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Posted 6th January, 2017 by Sue Partridge

Could not retrieve telephone-number, Could not retrieve telephone-number,

This is the first of a number of discussion topics I am going to share with you, taken from the archive of my blog on Unravelling Reading (see also the Unravelling Reading section of this website for other articles.)

These topics are still relevant and I hope will attract some new comments.

I was reminded, when assessing a Dip ADDS (Adult Dyslexia Diagnosis and Support) Unit 2 module, of an interesting link between reading and punctuation.  The ADDS candidate K (she knew I was writing this post) submitted a DVD where she had a really interesting conversation with her learner about how punctuation can be the key to good expression and intonation when reading (they were discussing exclamation marks and question marks). We know from Ivanic (1996) that “while reading probably doesn’t help students to learn to spell, it does seem to help some to punctuate.”  Adult writers can improve their punctuation by reading their work aloud and listening for a complex mix of sound, structure and meaning in the words.  However, perhaps reading with a greater awareness of punctuation also helps fluency and comprehension.

In my research I had one learner who never noticed sentence breaks when she was reading a text out loud.  Though she read fluently and with reasonable accuracy, she  could rarely recall more than the surface detail of what she had read.  Somehow her style of reading was not giving her access to the meaning for full comprehension.

One of the interventions I tried with her was asking her to use a highlighter pen with one colour to mark up sentence breaks and another for commas. We did this a couple of times before reading the text together (we were reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as she had a passionate interest in horror stories!), as part of a series of directed activities related to texts (DARTs)It is possible she had some visual processing difficulties that meant punctuation marks did not stand out well for her She certainly read with better expression after this activity.

In the re-assessment after 6 sessions of interventions, this learner dipped slightly in her reading accuracy and was one of the subjects who significantly slowed down her reading speed (half speeded up, half slowed down – which is an interesting finding to be discussed later).  However she improved her comprehension score by 18%!  Was she improving her access to the meaning of texts?

Clearly lots of other factors come into play, so it is impossible to tell if or how the work on punctuation worked;  it was only one of the strategies we tried.

I would like to invite you to post a comment on this thought, saying how you have linked punctuation with reading and/or committing yourself to trying it out with your learners and then getting back with some further evidence.

Ivanic, R (1996) Linguistics and non-standard punctuation, in Hall, N. and Robinson, A., eds. Learning about Punctuation,  Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.

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