Brandy is in the second grade and she has finally learned to read! This is good news to her family who worried because at first she had a very hard time sounding out words. The only area that she struggles in is that she still reads so slowly. Everyone says that if she just keeps reading, she will get faster, and her fluency will improve.
Research is proving that theory is not quite right.
Although good phonological processing or awareness skills are very important skills in reading well, there are other factors that influence speed and fluency. Good phonological processing means that a child understands that the symbol or letter on paper has a sound and when those letters go together, it makes a word. M-A-D when sounded out is a word. They also learn to manipulate words, ‘Mad’ changes by putting a ‘B’ at the beginning or a ‘T’ at the end. Brandy now has these good phonological processing skills.
The skill that affects the speed at which a person reads is relatively new in the field of reading research. This skill is often described as Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), which is a person’s ability to translate visual information into a phonological code quickly and easily. What researchers found (Wolf and Bowers, 2000) was that, just as some children are taller than their peers or can run faster than their peers, some children are also much faster at identifying visual information than their peers.
They related the study to this: If you asked a group of children to run around the block, you would expect some children to finish faster than others. Likewise, if you were to ask a group of children to identify ten pictures of common objects as fast as they could, you would find that some children are able to identify those ten objects very quickly while others take a little more time. What was interesting was that those children who were a little slower to name pictures of objects, also tended to be slower in identifying letters of the alphabet or printed words from a list
Lovett, Steinbach, and Frijters, (2000) performed research that showed that in one second of reading, a fast skilled reader is able to recognize and process about five words in running text. That translates into about 300 words read per minute. However a slow reader who is still skilled at reading, may only read 230 words per minute — about 3/4ths of the speed of their faster peers.
We can ask ourselves if this matters.
It does as a child is trying to develop his reading skills. Children who naturally process visual information quickly and easily often have an easier time learning to read than their peers who tend to process visual information more slowly. And this only stands to reason that children who process visual information more rapidly tend to get more out of the time they spend reading than their slower processing peers. They like it because the words create pictures faster, the story moves along like a story should.
A decade ago The National Reading Panel established five areas of effective classroom reading instruction: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and comprehension. Because of this list, schools have focused on children who have difficulty processing phonological information and trouble with the phonemes in speech. Schools now teach children to develop phoneme awareness so they can develop proficient decoding skills. Unfortunately, less is known about Rapid Automatic Naming. It is not as easy to identify at a young age, and even when identified, improving RAN and visual processing speed is considerably more difficult than helping children develop phoneme awareness.
Slow Rapid Naming ability also can be seen in word retrieval situations. This affects academic word recall of new knowledge, creates a slower ability to think of answers, and causes problems not only in reading, but also in generating written assignments.
If you ask a ten year old to name as many animals as he can in twenty seconds, and he says, “Lion, cat, bear, ah, ah, lion”, that is a very poor word-finding ability. I find that children should be able to name one item every two seconds (faster than that is better, of course). So a ten year old should be able to call out the names of ten different animals, foods, or sports when asked. So often when we test our slow readers at our center, they also have very slow speeds at generating the names of category items or have problems with quickly naming colors or letters shown on a card.
What to do?
Practice this rapid naming skill using common objects, colors and letters and numbers. Write out the alphabet in random order, in inch high letters on a page, repeating the letters twice somewhere in the series. “A, F, K, T, M, A, …..” Have your child name the 52 letters as fast as they can and time them. If they make a mistake while naming, have them say it again before advancing to the next letter. Try to improve on the speed of naming for each trial. Have several random lists of single digit numbers, colored circles, and common pictures.
Practice this skill without pictures. Tell your child that within a minute’s time, you want them to name as many things that they can think of in a category. The categories can be: animals, animals in the ocean, things at the farm, wild animals, colors, foods, fruits, jobs, vehicles, things to do on vacation, things that taste good, places to eat, furniture, terrible jobs, jobs that require a uniform, things to clean with, (Although children never get many items in that category!), fun jobs, pets, or clothing.
When you increase your child’s rapid automatic naming ability, you increase his ability to see letters faster, to quickly process them as words, and you watch his reading fluency increase!