Tracking and Reading Comprehension

Many reading comprehension problems occur because of poor visual skills. In other words, the eyes are not seeing the text properly. The reader cannot see all the words clearly, in the right order, and at the right speed in order to make sense of the content. Obviously, if the words are not clear, the reader will mistake words, read much slower, and get the wrong meaning. Less obvious, is that words that are read out of order, severely hampers comprehension. Words read in the wrong order causes confusion, slower processing (thinking) and poorer understanding. Also keep in mind that the added effort expended by reader to keep their eyes tracking properly competes with the effort needed to concentrate on the meaning.

Sometimes, parents can recognize tracking errors in their children, if they have them read aloud. If the child omits, adds, substitutes, or transposes words, and/or has labored reading, the child should be suspected of having eye tracking problems causing there comprehension problem. This is especially true, if the reader has good comprehension while having material read to them but does not when reading the material for them selves. Frequently, readers with tracking errors are completely unaware that their eyes do not track properly even when they read aloud. This occurs because eyes take in information faster than they process the information, and they have time to rescan if necessary. Of course, less rescanning is preferred, and makes for a better reader and better comprehension.

Tracking problems as they relate to reading ability can be assessed and treated by some eye doctors that specialize in this area. Special computerized instruments can measure eye tracking movements used while reading and also be used to improve tracking ability along with reading comprehension.

The Power of Pattern Recognition

Many students have difficulty learning to read because of poor visual processing skills. This means they lack the ability to recognize, sort, recall, and assemble various patterns in what they are seeing. Following a specific pattern allows the student to arrive at a decision faster than without a pattern. Also, some patterns of recognition are better than others because they lead to quicker solutions. Another key component of pattern recognition is to remember and apply the pattern repeatedly with out modification. Deviations from the pattern will cause mistakes.

Two of the most common patterns students follow when learning to read are sight reading and phonics. In sight reading, a student uses a whole word approach and essentially memorizes the entire structure of a word. In this method, there is very little pattern recognition. Consequently, sight readers have the most difficulty learning to read because they don’t really have a strong pattern to apply to new words or words they have forgotten. In phonics, words are broken down into groups by sounds. This method tends to be more successful than sight reading because the student has a more specific pattern to follow. With phonics, students can sound out each word and if they follow the pattern can even sound out new words.

In students with visual processing difficulties, sight reading and phonics do not lend to better reading.This is because sight reading lacks a strong visual pattern and phonics uses mostly auditory patterns not visual patterns. Students with visual processing disabilities need strong visual patterns to read better. When students are shown key repeating and specific letter sequences used in words they can be trained to read better immediately. In fact, this visual sequencing technique works so well it allows any reader to properly pronounce multi-syllable words they have never even seen or heard before. Students experiencing reading difficulty or slow improvement with standard reading tutorial should be suspected of having a visual processing disorder. Visual processing disorders can be diagnosed and treated by an eye doctor specializing in this area.

– Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD

Why Can’t My Child Keep Up

Noticing that your child is performing poorly in school isn’t difficult. Figuring out why can be the real mystery. Considering that 80 percent of learning occurs through the processing of visual information, making sure your child is seeing properly should be top priority.

Seeing properly means seeing clearly and comfortably at all times. Even if your child has had a recent eye exam and had a vision correction, he or she could still have a vision problem that is contributing to poor grades or slower learning. Your child could be suffering from a hidden condition which was not detected on a standard eye exam. During a regular eye exam, the eye doctor will check the health of your eyes and how clearly you can see. Among other things, the doctor may also check your eye alignment and focusing ability.

However, the procedures that test these abilities tend to be very brief and do not always pick up how long your eyes can stay focused and aligned. In other words, they don’t measure stamina. This can be compared to how a person feels after carrying a heavy package for a long time. When you first pick up the package, you feel okay. But, the longer you carry it, the more wobbly you become and the more you struggle to keep the package from dropping. How long you last is directly dependent upon how strong your muscles are.

Just like other muscles of your body can fatigue, cramp, and be inflexible, so can the muscles that control focusing, eye alignment, and tracking. When eye muscles become stressed and tire, visual performance drops, causing students to struggle. Since everybody is put together differently and will have different eye muscle strength, the amount of struggle will vary.

In the classroom, struggling may be displayed as loss of place when reading, slower reading, reading errors, poor comprehension, mistakes while copying, lack of interest, inattention, sleepiness, and more. Students with stronger eyes will last longer, concentrate better, and accomplish more than students with weaker.

Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD

The Speed of Seeing and Reading

Ever wonder how long it really takes to see something? Well, the speed of vision is quite fast. For most daily tasks, you can see things in less than a quarter of a second. Keep in mind, however, that certain tasks take more time to see the details than do others, depending on the size and amount of details surrounding what you are looking at. It takes less time to see large things compared to small things, and it takes less time to see a single item compared to multiple items crowded together. Also, it takes less time to see things you are familiar with compared to things that are unfamiliar. With practice on the same task, you can see things as quickly as one tenth of a second.

Believe it or not, the speed of reading is just as fast as seeing other things. For an experienced reader, it takes a quarter of a second to see and recognize a word before his or her eye jumps to the next word. The average reading speed for an adult is 250 words per minute. Since the average typed page is 250 words, this translates into reading about a page a minute. Of course, reading speed will vary depending on the same factors described above. Large print is easier and faster to read than small print. Longer words take more time to read than shorter words. Familiar words are read faster than words you have never seen before. With practice, an average reader can accelerate his or her reading to over 500 words per minute.

Span of Recognition

Reading speeds will also vary depending on age and eye capabilities. In younger readers, the reading rates are much slower, mostly because the child is not familiar with the words. In beginning readers, words need to be read in smaller segments and by sounding out the letters or syllables. After words are familiar, they read faster because they don’t need to sound out the words by segments. They can read the whole word, which takes less time. The size of the segment by which a person reads is called the span of recognition. The larger the span of recognition, the fewer stops the reader makes when reading. This can be compared to walking— baby steps don’t let you travel as fast as do large steps. As readers progress, their steps, or span of recognition, get larger and faster. In first grade, the average reading rate is 80 words per minute. By fourth grade, it’s 158. By eighth grade, it’s 204.

Some readers can be hindered from reading quickly even if they are familiar with the words. This occurs because their eyes don’t look at the words or word segments in the right order or with the proper span and rhythm. Reading fast is like running hurdles. If your steps are not coordinated, spaced and timed accurately, you cannot run very fast, and you trip over the hurdles. Likewise, eye-tracking disorders cause you to trip over the words, making you reread and take longer to finish. Slow readers or readers with poor fluency should be suspected of having eye problems that contribute to their reading problems. Eye coordination and span-of-recognition problems can be evaluated and corrected by eye doctors who evaluate reading disorders and offer vision and reading training.

Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD

When Traditional Reading Methods Don’t Work

Watching a child struggle to read can be heart-breaking; especially when they have been participating in reading tutorial for months. Children who do not make significant gains in reading fluency or who have labored reading are likely suffering from undiagnosed vision processing problems. These vision processing problems extend beyond just seeing the print clearly (although uncorrected eyesight should always be a consideration in poor readers). Now granted, reading well requires good auditory and visual skill; many reading improvement programs are geared toward auditory aspects and not toward visual aspects. In fact, it is nearly certain, if your child comprehends well when read to but not when reading for themselves, they have a vision problem. Consequently, those readers who are not advancing quickly with traditional methods should be evaluated for some “hidden” visual causes of reading problems described below.

When having your child evaluated for reading problems, it important to keep in mind that all eye exams are not the same and not all eye doctors evaluate reading problems. During a standard eye exam, an eye doctor will do tests related to eye health, visual clarity, and general visual performance. What is not part of a standard eye exam is testing for visual stamina and visual processing. Even if a person can see clearly; can they see clearly all the time, can they see without strain or fatigue, and how long can they last. Individuals who have weak eye muscles for focusing and tracking will have low stamina for prolonged reading activity. This can be compared to someone with weak arms; they cannot carry heavy packages for a long time. Also, a person with weaker arms will become shaky before someone with stronger arms. When eyes get shaky it causes tracking errors and reading problems. Evidence of this would be exhibited as slow reading, reading choppy, losing place, reading in short spurts, making reading errors (omissions, additions, and substitutions), word/letter reversals, poor comprehension, and avoidance of reading.

Other factors contributing to reading problems are slow recognition of words, poor word decoding, and crowding effects, all of which are classified as visual processing problems. With regard to immediate recognition of words or groups of words, some individuals have slower intake of information than others and will linger on the words or segment the words. This can be measured and enhanced. Other individuals will have difficulty because they don’t recognize key parts of words even if they know their sounds and know phonetics. Their eyes don’t know how to properly identify and group letter sequences causing them to misread or mispronounce the word(s). Also, these individual also tend to change sounds when they see the same letter sequences in a different word. One more unusual but common problem is known as the crowding effect. In this situation, the reader’s eyes are confused or over whelmed with too much information on the page. Readers who suffer from this will read much better when given fewer words at a time. Special computer generated reading programs are used to test and treat this disorder.

Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD