Self-Monitoring: Who’s Finding the Errors?

Students who are reading below grade level commonly struggle with self-monitoring their own reading.  They read along not cross-checking one type of information against another and are oblivious to the errors they have made. It is essential that we teach for self-monitoring to help students notice their incorrect responses starting with the very earliest levels.

Studies support the need for students to monitor their own reading.

  • Clay found that proficient readers in their first year of school self-corrected on average one in three errors.  Students who were progressing more slowly corrected only one in 20 errors (Anderson & Kaye). 


  • Mc Gee, Kim, Nelson, and Fried also found that children who were on grade level at the end of the school year monitored their reading and self-corrected their reading at a much higher rate than students who were not on grade level at the end of the year (Anderson & Kaye).  

Self-monitoring consists of a partially correct and partially incorrect response.  Therefore, self-monitoring is helpful because it helps the teacher to see what sources of information a student is using and what the teacher needs to teach next.  Self-monitoring is not the same as a self-correction or fixing the error.  Self-monitoring means that the student notices that something isn’t quite right with either the meaning, language structure or visual information.

It is extremely important that the teacher does not jump in too quickly to point out the student’s error.  When we quickly jump in we are not providing opportunities for the reader to monitor their own reading.  I think that it might be in our nature to want everything to be correct, but try to think of errors as golden learning opportunities. After all, without errors, the child wouldn’t have an opportunity to practice important monitoring behaviors that lead to more chances to work on building a system of effective processing.

In our zeal to be ever so helpful to our struggling readers, we may find ourselves falling into the trap of finding and pointing out the error to the child ourselves.  When the teacher finds the error the focus turns to fixing the error rather than promoting self-monitoring during reading.  Finding the error for the child and showing them how to fix the error will not help to improve the child’s ability to self-monitor.   THE CHILD NEEDS TO FIND THE ERROR!

We have to forget about fixing the error for a bit and focus on teaching the child to notice that something isn’t quite right.  If the teacher continuously points out their student’s errors and focuses on fixing she/he runs the risk of two consequences:

  • The child will become passive and think that it is the teacher’s job to monitor the reading.
  • The child will think that reading is all about accuracy and will be less likely to take risks.

When a student is monitoring we want to see some sort of behavior that indicates that the child is not happy with what they just read.  A child can show that they are monitoring in many different ways.  We need to observe our students closely and look for the following signs of discontent.  The student is monitoring if he/she:

  • stops reading
  • has a confused look on their face
  • makes a comment
  • rereads
  • appeals after reading a word
  • attempts to self-correct

When a student shows signs of uncertainty we want to ask:

  • What did you notice?
  • Why did you stop?

We want to name what the student is doing and praise the partially correct response.  Then we can move on to helping them to notice what they are neglecting.  We want the child to realize that noticing their errors is a good thing that they should be doing.

We want to call on children to monitor their reading when it is both accurate and inaccurate.  We might want to say:

  • Were you right?
  • Did everything make sense?
  • Did everything sound right and look right?
  • It’s important to check that it looks right.  Try it again and check to see if something doesn’t look right.

Remember it’s not about getting the word right.  It’s about the process that led to what the child read and the child noticing any discrepancies on their own.

Be sure to reinforce self-monitoring

  • It was good the way you noticed that…
  • I like how you tried to work that out (whether they are correct or not).

Once students are consistently self-monitoring their own reading we can tentatively focus more on fixing the error.  Self-corrections help children to develop a self-extending system in which the child is independently monitoring and self-correcting their reading, efficiently problem-solving, searching for information, and making new discoveries.

“Opportunities to self-correct allow children to push out the boundaries of their own text knowledge and expand their strategies for doing this.  Self-corrections provide excellent opportunities for self-instruction.”

~Clay, Change Over Time, p. 205

The end goal is for students to independently self-monitor and make self-corrections as they read.  From the very beginning, we need to teach for, prompt for, and reinforce self-monitoring behaviors.  A student who self-monitors is a student who reads with agency,  takes an active roll in their reading and understands that it is their job to find their errors.





Clay, M. (2001).  Change Over Time In Children’s Literacy Development.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Clay, M. (2016).  Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Anderson, Nancy L.,  Kaye, Eizabeth L.  Finding Versus Fixing:  Self-Monitoring for Readers Who Struggle.  The Reading Teacher.  Vol. 70, No. 5. 543-550.






10 thoughts on “Self-Monitoring: Who’s Finding the Errors?

  1. Rachel Flatness

    I really enjoy your posts. They are always what I need reminding of especially with just a few more lessons with my kiddos before we see if they can discontinue. Keep up the good work!


  2. rogersjess

    Nicely said! When I work with teachers, I always remind them to let the students find the errors as well. I explain that your sign to jump in is when the student shows signs of frustration/distress. Each student has a different threshold!


    1. Yes! Recently my teacher leader reminded our group that “productive struggle” is important. We have to notice when the reader has moved from productive struggle to frustration.


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  4. Yes, yes, yes!! I found that when reading aloud to kids, it’s important that I authentically model self-monitoring. Authentic is key here, because reading isn’t about perfection and we have to show that to our students. Your posts are fabulous reminders of what’s important in intervention! Thanks for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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