Understanding the difference between inference and predictions has been a major problem for many of our Adult High School/GED students. While reading Kenneth Goodman’s article, Reading, Writing, and Written Texts: A Transactional Sociopsycholinguistic View, I realized why some of our students couldn’t grasp the differences. Goodman’s explanation was clear and expressed the differences in ways that made sense to me, and that our students would grasp if I broke them down into terms they understood. Simply put, a “prediction is an assumption that some information not yet available will become available in the text. An inference is supplying information not yet produced in the text” (1123). The prediction is based on prior knowledge that the reader guesses will materialize in the text, even if it is a misguided speculation.
Last week before reading the assigned article, I was perusing through the class text Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, and discovered another article, Err Is Human: Learning About Language Processes by Analyzing Miscues, authored by both Yetta and Kenneth Goodman. The article highlighted the differences between errors and miscues, and showed how the text subject, Betsy, would substitute words based on her prior language. When retelling the story, she would insert words that fit in with her personal vocabulary database, such as cream for churn (626) because the latter was not part of her fountain of knowledge.
Essentially, the miscues were founded on predictions Betsy made as she read because they were filed away in her schemata. In contrast, an inference is something that is either implicitly or explicitly stated in the text. For example, in Level H-1 Reading Plus handout for inferences, the author writes, “The soldiers remained hidden in the forest all afternoon. Their uniforms blended so well with their surroundings that enemy planes directly overhead could not tell them from the trees and shrubs.” From this selection, the reader is to conclude that the soldiers are dressed in the forest colors of brown and green, to provide camouflage from the planes.
In contrast, our students are provided explicit guidelines. All of our course contracts stipulate specific academic requirements necessary to complete the courses, e.g., hours and what are considered passing grades required by the State of California; how Santa Barbara City College treats plagiarism; and the student disciplinary code of conduct. It helps knowing why students make miscues and errors, and when they are legitimate errors. Most importantly, Goodman’s view emphasized a salient point that stood out for me; essentially, miscues indicated that the students were engaged in the learning processes and quickly delving into their schemata to help them with reading and comprehension. Even though they didn’t predict the right answers with their miscues (predictions), they were actively moving forward with the learning process. Furthermore, as an instructor, it is important to teach the differences between predictions and inferences, especially to our GED students because they are required to know how to make inferences on the exam. Fortunately, Reading Plus has a good selection of handouts addressing how to understand implicit and explicit inferences.