Word Callers Book Study Ch. 1 and 2

Welcome Literacy Land Readers! I'm so excited to kick off our Word Callers book study with you. Thanks for joining us as we learn how to identify the word callers in our classrooms and help them flex their thinking.

Word Callers: What to Watch For

Word callers. We've all had them in our classrooms. In fact, up to a third of our struggling readers are word callers. They are students who can identify and decode words but have difficulty processing their meaning. I bet you can picture one of these students in your head.

Characteristics of Word Callers

Word callers struggle with vocabulary knowledge, categorizing words, inferring meanings of unknown words from context, and monitoring their own understanding.

Additionally, they have difficulty connecting their prior knowledge with the text and reading between the lines.

While word callers have a difficult time with meaning, they have many strengths to draw upon such as cognitive ability, text memory, word reading speed, and an ability to decode text.

They seem to have "tunnel vision" when reading.  They focus on word-level features and miss the text's meaning.

My Thoughts

I think it is important to remember that word callers have many strengths that we can build upon. The key will be finding ways to help students "multi-task" as they read. The upcoming chapters will explore ways to help children break away from print and focus more on meaning.

Questions for Discussion

  • Is there a practice you've tried that seemed to help students improve their comprehension?  
  • Why do you think the practice was effective?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The High-Low Paradox: Why These Children Struggle

Recent research on children's thinking has provided five important insights will help us understand the difficulties word callers have with comprehension.

Word Callers tend to focus their attention on the letter-sound information so intently that they are unable to think about the meaning of the text.

Word callers often think that the purpose of reading is fluency and accuracy. They focus the letters and sounds and not the meaning.

Word callers view the components of reading as separate from one another. Therefore they do not integrate letter-sound information with syntax and meaning.  

Word callers tend to have difficulty with executive functioning (goal-directed mental activities). Therefore, they focus on decoding rather than getting meaning from the text.

Word callers are less flexible with their thinking. They have difficulty integrating the many components of reading. 

My Thoughts

After reading each of the insights listed above, it's easy to see why word callers struggle to make meaning of text.  Reading is a cognitive task. Readers need to develop flexibility in their thinking in order to be successful.  In the chapters to come, Cartwright will share several strategies to help word callers flex their thinking.

Questions for Discussion

  • Have you had observed students who were unable to consider more than one idea or perspective?  
  • What practices might help students step outside their own views?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Stop back tomorrow as we continue our book study with Chapter 3 -Who Are Your Inflexible Thinkers?


  1. Good questions for discussion! One thing I find helpful is discussion and rereading. When a student can't answer a question, I return to the page where the question is answered and reread it (or have them reread it). I try to get them to do a little thinking aloud, or I do a little thinking aloud that I think might help them activate their own thinking. If they get the answer, I make a big deal out of the fact that rereading was so helpful.
    Not very fancy in 1st

    1. Deb, you make a great point. When students reread, they are able to focus less on decoding and more on the meaning of the text. Modeling your own thinking with a think-aloud is powerful as well. Thanks for your input. :)

  2. Reading this book has really changed the way I plan to work with these students in the future. Every teacher has many of these in their classrooms. Just think of how much students would love reading if they were more than word callers!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. Andrea, I agree. This book will change the way I work with students in the future. I plan to be more intentional about modeling and sharing what I'm thinking as I read. In addition, I hope to use more jokes, riddles, and word play to develop vocabulary. :)