Hi-tech goggles said to aid reading

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
UNITED STATES

New goggles that track students' eye movements are helping to produce dramatic reading improvements in some of Miami's lowest-performing schools, claim city officials.

The new technology can capture the erratic, laboured eye movements that signify a struggling reader via infrared sensors. The software displays the eye movements for teachers to view.

The "Reading Plus" system also sets students exercises tailored to their level, aiming to encourage better technique. For example, one exercise asks students to read through a window that shows just a few words at a time as it moves through the text from left to right.

Mark Taylor, vice-president of Taylor Associates, Reading Plus's New York developers, claims that such visual training develops reading skills. "It conditions students into more efficient movement patterns."

Kathleen Caballero, a regional administrative director in Miami's education authority, said 21 of Miami's worst-performing primary schools which used the system for the first time this year made pronounced gains in standardised tests - markedly outstripping gains in other city schools.

"This does things teachers can't. When teachers work on fluency they use silent, independent reading, but struggling readers are adept at zoning out. This holds them accountable. The words pupils see on screen don't stay up forever, they have to follow along."

However, in January, the Florida centre for reading research noted there was a lack of robust evidence of the effectiveness of Reading Plus and more controlled studies were needed. And Timothy Shanahan, director of Illinois university's centre for literacy and president of the International Reading Association, said most evidence suggests training eyes to move more efficiently probably does not improve reading.

Installing Reading Plus costs schools an average of $15,000 (pound;8,000), Mr Taylor said. The goggles cost $2,400. Schools typically buy one pair, then "pass them around," he added. The technology is now used in more than 3,000 US schools.

Stephen Phillips

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