Tuesday, January 27, 2009

K-12 Learning Center Activity - BDPQ Jumps

Learning to tell left from right on yourself is the visual spatial skill of laterality. Extending it into space is the visual spatial skill of directionality. Both are developmental skills that impact a student's ability to learn to read, write, and do gross motor activities. Here is an activity that is similar to one we use in the vision therapy context to assist patients to develop laterality & directionality. It is meant to be used as a K-2 Learning Center Activity.

Title: BDPQ Jumps

Learning-Related Visual Skills: This activity uses the visual spatial skills of laterality and directionality as well as saccadic eye movements, the small hops the eyes must make to go accurately from the end of one word or line of text to the next.

Academic Objective: This activity gives students practice reading and naming lower case b, d, p, and q.

Preparation: Create a chart with 5 rows and 5 columns. Do not put the gridlines in. Randomly arrange b, d, p, and q so that there are five letters on each line. A text size of 42 will be readable at 5-7 feet for most students. Post the chart on a bulletin board. On the floor in front of the bulletin board, use colored masking tape to create a pair of intersecting perpendicular lines 4 feet x 4 feet.

Directions: Show the students that the vertical tape line is analogous to the stick of each letter while the space left by the intersection is analogous to the letter's circle. So, the lower right space is B; the upper right space is P; the lower left space is D; and the upper left space is Q. Students are to work as pairs to jump into the space that matches the letter on the chart which they must read from left to right and from top to bottom as usual. The jumper must also say the name of the letter correctly. Partners observe each other while keeping track of where the jumper is on the chart and watching for mistakes. If a jumper makes 3 mistakes before finishing the entire chart, the roles change. The observer becomes the jumper. How many turns does it take for each partner to jump through the chart making fewer than 3 mistakes? Set a time limit of 10 minutes for each partnership to remain at this learning station.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Do Children Say When They Have Learning-Related Visual Challenges?

"I shut one eye when I read because it is easier," one second grade boy admitted to me at a recent in-office vision therapy session. His diagnosis includes saccadic deficits and convergence insufficiency. He hates to read. No wonder! The words don't stay put on the page when he attempts to read and he can't keep them single unless he closes one eye. However, that strategy deprives him of some detail and appreciation for depth. Within the next 6-12 weeks, though, he should notice a significant difference. The vision therapy activities that we do together and that he does between the weekly sessions at home are research-based and proven to strengthen the eye muscles as well as to help him realize how to coordinate and team both eyes to point to the same location at the same time, thus keeping the image single as well as 3-dimensional.

The next patient, a first grade girl who is in her eighth week of in-office vision therapy, surprised both her mother and me. Her diagnosis is saccadic deficits. This means that she has difficulty moving her eyes quickly and efficiently from one stationary visual target to another- like what the eyes do when moving from a word or a line of text to the next without loss of place, or skipping. I asked her if she has noticed any changes when she reads since she started coming to vision therapy. She said, "Yes, there aren't two words anymore." While this correlates with some of the anecdotal findings I have recorded about her progress, since she did not have a diagnosis related to eye teaming such as convergence insufficiency or convergence excess, we did not realize that she was suffering from dyplopia, double vision. Children have no other visual experience than their own so frequently they do not identify their visual challenges in language that tips off the adults that they need some interventions. This child has more vision therapy work to do to resolve the saccadic deficits but imagine how much more comfortably and successfully her school days must be now that the letters and words on a page look clear, stable, and single.

Vision therapy is an intervention that works to address quite a few learning-related visual issues. If your child is struggling at school, let me encourage you to schedule a comprehensive binocular vision exam with a developmental optometrist who is experienced with pediatric patients and who also incorporates vision therapy into their optometry practice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Colored Dot Touch: An Eye Can Too! Read Learning Center Activity for K-12 Classrooms

About 20% of the students in any single classroom have some form of learning-related visual problem. This includes students whose visual issues are obvious because they need glasses, have eye turns, amblyopia, or conditions that result in low vision as well as students whose visual challenges are masked by poor academic performance, poor behavior, and frequent headaches. One way for a classroom teacher to identify when a student would benefit from a comprehensive vision exam by a developmental optometrist whose practice includes vision therapy is to incorporate learning-related visual challenges in their math and literacy learning centers.

