At Center for Better Learning we use a diagnostic tool called the ReadAlyzer to assess how your child’s eye movements are affecting their reading comprehension. A goggle-like device is placed over their eyes while they read a developmentally appropriate passage. While they are reading, a special camera is tracking and recording their eye movements. Questions are asked about the text to assess reading comprehension. Comparing the quality of the eye movements to the number of questions they answered correctly about the passage, shows us in real-time how poor eye movements can be contributing to your child’s reading difficulties.
There are two different types of eye movements involved in reading: saccades and fixations. Simply put, this means knowing where to look and when to move. The saccadic movement can move in a left-to-right direction (the way we read words across a line of text) or can be in a right-to-left (backward) movement called a regression. The series of stops (fixations) and jumps (saccades) need to be accurate, precise, and with limited regressions for quick reading speed and good comprehension. As a child gains experience in reading, the number and duration of fixations, and the number of regressions should decrease. The chart below shows the average number of fixations and regressions, the duration of fixations, and reading speed (words per minute) for each grade.
Stan Taylor at Educational Developmental Laboratories
Let’s take a look into the eye movements of a proficient adult reader. Each fixation should last 0.24 seconds. In that time, the reader is taking in a span of about seven to nine letters to the right and three to four letters to the left of the fixation point. The sum of the letters taken in during each fixation is called an attention window. Reading is the process of using saccades to move the attention window across the line of text while simultaneously decoding symbols into meaning. Good readers make approximately 90 fixations to read 100 words. This means smaller one-letter and two-letter words are often skipped over, and the reader makes interpretations of the missing information. To illustrate this process, quickly read and count how many “F”s are in the short passage below. Better readers are likely to only count 3, while slower and less proficient readers may count all 6. Saccades propel the reader across the page, but for even the best readers, regressions account for 15% of all fixations. The movement from the end of a line of text to the beginning of the text is a large saccadic movement referred to as a return sweep.
When compared to good readers on the same age, poor readers tend to make many more fixations. This is usually due to a combination of their attention window being too small and not knowing where to look next. The more fixations a child makes, the slower their reading speed. Poor readers also tend to have more regressions. The frequent need to go back and re-read the same part of the text decreases reading speed. The child also needs to consciously use cognitive processing to reassemble and makes sense of the chunks of text they read out of order, often making the same error over and over. This causes comprehension to drop off and takes the enjoyment out of reading. The extraordinary effort put into the technical processes of reading, without gaining an understanding of the text, will frustrate even the brightest of children.
The ReadAlyzer indicates if your child is making both age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate eye movements. By mapping out in real-time where your child is looking, the time spent at each fixation point, and how frequently they need to go back and re-read particular parts of the passage, we gain insight on how their visual processes are affecting their reading comprehension. If inaccuracies and inefficiencies of eye movements are playing a role in your child’s difficulties in reading, we will recommend a vision therapy program to strengthen these skills. Vision therapy breaks down the incredibly complex task of reading into the simple concepts of knowing how to look, where to look, and when to move. We do this by giving your child a series of exercises and activities to improve the fine control of the eyes and increase the size of the attention window. By the end of a vision therapy program, your child will have all the skills they need to sequentially scan a text in the most efficient way, allowing for better comprehension. By repeating the ReadAlyzer during progress evaluations and at the end of therapy, you will be able to graphically view the progress your child has made. Parents often note their child has increased confidence, spends less time on homework, and reads for fun!