"Once you learn to read you will be forever free" - Frederick Douglas
It is often said that we are not genetically pre-programmed to be able to read. In fact, we need to learn to link letters on a page with a certain sound and then blend these into words. This takes much practice and there are a number of developmental stages in the process of becoming a fluent reader.
Birth - Age 6 (Pre-reading)
In this stage we are exposed to sound, develop speech and begin to understand the rhythm, syntax and grammar of our language. It is very important to be exposed to books as we are then able to learn that these sounds (phonemes) are linked to a certain shape on the page.
6 - 7 years (Initial reading/decoding)
Here we continue to learn that sounds correspond to a certain letter and begin to understand about how spelling rules work. This stage is sometimes referred to as a "guessing and memory game" as we learn to blend and separate sounds to read words. We guess new words and commit them to memory as we learn and are constantly exposed to repeated words and develop an increased vocabulary.
7 - 8 years upwards (Transition into fluency)
Readers consolidate and become fluent by developing decoding skills, reading the same words repeatedly and over time, begin to develop fluency. This will take a number of years and does require much reading practice.
What is not often considered in terms of reading development are the sensory aspects of processing this information. Let's take a look at what is needed to be able to develop strong reading skills.
We need to be able to listen to, and process, the individual sounds in words (phonemes). This requires an ability to hear and process the tiny changes in sound very quickly. The wider skill that underpins this is called phonological awareness. Actually, all the different sounds in a language have a different pitch or frequency.
The image here is known as a speech banana. It shows the pitch of each sound in the English language.
Sound is measured in Hertz and the higher the number, the higher the sound. Human beings can hear sound in the range of 20 - 20,000Hz.
Take a word like 'bath'. The 'b' sound is a low frequency sound at around 400Hz, the 'a' is at about 700Hz and the 'th' is at 6000Hz. We only have a few milliseconds to process and make sense of words and many children who are unable to develop strong reading skills have auditory processing problems that need specialist help. As this is about how well the brain can process this basic information you can understand why more and more reading will have a limited impact.
Another important area that will affect our ability to read is vision. This is not how well we can see the words on the page in terms of visual acuity, but relates to how our eyes can move and take in the information.
We need to be able to track our eyes smoothly from side to side and when we read, we make saccadic eye movements as our eyes jump around the page taking in the words.
It is also important for us to be able to focus both eyes in the same place on the page which is called vergence. A good awareness of space is vital so that we can read the words on a line and then drop our eyes to the next line. All these skills are underpinned by the vestibular system in the ears which helps us understand where we are in space and keep our head still with reference to what we are reading.
Research clearly shows that spatial processing is very important in reading and also that children with reading problems who follow programmes to improve visual skills such as tracking and vergence, improve in their reading.
Beat Competency and Rhythm
An awareness of rhythm is also crucial and much research shows that children with challenges with rhythm and timing, have difficulty with reading.
Beat competency is the ability to tap exactly to a beat that we are hearing. This is not just clapping to a beat being generated in our own head but moving to an external beat. There is a large base of research over many years showing that children who have poor beat competency have challenges with reading as well as listening and attention.
Many children with reading and literacy issues have underpinning delay in the development of auditory processing, visual processing, vestibular function, beat competency or other areas. The way to improve reading for them is to improve their sensory development and the integration of all these different sensory channels. The programmes we offer focus upon all these areas.
Our programmes focus upon the need to develop strong levels of underpinning sensory skills. Research shows that when areas such as movement, timing and eye tracking become more synchronised and developed, this means the higher areas of the brain can focus upon what we are reading rather than how to take in and process the words.
The Listening Program improves auditory processing skills and timing awareness. The Movement Program then builds on this to develop the skills of synchronised movement of the eyes, motor development and other areas.