The Cloze: A Comment on
"Toward a Process-Intervention Model in Literature Teaching"
Martha A. Fisher
[as published in College English 46:5 (April 1984), 507-510.]
Russell A. Hunt's essay "Toward a Process-Intervention Model in Literature Teaching" (CE, April 1982) struck me as eminently wise and practical. All of my own experience strongly supports Professor Hunt's advice that skillful interrupting can help students become more aware of the actual process of their reading and more confident of their abilities to understand that reading. I too have asked students to guess deleted words and to rewrite stories from different points of view -- one of the best ways I know to get to the bottom of a piece of fiction. (Another helpful exercise is to have students rewrite a short narrative poem like "Reuben Bright" or "Richard Cory" as a short story or play.)

But it was Hunt's footnote 15 (p. 352) on W. L. Taylor's use of the cloze that especially intrigued me. I have long been familiar with the term itself from my use of Waldo Sweet's Clozes and Vocabulary Exercises for Books I and II of the Aeneid (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961) to augment my Latin students' study of Vergil. In a series of four dozes, Sweet presents the opening line, for example, thus:

Arma virumque cano, Troj--qui primus ab oris (p. 3)
Arma virumque cano, Troj--qui prim--ab oris (p. 11)
Arma virumque cano, Troj--qui prim--ab--is (p. 20)
Arma vir-que cano, Troj--qui prim--ab--is (p. 29)
In his introduction "To the Student" Sweet emphasizes the importance of  Latin structural signals and advises: "By doing the clozes you will come to know Latin well." And in the next sentence: "If you know Latin these clozes are easy, and it is not necessary to learn the Aeneid by heart in order to do them." Sweet may seem to be giving circular advice here, but I have found he is right. (Moreover, many of my former students have endorsed Sweet's admonition: "Years from now, if you do your work right, you will find that your command of this masterpiece enables you to get enriched pleasure from other works of literature, for Vergit's influence upon later writers [Milton, for example] is immense.") So I've had a warm feeling toward these little creatures, the closes -- amusing and useful too.

But I needed to do more looking into footnote 15. Although I could remember reading about closure and the law of pregnance, etc. (as explained, for example, in Koffka's Principles of Gestalt Psychology [New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935]), I was not very familiar with its application by the reading specialists. So I checked the Taylor article Hunt mentions ("Cloze Procedure: A New Tool for Measuring Readability," Journalism Quarterly, 30 [1953], 415 ff.) and learned, among other things, that as a tool for measuring readability, the cloze procedure must not be used as a sentence completion test, where the "words to be deleted are pre-evaluated and selected accordingly" (p. 417). Blanks of equal length (contrary to Sweet's practice) mark words deleted by some "essentially random counting-out system" (p. 416). Thus the cloze procedure is not just another of the readability formulae (like Flesch, Dale-Chall, etc.) which select certain language elements (length of word, certain parts of speech, etc.). Rather it tests all potential readability influences. Furthermore, it "does not deal directly with specific meaning. Instead, it repeatedly samples the extent of likeness between the language patterns used by the writer to express what he meant and those possibly different patterns which represent readers' guesses at what they think the writer meant" (p. 417). Taylor's cloze procedure is looking for the expected; Hunt's version, of course, is looking for the unexpected, as in his Frost example (Hunt, pp. 352-353).

Next I found Jonathon Anderson's Psycholinguistic Experiments in Foreign Language Testing (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1976) most helpful in explaining Taylor's work and in describing his own experiments using clozes for testing reading difficulty in English, Malay, and Chinese. On the whole, Anderson's procedure seems to follow Taylor's quite closely.

Then I read Ken Davis' essay, "The Cloze Test as Diagnostic Tool for Revision" in Revising (ed. Ronald A. Sudol [Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1982]). Here the chameleon cloze has somewhat changed its color again. Like the readability testers, Davis has his students delete every nth word (but only in the last hundred words or so of their essays), using blanks of equal length. Then three readers fill in the clozes and results are tabulsed as Hits or Misses, depending on whether or not the answers correspond to the original. This game is entertaining in itself, but there is a refinement. "Positive" hits "signal positive features in the students' draft" (p. 122). But there can be "negative" hits too, where the unexpected turns out to be more effective than the expected. At least it is a useful interrupter of the writing, encouraging discussion and experimentation. Davis himself is apparently still experimenting with this use of the cloze. I plan to continue my own little cloze games in my literature, language, and composition classes. Perhaps others will be encouraged to join in the fun. What additional colors can the chameleon cloze assume?

[my response]