Now let us look at how we read. When we read a printed text, our eyes move across a page in short, jerky movement. We recognize words usually when our eyes are still when they fixate. Each time they fixate, we see a group of words. This is known as the recognition span or the visual span. The length of time ofr which the eyes stop —the duration of the fixation —-varies considerably from person to person. It also vaies within any one person according to his purpose in reading and his familiarity with the text. Furthermore, it can be affected by such factors as lighting and tiredness.
Unfortunately, in the past, many reading improvement courses have concentrated too much on how our eyes move across the printed page. As a result of this misleading emphasis on the purely visual aspects of reading, numerous exercises have been devised to train the eyes to see more words at one fixation. For instance, in some exercises, words are flashed on to a screen for, say, a tenth or a twentieth of a second. One of the exercises has required students to fix their eyes on some central point, taking in the words on either side. Such word patterns are often constructed in the shape of rather steep pyramids so the reader takes in more and more words at each successive fixation. All these exercises are very clever, but it’s one thing to improve a person’s ability to see words and quite another thing to improve his ability to read a text efficiently. Reading requires the ability to understand the relationship between words. Consequently, for these reasons, many experts have now begun to question the usefulness of eye training, especially since any approach which
trains a person to read isolated words and phrases would seem unlikely to help him in reading a continuous text.
A good modern newspaper is an extraordinary piece of reading. It is remarkable first for what it contains: the range of news from local crime to international politics, from sport to business to fashion to science, and the range of comment and special features as well, from editorial page to feature articles and interviews to criticism of books, art, theatre and music. A newspaper is even more remarkable for the way one reads it: never completely, never straight through, but always by jumping from here to there, in and ont glancing at one piece, reading another article all the way through, reading just a few paragraphs of the next. A good modern newspaper offers a variety to attract many different readers, but far more than any one reader is interested in. What brings this variety together in one place is its topicality , its immediate relation to what is happening in your world and your locality now. But immediacy and the speed of production that goes with it mean also that much of what appears in a newspaper has no more than transient value. For all these reasons, no two people really read the same paper: what each person does is to put together out of the pages of that day’s paper, his own selection and sequence, his own news paper. For all these reasons, reading newspapers efficiently, which means getting what you want from them without missing things you need but without wasting time, demands skill and self-awareness as you modify and apply the techniques of reading .
So long as teachers fail to distinguish between teaching and learning, they will continue to undertake to do for children that which only children can do for themselves. Teaching children to read is not passing reading on to them. It is certainly not endless hours spent in activities about reading. Douglas insists that “reading cannot be taught directly and schools should stop trying to do the impossible.”
Teaching and learning are two entirely different processes. They differ in kind and function. The function of teaching is to create the conditions and the climate that will make it possible for children to devise the most efficient system for teaching themselves to read. Teaching is also a public activity: It can be seen and observed.
Learning to read involves all that each individual does to make sense of the world of printed language. Almost all of it is private, for learning is an occupation of the mind, and that process is not open to public scrutiny.
If teacher and learner roles are not interchangeable, what then can be done through teaching that will aid the child in the quest for knowledge? Smith has one principal rule for all teaching instructions. “Make learning to read easy, which means making reading a meaningful, enjoyable and frequent experience for children.”
When the roles of teacher and learner are seen for what they are, and when both teacher and learner fulfill them appropriately, then much of the pressure and feeling of failure for both is eliminated. Learning to read is made easier when teachers create an environment where children are given the opportunity to solve the problem of learning to read by reading.