundreds of studies using miscue analysis have been conducted and reported (Brown, Goodman & Marek, 1996).

My research plan won me an assistant professor research award from Wayne State. That gave me a semester off from teaching, and some money to host a conference and to support publication of a book based on the conference. I brought together a handful of scholars, most of them quite young, involved in using linguistics to support literacy research. There was a study at Stanford by Ruth Weir. She sent a new doctoral graduate, Richard Venezky. Ruth Strickland, researching at Indiana University, sent Robert Ruddell, also a recent doctoral graduate. The conference and subsequent book were called The Psycholinguistic Nature of the Reading Process (Goodman, 1968).

Just as federal money for reading research became avail­able, Harry Levin, a developmental psychologist at Cornell, got a grant for Project Literacy, one of the first major inter­disciplinary research projects. Jeanne Chall suggested that he invite me to participate. I spent a summer month in Ithaca, New York, working with Levin and his colleagues. Short-term consultants were brought in including a three-day visit from Noam Chomsky, who talked about reading as tentative information processing. I was working toward my model of reading based on what I was learning from miscue research. Chomsky's characterization of reading brought things together for me. Readers were actively but tentatively con­structing meaning, making predictions and inferences that were used in sampling the text to get to meanings. Miscues illuminated how readers made sense of the text. Reading was a psycholinguistic guessing game in which efficiency meant using minimal cues to get to meaning and proficiency was making sense of the text. I presented my model at AERA and was invited to publish it in the Journal of the Reading Specialist (Goodman, 1967).

Throughout my career, professional organizations and their publications have provided me with a platform to present my research, theories, and professional views. Conferences have brought me in close contact with others doing related work and made my work visible to practitioners. I've been a member of committees and commissions and boards, and I've served as president of the International Reading Association, the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy and the Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking. The National Council of Teachers of English has been a major part of my professional life.

Miscue Research and Sociolinguistics

The subjects in my urban research spoke a rich variety of dialects. By definition, a miscue is an unexpected response. But shouldn't we expect readers to use their own dialects in their oral reading? He'p is not an unexpected reading of help for a child whose language community pronounces it that way. My model of reading now became sociolinguistic as well as psycholinguistic. My miscue research showed how speakers of different dialects responded to the same text. Initially I assumed that dialect would be a barrier to comprehension (Goodman, 1965b). Through my research with rural and urban Black, Downeast Maine, Appalachian, and Hawaiian Pidgin speakers, I found that dialect was only a barrier if schools made it one by confusing readers over how they pronounced words (Goodman & Buck, 1973).

In one major study I looked at the miscues of three of four proficiency groups in 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th grades (Goodman & Burke, 1973). In another I looked at average 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade pupils in eight population groups reading in English. In addition to the dialect populations, I had subjects whose first language was Samoan (Hawaii), Navaho (Arizona), Arabic (Michigan), and Spanish (Texas) (Goodman, 1978).

There was a continuous interplay during these miscue studies between the increased sophistication of the analysis and the theory of the reading process I was developing. I used research funding to help support graduate students, and many miscue dissertations were completed.

But my original goal in starting research on the reading process was to provide teachers with the knowledge that would make it possible for them to understand reading and to build their teaching on that knowledge. There were clear applications of miscue analysis and the reading model for teachers and reading specialists. Yetta Goodman, Carolyn Burke and Dorothy Watson, all miscue researchers themselves, developed the Reading Miscue Inventory to make miscue analysis available to teachers.

And the view of reading that emerged began to attract interest among teachers in many parts of the world. I believe that's because they can confirm what the studies have demonstrated in observing their own pupils. Because of the dominance of behaviorism in American education, there was a period when my work was better known in Australia, New Zealand, England, and Canada than in the United States. And contacts with teachers and educators in those countries greatly enriched my understanding of reading and reading curricula.

It is no accident that I published three books first in Canada. What's Whole in Whole Language came out of presentations in several Canadian conferences. Whole language was their term for the view of curriculum that they were developing as they rejected the focus in the United States on tests and texts (Goodman, 1986). That small book has been a gauge for me of interest in whole language. The original English version has sold 250,000 copies. The original publisher, Scholastic Canada, produced a French translation in 1989; two Spanish translations were published

in Venezuela in 1989 and in Argentina in 1998; a Portuguese edition appeared in Brazil in 1996; a translation in Japanese was published in 1990; and the Chinese version was published in Taiwan in 1999.

I wrote Phonics Phacts because I felt that my close analysis of thousands of miscues of readers in many different language groups had given me a strong understanding into how sound systems and written systems of alphabetically written languages relate to each other (Goodman, 1993).

Ken Goodman on Reading is my statement of what I have learned about the reading process (Goodman, 1996). It presents what I knew at the time I finished writing it. Since then, however, I've continued to learn. My research and that of my students involve investigation of the reading process from several directions: a study of flow in reading (as distinguished from fluency) linked to miscue analysis; a study of literacy in a young man who has aphasia from a stroke that affects his performance; studies of the reading process in non-alphabetic languages (Chinese, Japanese and Korean); studies that combine miscue analysis with eye-movement research; and a study of the reading of Arabic with and without the vowel markings.

I retired officially from the University of Arizona in August 1998. It will take some years before all my students complete their programs. I will have enough research, writing, and work with teachers to keep me busy for the rest of my life. And I will continue to advocate for Freedom to Learn, Freedom to Teach, and Social Justice.


Brown, J., Goodman, K.S., & Marek, A.M. (1996). Studies in miscue analysis: An annotated bibliography. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Goodman, K. S. (1965a). A linguistic study of cues and miscues in reading. Elementary English, 42, 639-643.

Goodman, K. S. (1965b). Dialect barriers to reading comprehension. Elementary English, 42, 853-60.

Goodman, K. S. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Journal of the Reading Specialist, 6, 126-135.

Goodman, K. S. (1968). The psycholinguistic nature of the reading process. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Goodman, K. S. (1978). Reading of American children whose reading is a stable, rural dialect of English or language other than English. Washington, DC: National Insti­tute of Education, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Goodman, K. S. (1986). What's whole in whole language? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Goodman, K. S. (1993). Phonics phacts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Goodman, K. S. (1996). Ken Goodman on reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Goodman, K. S. & Buck, C. (1973). Dialect barriers to reading comprehension revisited. Reading Teacher, 27, 6-12.

Goodman, K. S. & Burke, C. L. (1973). Theoretically based studies of patterns of miscues in oral reading performance. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 079 708).

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