I read a lot; always have. Fifty novels a year. Various weekly and monthly publications. Regular professional articles and occasional books. Encountering a new word used to lead me to the dictionary, which meant getting up and walking to my reference shelf, but now I just use my iPod to google the vocabulary interloper and then hope to claim it as my own.
One such recent word is “saccade,” which I encountered in Mark Seidenberg’s “Language at the Speed of Sight.” This time Google was insufficient, because I wanted to know why we care about “a rapid movement of the eye between fixation points.”
Turns out this eye movement, particularly the tracking and fixating we exercise while reading is essential in terms of both helping identify persons with reading challenges and in what we do about it once we recognize it.
Struggling readers are slow to identify printed words, yet skilled readers can recognize a word in less than one-quarter of a second. In that time, the mind launches orthographic and phonological processes that accomplish word recognition. It stands to reason that those with less efficient (e.g. more frequent and longer fixation periods of eye movement, saccades (see I own that word now!), will be inhibited in the rest of the cognitive process essential to reading with fluency, recognizing and linking letters with sounds.
Reading fluency is now considered a combination of reading accurately, at a rate, and with intonation that combine to create meaning and comprehension. Without fluency the mere mechanics of decoding or pronouncing a series of words is nothing more than a list, not a sentence, much less a novel. Eye movement is one key factor, and efficient readers exercise eye tracking unconsciously. We can see it on newscasts when anchor people read from tele-prompters, and we occasionally witness interruptions in the process when the process doesn’t align or compute, and the result ends up in the network’s blooper video.
Beyond learning new words from my reading, I’m struck by the number of times something I happen to read links with something else in my immediate, daily life. In this case, my new word “saccades” links to the Stern Center’s Symposium session on May 19, 2017 entitled, “The Eyes Have It: Understanding the Cognitive Processes Involved in Silent Reading.”
This session will feature Dr. Jane Ashby, co-author of “Psychology of Reading” (2016). Dr. Ashby is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Central Michigan University, where she teaches and directs a laboratory that studies how cognitive processes operate in real-time during silent reading.