Friday, 7 May 2010

This week I have had the privilege,tinged with sadness of meeting many colleagues and friends of an extraordinary guy, David Morris, who was one of the people really got me going on the issue of reading and how it controlled so much what happens in so many peoples lives. Society in a typically biological way tries to bring everyone towards a 'norm'. If your capabilites away considered to be 'abnormal'then you have difficulties dealing with the barriers which society puts in front of you. Not barriers placed there on purpose but by default,unintentional. To point out that these barriers can be removed needs first for people with 'power' to first realise that they really are 'barriers' and not just the 'norm',,,'what is'.

The right to mobility, 'the right to ride'was fought for and achieved in the most part but it took concerted effort and a lot of time.
Recenty David and my life had crossed and he had seen that a great liberation in terms of access to text was not only possible but probable.
Dave had his computer screens adjusted to what allowed him to be an even better reader, I know he was surprised by just what it could do for him. He determined to try and help other people to get access to it. David, like me was excited by the adventure of finding out just what the outcomes would be if this particular barrier ,this text access limitation, was lowered or totally removed.. The technology nows exists to bring it to people no matter where they live or what they do.. The right to read.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


I watched Wayne Rooney the other night. Absolutely brilliant, he can read the football field so well, he can see/tell what others are doing, work out what they are likely to do so well. His brain must be amazing. He must be brilliant, superbly intelligent.
I watched David Beckham the other year. Absolutely brilliant, he can read the football field so well, he can see/tell what others are doing, work out what they are likely to do so well. His brain must be amazing. He must be brilliant, superbly intelligent.
I listened to Mohamed Ali the other night. Absolutely brilliant, he could read his opponent so well, , work out what they are likely to do so well. His brain must be amazing. He must be brilliant, superbly intelligent.
Hang on a minute, ok the last guy was one hell of a talker people accept that he must have been intelligent.
Being good at a sport means that you have to be dedicated, thoughtful, able to plan and see opportunities as well as having the ‘biology’ to deliver physically. But we are surprised when a good sportsperson is also brilliant academically, a brilliant reader..
But what if all sportspeople had to play their sport in size 8 shoes? Would the same people be at the top of their sport?

Using your finger!

I would like to say that if you need to use your finger to keep your place when reading a book it is unlikely that you will find reading on a computer screen very easy! Leaving the smears of a greasy finger, following the words on a screen is not a good idea. Mind you if the computer screen is adjusted so that you no longer need to use your finger, then that is a different story! It is harder to change the appearance of a printed page to suit your eyes.
So what is this finger stuff all about? People who read fluently aloud from print are looking at words’ well ahead of their mouth’ as they read. If you cover up the word they are about to say, they will not really bother. A non fluent reader will stop and make you take your finger away. They have not seen the word yet!
This is similar to the pianist who is sight reading music. As the page is turned, they continue playing, seamlessly. They are holding the notes in their head for several seconds before they play them.
A person with sight reading problems will see and play each note one by one. It will sound very mechanical. A bit like listening to someone who appears to have specific reading problems, reading aloud. The bigger their difficulty the more like a machine gun they will sound, lacking musicality, intonation or for the techies amongst you… prosody.
I would expect then people who are diagnosed as dyslexic who are also musicians to have difficulties with sight reading whereas if they are playing from memory or improvising it would sound perfectly fluent...musical.

I may be wrong. So this is a challenge to anyone dyslexic to let me know if they can sight read easily!
Reading poetry is similar. An extreme form of fluency is required to sight read poetry successfully.
Sibelius other than being a great composer is also the name of a brilliant computer programme which can be used on screen with any music. Several years ago they produced little application which allows the user to set the RGB (colour background) to whatever works for them.
Now how can sight reading music be a phonics problem? Just a thought that I must bury away back in my head.

Your own story

I have had many conversations about this blog. Mnay people would like to tell their own story. You are invired to do so .Please write yiouy stories as comments on this blog. We all look forward to reading about your experience in reading.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Why Finland has higher academic success..BBC World news

The story about Finnish educational outcomes should not be surprising. Finnish is probably the 'most transparent'language in existence.. What you see is what you say. There is very little ambiguity in meaning. Whereas English is one of the most opaque. Full of ambiguity which makes it difficult to use BUT capable of amazing subtlety and poetry.
There are problems of functionalliteracy in the UK and other english speaking and reading countries for the countries for the poorest 20% of the reading population. It is quite easy to compare educational performance in countries of similar economic performance and see the link with the language transparency. Within Finland though there are still many problems for people because they need to read off white backgrounds.But that is another story.
If there are lots of decsions to bemmade in the brain when analysing the words being photographed,then there will be less'computing power' for the brain to work out what the meaning of the sentences/paragraphs are. The 'visual photography needs to be made as easy, low demand, as possible. Now what was the reast of this blog about?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Discussion today with a guy who works as a greenkeeper.

