Understanding Eye Tracking – part 2
We refer to the size of a word, i.e. the numbers of letters it contains, as the chunk size.
As children get older and read longer words then we say that the chunk size is increasing. When we choose reading material for a child of a certain age we consider two things. First, we consider the degree of comprehension required to follow the story and second, the vocabulary, in particular the length of the words.
How often have we said “That is a very big word for someone your age to know”?
If a child has difficulty understanding material, which is apparently age appropriate, it may be that he has a small chunk size rather than that he has a problem with comprehension. Very often these children have a very wide spoken vocabulary and yet seem to have difficulty reading books considered suitable for their age.
Take a piece of paper and cut a hole in it that is wide enough to hold only five letters and read the preceding paragraph. Your degree of comprehension will be greatly reduced but, more importantly, you will understand how someone with a small chunk size reads.
Why does my childread some words backwardse.g. no for on, was for saw?
We all have a dominant hand and foot i.e. most people are right-handed and right-footed although some people are left-handed and/or left-footed. Some people are considered to be ambidextrous because they are very skilful with both hands but, even so, one of the hands will be dominant.
In the same way, we all have a dominant or preferred direction of processing although the degree of dominance varies from person to person.
When walking through a forest, most people who are right-handed will tend to brush the branches aside sweeping their right hand from left to right. (vice versa for people who are left-handed). However, not all right-handed people will have a dominant direction of processing from left to right (vice versa for left-handed people).
In ancient Greece words were written along a line from left to right and the subsequent line was written right to left and so on in a zigzag fashion. Most languages nowadays, apart from in the Middle East, are written from left to right. Most people prefer to process from left to right but people who naturally process from right to left will seemingly read words backwards i.e. will read was for saw etc. This occurs only for words that can be read backwards. Some people in education are of the opinion that this is where the term backward children came from.
Why does my normally bright child find it difficult to remember which is left and which is right?
Parents are very often bewildered as to why their children continue to find it difficult to remember left and right.
It is quite common for a young child to be confused between left and right and to use memory aids to help him remember. He may remember that he writes with his right hand and then simply decides if something is on the same side as the hand he writes with or not – he may remember that he kicks a football with his right foot or wears his watch on his left wrist. This is quite normal but what is not quite so normal is the continued use of such aids over a period of years.
Children with dyslexia are often confused between left and right and many of them will continue to use amemory aid. The problem is not the inability to remember the label of left and right but the inability to sense the left hand side and the right hand side. In other words the vertical midline is not well defined in their personal space and we call this horizontal or lateral confusion. It is very difficult to label something that you are unaware of and much more difficult to remember that label!
Stand in the middle of a room and decide whether the door is on your left hand side or your right hand side. Close your eyes and turn round slowly several times in a clockwise direction and then several times in an anti-clockwise direction. Without opening your eyes decide if the door is on your left hand side or your right hand side. Now you will understand what is like to be confused by sidedness!
The reason that this confusion arises is that you have lost your sense of the relationship between your vertical midline and the room around you. People who are confused between left and right are often unaware of the relationship between their midline and their surroundings. If a student has this problem, it is paramount that it is addressed as soon as possible.
Why does my child often read the same line again or skip lines when he is reading?
A child who has a preference for right to left processing may find that he tends to read the same line twice. He may also tend to skip lines by consciously trying to avoid reading the same line twice, by consciously casting his eyes on the line below. However he may cast his eyes downward too much and actually read the line two lines below. If the reader is a mechanical reader he may be totally unaware of what he has done. There are other reasons why a child may skip lines when reading and one of which may be that he has vertical confusion which is explained below.
Why does my child often lose his place when he is reading?
When reading a book, some people have great difficulty finding their place again if they are distracted and look away from the book for a short while. This is noticeable as the child’s head may be seen to give a slight wobble as they seek the spot on the page to continue reading. They may put their finger on the last word they have read to keep their place. Without such a strategy they may return to the beginning of the page or paragraph that they have been reading. Such people suffer from vertical confusion.
In the same way that some people are confused between left and right (horizontal or lateral confusion) they may also be confused between up and down, above and below (vertical confusion). As well as a vertical midline we also have a horizontal midline running horizontally through our eyes. Some people do not have a well-defined sense of this horizontal midline in relation to their surroundings. Consequently, they will have difficulty in perceiving whether something is up or down, above or below the line of their eyes. It is easy to appreciate how this can lead to a child skipping lines when reading or not being able to find their place again when distracted from reading a book.