Breaking Poor Reading Habits

a)The Overworked Eye

Reading does not occur when the eyes are moving. Vision transfer occurs when the eyes stop during the fixation phase. The fixation phase of the eye is approximately a quarter of a second for natural reading[12].

Eye overwork occurs when reading a sentence requires excess eye movements and eye fixations. The eyes perform considerable work for little information.

As an example, consider the following sentence
Our biggest expansion opportunity will come from volume licencing in Japan.

A slow reader may move their eyes across the following sentence as follows. Each fixation is represented symbolically by a left and right parenthesis pair.

(our) (big)(gest) (ex)(pan)(sion) (op)(port)(tunity) (will) (come) (from) (vol)(ume) (lic)(en)(cing) (in) (Jap)(an).

This reading example describes 20 eye movements and 20 eye fixations i.e. 40 different eye operations. This considerable eye work is one reason that slow readers get tired. Increased ocular and mental workload often leads to poor comprehension.

Many studies have shown that better readers read the text in bigger chunks - this means fewer eye operations in order to read and understand the same amount of text as compared with a slower reader. A fast reader may read the sentence as shown below:

(our biggest expansion) (opportunity will come) (from volume licensing) (in Japan)

Reading this text takes a proficient reader four eye movements, four eye fixations, and eight eye operations. This is five times less work than a slow reader, requiring much less effort, with better speed and higher comprehension resulting. Faster readers will often have better comprehension because they can read more quickly and details of the sentence remain fresh in their mind. However, slower readers may have forgotten the ideas in the first half of the sentence by the time they read the second half. Hence the slower reader is likely to understand less of what they read.

RocketReader incorporates three exercises that are designed to increase the amount of text the reader can absorb in a single eye fixation. These exercises are the flash, speed and grouping exercises. In addition, the practice readings also have customizable options to enable the reader to read sections of text with one eye movement. Each exercise component builds on the notion of learning to read bigger chunk sizes, faster. We discuss each exercise component in detail:

  1. flash exercises — the chunk sizes are set according to the measured comprehension of the user at that chunk size - the more accurately the user can read the text, the more challenging (wider) the chunk sizes become.
  2. grouping exercises — the chunk sizes are designated by the user, by sliding a sliderbar left or right on the interface - smaller or larger chunks result.
  3. speed training exercises — the chunk size is selected by the user by resizing the window.
  4. practice readings — the user can control the width of the window and the text will flow around to accommodate this user selection. In this way the user can set a narrow newspaper-like width of just two or three words wide in which an entire line could be read in a single eye fixation.

b.) Skip Back

During normal reading, the eye moves forward a distance of eight letters during each eye movement. However, this forward movement only occurs nine out of ten times for the average reader. The other ten percent of the time, the eyes skip back or regress to earlier words[12]. This typically occurs for less familiar words or during sentence components that contain semantic ambiguity. Skip back is a significant problem in slower readers. RocketReader Flash and Speed Training exercises are designed to help the reader overcome this habit. These exercises are designed to ensure that earlier read text is not visible to the user. Since there is no material to feed the skip back habit, i.e. nothing to skip back to, this reading problem is quickly unlearned.

c.) Vocalization

There are two different methods to read words. The first is a direct lookup method where the brain identifies the meaning of the words through a word-recognition process as described in Section 5. The second method is a vocal-assisted lookup where different parts of the word are sounded aloud or silently until the meaning of the word is determined. It has been shown that the average reader often employs a combination of these two methods when reading. Furthermore, it is thought that both mechanisms race together to find the meaning of the word[23].

Vocalization is a widespread reading habit that has the effect of limiting reading speed and comprehension. It occurs when we say the words we are reading out aloud or “under our breath”. Verbal sounding of word parts is how many learn to read in the first place, through the application of phonemic awareness skills. A second common reading instructional method involves reading text aloud. This has been shown to be a successful method of reading instruction in conjunction with independent silent reading[20]. Vocalization and reading text out loud may be useful in initially developing basic reading skills, but can be significant habitual obstacles to reading faster. To attain a superior reading speed, it is crucial to master silent reading skills. The proof of this stems from simple mechanics. The average speaking speed is around 180 words per minute. Around 72 muscles must move to produce speech¹. This is significantly slower than the average reading speed of 230 words per minute, and much slower than a proficient reader who reads accurately at a rapid 500 words per minute. The top speaking speed is around 300 words per minute, but few can maintain the concentration and considerable effort required to speak this quickly. It is clear that one can read faster when reading silently as compared to verbally. A transformation from a talking reader to a silent reader is pivotal in reading faster. Bad reading habits such as vocalization are common in both children and adults and they can be difficult to remove. Many adults, while being literate, have never migrated fully to this next reading stage and often vocalize without realizing it.

A reader who vocalizes has to make a big mechanical reading effort to extract a small amount of information. It is a situation of big effort for poor results. The slow pace of reading and poor level of comprehension resulting can make reading a frustrating, fruitless exercise. There are many suggested practical strategies to eliminate vocalization² including the following tips:

  • First of all, be aware of what your lips are doing when you read. If you are saying the words, moving your lips or mumbling through the text, you should make a conscious effort to stop.
  • Try and concentrate on concepts, ideas and key words as you are reading.
  • Force yourself to read faster — after a while the voice cannot keep up with your reading pace and vocalization will decline.
  • Practice these steps two to three times per week for twenty to thirty minutes per session. Do not attempt long sessions over an hour, as this is not conducive to optimal learning.
  • Measure your reading speed regularly to keep track of your progress. When testing your reading speed, only read material you have not read before. This is because you will cover material you have previous read at a faster rate, concealing your true reading speed. Set your timer and read for four minutes, then stop. Accurately count the number of words you have read and calculate a words-per-minute measure. In addition, try to get a feel for how well you have read the material—if you can’t summarize six major points in the material then it is likely your comprehension was reduced.

Like eye skip back (regression), vocalization is an ingrained habit. Eliminating vocalization requires hard work and dedication but the reward is faster reading and improved comprehension. Many students can make a transition to silent reading, especially with the help of quality teaching and instructional resources. RocketReader employs a number of methods that are designed to assist with this transition to fast and accurate silent reading. These include:

  1. flash training—this method flashes one or more words on the screen for a very short duration of time, typically 50ms. The student must then correctly type what has appeared on the screen. Further training cycles are then presented, with the number of words being flashed at one time increasing in step with the student’s recorded accuracy. The words displayed during flash training are randomly drawn from a large database of 143,330 sizeindexed words and phrases. This makes it impossible for the student to rely on their memory to anticipate what will be displayed next. This exercise teaches sight reading as the student does not have time to labor and vocalize through different word components while reading.
  2. Speed Training Exercises — uses the Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) method[16, 5, 28, 6, 27] of paced reading. The sentences in the reading are initially displayed at a comfortable reading speed, then increased in speed during the exercise. At some point the display rate of the text exceeds the pace in which the words can be vocalized. This process breaks reliance on vocalization, teaching the student that comprehension is possible without the act of speaking the words.

  1. In contrast, throwing a football only requires the movement of around 30 muscles.
  2. To locate popular self-help references to vocalization one can search on Google for keywords eliminating and vocalization.