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  • Writer's pictureNancy Sokol Green

Why Poor Readers Get Bad Advice

When we make a connection between reading and incomplete lower brain development, we come up with different solutions.

Many people lose their place when reading.

That’s why it’s become standard to tell such people to place their finger under each word as their eyes move across a line. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, when looking at the bigger picture, this compensation only makes matters worse. Ouch. How can that be?

Well, for starters, the underscoring-finger-remedy overlooks this very important question: Why do people even lose their place? Now, when we ask that question, it opens up a whole new way of looking at the problem.

Turns out if we explore how the eyes are intended to work naturally with the brain, we discover many reasons why we may lose our place when reading. And guess what? Those reasons also explain why we may read a whole page, yet have no clue what we just read.

However, the whole point of reading is to comprehend the text, right? That’s why the finger-under-the-word approach is one step forward and three giant steps backwards. In truth, that recommendation totally interferes with our ability to understand whatever we’re reading, while also guaranteeing that we’re always going to be a slow reader.

Here’s why that statement is fact. When we place our finger under each word, we’re only allowing the brain to process one word at a time. Even a well-organized brain is going to have trouble staying focused when spoon-fed words that way.

For example, if we tell our eyes to only look at the word our finger has underscored, we can just process that word—and nothing else. That means if we’re at the beginning of a sentence, our brain will only see the word “The” if that’s the first word.

Yet, when the brain is organized as intended, it’s capable of taking in a whole line or more with one fixation. So, with the very same time it took the finger-under-the-word person to process the word “the,” other people have already read the entire line, “The dog chased the cat down the street.”

Simply, the more words we can process in one glance, we not only read faster, but it’s also easier for the brain to understand what’s written—and stay interested.

Which brings us back to the question: What needs to be in place so that the eyes and brain can work together . . . so we’re able to read quickly and comprehend text easily—and without ever losing our place?

Well, there are a myriad of natural vision skills that make this possible. When the brain is organized as intended, we use these automatic skills without any conscious awareness as we read. But that means we also have no awareness if we’re trying to read without some key neural networks in place. We just know we struggle.

So, here are some specific vision skills and how incomplete lower brain development relates to them.

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision helps our eyes stay still on a word. Peripheral vision also guides our eyes to track smoothly across the page and enables us to look ahead at upcoming text before our eyes are actually there.

Lower Brain Connection

If the pons is underdeveloped, we will have little or no peripheral vision.

Eye Fixations

Our eyes have to be able to stay still for about a fourth of a second in order for the brain to process whatever they’re looking at. Also, if our eyes move to the next fixation too quickly, then the last image presented will erase the first. That’s because the brain cannot perceive two distinctly different images in a fourth of a second.

Lower Brain Connection

If we have poor vestibular processing, our eyes are likely to be “jumpy.” In fact, words may often move around the page while we read.

Eye Saccadic Movement

Efficient eye saccadic movement is when our eyes effortlessly move from one fixation to the next. Here again, we need good peripheral vision (the eyes need to look ahead to know where to land). We also need to make one big, accurate “jump” from the end of one line of text to the start of the next line below it.

However, if we have poor eye saccadic movement, we will skip over words, or our eyes will move forward and then backwards within a line of text, or they’ll often land in the middle (not the beginning) of the next line. We may also skip multiple lines when trying to get to the start of the next line.

Lower Brain Connection

Both pons and midbrain development are related to eye saccadic movement.

Eye Teaming

With natural eye teaming, our two eyes align together. When this doesn’t happen, text often blurs, making it difficult to keep our place. We may also see the ending letter of one word shift into the next word. Or, we missed words while our eyes were trying to get in better alignment.

Lower Brain Connection

Natural eye teaming happens at the very end of midbrain development.

Retained Primitive Reflexes

Retained primitive reflexes are yet another reason people lose their place when reading. For example, a retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (which is associated with pons development) makes it difficult for the eyes to cross the midline effortlessly.

Lower Brain Connection

When this reflex is not integrated, it’s almost as though a wall separates our two brain hemispheres. So, sometimes—it’s as though our eyes then “hit” that wall—bouncing them elsewhere (and once again, we’ve lost our place).

Of course, people have only had the best intention whenever they told others to underscore words with their finger when reading. They simply did not know the above information.

But that’s why we need to share—with as many people as possible–how incomplete lower brain development is directly related to problems with reading. Most of all, since it’s possible to go back and organize the brain at any age, we don’t have to lose our place, read slowly, and keep re-reading text, over and over again, to finally understand what’s written.

And here’s the biggest bonus: When we read with a well-organized brain, we now enjoy reading.

So, maybe . . . there are even lots of people out there who “think” they don’t like to read—but that’s only because they haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to read with all their highways in place.

1 Comment

Paige Schwartz
Paige Schwartz
Jun 02

Love this! BrainHighways has completely changed the way I teach and the activities in which I to engage children . More information in my arsenal of why THIS WORK IS SO IMPORTANT!!! Thank you!

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