Reading involves translating symbols and letters into words or sentences. Anderson defines reading as a process of constructing meaning from a written text. We indulge in reading for many different purposes, be it survival, leisure or occupational. In a way, reading serves as a kind communication between the writer and the reader. The writer encodes what he or she wishes to convey while the reader decodes according to his or her own perception. Johnson quotes A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge.
However, there as several problems which hinders the reading process, one of them being tunnel vision. This is a condition experienced by most readers especially beginners. This is because they lack non visual information when trying to digest certain texts. Non visual information is what is stored in the brain, prior knowledge or specific information which will enable the brain to associate with whatever is received through the eyes thus bringing comprehension to the readers mind when reading a text. The inability of the brain to use this information due the over-load of visual information, will cause it to take more time to make decisions on what are seen. For example, a student unfamiliar with certain words in a purposely distorted text may have to take a few seconds longer to recognize them rather than familiar words which only require a single glance.
Tunnel vision also occurs when readers are asked to read texts that are written in a language they do not know or a writing system they cant discern. As there is no non-visual information what so ever in that particular language and writing system, they will not be able to read the text, let alone understand it. For example, a Malay student will have a serious problem if requested to read a passage in Russian!
There are also cases when texts written in readers first language fails to enlightened them. This is because they have no prior knowledge on the ideas or facts written. A student majoring in Arts will have problem comprehending a text written on Chemical Engineering and vice versa. This inevitably causes tunnel vision to resurface. They could go on reading till the last page of the text without understanding the content.
Tunnel vision slows down the reading process, as readers are unable to identify or interpret any part of the text. This will cause tension, as they have to put up a lot of effort just to understand a single paragraph. Eventually they may just succumb to boredom and acquire a negative attitude towards reading.
As English teachers, it is crucial for us to train our students to be good if not excellent readers. To achieve this, we need to prevent the occurrence of tunnel vision among them. As a start, before presenting any text to them we need to ensure that the content is within their level of understanding. The text we introduce must coincide with situations they are familiar with. For example, a passage on Kite Flying In Malaysia would be more accessible to them rather than Bungee Jumping In New Zealand.
Environment is another factor that we need to consider. We could hardly expect students in rural area to possess the same level of language proficiency of those in the suburbs. Therefore the language we use in the text must be within their capacity. We should also break the text up into three or four sections so not only it would be easier for them to locate significant words and sentences. Understanding the first section of the text will consequentially help them interpret the others easier as they already possess a foundation of the content.
We could also pick out difficult words or new words and explain them in context of the story or text. This would enable them to understand the text better and these difficult words will not serve as obstacles to their reading. Rewriting the text into a simplified form is another way of assisting their struggling attempts to comprehend the text. It will definitely provide some background knowledge, so they will be able to anticipate the content and make the text more tolerable to digest.
The use of proper questioning techniques is also fundamental in aiding our students comprehension. Signpost questions are a good way of guiding them to the important points in the text. It is helpful to present our students with questions or task before they started reading. This will compel them to read purposefully in order to find answers to the questions or complete the task.
In order to avoid misconception of ideas, pictures could also be introduced. For example, when reading about a pet cat, there is a possibility of Malay students of associating the word with the Malay word cat which means paint. In a way, I believe, this can cause tunnel vision as their brains supply them with the wrong information as they go on reading. Ludicrous as it may seem, I did come across this problem when I was teaching a weak class in a FELDA scheme. To prevent this incident from recurring, I prepared picture charts whenever we had reading lessons.
Nuttal asserted that when reading a text, we use top-down and bottom-up approach. Both approaches, although normally an unconscious process can be adopted as conscious strategies when approaching a difficult text. However, to correct tunnel vision bottom-up approach is more relevant as we need to make sure we understand every small part of the text. In fact the techniques mentioned above uses bottom-up approach. Only then can we make predictions or develop a rough idea of the content that incidentally is the top-down approach. In practice, both approaches will somehow merge in order for the reader to gain absolute comprehension of the text, shifting from one approach to another.
A positive reading habit is an asset to any student. To achieve this, they have to learn to enjoy reading. Montagu in her letter to her daughter quoted: No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. It is up to us as teachers to instill the interest to our students in an early age, and overcome whatever problems may surface, tunnel vision included.