Now you know what I do Chas!!!! It is really a similar thing to the way chlorophyll grabs the photons in photosynthesis... aka your turf!
There are three types of pigment cells in the retina when you read. The ratio of cells varies from person to person.
The amount of data sent per millisecond) from retina to the 'camera control system ( the muscles)' controls the amount of 'camera shake as they take the pictures and are coordinated together'
By getting the relative brightness of the screen pixels correct you can maximise this and the result is what you 'felt'/./.smoother cameras control!!
... See more
put another way; you would be really happy working in a dark green environment but with real problems of concentration in a 'redbrick...urban environment'!!

Ok back to your studying. We know that the reading speed of a personal most directly correlates with their 'academic performance', not their intelligence whatever that is.
But of course it is the reading speed on white! What you get.
It is as if we all had to run a race but everyone had to wear size 8 shoes.... OK if you have size 8 feet but otherwise you would be slower, not want to run too much or too often. As you go up the academic ladder, whatever your subject area the amount of pressure to read and write more increases. The ones at the top of the ladder, most of who read very quickly, do so on 'white'... Surprise surprise.
The great thing about ICT is that it is no longer the rule.. The rules have been changed. I have got to get people to realise this... use it and see what happens... If you have a go at TintMyScreen you can set your computer at your optimum... I do not know what the outcome will be for you, but my expectation is high.

That was fun writing that (on my magenta background! which you would hate!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Feeing sick or giddy when you read

The last blog I wrote said that I would write about this next. A lot of people get this feeling when they read. For many it only happens when they are reading in a ca, bus or train.
When you put an Eyetracker on someone who feels giddy after a while of normal reading you can see that, their heads are moving a lot as they read. Often these people tell me that they get a stiff or aching neck after they have been reading. Or they get aches in their back!
One exceptional case was a lady who was a senior manager with a major organisation in the UK. I was called in because her head movement had got really severe, giving rise to medical intervention and damage to her neck vertebrae! She was feeling really bad after working on her computer for only a short period it really affected her productivity.
Again using the eye tracker, confirmed what you could actually see as she read. Sh3e showed the characteristic eye movements of someone, who for some reason had become extremely light sensitive.

The first thing was to look at ambient light issues. It was amazing what a pair of wraparound dark goggles did for her. But it only partially solved the problem...
By the time we had got the screen to the right low level of brightness, and got the red: green balance right for her she was in ‘reading heaven’. The health and safety people reduced the brightness of her workstation area.
She was very quickly working at highest level again...

You can pin the giddiness down to the effect on your balance system of the head movements needed to read on white. It is A bit like sea sickness, or travel sickness. It is linked to a thing referred to as the ‘vestibular-ocular reflex.’ The mechanism which allows you to fix your eyes on something even when your body is bouncing up and down as you walk.
We did not evolve to read! Our ancestors did not do it! There is no reading gene!
So sitting still and concentrating on reading for hours is really quite unnatural...
Certainly staring at black lines on a white page is as natural as staring at the black lines on a zebra.
On a zebra it is intended to mess with the eyes and head of the predator. It is sometimes referred to as ‘pattern glare’...
It creates the illusion that the lines/words are moving.

wearing his glasses made his eyes hurt

I worked with a great guy who had had glasses but they resulted in his eyes feeling really uncomfortable. When he was reading on a white background, silently, he was actually mumbling the words to himself. This is very common among people whose academic progress is being limited by their reading.
When reading aloud, he was pronouncing each syllable separately as if he was having what in the ‘dyslexia world’ what is referred to as difficulties with ‘decoding’.
He told me that he was very easily distracted when he was studying. Any movement around him led his eyes to shoot off and look. At whatever it was.
I put him on the eye tracker, and it was clear that after the first two line of reading, his right eye started turning in, gradually turning away from the text he was reading. His left eye meanwhile continued trying to take pictures of the words in the correct sequence.
As his right eye turned in, his left eye movement became less and less symmetrical; more erratic.
He told me that after about ten minutes of reading, he had to take a break, because it became pointless.
After calculating the optimal screen background for hi, as well as his reading sped going up, he stopped mumbling, and started to sound really fluent.
When we put the eye tracker on him it was very different, to when he was reading on white.
Both eyes stayed working together; fewer steps were needed on each line of text.
He found the whole reading process more comfortable and said that he found he could understand the ideas better.

