In a previous blog (Is a child’s vocabulary destiny? From July 25, 2013), I pointed out that vocabulary acquisition is the single greatest predictor of reading success. Children from professional families grow up hearing 32 million more words than children from poor families by the time they are four years old. Most of these words are repeated words, but even so, the number of familiar repeated words is enormous for some children who begin to read with that oral vocabulary advantage.
Research using eye-tracking technology confirms how important a rich vocabulary is for good reading skills. With eye-tracking, the child’s eye movements are monitored using state-of-the-art technology. This technology records the jumps the child makes between words and the pauses the child makes while figuring out meaning.
Eye-tracking technology has confirmed ideas about how children read.
–When children encounter words they know well, the eye skips along briskly.
–When children encounter new words, or words used in unfamiliar ways, the eye pauses.
Researchers have concluded that children seem to have reading word banks in their brains. These word banks are organized by how frequently the child has encountered a word. The more often a child has encountered a word (e.g. “cat”), the quicker the child can understand the word. The less often the child has encountered a word (e.g. “waltz”), the more skills—and time—the child needs to identify it.
Eye-tracking technology reaffirms for me the importance of reading to our young children so that they will hear a wide variety of words. It reaffirms the importance of talking to our children frequently, using adult vocabulary right from birth, and helping children to use specific vocabulary as soon as they are able.
It also shows that there is so much more to learn about how children read, and that technology will be important in that research.