Colored Dot Touch is a simple learning center activity for grades K-2.

Learning Related Visual Skills: Laterality & Directionality, visual-motor-integration, and saccadic eye movements

Academic Objective: Students will have independent practice recognizing and naming colors. They will also gain experience observing their partner and recording data using tally marks. The follow-up group activity gives the class an introduction to creating a simple bar graph.

Materials Needed:
  • 1 sheet white poster board
  • 1 package 1 inch diameter colored dot stickers (at least 4 different colors)
  • tape or thumb tacks
  • eye patch for each student (make pirate patches as an art project using construction paper and elastic)


  1. Place the poster board in a landscape orientation so that the top edge is wider than the right/left margin edge
  2. Stick 10 dots in a column starting about 2 inches from the top and 2 inches from the right side of the board. Vary the colors randomly.
  3. Stick another 10 dots in a parallel column starting 2 inches from the top and 2 inches from the left side of the board. Line up the dots so that they are spaced evenly as though one dot from each column was in the same horizontal row.
  4. Create student score sheets. There should be space on the sheet for the names and scores of two students who each get two turns doing the activity.
  5. Mount the board on a bulletin board in the classroom so that it is easy to reach when the students are standing


  • Write the names of both partners on the score sheet
  • The first partner should stand about a foot away from the board, wearing the eye patch over one eye.
  • Using her right hand, she should touch the top dot in the left column and say the color. Then she should use her left hand to touch the top dot in the right column and say its color. Alternating hands, she should proceed down the chart without skipping any of the dots.
  • Her partner should observe and count the number of dots she missed as well as the number of times she forgot to switch hands. Record these numbers on the score sheet. Make sure that the score sheet has a place to record each student's performance using the right eye and another place to record the performance using the left eye.
  • Switch roles. The recorder should put on an eye patch and do the activity while his partner observes and reports his results.
  • Continue switching roles until both partners have done the activity with each eye.

Group Activity Follow-up:

  • Create a bar graph to display the results.
  • First, compile the results of all the students when they were doing the activity with the each eye. Sort the results according to gender.
  • Count the number of times that girls and boys forgot to switch their hands.
  • Place the range of the scores along the y-axis.
  • Make one colored bar for the boys and another colored bar for the girls. Along the x-axis of the graph, write the labels: "Right Eye", "Left Eye", and "Switching Hands". So, each label should designate a section of the graph that has two bars.

What do the results tell you about your students' learning-related visual skills?

  • Students who easily performed this activity probably have good visual-motor-integration, good saccadic eye movements, and a good understanding of laterality & directionality. They probably read easily without losing their place, skipping words or lines, or getting tired. These students are the ones who probably rarely, if ever, make reversals when reading or writing. Most likely they finish worksheets quickly and work in an organized fashion from left to right on the page and from the top to the bottom.
  • Students who missed a couple of dots or who neglected to switch their hands once or twice during the activity may demonstrate average performance on paper and pencil tasks or when reading. They could likely improve their efficiency on academic activities by being given more opportunities to exercise their saccadic eye muscles.
  • Students who became frustrated and could not complete the activity may have severe deficits of their saccadic eye movements. They probably struggle to learn to read, losing their place frequently and turning in worksheets that look full of holes because of the erratic way that they proceed through the rows and columns. If they were unable to switch hands between columns or if they could not remember to cross the midline to touch the dots on the opposite side of the board, suspect delays in the development of laterality & directionality. They may make frequent reversals when reading and writing. They may express their frustration as confusion. These students would benefit from a comprehensive eye exam.
  • Students whose performance on the activity with one eye was weaker than when they did it with the other eye may have a lazy eye, an eye turn, or a difference in the acuities of the eyes that has been undetected so far. These students may need glasses and should be seen by an optometrist or other eye doctor.

