From Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Screen Shot 2012 04 16 at 11 48 48 AM

For the last three days, my students and I have been talking about what we do when we read. I’m reluctant to call it “the reading process” because process implies that there are steps to making meaning, rather than a give and take transaction between the reader and the text.

Specifically, we’ve been talking about what our eyes do when we read and what that shows about how our brains are working. For context, two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit an Eye Movement Lab (EMMA) and demonstrate what happens with our eyes as we read. I’ve been a few times for various courses at the university, so I knew what to expect. But I hadn’t previously thought about bringing that knowledge back to my students.

So we’ve been watching Javier’s Eye Movement from Peter Duckett’s homepage. We’ve watched it three times, first with no eye movement and students discussed what they noticed about Javier’s reading. Then with the eye movement and no conversation. The third time we watched it, I paused the video periodically and asked my students, “What do you see Javier doing here?”

Discoveries that my students made through these conversations:

  • We don’t read exclusively from left to right and from top to bottom
  • We focus on some words more than others, and some we don’t look at at all
  • We sample parts of the text: pictures, graphs, maps, etc. to help us understand what we read
  • When we read aloud, our voices are ahead of our eyes
  • We go back to confirm that we read what we thought we read
  • When we get stuck, we reread as
    well as read ahead to try and get unstuck

The reading of this first grader has given quite a bit of insight into reading for my 8th graders. They think it’s fascinating, and I think it’s disproved some of their misconceptions about what good reading is.

I’m excited to be able to start the year with this, and hopefully my students will better understand themselves as readers, making reading a less daunting task.

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