Trying to read a large amount of text, whether it be a fourth-grader encountering their first chapter book or a chemistry major working their way through the latest whitepaper, can be a daunting experience. Chunking is the process of dividing up a text into shorter, more manageable segments. This provides the reader with words in their immediate context, which, in turn, lends meaning to an idea larger than the individual words themselves. As a result, overall comprehension of the text goes up. The chunk can be just a few words long in a short text or a whole paragraph or section in, say, a textbook chapter. The brain then pieces all the chunks together to give an unbroken whole. If the material is something you need to remember for later recall (i.e. a class assignment), you may want to mark down key words for each chunk, underline important points, paraphrase large chunks in your own words, and/or put ideas into a graphic organizer.
Logical chunking refers to breaking the text into segments based on the punctuation, such as slowing down at a comma or stopping at a period. This technique is often used with beginning readers to help them understand the purpose of the punctuation marks and to give them an easily identifiable chunk to work with. It is important to note, though, that an idea may extend beyond a punctuation mark into the next sentence or even the next paragraph. As students become more practiced readers, they will be able to break out the chunks by ideas and meaning instead of simply by punctuation marks.
The AceReader program allows the user to choose how the text is presented to them, especially in the Read Mode. Most presentations, though, are not logical ones; instead, they depend on reducing the number of eye fixations and expanding the use of peripheral vision to read more text at a time. This means that the fixation width may stop at a punctuation mark, but it is just as likely to stop in the middle of a sentence or extend into the next one. For example, if you choose two eye fixations per line, the text will be highlighted in two roughly equal parts for that line, no matter where the punctuation mark (if any) is located (see images below).
Figure 1: Chunks made up of two fixations per line. Note the period in the middle of the first fixation.
If you choose a two-line presentation, two consecutive lines of text will appear highlighted on the screen, again without attention to where the punctuation marks fall. The reader’s task is to fixate at the midpoint of the text and use their peripheral vision to read the words (and punctuation marks) as they appear. This allows them to process more words and ideas at a time; the brain then connects the dots and interprets the text in a meaningful sequence.
While it is possible in the Read Mode to select the presentation to incorporate delays when the text displays punctuation marks, it is not the default setting. The reason is that our goal is to help readers establish a rhythm of reading, moving from top-to-bottom and left-to-right (in English). We understand that the brain is quite flexible and will hook the sequences together to provide the correct context and meaning, and it will do so more easily the more fluent the user’s reading process becomes. Breaking the text into logical chunks, while useful with beginning readers, later becomes a crutch that can actually impede comprehension, as punctuation can break the flow of thoughts and ideas in the real world.
Chunking serves a very useful purpose and is an essential part of the preview process – looking at the entire text before you start to read to get a sense of what lies ahead. What we expect from readers using the AceReader program is that they will learn to use logical chunking less as they become more fluent in their reading and rely instead on both chunking complex ideas and trusting their tremendous brain capacity to help them derive meaning from the text presentation.