The Reading Process by: Libby Doherty

'I learned to read in prison - there was nothing else to do!' 'I hate reading - it's boring!' 'Reading does my eyes in and my head. I can't remember what I read so what's the point?' 'Sometimes I pick up the paper and wish I could read what it says.'
These are just some of the things people say to me with regards reading - you may identify with some, all or none of them. But whether we like it or not, reading is an important and valuable tool to have in the world we live in today. The word 'reading' is actually from an Anglo-Saxon word 'raedan'. Translated, this actually means 'to advise oneself'. Reading is a skill which allows us to learn independently and rely on one self to gain the knowledge we may/may not wish to gather. Sure, I have had clients say that they've managed to 'get by', so what does it matter if they can read or not? And for some people that's a reasonable attitude to take. But I believe that for many dyslexic people simply 'getting by' is not enough. The far reaching, three dimensional, lateral thought of a dyslexic individual should not be underestimated. Whilst reading is, initially, an uncomfortable process for many dyslexic individuals - it doesn't have to be. So, I hope you enjoy at least some of the knowledge in this pack and 'advise oneself' accordingly!' Libby Doherty November 2000.

The Reading Process
Reading is a directional process: from Left to right. Did you know....? It only takes 2 muscles in your eyes to look up and down. To look from left to right, on the other hand, takes all 11 muscles and is much more strenuous. Try it yourself but remember to keep your head still! By doing this several times a day, you can actually strengthen your eye muscles, which may make reading easier in the long run! Reading Speeds Believe it or not, adjusting the speed of your reading can make a difference and help you become a better reader. Reading can be seen as a bit like riding a bike. The SLOW reader does not gain enough momentum in reading to progress. In other words, too much time is taken on figuring out each individual word so its hard to remember or take in what you are reading!
If you are a SLOW reader...

Wobbling and about to fall off...

The FAST reader tends to race ahead and read so quickly, they have no idea what's happened or what's going on. They may even miss whole words or lines out and because they are going so fast, may not realise any mistakes they may have made whilst reading.

If you are a FAST reader...

'Racing...can't see where you're going...

So, the best thing is to be a STEADY reader! The steady reader reads fluently, can read ahead and take in what's going on. We can all learn to read like this. However what is important to realise is that we need to be flexible when we are reading. And this really depends on WHAT we are reading.

The STEADY reader...

'Smoothly, moving along nicely...

Recap People tend to read at different speeds depending on what they are reading. Whilst it is best to aim for being a steady reader, we need to remember to be flexible when we are reading.

The Power of Prediction
Take a look at the following sentence which has been divided into 'a' and 'b'. Either write down or say what you think it says.

Which part of the sentence did you find easier to read? On the first part the top of the words have been blocked out. It actually says Danny always wears Moschino Trousers. In the second half of the sentence, the bottom half of the words have been blocked out. Whilst this took time to work out, it should have been easier to figure out than the other one. It actually said and a Ben Sherman shirt. So, two questions that can be asked from this exercise: Why is it easier to guess a word seeing the top half rather than the bottom one ? What the hell has this to do with reading anyway?!! The answer to the first question is really quite simple and to answer it we need to take a closer look at the 26 letters of the alphabet, which is what makes up the words in the first place! The 26 letters of the alphabet are:

Take a look at the letters with the top half missing.

Now compare them to the ones with the bottom half missing.

A closer investigation shows that the letters

are the only 5 letters that sit off the line in the alphabet. All the remaining 21 letters sit above the line. The majority of words are therefore easier to predict when the bottom half is missing. Which brings us onto question 2 - what does this have to do with reading? In a nutshell, it is better that our eyes focus slightly above the words so that the chances of predicting the words are increased. To understand this, we need to explore the eye itself, how it 'works' and break down exactly what does happen when we read. Recap The eye finds it easier to focus on the top half of the words, which may increase reading ability because the brain will try and predict what is being read. back to top

