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Sight reading is about the hardest kind of thoughtgetting that children attempt. If one is inclined to doubt this statement, it would be well for him to recall his own experience in the sight-reading of some foreign language or even in English if the subject matter is difficult or the words unusual. First comes the painful calling of words, without sentence melody or understanding of the content. Then, with more practice, will come some fluency of articulation, with a hazy perception of the meaning. And finally, for the best readers, results the rare ability to read at sight with apparently the same rapidity, clearness, and comprehension as when reading pages that have been previously studied. The child or the ordinary reader can not be expected to do this.
Material for Practice Indeed, in the sight reading of literature it is exceedingly rare that anything can be done in the way of interpretation other than indicating the tone of the poem—whether it is serious or humorous, and the like-through the voice. Certainly no more, even if so much, should be demanded. Consequently, practice in sight-reading should be confined to such material as is denotative, the meaning of which is exact and on the surface so that it can be quickly grasped. This requires little of the oral reader except a good utterance of the words. Such material is the ordinary newspaper article and the like.
A steady insistence on thought-getting from the first grade on will greatly facilitate sight reading later. By the methods presented in this book the child learns to recognize units of thought and expression and to retain them in mind until utterance is complete. Now must be added to this the oral expression of a unit of thought while the eye is running ahead and registering one or more new ones. Very simple practice in sight-reading, where the child reads new sentences composed of the words in his limited reading vocabulary, begins as early as the first grade; but it is in the upper grammar grades that it should be given special attention.
The Voice Follows the Eye
“The full utterance of the phrases and sentences as such follows at a considerable distance behind the eye, a variable distance that is greater as the reading is faster, but depends also on other factors than rate.” He quotes Dr. Quantz as reporting from his experiments: “When the reader is pronouncing a word at the beginning of a line, the eye is on the average 7.4 words in advance of the voice; in the middle, 5.1 words; and at the end, 3.8, giving an average of 5.4 words
* The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading, pp. 145-6.
The space between is thus very elastic, expanding and contracting with each line, but with a uniform regularity—except, indeed, where special conditions are introduced; an unfamiliar word, for instance, would decrease the distance to zero, or a familiar phrase might increase it to a dozen words. After the long pause a period allows, the eye lengthens its lead of the voice.”
Quantz thinks that a certain considerable distance between eye and voice is a condition of intelligent and intelligible reading, as it affords time for the brain to grasp at least a part of the idea before the mouth utters the words. It seems that practice in sight-reading should be of considerable value in reading of all kinds, as it stimulates the pace of the eye and affords practice in grasping groups of words that contain units of thought.
Practical Suggestions Be sure in the early exercises that the material is easy for the child, especially that it contains no words that he does not know and can not easily recognize. Material can be easily secured from the newspapers or from reading books of a grade or two lower than that in which the child is working at the time of the exercise. At first, let him read slowly, if need be, gradually increasing the speed. But he should never be permitted to read faster than he can assimilate the thought. When the sightreader finishes the part assigned him, or at any other point, he should be asked to give in his own words the sense of the matter. And he must be made to feel that, unless he can do this, he has failed, however rapidly he has gone. If the sight reading be oral, he must get the sense himself and also cause his hearer to get it. The hearer may get the meaning even though the reader fail to get it; but that is to the former's credit, not to the latter's. Every possible discouragement should be given to the alltoo-common habit of going over words, silently or aloud, without getting the ideas that they were written to convey.
When sight reading is hard for a child to do, the sense of the paragraph may even in a general way be given him, so that he may more rapidly recognize the thought units. The primary aim is that he shall form the habit of sending the eye forward regularly to report new groups of words while the mind is comprehending and the mouth reporting what the eye has passed over. The exercise should be pursued with regularity, its difficulty being increased gradually by more difficult material, by an insistence on more speed, and by requirements that the sense be better given through the voice, if the reading be oral. After all, as Mrs. Martin said before the National Educational Association in 1874, “The true test is not the ability to read a set piece with rhetorical effect, but the power to read at sight and continuously, without effort, prose or verse within the capacity of the reader's understanding."
The open and most inviting field in education today seems to be that of silent reading. Although it is the kind of reading done almost exclusively after school days, it is given special attention by only an occasional teacher, and by him experimentally, for there is little agreement as to what should be done in training for this kind of work. Psychologists and professors of education are just now beginning to get results which promise to be helpful.
The Ends and Aims
Silent reading, we may define again, is securing the thought through the eye from the printed page. So it differs little from the fundamental principle emphasized all through these pages—thought getting; but it rigidly excludes the other elements, which enter into oral reading and the reading of
literature. It is merely informational. And to read \well silently one must be able to read rapidly, to
change his pace as the difficulty of the subject-matter requires, and be able to summarize with some accuracy what he has gone over.
Reading, in this sense, should mean the getting from the printed page what one does not know