Recently we received a question about why it matters whether children move their lips when reading silently. We want to answer that question and broaden it slightly to also talk about why we only assess silent reading and not oral reading in our Williams Syndrome Reading Project. Let’s start with our premise: we strongly believe that the primary goal of reading instruction is to teach children to read silently with comprehension. However, our guess is that what many of your children have experienced at school is lots of reading aloud, often in turns with other children, or one-to-one with an adult. The values of oral reading in school is efficient assessment and behavior management. Adults can listen for fluency and identify patterns of error in decoding. They know whether children are doing what has been asked of them.
However, reading silently is the ultimate goal. The values are reading more fluently, with higher degrees of understanding, with less effort and greater enjoyment. Studies of school-aged children show that once they learn to read silently, they read approximately 40-45 words per minute faster than their oral reading. Think of how valuable that is in your own busy lives. In 10 minutes you can process 400-450 more words! Reading orally is selectively useful. For example, it’s nice to read aloud a poem or part of a newspaper article to share with someone else, to read aloud as a social experience with a younger child or aging adult, to provide access to information to someone who is blind. However, all of those experiences can also be managed with technology, and we can still engage in social closeness (as long as we are COVID-free).
Reading silently with comprehension is the skill that will serve your children best in life. They will be able to do that in libraries, coffee shops, car pools, classrooms, and any other place they choose.
So, back to the original question, if children read silently but move their lips, they are essentially “reading aloud silently.” Doing so is less efficient than silent reading, slowing their reading rate by up to 45 words per minute. When a child who can read with comprehension occasionally moves lips to read words aloud silently, it is often a sign of a text being too difficult. You and we do this still when we read complex directions like tax forms. If a child cannot read at any level silently without moving lips, assuming it was not a practice directly taught to the child, it usually just indicates the need for more practice, and perhaps some direct instruction in reading silently without moving lips.
The importance/significance is that the ability to read silently without moving lips will enable your children to reach higher levels of successful text reading over time and do so more effortlessly. In typically developing children, silent reading usually becomes the norm toward the middle to end of first grade. Remember, it’s hard to read silently when the materials are too hard, and for beginning level readers everything is challenging.
Tomorrow we will post strategies for assisting children in learning to read silently.