Seen it before though…many times... But it is always great listening to the comments!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Aching eyes

Aching eyes
You do not have to have anything wrong with your eyes for them to ache when you are reading.
Lots of schoolchildren will tell their teachers that
• ‘books do your head in!
• Often the parents of such children will agree.
• Sometimes the parent says it and the child has to agree.
o I remember one student who was doing A level Biology trying to explain why he never took home his text book or exercise books

He tried to tell me that if he did, that they would get burnt. I didn’t really believe it but he insisted that his dad hated reading so much because it made his head and eyes hurt, he was convinced that it was bad for you and didn’t want his children harmed!

So this guy took home his books…. And guess what? Yes his dad burnt them
I sort of understand now.
For many people, when they are reading on white, they get cramps in one or more of the muscles that control the eye movements. Glasses do not seem to solve it. Sometimes they seem to make it worse. One student in a south London College had had 14 pairs of glasses between the age of 11 and 16 because of his strategy to deal with it!
His mother used to nag him to take his glasses to school. When he did, he used to get severe eye aches after just a few minutes. His optician told him that they should solve his problem.
His teachers assumed that when he wore his glasses he would be able to read better and concentrate.

But he knew it just was not true. But nobody would believe him.
So what did he do?

Strategy 1….. Forget to take his glasses or at least tell his teachers that he had.
H e got the reputation for being forgetful/ stupid etc… but at least they had a ‘reason’ why he could not work/read...
He got into lots of trouble from his mother.

Strategy 2….. After a while the only way he could be ‘less got at’ was to break his glasses... he became known as clumsy as well as not very ‘clever’. But at least now, there was a decent time lag before he had another pair to break… 14 times!!!

At his further education college I worked out his best computer settings for him to work with.
Now he was happy to wear his glasses and get on. Result.

When you are reading, if you are a ‘good reader’… someone who finds it enjoyable, not tiring, can concentrate on and understand what you are reading, then your eyes will be working well together.
If not then what happens after a while, is one eye is sort of switched off. (Look at the distractibility blog). It moves away from the words. As it does so it seems to interfere with the eye which is carrying on with the reading. It is as if the ‘wandering eye’ is no longer glued to the words.
You can see this on my Eyetracker with large numbers of people who are diagnosed as ‘having reading difficulties’.
If you want to simulate this, you can do it by placing some thick but clear polythene sheet in front of one eye and then try reading. That eye will then after a while looking at the words and turn sideways as you read. The other eye may well then start to ache. You have effectively simulated a cataract in one eye!!!
Do not do this for too long it can get annoying.
It is a bit like when they patch the good eye of a child to try and force the brain to use a ‘lazy eye’... for the cognoscenti… an amblyopic eye’…

I will leave that for another day.

I have not covered the sicky/giddiness /nausea that some people feel when they read... Next time.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Reading Stamina

A student I have just seen was describing how she could only read for a short period at a time. She is in her final year. She needs her computer screen to be darkened and the red and green reducing to a particular value to get the best reading experience.
In addition she needs a font 16 to avoid difficulties.
On a white background, with small fonts ( fonts 10and 11 are normal in most textbooks at this level) she struggles.
Her reading on white is slow and gets slower. One eye does the ‘reflex’ movement mentioned in the last blog making her very easily distracted when reading. The more she pushed herself to read, the longer the recovery time she needs.. People seem to assume it is a ‘time management problem’ . But really everything just took so long she ran out of time!
Get it right for her and life is much better. I will recheck her before her finals this year.

One student I saw a few years ago had a reading time on white of 2 minutes 14 seconds on white! Using the eye tracker , after this time his eyes just went all over the place! You could describe it as a nystagmus.. another story.
When the screen was right this did not happen. He had taught himself to read very quickly in his short reading window which. Then it used to be time for a break, a dark room, or looking at pictures. Strangely he used to have a ‘time management problem’ as well!
Often the person’s eyes start to ache on white, or even they experience sharp pains and the eyes seem to be being pulled in opposite directions.
Two of the students today used to get really aching eyes. So I will discuss that next.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Easily distracted...the Ritalin game.

The other day, I met a little boy, 5 years old. He has been placed on medication after his school wanted to expel him. He has been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD.
Not sure which but one or the other. Taking the medication is the condition of his continuing in school.
He gave me a picture he had drawn. Now framed and on my wall.
Ok. The medication leaves him calmer. But is that the only way? Why is he so easily distracted?
One of the characteristics of so many people when they are reading, is that one eye turns away from the page and ‘gazes out of the window’ or goes ‘on patrol’ searching the environment for something that might need to be looked at…studied….checked out.
My Eyetracker shows me this happening to me and again with dyslexic students, many of whom find concentrating on the words, when they are reading extremely difficult.
Many of these do not know why but if anything around them moves they stop seeing the words and instead, find themselves looking at whatever is moving! Or they turn their heads towards a new noise.
It was not until I was in Posnan, Poland, with the professor who was the developer of the Eyetracker that this all seemed to make sense.

He had a very simple way of demonstrating what was going on.
Hi used a ‘binocular viewer’, the old plastic ones where you looked at two very similar photographs, through two lenses, one for each eye. The two slightly different photos looked at like this gave you a 3-D image. Great fun in the 1950’s!
Professor Ober, Used an adjusted pair of photographs. One was a picture of an elaborate throne room in a castle. The other was a blank cyan (bluish) square.
When you looked through the viewer you only ‘saw’ the elaborate throne room, all reds and gold. Your brain completely ignores the cyan image.
But he had adjusted the viewer in another way. In front of the cyan side was a tiny piece of wire. Which he could move as you viewed. When he did this your brain immediately switches attention to the blue side. You stop seeing the throne! After several seconds your brain ‘decides that the cyan is not interesting. ‘That eye is sort of switched off’ and your brain gives attention again to the throne!

Using the Eyetracker, you can see that the eye looking around the throne and the eye looking at the cyan were not looking at the same part of the two pictures.
But as soon as the wire is moved, BOTH eyes move (called a saccade) move to the part of the picture where the wire has moved. It brings it to ‘centre stage’ focussed on your fovea or yellow spot. (The part of your retina which has the most ‘megapixels’ per square millimetre.)
Now this is a reflex beyond your control. It is what we have evolved to do. It protects us from ‘dangerous things around us while we are concentrating. BUT when you are reading or concentrating for a long time it can cause great problems and in schools is seen as a fault. It is disruptive to others.

So back the little boy. He has severe focussing problems; one eye is different to the other. He is very long sighted. He loves his glasses now he has them. They allow him to concentrate.
Many of the dyslexic adults I have seen have an eye which has been suppressed, often the eye needed but was not corrected by lenses when they were at school, in addition they were often very light sensitive and going with it ..Very easily distracted… With the reflex action described above, that is not really surprising!
The little boy liked it when he was wearing sunglasses over his spectacles. His optician says he should not have them...

So. What if a light sensitive boy, needing spectacles and sunglasses to thrive doesn’t get them? Perhaps some people think that medication is the best option?
I wonder what his opinion will be when he grows up.
How many people get got at by partners, relatives and friends when they reading in a darkened room? Do you/ Do you know someone like that?
The next blog will be about stamina. I have just worked with a student who has had major stamina problems.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Sounding boring when you read
When people read aloud, some people are really afraid that it will not sound very good. They often have terrible memories of being asked to read aloud at school and the terror that went with it. Most adult who have been diagnosed as dyslexic remember those moments as do many others!
At times it was almost as if the teacher was picking on them, victimising them. I remember students who would rather get thrown out of the class for something else than feel like they are being humiliated again.
Some would find the whole reading thing so terrible that they just stopped going to school.
Ok why is this. Here is one possible explanation. Read it. Think about it. Does it describe someone you know?