Are you a classroom teacher or a home-school teacher/parent? After you try this activity in your classroom, post a comment about your experiences. From time to time, I'll post more learning center activities that rely on learning-related visual skills. I'd like to gather your opinions about them. Thanks in advance.

c. 2009 by Lesley Barker

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Even Adults Can Gain Better Learning-Related Visual Skills

Yesterday my editor for the Eye Can Too! Read series of books emailed this: "Today I was reading something and suddenly realized. . . I’d been reading!! I had been reading for a quite a while (5 minutes) without a break-off, and yet also unselfconsciously. After those five minutes I started my breaks again—but I believe I am seeing that your activities are working!! “Break” is my word for my kind of stop-start reading, going back and forth because I’m not comprehending—jumping all over. I think that before doing these activities I could only read for one minute before I started breaking. Maybe less than that."

By "your activities", she meant the activities in the first book in the Eye Can Too! Read series which give graded academic activities designed to give home school students experiences using saccadic eye movements and pursuits- the skills that help people move from word to word and line to line on a page of text without losing their place, skipping words, or getting lost...

When we began working on the book project neither one of us suspected that she had any learning-related vision challenges. She wears glasses- but lots of people do. Glasses correct a person's ability to see clearly at near or in the distance. However, when I took her to see the vision therapy practice in which I work under the supervision of a team of developmental optometrists, she had a huge amount of difficulty doing the most basic eye movement and eye teaming activities. Now, I am not qualified to diagnose anyone about anything, but I could suggest that if she did some of the basic activities in the Purple Book of the series, which became available in September 2008, she would gain ground. And I absolutely recommended that she locate a developmental optometrist in her local area who would be able to give her a comprehensive eye exam and follow up with a customized program of vision therapy.

As we have continued to talk about how she is doing, she has realized that she has never actually read an entire book straight through. Instead, she has developed all kinds of strategies to help her process the book's information - like note-taking and re-reading each paragraph three or four times- habits that make her a very excellent editor. The effort that she must have needed to earn a college degree and an MBA had to be huge. Now she can begin to envision a day when reading will be fun. I am so pleased to have been placed in association with her and I trust that many others who have a life-time of reading difficulties will find the same encouragement to have a comprehensive vision examination by a developmental optometrist no matter how old they are.

Even this morning on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition", Joe Palca reported about his difficulties with 3-d vision because of amblyopia. Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is another condition that responds to vision therapy activities especially when the patient is young. However, new research is demonstrating that even adults can be trained to achieve stereo vision. Palca's report gives a great example of what happens in a vision evaluation and at vision therapy sessions.(http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99083752).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Can't My Student Remember How to Read Simple Words After Lots of Review?

As frustrating as it can be for the teacher when a child seems unable to recognize the same easy word in the next sentence, it may be even more difficult for the student. Imagine knowing that you are a very smart person before being confronted with the need to learn to read, and then finding yourself stuck in the lowest performing reading group. How boring! How demeaning! The child cannot figure out how the other students can make the letters stand still on the page, or which of the double lines go with which letter, or which side of the page or word is the beginning, or why the letters and words seem to disappear - that is, if he has learning-related visual challenges. What is even worse, since he has never had any experience of normal vision with which to contrast his own, he cannot explain why he is having trouble. When teachers or parents decide that somehow the problem is related to his behavior or that he is just not trying hard enough or that he is being lazy, the student often responds with even less effort, overt anger, or becomes withdrawn and depressed.

Before assessing that your student is guilty of any of those things, consider that all of these symptoms correspond to a visual condition that can be addressed with simple activities during in-office or home-based vision therapy. Get your child tested by a developmental optometrist who is familiar with vision therapy. Then, follow through on the recommendations that the doctor suggests.

What? Your child passed the vision screening at the nurse's office at school, at the pediatrician's, and, besides, the local eye doctor says he does not need glasses. As the developmental optometrists are fond of saying, "vision is a lot more than 20-20 eyesight." There are ocular motility skills - how the eye muscles work together to point the eyes to a point in space; eye teaming skills - that keep the words single on a page and contribute to an appreciation of depth; accommodation skills - the ability to easily and comfortably change the focus from near to far and back again; a whole cluster of visual perceptual skills - how to interpret the information gathered by the eyes; and visual motor integration - how to use visual information to direct motion. Students can have difficulty with any of these skill sets without needing glasses.

If your student is having difficulty learning to read, if her academic performance does not "match" her expected potential, if school just seems too hard, get a thorough eye examination that considers more than just whether your child needs glasses.