The Three Cue method is a long-established yet increasingly controversial approach to teaching reading. We will look at the background and philosophy of this reading method in this post.
According to Ken Goodman, there are three cues people use to read, and they are listed below
- Graphic cues: Examining the letters to determine the word
- Syntactic cues: Guessing what kind of word it might be, such as an adjective or verb
- Semantic cues: Guessing the word based on the context or what makes sense.
Goodman also made some conclusions based on his observational research of children learning to read.
- Reading is not about precision but accurate first guesses
- as the child improves in their reading, they use fewer graphic cues
- Detailed perception of letters and words is not necessary
Before Goodman’s bombshell in the 1960s, reading was taught one of two ways. The whole word approach relied on repetition and the use of pictures. A classical example of this approach to teaching reading is the”Dick and Jane” reading series from the 1930s. The assumption is that if a child sees a word often enough, they will learn how to read it.
The other major way of teaching reading has been the phonics approach, which involves learning the sounds associated with letters. One example of this approach is the McGuffey readers of the 1800s
Goodman took a different approach compared to whole words and phonics. If a student is struggling with reading, the teacher can have the child think (guess) a word that would work in a sentence they are struggling with. For example, suppose a student sees the word “horse” and uses the word “pony” instead. In that case, this is considered acceptable when employing this method. Even though the child never learned how to read the word “horse.”
This approach to reading allowed students to guess their way through a text. If students had an intuitive sense of what works, they could look like they were reading without developing the needed comprehension. This happens because they are not processing words, but rather, they are processing their guesses about words. With time, criticism began to arise towards the THree Cue method.
By the 1970s, people were already beginning to find that Goodman’s method was as great as believed. REsearch at this time was finding that skilled readers could recognize words without relying on the context. Students were able to read without looking at the words! In other words, students were making up their own story guessing their way through a text without mastery.
Students would skip the arduous process of sounding out words to guess. These habits would become bad habits, and children would struggle with reading for a long time and, in some cases, would never really master it. In addition, some students learn to read no matter how they are taught. In other words, no single system can claim to be the answer all the time for learning to read.
Despite this evidence, the Three Cueing Method was highly popular. Most teachers are familiar with this method and maybe learned to read this way. The problem is not Goodman’s method. Rather the problem is relying exclusively on one method to teach anything. Different students learn in different ways, and there will always be a place where Goodman’s ideas will benefit someone.
Phonics does not work for every student, nor does the whole word. It is naive to think that Goodman’s way is the only way. A balanced approach that incorporates various reading methods is one way to reach students. After a teacher gets a sense of what works best for their students, they can focus on one particular approach and occasionally use other strategies to develop weaknesses in students.
When the flaws in a theory are pointed out, it is always tempting to throw them out. However, there is probably always a context or situation in which a theory will work. Goodman’s three cue method doesn’t work all the time. Yet there is evidence that this approach has helped for some of the time.