Becoming a skilled reader: Evidence from eye movement research

Eye-tracking enables researchers to gain insight into, and make comparisons between, the moment-to-moment cognitive processes of beginner and skilled readers. An ability that can be considered a hallmark of the end state of skilled adult reading is parafoveal processing, the ability to process some information from the next word in a sentence before it is directly looked at. Skilled adults’ reading times are faster when provided with the correct preview for an upcoming word, and if they are denied the opportunity for parafoveal processing then there is a substantial cost to reading times. How this critical skill develops in beginner readers of English is, however, largely unknown. I will present some data from two eye movement experiments that starts to fill this gap in understanding. Both experiments manipulated the features that were available to readers in parafoveal preview, and compared 8-9 year old children with skilled adult readers. In Experiment 1, the importance of external compared to internal letters for lexical identification was examined, and in Experiment 2 the role of phonology was examined. The results indicate that children and adults processed the same orthographic and phonological features of an upcoming word, with this pre-processing facilitating reading times on the target word, albeit with a slightly delayed time course in children compared to the adults. Thus, parafoveal processing develops quite quickly in beginning readers and facilitates lexical processing during subsequent direct fixation.