by Jamie Lipp
My oldest nephew is a Division One college lacrosse player (proud aunt). Recently, we traveled to a game to watch him play. In the middle of an intense play, one of his teammates used his lacrosse stick with both hands to push another player from behind. Apparently, this is frowned upon, as whistles blew, flags flew, and an announcement was made that an illegal cross-check had occurred. One minute in the penalty box he went!
Witnessing this, it occurred to me the that the phrase ‘cross-check’ has multiple meanings. A homonym of sorts. The English language is funny like that. In sports such as lacrosse and hockey, a cross-check will send you straight to the penalty box. As for the reading process, the cross-check has a more positive connotation. And there are certainly no penalties for cross-checking while reading.
The dictionary defines the act of cross-checking as verifying one source of information against another. Cross-checking when reading is just that. Clay (2016) defines cross-checking as a strategic activity in reading where a child notices a discrepancy in his own responses and checks one kind of information with a different kind of information. It is an awareness, a closer look, a second glance, another attempt. A “something’s not quite right” observation resulting from self-monitoring.
So, why is cross-checking important? Cross- checking signals the child is becoming more active while reading. He is no longer inventing text, but rather, attempting to integrate multiple sources of information (meaning, structure, visual). He has self-monitored and is now ‘weighing up’ the possibilities. This increased awareness allows for attempts that become better, then more accurate, and ultimately, correct responses. Cross-checking requires the child to monitor the ‘bad fit’, search for alternative sources of information, and integrate these sources by checking the initial information he attended to against some other source of information (Clay, 2016). Essentially, the ability to cross-check is a golden ticket to reading independence.
Cross-checking must be taught for, observed, praised, and expected as our students progress as readers. We can teach for the development of the strategic action of cross-checking in a variety of ways. When reading, we must encourage students to use multiple sources of information at difficulty. Doing so requires careful modeling, prompting, and thinking aloud. Teachers can specifically point out when students have initiated cross-checking behaviors, and even when they have not. In the classroom, we can observe for cross-checking behaviors during guided reading lessons, shared reading, and especially through analyzing running records.
An observant teacher will identify the hesitations or multiple attempts that signal the child has self-monitored and is attempting to cross-check. This teacher will carefully analyze running records to notice where this occurs, how frequently, and what information sources were being integrated. When patterns emerge, the teacher can support the student to attend to the sources of information he is frequently neglecting. The cross-check challenges us to move our thinking beyond, simply, “he just doesn’t know that word” to teach for all that is happening within their processing systems. Further, attention to cross-checking behavior forces our awareness beyond an accuracy and self-correction rate, as it should be!
We expect our students to do more than simply decode the text at hand, as reading and decoding cannot be used synonymously. There is more than visual information to attend to while reading. Clay (2016, p. 135) tells us, “cross-checking on information is an early behavior.” Good news, this means we don’t have to wait until a student is reading high levels of text to expect it. And when we see it, we praise it, because we want it to continue.
Most importantly, we must acknowledge the power of the cross-check as a powerful strategic action that occurs throughout reading. In the classroom and beyond, understanding that hesitation a student makes, or a second (or third) attempt at difficulty to be a signal of higher-level processing is critical. Supporting this strategic action to become more frequent and sophisticated can “level the playing field” for our readers. The ball is in their court, or in the case of lacrosse, the stick is in their hands.
To our growing readers, cross-check away! To my nephew, stay out of the penalty box.
Clay, M. M. (2016). Literacy lessons designed for individuals. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Jamie Lipp is a Reading Recovery trainer at The Ohio State University. Follow her on Twitter @Jamie_Lipp.