Ask Reading Kingdom: Seeing: An Unseen Component in Reading

Have you noticed that when your child reads, he or she points to each word, or skips lines, or finds it hard to read a hyphenated word (such as suc–cess) where the word starts at the end of one line and ends at the beginning of the next?

Behaviors such as these are often markers of visual problems in processing the printed word. As such, they interfere with smooth reading and ultimately they lower reading proficiency. But the problems are rarely addressed because they are neither identified nor discussed. The general assumption seems to be that in the absence of obvious visual difficulties such as nearsightedness, children have all the visual skills needed for the printed page.

If you are familiar with the reading scene, then you will know that this is dramatically different from the way in which the auditory input is dealt with. In that realm, it has long been understood that even though a child hears perfectly well, he or she may still have “auditory processing problems.” In other words, even though the words are heard, they are not being analyzed or organized in the ways needed if they are to make sense. The recognition of these difficulties has led to a wide variety of sound analysis (or phonological analysis training) in early reading instruction.

Fortunately, if you see signs of visual processing problems, it is not difficult to put in place practices that can offer significant payoff. Pointing at each word is one of the most common problems. As long as children rely on their fingers to fixate on words, then they will not learn to scan effectively with their eyes. To enable a child to achieve this skill, it is useful to implement the following:

1. select a book that is relatively easy for your child to read (i.e., reading aloud of the text should have few, if any, errors)

2. take a blank white index card and place it so that it is under two lines of print (i.e., two lines of print are exposed)

3. have your child start reading aloud. As he or she reads, you move the card down the page so that two lines are always in view (do not at this point ask your child to move the card—he or she needs to focus on the scanning of the words and not on coordinating the movement of the card)

3. when the page is complete, have your child re-read the text—this time, without the card (while not allowing any finger pointing)

4. have your child read 4 to 5 pages in this manner

5. when several sessions have been completed and your child seems comfortable, place the card so that three lines of print are exposed at one time. When this is accomplished, move on to four lines of print.

6. After about two to three months, you can try a “test” by having your child read without using the card. If the reading is smooth and not accompanied by finger pointing, you can stop using the card. If this is not the case, continue to use the card. Then each month, apply the test and see if progress has been made.

Generally this training is accomplished within three to four months. And once accomplished, it means that you have helped your child attain a powerful tool for enhancing reading.

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