The people who read fluently can see several words at once when they are looking at the page or screen.
The slower reader sees fewer words and has to take more pictures...
The slowest readers can sometimes only see one part of a word at once. Back in the early nineties at Walton I did not understand this, but one fantastic student, who was brilliant, simply could not spell, wanted to read but found it really tiring. One day in the sixth form, we talked about it. No one had ever talked about it before. Apparently he could only see 2 letters at once!!
To get through a ten letter word, his eyes had to move five times… FIVE pictures. Just imagine how much work was involved in reading each sentence. It also meant that reading aloud was slow and frustrating. By the time he got to the end of a sentence he would have forgotten the beginning!
Spelling...haha… so difficult.
Punctuation? ‘Now put a comma where you take a breath’ said the teachers. There were so many breaths it would be weird.
Any way they did not mean anything to him.
After our discussion I suggested that in future, he ignored all spellings and just wrote it as he wanted to. The effect was amazing suddenly this fluent student was pouring it out. When you read it you could hear him speaking. His phonics was perfect. It was just that his eyes sort of got in the way,
Nothing wrong with his eyes though.
Diagrams no problem.
Electronics.. No problem
..Just the reading. He could talk and discuss fluently for England and the rest of the world.
What I have found though is this.
If a person has this sort of problem, let them read aloud to you and as they are reading cover up the next word they are about to read.
A fluent reader will just carry on… they have already seen it.
Somebody with this sort of difficulty will move your finger before they can continue... they haven’t seen it yet.
I have an ‘Eyetracker’…it measures where each eye of a person is 300 times a second. It is a computer based bit of kit that allows you to see what a person’s eyes are doing as they are reading... a very ‘eye-opening piece of kit.
I remember one student in Cheltenham bursting into tears when she heard herself reading fluently! Happy tears.
Next topic. Easily distracted ..the Ritalin story?

Pretending you have got to the bottom of the page when sharing a book!

Pretending you have got to the bottom of the page when sharing a book!

Thousands of the students I have seen have had the common experience of sharing a book with someone at school and having to pretend to have finished when the other person asks...'Have you finished yet?'
We rarely admit when we haven't! But we do wonder how on earth the other person got to the end so fast! Sometimes when we had hardly got a quarter of the way down the page.

The strange thing is that no one ever talks about it. When the teacher said.

'It will only take 20 minutes to read the chapter for homework.’

What they really meant was
'It only took me 20 minutes' to read it!’

Most people took ages to do the reading. At a study at a local College we found that the reading speed for straightforward text, nothing complicated ranged from 117 to 470 words per minute!

The people who were the slowest were the people who had the lowest qualifications!

But that was reading on white. Things were different when the screen colour was set up for them... personalised.

One person this week went from 210 words each minute to over 700 words per minute. Quite exceptional.

There is nothing natural about reading on a white screen or white paper. But a lot of good readers on white find it really difficult and slower if they have to read on another colour!

Font size is another factor. Most books in schools and colleges are printed in the equivalent of font size 10 or 11.

When testing the students, most read best on fonts of 13 plus.
Try it yourself.

One student at Lincoln University needed a font of 35! he didn’t have an eyesight problem, no need for glasses. He just needed a big font. Some people feet need big shoes for them to walk fast!
Perhaps websites ought to start with a larger font and then people reduce the size if they want to? E A Draffen at Southampton University I am sure would agree with this.

colour background

I started looking at font colours, but that soon became of limited interest. It was the background colours that seemed to be having the biggest effect.
We were using Sharps toffee papers as overlays, theatre Gels, coloured filters from the physics department.
After a while we started to use filters that had been developed by others.
Eventually in 1998 I started to work with University students at Westminster University. First with filters and then by changing the background colour on their computer screens. The process developed into a measurement process, where we recorded changes in reading speeds as we changed the background settings on the computer screen.
Over 10,000 people have now been through the process,  but it was very time consuming and was always going to be limited in its application.
Now as a mathematics based methodology it has been automated into an online service. It now becomes possible to find out just how big an effect it can have.
It is not just about reading faster. It is about
  • how much fun you get,
  • how much enjoyment
  • how long you can read for
  • how easily distracted you get
  • how cofortable it is.
The next blog will be about.. sharing a book  at school and pretending you have got to the bottom of the page!

In the Begining

This story started , for me 26 years ago. Working with great young people in North Peterborough.
( although others will say that it really started 51 years ago when I failed to pass my 11 plus examination because my writing was not good enough!)

Working at The Walton School in the 1970s, one particular intelligent young man started this story when he came back to his Biology lesson from a maths lesson.
'I cannot do it any more!' he said. ' They have put a white board in the maths room and he is using a blue felt tip pen! Icannot read  what he  writeson the board!'
He was very depressed. He knew that he needed to pass his examinations to achieve his dream of university. The first in his family.

We stopped the lesson and spent the next hour investigating what he meant, how serious it was and then what we should do.
Well This blog is going to be about what that young man started and and the results of his frustration. I think it is going to be an exciting twelve months.
It has taken a long time to get to this stage,and it wasn't really until Windows 98 came into use  that real progress could be made.
Please join in , let's  find out what is really possible.