The eye - What you see is what you get?
Here is a side section image of the eye itself - it is a camera that allows us to view the world in all its splendour and for others to look into the 'doorways' to the soul. When we read, contrary to what many people believe, the eye is not constantly moving. In order to see anything clearly, the eye has to stop for a fraction of a second so that a still image can be sent to the brain. When reading your star sign in the newspaper, for example, your eyes are moving in sweeping, jumping movements, along the lines, stopping periodically for a fraction of a second to focus on the image. This, in scientific terms, is what is known as 'fixations'. What is amazing is that whilst the eye is moving along the line, it does not actually 'see' anything. It therefore takes in written information in short gulps. In terms of the camera image, the eye is 'snapping' pictures and sending them to the brain to be interpreted. A bit like a scanner on a computer! So, the eye doesn't take in every word on every line. Instead it uses what is known as peripheral vision. Peripheral vision can be described as 'seeing out of the corner of your eye'. A footballer, for example, usually develops a good sense of peripheral vision - i.e. he/she needs to be aware of the players around him, as well as be focused on the ball. When reading, the eye works in the same way. The eye has to scan over three or four words at a time constantly and be aware of the line above and below the line of focus. This 'blurred' view allows the brain to tell the eyes where to focus on next allowing the chances of predicting the word correctly to increase. By reading ahead, this will also give the eye time to go back to get more information- if the brain requires! Recap When we read, contrary to what many people believe, the eye is not constantly moving. In order to see anything clearly, the eye has to stop for a fraction of a second so that a still image can be sent to the brain. Your eyes move in sweeping, jumping movements along the line stopping periodically for a fraction of a second to focus on the image. Your eyes take in written information in short gulps. In terms of the camera image, the eye is 'snapping' pictures and sending them to the brain to be interpreted - like a scanner on the computer.

11 fixations: Danny / always / wears / his / Moschino / trousers / and / a / Ben / Sherman / shirt. This is what a slow, stilted reader tends to do. He / she will focus solely on one word at a time. When reading more than one sentence, chances are that it will be hard to remember what is being read , the eyes may water or the words may even go blurry. 6 fixations: Danny always / wears his / Moschino trousers / and a / Ben Sherman / Shirt. This is better because the eyes are starting to make sweeping movements. However, this is still not quite enough and will still come across as being slightly stilted. 4 fixations: Danny always wears / his Moschino trousers / and a / Ben Sherman belt. This is ideal. The black dots are the ideal place where your eyes should fix allowing your eyes to scan ahead and predict the next words. By focusing on the top of the words, this will help develop fluent reading skills including the taking in of information read.

Seeing is believing - the power of recognition.
Having looked at what the eye does, it is now time to explore how the brain recognises the words in order to make sense of what it is we are reading. Whilst the eye is busy 'scanning' the words, the brain is busily trying to make sense of the information being sent to it. Like a computer, the brain works speedily, feeding the information into its database, sorting it out and filing it, finally sending the messages back in order that we can make sense of it. Take a look at the sentences below. Here are your eyes looking at the word 'small'. Your eyes first scan this word up to the brain, whose job, as already discussed, is to look for ways of recognising it. There are three main ways the brain does this. One way, is what we term, visual recognition - that is, the brain looks in its visual databank for the word that has been scanned and compares it to similar ones until it matches the word up. That is why practice really does make perfect when it comes to reading for the more you read, the more words will be scanned and photographed into your visual memory and become instantly recognised. The second way is for the brain to sound out the words - this is known as auditory recognition or sound. This can be likened to having a tape player inside of your head that tapes the words so that they can be 'played back'. By checking the sounds in the word the brain will try and match it to one already on the tape. The third way is the semantic route - which is related to the meaning of the word. This can be compared to having a dictionary inside your head that the brain can check as a reference point. Usually this will involve the surrounding words and thus if the sentence does not make sense, the brain will tell the eye to go back and try and make sense of the word. Those readers that are dyslexic are likely to have difficulty with all or any of the three routes illustrated above.

So lets take a real sentence to illustrate what I mean: There are many small mammals that inhabit the riverbank. Someone with visual recognition difficulties may read this sentence as: There are many smell mummies that inhabit the riverbank. Whereas someone with auditory processing difficulties may read it as: There are many small mammes that inhit the riverbank. On reading the sentence incorrectly, often checking the meaning of the sentence will tell us if it makes sense. That's where our internal 'dictionary' comes into play. Neither of the sentences 'sound' correct or 'look' correct and don't make sense either.

The Reading Process is published by Dyspel. Dyspel supports dyslexic socially excluded and disadvantaged people in the community. We work with prisons, Connexions, Working Links and organisaitons across the UK, carrying out full diagnostic assessments and providing one to one tuition. Dyspel is a service managed by London Action Trust, one of London's leading crime reduction and community safety charities. If you would like to find out more about Dyspel or need information about referring a client or attending our training please phone or email us on020 7793 3722 or

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