In a new Mayo Clinic study, researchers examined the physical act of reading to see if practicing eye movements in school could lead to better early reading fluency.
Reading fluency is defined as the ability to read easily, quickly, without errors and with good intonation.
Saccades or rapid eye movements are required for the physical act of reading. Previous studies have shown that the ability to perform complex tasks such as saccadic eye movements are not fully developed at the age when children begin to learn to read. Eye movements in younger children are imprecise, resulting in the need for the eyes to go back to re-read text, leading to slower performance. When translated into the task of reading, it slows the reading rate and leads to poor reading fluency and may affect reading comprehension and academic performance.
“There are studies that show that 34 percent of third graders are not proficient in reading, and if you are not proficient in reading by third or fourth grade there is a four times higher likelihood that you will drop out of high school,” says Amaal Starling, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and co-author of the study published in Clinical Pediatrics.
Dr. Starling says that the purpose of the new study was to determine the effect of six weeks of in-school training using the King-Devick remediation software on reading fluency. This software allows people to practice rapid number naming which requires eye movements in a left to right orientation. It teaches the physical act of reading.
In this study, standardized instructions were used, and participants in the treatment group were asked to read randomized numbers from left to right at variable speeds without making any errors. The treatment protocol consisted of 20-minute individual training sessions administered by laypersons, three days each week for six weeks, for a total of six hours of training.
Randomized numbers are presented at variable speeds from left to right; the participants read the numbers as quickly as possible.
Examples of pages taken from the King-Devick Test
(Images deleted following a call from the company)
Students in the treatment group had significantly higher reading fluency scores after treatment and post-treatment scores were significantly higher compared with the control group. At the one-year follow-up, reading fluency scores were significantly higher than post-treatment scores for students in first grade. Additionally, these one-year follow-up scores were higher than pretreatment scores across all grades, with an average improvement of 17 percentile rank points in the treatment group.
“The results of this pilot study suggest that the King-Devick remediation software may be effective in significantly improving reading fluency through rigorous practice of eye movements,” says Dr. Starling. “What our study also found was that there was an even greater improvement between first and third grade versus third and fourth graders, which means there may be a critical learning period that will determine reading proficiency.”
“The outcome of this study suggests that early childhood intervention with a simple methodology of eye movement training via the remediation software, which is inexpensive and can be implemented in developed or developing cultures easily, might allow a lasting improvement in ability to read, with clear sociologic ramifications,” says Craig H. Smith, M.D., neuro-ophthalmologist, Chief Medical Officer, Aegis Creative, and Senior Advisor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a co-author of the study.
The authors hypothesize that this improvement in reading fluency is a result of rigorous practice of eye movements and shifting visuospatial attention, which are vital to the act of reading.
Training activities by computer undoubtedly bring improvements, at least in regard to eye movements, but vision therapy performed in real space would probably be much more effective.
In addition, the recognition by the medicine (or at least the group of physicians who participated in this study) the effectiveness of vision therapy is a big step for optometry.
Those who dispute the link between vision and academics must critically review and change these misguided beliefs. We cannot afford to let unfounded, dogmatic opinions, professional animosities and political agendas stop our children from achieving single, clear, comfortable and binocular vision while attaining their highest academic level possible.
Yes, there is a link between vision and learning. And yes, vision therapy improves academic performance.