Reading in the Elementary School

Reading in the Elementary School

The following information is important to understand the role of vision in the process of reading. At the end, I will share what makes this especially interesting….

Reading is first of all a visual act and it cannot ever be taught soundly if the functions of the eyes are not understood. p. 8

The reading process may be described in ocular motor terms as follows. As the individual reads, his eyes hop from one stop to the next from left to right. He does not read in a smooth sweep along the line but only when the eyes are at rest in each fixation. During the sweeps from one fixation to the next the reader sees nothing clearly, for his eyes are temporarily out of focus. Each fixation during which reading actually occurs lasts from about a third of a second in young children to about a quarter of a second at the college level. p. 9

The average number of words seen at each fixation does not reach one whole word until the eleventh grade. The young reader focuses, relaxes, focuses, relaxes almost 200 times per 100 running words. It is important to realize the frequency and minuteness of visual adjustments needed for the reading act. p. 11

It has not been shown that earlier emphasis upon reading in the kindergarten produces higher primary reading scores, more permanent acceleration, or better attitudes toward reading and school that a well-planned program without this emphasis. p. 54upside-down-book2

The visual skills of the young child are, in our opinion, the most significant factors in his early reading success. p. 56

Visual discrimination of perception is derived from or based upon handling of objects. p. 57


It is undoubtedly true that the use of an excessive number of unknown or difficult words will prevent the young learner from acquiring any fluency in reading. It will also interfere with the development of the normal pattern of progressive eye movements which is the visual component of the reading act. p. 149

Contrary to the vocabulary control theory of basal reads, words are learned only by the building of a depth of varied associations with their meanings, pronunciation, and usage; not mainly by repetition in simple contexts. P. 174

We suggest that the introduction to reading occur through the medium of experience stories. A child (or it could be a group of children) dictate a story which is transcribed into a readable format. p. 296


Reading in the Elementary School was written by George Spache in 1964. It was a popular text used for teacher education for years. Our office brought George and Evelyn Spache to The Treadway Inn in Owego in 1976 for a teacher in-service. Their information is as accurate and important now as it was then. Forty years later teachers who are teaching reading are educated in phonics but not in the role of vision in reading. I have selected information on vision from the text, but the book also addresses auditory skills, emotional readiness, and many other topics.41noO9dfd4L__SX200_

Despite all that has been learned about child development, education was more sensitive to development thirty-five years ago than it is today. Many assume that technology can bridge the gap, but it can’t. Thirty-five years ago many schools were using the McGuinness-Hammondsport Program based on materials developed by Jerome Rosner to develop visual and auditory readiness before the students received formal instruction in reading and math. That program was inefficient because it was not individualized violating the Spache’s position that “diagnostic skill is the heart of the reading program.” p. xiReading-Book-Upside-Down-2

It is easier to see what has changed than what has remained unchanged. The developmental needs of children have not changed. The constellation of readiness skills which they need to learn to read, enjoy reading, and become lifelong readers, have not changed. All children are not ready to read at the same time, but almost all children can become successful readers given what they need at the right time and pace for them.