Extra spacing can boost the reading speed for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic children

How important is spacing between the letters when you read? I bet this isn’t a question you have asked yourself that often? This new study has found that a child’s reading speed can be improved by simply increasing the space between letters within a piece of text. The study discovered that text with increased space between each letter provided a benefit to both dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. On average, the dyslexia group showed a 13% increase in reading speed, while the comparison group of non-dyslexic children showed a 5% increase in reading speed. The researchers also checked coloured overlays, but these didn’t lead to better or faster reading.

From the press release:

The research, led by Dr Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), examined the benefits of letter spacing and coloured overlays amongst a group of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children. It is the first study to investigate how these adaptations can help to reduce specific reading errors.

Published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, the study discovered that text with increased space between each letter provided a benefit to both groups of children. On average, the dyslexia group showed a 13% increase in reading speed, while the comparison group of non-dyslexic children showed a 5% increase in reading speed.

The study involved 59 children aged between 11-15, 32 of whom had a statement of dyslexia, with 27 non-dyslexic children forming a control group. The participants were recruited from six UK schools in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and London.

Participants read four texts with either standard or extra-large letter spacing, both with and without a coloured overlay. The children were instructed to read the text out loud while being recorded. The recording was used to measure the number of errors they made — specifically missed words, added words, wrong words, and pronunciation — as well as the participants’ reading time.

In addition to improved reading speed for both children with dyslexia and the non-dyslexic group, the larger letter spacing also resulted in a significant reduction in the number of words being missed by the children with dyslexia. However, the study found that coloured overlays had no significant impact on reading speed or the reduction of errors for either group of children.

Dr Stagg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “We found that extra-large letter spacing increases the reading speed of children both with and without dyslexia, and significantly reduces the number of words that dyslexic children skip when reading.

“We believe that extra-large letter spacing works by reducing what is known as the ‘crowding effect’, which can hamper the recognition of letters and reduce reading speed.

“When viewed in the context of previous research, our findings strongly suggest that teaching professionals can be confident that all children would be helped by increased letter spacing in reading materials. As well as being a relatively simple change to make when producing handouts and worksheets, it means that children with dyslexia need not feel singled out by the introduction of specially adapted reading materials, as this is something that everyone can benefit from.

Abstract of the study:

Background
Coloured overlay and extra-large letter spacing may improve reading speed and accuracy in individuals with dyslexia; however, research has yet to identify which types of reading errors are diminished.

Aim
To determine the impact of extra-large letter spacing and colour overlay on reading and assess the impact of both interventions on reading errors.

Sample
Thirty-two dyslexic children were matched on age, verbal and non-verbal IQ with 27 children with no diagnosis of dyslexia. The average age of each group was 13 years.

Method
Participants read four texts with either standard or extra-large letter spacing with or without a coloured overlay.

Results
Extra-large letter spacing significantly improved reading speed more substantially for the dyslexia group. In addition, extra-large letters significantly reduced the number of missed word errors made by the dyslexia group. In contrast, coloured overlays did not significantly impact reading speed or the reduction of errors.

Conclusion
Increasing letter spacing is an effective way for teachers to improve reading skills in students with dyslexia.

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