Across next four years, scientists may be capable of revealing when and how children develop accurate oral reading and progress from oral to fluent silent reading.
Researchers at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) at Florida State University headed by FCRR researcher Young-Suk Kim are set to examine a poorly understood area of literacy: the relationship between oral and silent reading, and how those skills, in turn, relate to reading comprehension.
"One of the reasons why silent reading has not been paid attention to sufficiently is that it is difficult to measure. The other piece is, people may just assume that, if you read well orally, then you'll also read well silently," said Kim, also an assistant professor in Florida State's College of Education.
However, studies show that's not the case for all students, said Kim. Some may pretend to read, read inefficiently, or struggle over the bridge from oral to silent reading. That crucial transition will be the focus of the new project.
Kim and her team will follow 400 Leon County (Fla.) students from first to third grade, testing them three times a year to measure when and how they develop accurate oral reading and advance from oral to fluent silent reading.
"Initially, kids sound out each letter, then put all the sounds together, and then make a word. As their reading develops further, they will be able to do that in their minds. But initially, it's not going to be as efficient or fast," explained Kim, a former classroom teacher.
Beginning silent readers often sound words out in their heads, a cumbersome process called subvocalization.
"What we ultimately want is instantaneous recognition without subvocalization because that's faster. But we don't know how that process happens," Kim noted.
Until recently, measuring silent reading was difficult: After all, you can't hear the child's progress. But researchers can now see this progress, with the help of advanced eye-tracking technologies that follow students' eye movements as they read text on a computer screen.
"It's very fascinating how precisely we can measure this. We can even determine exactly which letter a student is focusing on," Kim said.
Kim and her team will also examine instructional strategies for promoting reading fluency.
The ultimate goal is to help students read faster and better, a skill critical to their success throughout their years in school.
"Because children read faster in silent mode, we want to really promote that. But because we don't know how children transition there, it's still one big question," Kim added.