Don’t Teach Strategies: Self-monitoring & Cross-checking (part 1)

When teaching children to read it is important that we ask ourselves whether we are teaching strategies to our students or whether we are teaching our students to be strategic readers? You might be wondering what exactly I mean by this? What is the difference?

*Just to clarify – I am using the word “strategy” in this post to refer to reading processing and problem-solving not comprehension strategies.

Marie Clay points out the difference between teaching strategies and encouraging strategic activity in several of her works (2016, 2001, 1991).  Here is my interpretation of what this means:

Teaching strategies:  involves a lot of talking about what to do when reading and children reciting back a list of strategies.  It implies that we are able to provide the child with the strategy to use, they will then use it, and therefore become a better reader.

Teaching for strategic activity:  a teacher looks to see what a student does when reading. The teacher sets the stage for effective problem solving and provides just the right amount of support in the form of prompting to enhance a student’s problem-solving abilities.  The child calls up responses from his/her head.  When successful problem- solving is experienced the child repeats the behavior that led to success.

Clay (2016) writes that teachers can not teach independence with strategic activity.  What we can do is set students up for successful interactions with texts and know when to provide support and when to allow the student to do the work on their own.  For example, if we want a student to self-monitor his/her own reading more consistently we need to provide opportunities for the child to initiate self-monitoring.  Setting the student up for this work will allow the child to control parts of the processing which will lead to more independence with self-monitoring

We can help learners to build a neural network that leads to an effective processing system but teaching is not the key that leads to this.  The “successful processing” that we can set the student up for, reinforces responses that will later be “called up by the learner” (Clay, 2016, p. 128).  This may seem mind-boggling but when we think about the fact that strategic work is something that happens in our brain, we can’t see it, it makes it a little easier to understand.  How is it possible to teach a student how to do the non-visible work that is happening at a rapid speed in our head?

In this post, I will be exploring how to encourage the strategic activities of self-monitoring and cross-checking.


What is it?

When a reader uses the meaning of the story, language structure, or visual information to check his/her own reading.

Why is it important?

Self-monitoring is a clear sign that a student is becoming an active learner.  Readers must listen to themselves as they are reading in order to notice mismatches and to notice whether or not they are understanding what they are reading. When readers notice that there is a discrepancy between what they said and the letter sounds on the page or that the reading does not sound like how people talk or that what they read does not go along with the story this will lead them to search for more information in order to self-correct their reading.

Some readers happily read right on past errors because they do not notice the mismatch or they may not yet realize that they should be doing this work as a reader. If the student does not know enough yet about books, letters, words, or how language works this can also interfere with the student’s ability to monitor their reading.

What does it look like?

A student can display verbal and nonverbal responses that show us that they are monitoring his/her reading.


How to Encourage Self-Monitoring Behaviors

At the earliest levels, it is more important for the child to check his/her own reading than to be able to use various sources of information to fix it.  We have to support the child with being able to notice the mismatch first before worrying about fixing the error.  We should reinforce self-monitoring behaviors even if the child was not successful with self-correcting.


As the child is able to read more complex text and becomes more skilled in self-monitoring his/her reading you can use more general prompts such as:


*Remember to allow the child to read to the end of the sentence before calling on them to find the error.

You can read more about the importance of self-monitoring in this post:

Self-Monitoring:  Who’s Finding the Errors?

You might also be interested in this guide:

5 Ways to Encourage Monitoring


What is it?

When a reader checks one or more sources of information against another.

Why is it important?

Cross-checking is something that we always have to look at in a tentative manner because we can not always be sure of what is going on in a student’s head when they are reading.  We can look at a student’s behaviors in order to make these tentative decisions about what is happening.  Self-correcting takes the place of cross-checking once a student is able to make various sources of information agree with what is written on the page.

What does it look like?

cross checking.JPG

How to Encourage Cross-checking Behaviors

When encouraging cross-checking behaviors we want to help the student to use the information that he/she is neglecting.  For example, if the student is over-relying on visual information by attempting to sound everything out we will want to strengthen his/her ability to use meaning and structure.


In Summary

Rather than teaching students about each of these as strategies to be learned or skills to be taught, we have to carefully set up the reading experience for opportunities in which the student will have success with strategic activity.  In Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development, Clay writes, “successful problem-solving is self-congratulatory” (p. 204).  When the student experiences this feeling of success they will be more likely to continue the desired reading behavior in the future.

Make sure to check out part 2 to continue reading more about encouraging strategic activity when we explore searching for information, self-correcting, and confirming or disconfirming responses.

Check out this previous post:

Teaching that Blocks that Path to Strategic Activity



Clay, Marie. Becoming literate: The Construction of Inner Control.  Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann, 1991.  Print.

Clay, Marie.  Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development.  Auckland, New Zealand:  Heinemann.  2001.  Print.

Clay, Marie M. Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2nd edition). Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2016. Print.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades (2nd edition). Portmouth: Heinemann, 2017. Print.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. Portmouth: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Teach Strategies: Self-monitoring & Cross-checking (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Don’t Teach Strategies: Searching, Self-correcting & Confirming (part 2) – Literacy Pages

  2. Alie mcpherson

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your article and I am using dome of your prompts for an essay at university. How do I cite your work?


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