dyslexia assessment screening struggling readers

Eye movement and reading ability in children – Fluent vs Struggling Readers or Beginner Readers

Have you ever wondered how our eyes move when we read? Are there any differences in the way fluent readers and poor readers move their eyes? Can these movements reveal clues about the cognitive process of reading?

Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, are exploring this question using eye-tracking technology. By studying how our eyes move during reading, they aim to understand the cognitive processes involved.

In this article, I discuss how analyzing eye movements can help us better grasp how we read and share with you the preliminary findings of a pilot study my children participated in!

Let’s discover more about the cognitive process our eyes unveil when reading!

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What do our eye movements have to do with skilled reading?

VIDEO Transcription:

Have you ever noticed that when you are with a beginner reader and he or she is attempting to read, his or her eyes are a little bit all over the place.

Very common, right?

In fact, this is one of the things I’ve noticed with struggling readers as well. They go back and forth to different places on the page, they look away, they think, they come back to the page…

Well, in line with these observations about how children move their eyes when reading, some researches at Macquarie University, in Sydney Australia, are trying to find answers around how the way we process reading (what’s going on in our brain) reflects on how we move our eyes when we read. For that, they are using eye tracking technology.

The findings can have different applications, such as diagnosis.

Pilot study using eye-tracking technology when reading 

My two children participated in let’s call it “pilot study,” or “test study” with them. This was, in fact, the very first time that their eye tracking machine was used in children.

My children were asked to read a text while their eye movements were tracked with an eye tracking machine, more specifically with a machine called Eyelink 1000+.

While what I’m about to say are just very preliminary observations after this experience, I think they are still interesting and will probably be useful for you.

With my older daughter, who was (and is) a fluent reader- we did this study a couple of months ago, she seemed to be very systematic in the way she moved her eyes. She was going left to right and to the next line very naturally, without any hesitation or effort, sort of landing on every word or fixation point, I should say, and staying there just for a tiny bit, for a fraction of a second.

Unfortunately, the calibration of the machine with her wasn’t great, so we probably won’t have much more detail than this, these observations. But I think this is still interesting.

By the way, if you are wondering how fluent she is. On that day, my girls also had to take two reading tests, more specifically the “ LeST” and The Castles and Coltheart Test 2, also known as CC2. The first is to test a person’s ability to sound out single letters and letter combinations and the second one checks sounding-out words ability and whole word recognition ability. They are both developed by Motif – This is an Australian organization.

They  provide free pdf downloads of these tests, if interested. And, as usual, I will leave you links to them in the video description. You can also purchase digital tests, by the way, so you can run them on a computer or an ipad.

Download the mentioned tests here:

These tests helped us determine she was on the 97% percentile at the time of doing this test for her age group. You’ll see a fragment of her doing the test in this video as well.

With my youngest daughter, still a beginner reader, not so fluent,  it seemed like her eyes were moving back and forth much more, coming back to the beginning of a word, after she’s just sounded it out… Or even jumping to different words. The movements were slower. She stayed on words much longer. And the process seemed to be less natural, less systematic, more clunky.

As I said, these are just sort of my preliminary observations based on what I saw.

The calibration was good in her case, so hopefully, the real experts in eye tracking at Macquarie University will have more concrete results that will share with me so I can share with you, hopefully in the future.

And, of course, when more information is available on how we can take advantage of eye tracking movement tools as a diagnosis tool for reading, I will share this with you as well.

Eye-tracking: Huge potential to understand cognitive process when reading

I believe this is an extremely interesting area of research. In fact, I am reading a book right now about dyslexia, and the author of the book -Luz Rello-, who is a researcher specialized in dyslexia in Spain, in Barcelona or maybe Madrid I am not 100% sure, right now.

Anyway, she talks a lot in this book about how she uses an eye-tracking machine in her studies about dyslexia, and she says that dyslexic people set their eyes for a longer time on specific points on the screen, they often regress to previous words, and their saccades -which is a new posh word I’ve learned recently and means “the route that our eyes make between 2 fixation points”… Well, those saccades are shorter in dyslexic population.

So, in my opinion, this line of work, this field has a lot of potential. It makes so much sense that how we move our eyes when we read is very telling of what’s going on in our brain when we are reading.

Anyway, l won’t get carried away. In the meantime, what I’d encourage you to do is observe eye movement in children when they are reading. It can give you clues.

And now, let’s go ahead and see the fragments of my girls during the study!

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