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  • Writer's pictureTeacher Brett

Improving Directional Tracking Skills

Directional Tracking

In the context of reading, directional tracking refers to the ability to smoothly follow the direction of text as it is read. This involves using eye movements called saccades and fixations to move the gaze from one word to the next, and to fixate on each word long enough to understand its meaning.

Good directional tracking skills are important for efficient and accurate reading. When someone has difficulty with directional tracking, they may struggle to follow the lines of text and may skip words or reread the same lines multiple times. This can lead to slower reading speed and reduced comprehension.

Directional tracking can be affected by a variety of factors, including vision problems, eye muscle weakness or imbalance, and neurological disorders. It can be assessed by an eye care professional or reading specialist as part of a comprehensive evaluation of reading skills.

Why might a student have trouble with directional tracking?

There are several reasons why a student might have trouble with directional tracking in reading. Some common causes include:

  1. Vision problems: If a student has poor visual acuity or a vision disorder such as strabismus (misaligned eyes), they may have difficulty following the lines of text with their eyes.

  2. Eye muscle weakness or imbalance: Weakness or imbalance in the eye muscles can cause difficulty with tracking and make it hard to follow the lines of text smoothly.

  3. Neurological disorders: Some neurological disorders, such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can affect a student's ability to track words accurately while reading.

  4. Developmental delays: Students who are just learning to read may have difficulty with tracking as they are still developing their reading skills.

  5. Stress or fatigue: Students who are anxious or stressed about reading may have difficulty with tracking, as may students who are tired or overworked.

If a student is having trouble with directional tracking in reading, it is important to have them evaluated by a qualified professional, such as an eye care provider or a reading specialist. This can help identify any underlying problems and guide appropriate treatment or intervention.

Why is directional tracking important for reading?

To be able to read accurately, a student must be able to process the sounds in a word in the correct order from left to right. Just knowing the individual sounds is not enough. The order of the letters is important, as demonstrated by words like "stop," "pots," and "tops," which all have different meanings even though they are made up of the same letters. Poor readers often have difficulty with tracking, where they process the letters in a word out of order, leading to errors in reading. They may also exhibit erratic eye movement as they search for familiar patterns or "whole words" in the text. These incorrect tracking strategies can contribute to reading difficulties. In order to read proficiently, a student must not only know the individual sounds in a word, but also be able to process the letters in the correct order from left to right. This requires good directional tracking skills.

Why should I teach directional tracking skills?

Scanning text in a left-to-right, straight line manner is not a natural process, and students need to be directly taught this skill in order to develop proper directional tracking. Our natural instinct is to gather and process information by looking all around, but this is not effective for reading. Straight line, left-to-right processing is an artificial component of the English language that students must learn and apply automatically. Many children may try to use their natural instincts and fail to develop the straight line, left-to-right tracking skills that are necessary for proficient reading. It is important to directly teach and require proper directional tracking from the start in order to help students develop this essential skill. By doing so, students can automatically engrain the left-to-right straight line processing of print, which is necessary for effective reading.

How can I help a student improve directional tracking skills?

Here are some strategies you can use to help a student improve their directional tracking skills:

  1. Practice tracking exercises: There are a variety of exercises that can help students improve their tracking skills. One simple exercise is to have the student follow a moving object with their eyes, such as a pencil or finger, as it moves slowly across a page or screen.

  2. Use tracking aids: There are a variety of tools and aids that can help students with tracking, such as rulers or strips of paper with bold lines that can be placed under the lines of text to help students keep their place.

  3. Encourage reading at a comfortable pace: It's important for students to be able to read at a pace that is comfortable for them. If a student is reading too quickly or too slowly, it can be hard for them to track the lines of text accurately.

  4. Encourage breaks: If a student is struggling with tracking, it can be helpful to take regular breaks to give their eyes a rest. This can help reduce fatigue and make it easier for them to focus on the text.

  5. Check for underlying problems: If a student is having persistent difficulty with tracking, it is important to have them evaluated by a qualified professional, such as an eye care provider or a reading specialist. This can help identify any underlying problems and guide appropriate treatment or intervention.

Why should I encourage my students to use their pointer finger when they read?

The physical movement involved in tracking is extremely important for reading development. To help children learn this skill, it can be helpful to use a "reading finger" or other pointing tool to help them focus on and correctly process individual sounds within a word. This can improve attention to detail and proper left-to-right tracking. It is important to require physical tracking when teaching beginners and when working with struggling readers. If an older student feels self-conscious about using a finger to track, they can use a toothpick, pencil, or other pointing tool of their choice. Once a child has mastered the left-to-right processing of all sounds, they may no longer need to use physical tracking as a tool, although they may continue to do so on their own as they advance from initial phonologic processing to fluency. If a student has strong phonologic processing of print and does not make tracking or attention to detail errors, they have mastered the necessary directional tracking skill and can drop the use of a pointing tool.

Some students may need extensive work on directional tracking which could justify a specific IEP goal for this skill.

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