Reader Ignores Quotation Marks

The Problem Looks Like…

A reader ignores quotation marks and has no understanding of what they mean. Comprehension is affected because dialogue is read as narrative.

How to…

Teach readers to understand and use quotation marks to improve comprehension and fluency.

It’s Related to…

Need for Close Attention & Flexibility

Many variations of quotation marks in text create an added burden for the novice reader. New readers require flexibility in recognition. Teachers should expose new readers to multiple forms and teach use of quotation marks through modeling and discussion.

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Additionally, quotation marks are small and associated with other forms of punctuation such as comma and apostrophe. Consider this quote from “Owl at Home” by Arnold Lobel.

“You must go, Winter!” shouted Owl.

The additional punctuation marks, comma and exclamation point, are very difficult for the novice. The additional punctuation marks can be distractions and confusions.

In the children’s book “Turn the Page…It’s Fun!: A Concepts of Print Story” by Connie Dickison, quotation marks are described in kid language.

“Quotation marks are two on each side. Read in between and the talkers can’t hide.”

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Need for Residual Processing Power

Often, for new readers, processing power is nearly consumed by decoding and comprehension.  Little processing power is left to notice and use quotation marks. Children with attention deficits take a particularly long time to master the use of quotation marks.

A change of prosody is required in order for the quote to make sense within the context of the sentence. The use of voice inflection is an added burden to the already heavily utilized processing power of the new reader.

A Split Quote

When a quote is broken in the middle, like this example from “Owl at Home” by Arnold Lobel, a new reader needs explicit modeling and explanation.

”Good-bye,” called Owl, “and do not come back!”

The teacher’s instruction can go as follows:

·       Read with a rise in pitch at “bye,” and “back!”

·       Read with a drop in pitch at “called Owl,”

·       The exact words of the speaker are “Good-bye and do not come back!”

·       The part that identifies the speaker is “Owl”.

·       The part that tells how the speaker said it is “called” and “!”.

In the children’s book “Turn the Page…It’s Fun!: A Concepts of Print Story” by Connie Dickison, readers are instructed.

“Your voice makes it sound alive.”

When new readers struggle with this heavy processing load, one solution is to wait until the reader’s ability to decode has improved or better yet, practice the use of quotes using an easy, independent level text where less processing power is required for decoding, leaving the attention to be placed on the use of quotation marks.

Need for Higher Level Comprehension

·       Quotation marks are difficult to master, however they are essential punctuation for moving a story line quickly and efficiently. Conversation is familiar and frequent in real life and adds authenticity to stories. Quotes portray character traits and intensity of plot.

·       Comprehension is a complex, in the head, nearly unobservable activity. However, when a reader uses quotation marks correctly, it is outward evidence that comprehension may be taking place. If there is little or no comprehension, the reader will not be able to adjust their voice inflection. Essentially, the quote will take them by surprise.

·       Awareness that conversation could be present, in this particular text, at this particular time, requires significant attention to print, comprehension and processing power. The cognitive load cannot be underestimated. Adjust expectations and instruction to accommodate the added burden associated with quotation marks.

Now That’s Better…

Readers recognize the various forms of quotation marks. They do not confuse commas and apostrophe with quotation marks. They understand that a quote is the characters actual words. Readers can use appropriate expression while reading a quote and split quotes do not interfere with fluency. Reader comprehension improves by understanding dialogue.