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Is tracking pupils’ eye movements the answer to finding reading issues early on?

Enjoyment of reading is the target – a child who finds it challenging to learn to read and write often struggles to achieve across the broader curriculum.

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, the challenge to address learning gaps is unlike any other teachers have faced. Providing early support through quick identification of reading challenges will be critical so that we can give every child the best possible basis on which to move forward from the disruption of the last 18 months.

Despite a fantastic effort by teachers and parents, the months of home schooling took their toll on pupil progress. However, recent research conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation showed that schools across England had seen an increase in young children needing help with language skills, the essential foundations for literacy and a gateway to the wider curriculum.

At our school, Bentley C of E Primary School, we have seen an increase in the percentage of pupils needing high levels of support in their literacy development, rising from 7% in October 2020 to 14% more recently. And this is a pattern reflected in other schools across the country.

To address this, we have decided to focus on identifying issues early to help children build back the literacy skills they need to progress in the classroom.

EdTech in the classroom

Time away from the classroom has an impact on any child, regardless of their prior ability. So we want our teachers to understand where their pupils are now in terms of achievement, to prevent them from falling further behind. To do this, we’ve looked to the latest reading assessment technology to help manage this process quickly and easily.

Children in our school are now routinely screened using a new piece of eye tracking software which gives us an accurate picture of their literacy skills. The technology, called Lexplore Analytics, literally follows children’s eye movements as they read a piece of text. This can give us a whole host of information that traditional tests cannot provide.

The assessment is quick and monitors reading accuracy and fluency. But, more importantly, it flags specific issues children struggle with when they read, whether it’s certain letters they get stuck on, words they find complicated or whole sentences they struggle to understand.

We can see how long a child’s eyes rest on a word and how quickly they move backwards or forwards from one sentence to the next. The results provide teachers with the information they need to pinpoint areas of reading that are causing issues and highlights the early indicators of dyslexia and other reading issues.

It has made a real difference to how we support children’s progress in literacy at Bentley Primary. For example, we had one child who found every aspect of reading and writing challenging from a young age. However, looking at the assessment results, we could see that there were no deep-seated issues that might be preventing her from developing the literacy skills she needed. It was simply a matter of boosting the child’s confidence.

By understanding this, we could then work with the child’s parents to introduce more reading activities at home, such as cooking from recipe books or reading board game instructions.

This additional support, together with the work we’ve been doing in school, made the act of reading much more fun, and we’ve already seen an improvement in the child’s reading in a few weeks. She is now much more likely to pick up and enjoy reading books both in and outside the classroom.

Enthusiastic readers

Enjoyment of reading is the target. A child that finds it challenging to learn to read and write often struggles to achieve across the broader curriculum. At our school, we want to do all we can to remove the stigma attached to reading difficulties and highlight reading issues earlier so that nothing holds children’s reading progress back.

By highlighting reading challenges early and using the innovative technology available, teachers can support all children to make significant progress so that every child leaves school as an enthusiastic reader.

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