Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers (International Reading Association Institute #6, Chicago 2010): Part Two

a photo of Hiebert & Samuels

Hiebert & Samuels



This is part two of my reflections on the International Reading Association’s Institute called, “Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers” that was held in Chicago on April 25, 2010. You can find part one here. In that part, I discussed the presentations from P. David Pearson and Susie Goodin; D. Ray Reutzel; and Kathleen Wilson.

The next plenary (whole group) session was presented by S. Jay Samuels. His presentation was titled, “Eye-Movements and Reading: Without them you cannot read.” Again, I believe all presentations will be available on www.textproject.org soon. When they are, I will insert them into each post. If you are not familiar with Samuels’ work on fluency, be sure to check out the links I have for him in the sidebars under, “Fluency.” In addition, if you ever get the chance to hear him speak in person, I highly recommend it–he is extremely intelligent and very funny, too!

As I mentioned in part one, I learned about goggles that can be used to assess silent reading fluency. I just now did a little Internet Research on the silent reading intervention program, Reading Plus. I took the virtual tour and am quite intrigued. I would really love to see it in action. If you are interested, watch the Reading Plus Virtual Tour for yourself. Another thing that has me intrigued is that many of my favorite fluency researchers are on the Reading Plus advisory panel including Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Timothy V. Rasinski and S. Jay Samuels. I also found out what the goggles look like and a little bit more about them. The system is called Visagraph. If you would like to learn more about the Visagraph, you can find out more here.

Samuels was a member of the National Reading Panel (NRP). He stated that he fought hard against putting “no evidence” in the NRP report in regard to the efficacies of silent reading in the classroom, but he lost. I remember at another IRA convention when he mentioned how he wished he included the word “comprehension” into the definition of “fluency” that the NRP used. The definition of “fluency” according to the NRP is this, “Fluency is the ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression.” At this session, Samuels reiterated, “a fluent reader does two things at the same time–decode and comprehend.”

If you have not read, Toward a Theory of Automatic Information Processing in Reading (Laberge & Samuels, 1974), you should. Unfortunately, it must be purchased. You can read the abstract here. I believe it is this article that helped me understand that our brains only have so much energy and if too much energy is focused on decoding the words, there isn’t enough brain energy left to try to understand what is read (cognitive load theory). On the other hand, that understanding could have come from page 12 of this article that I have included in the sidebars under “Favorite Articles, Charts & Videos,” “Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge–of Words and the World.” (Hirsch, AFT, Spring 2003) More than likely, it was a combination of both.

Overall, Samuels’ presentation was very interesting, but much of it was a bit over my head since my background knowledge in this area is quite limited. He talked about these things:

  • the history of eye movements in reading

  • scholars who influenced eye movement research

  • a study that was done using Reading Plus

  • eye physiology and reading

  • eye movements (fixations, forward saccades, and backward saccades)

  • some eye problems and reading diagnosis and remediation



One thing I found really interesting was that in the old days to figure out what the eye looked like (I think), they covered people’s eyes in Plaster of Paris. Nice! Another interesting thing was that “each eye fixation can only see about six letters at a time clearly. Consequently, the eye must keep moving from fixation to the next fixation if it wants to read all the words on a line in a text.” It is also interesting that the modern newspaper went from using wide columns to narrow ones. (We lose our place in wide columns.)

Well, that’s it for part two. I wonder if much of this was new to you, too. If you have any experience with Reading Plus, or the eye movement assessment goggles, I would love to hear about it.

You can find part three here.

**Updated 8/19/2010: Click here to find all presentation handouts from this institute at http://www.textproject.org.**

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  • Jamie (AKA fiteach)

    Very interesting read…