The role of confidence in reading.

Everyone knows that confidence is a good thing. A lot fewer people understands the critical part confidence plays in reading. In reading confidence is not just a good thing it is a NECESSARY condition for reading.

People do not read like computers. When computers read they don’t read phonetically the way we expect children to. Computers simply lookup the vast majority of the words the ‘speak’ in a list which informs them how that word is to be spoken. To be sure they will have a guess at words no in their ‘list’ but those ‘guesses’ are usually about as bad as a person learning to read.

read each letter and each word perfectly and in sequence and each one gets exactly the same amount of consideration. When a person reads they get an impression of the words and letters from which they get clues about what the passage says. Letter groups are perceived all in one go; the meaning of each word is affected by the other words in the passage and their relationships to each other. Associated pictures play a role as does the overall context.

When we first read a simple word like ‘cat’ as an inexperienced reader we are faced with much more ambiguity than you might realize.

‘a’ is ah

‘t’ is tuh

but ‘c’ can be suh or kuh

Even if the child is confident that ‘c’ is pronounced the kuh

The sound ‘cat’ is not just ‘kuh’ ‘ah’ ‘tuh’ said one after the other very quickly. To be sure the sound ‘cat’ is closely related ‘kuh’ ‘ah’ ‘tuh’ but it is far from the same thing. No matter how well prepared by phonic instruction it takes a leap of faith by the child to attempt to convert ‘kuh’ ‘ah’ ‘tuh’ into a single ‘blended’ word sound.

confidence to have a guess in the face of this ambiguity. It takes even more confidence to take that guess in front of an authority figure like an educator or parent.

If the guess is wrong - or not made all - and the child feels embarrassment as a result it is a blow to that all important confidence which the child needs to make the next time. Most children weather those blows or get enough confidence building success that their confidence stays ahead of their failures and they learn to read well.

The confidence of some children, however, goes into downward spiral of lowered confidence producing failure reducing confidence and so on…

In fact it when an inexperienced reader encounters a new word for the first time the chance of them guessing the correct ‘blending’ of individual letters and letter groups is very small. Our (and therefore their) response to this initial failure is critical. A significant number of children falter at this point. They are overly sensitive to the inevitable failure at this stage and they associate reading with that experience of failure. Once that happens simple persistence with the method which created the problem will not work.

In short when we read we get a collection of clues from which we construct the ‘meaning’ of the words. And this is why confidence is so important. The meaning does not arrise from a mechanical text itself but from our active investigation of the text. If we don’t try to interpret all those clues all we will ‘see’ is letters and letter groups and words. It is an act of creativity to turn all the clues into meaning.

If I were to say read this word…. ‘Fury’ poor reader and a computer would be stumped because