Eye tracking

Posted on March 4, 2016


Okay, another “fifteen minutes” on theMOOC question I can’t not answer about “persistently poor readers.”  (Two negatives makes a positive, here.)  (Yes, it will be three or four 15 minutes in little spurts 🙂 )

Schools don’t address eye tracking at all?  I’m not so sure about that… though I suspect some may be reticent to touch the issue with a ten foot pole because there is a whole family of “nontraditional” theories about left and right brain dominance issues.   Therapeutic crawling and marching, and exercises with crossing the midline, and assorted “eye exercises” are out there.   Developmental optometrists have at least some credibility, though many ophthalmologists (all those h’s!) still brand them as con artists.

That said, we’ve got “Reading Plus” here –ours is  about ten years old, and I know it’s been updated since then  — and it devotes a big chunk of its lessons to guiding your eyes to track faster.   Text moves and disappears; you take a test to see your starting point and it gradually gets faster as you are able to keep up.   It monitors, if I remember right, by whether or not you can answer questions about what you read when you’re done; that’s a boatload cheaper than using eye-gaze technology but it might be fun to design something that would do that for the rich and infamous 😉

Another strategy to improve eye-tracking is what’s called “penciling” at TNCS.   It really helps with attention and fluency, though it takes time to develop.  It’s also one of those things that some students think is, oh, “special,” tho’ if you actually watch people reading things a fair number of them will point something at the words — or music, if it’s choir…    You use the pencil to guide you first through words, to track from beginning to end, and then to group sentences into phrases with little scoopy lines under each phrase.   (There’s more about phrasing and comprehension at http://www.resourceroom.net/Comprehension/phrasing_Jones.html   )

Technology to help with that?   Both “Read and Write” and Kurzweil products highlight text as they read it to users, which should help with tracking, and which leads me to the obvious question:   why is all this drill and practice necessary?

We have the tech — you can snap a picture and have Kurzweil do its Optical Character Recognition magic and read things to you.

What does the user actually need?   If the goal is to get the most out of things written, then … we need to include lots of language development, and maybe they don’t need to be great fluent decoders.  What the student wants has a whole lot to do with what direction we should go.

I see several common paths with students who struggle with reading adn end up as “persistently poor readers.”   Sadly, the most common one is that they’re let slide, because most schools don’t focus in and make sure everybody’s got the code.  The Mathew Effect kicks in big time around fourth grade and they’re faking it and pointing their faces at books while other students *are* getting the vocabulary and comprehension and all those good stories and ideas and facts.  Teachers will say, “well, the only way to learn to read is to do it,” and give them lots of “chances” to do it…   and they end up in college with a fourth grade vocabulary and tripping over “white-collar” in their reading (so no wonder they can’t answer the question about its meaning).   For these folks, learning the code can open those doors, though that is hard to arrange for all kinds of reasons that don’t fit into a 15-minute spurt. If they’re really lucky, they land at TNCS in ninth grade, reading at a second grade level… and behind the black lipstick and megadeth shirt come in saying “what syllable are we doing today? This is my favorite class!”   and wonder why nobody ever taught them this stuff before.


Sometimes somebody in their lives makes sure they’re getting alternative language & knowledge input; they might watch lots of PBS and read books aloud w/ the student… these folks also benefit lots from getting the code and usually they’re more willing to give it a try because they have a better understanding of the doors it opens.

Some of ’em really, really are persistently poor…and depending on what’s up, you don’t just read to them.   We had a fellow who became all kinds of smarter if we started the Science class with just the picture of whatever (a cell, a machine, whatever the thing with interacting parts we were learning) and let him contemplate what was happening… and *then* gave the things labels.   He needed lots and lots of drill and practice for the basic decoding, too, and just wasn’t a person who was going to get a lot out of anything that was strictly verbal, whether speech or written.   Fortunately, TNCS uses lots of multimedia.   For this student, see my post on Making Drill and Practice more Pleasant

Oh, and I have known, in about 30 years, 2 0r 3 individuals of the “good word callers, but they have no idea what they mean” category. *Today* I worked with 2 or 3 individuals who didn’t know what the words were.     Whenever I hear somebody saying “we don’t need phonics” and claiming this happens all the time, I ask for examples or evidence and that strange silence happens.  Please, mythbusters, tackle this one…

Time’s up!   There’s a math textbook to assemble…

Posted in: MOOC