No. 628



When it comes to the subject of visual development, there is much more than meets the eye. While I certainly would never claim to know everything, I know a lot more than I did because of a fantastic lady by the name of Barbara J. Smith. Barbara, who is now past 85 years of age, was a teacher in the Kansas and Oklahoma schools for 50 years. She called me on the phone a few months ago because of a column that ran in her hometown newspaper, The Newton Kansan. We had a wonderful visit and she offered to send me a copy of her book titled, “Dawning of Hope” with the subtitle, Understanding Visual Development.
Over the next several weeks I read and studied her book, and it has been a real eye opener for me. This lady was, and is, one of those conscientious teachers not at all satisfied to just show up, teach the subject matter, take a check and go home. As a reading teacher, she wanted to know WHY some of her students were substituting vowels, leaving off suffixes, reversing letters, confusing even small words. Although student and teacher were both aware of the problem, the student still could not correct it.
Then one day, she learned that Dr. Dale Jordan, specialist in Dyslexic Disorders, reported that while working on his doctoral studies he spent many hours in schools and prisons working with students who struggled with reading. As he sat beside a big kid who was trying to read, a thought popped into his head. “What do you see when you look at the page,” he asked? Rob was amazed, although he had been to an optometrist several times; no one had ever asked him that question. “Everything squirms around,” he said. With his fingers, Rob showed how words moved, sometimes swirling like a wheel turning and often spreading apart into rivers running up and down the page. With still another reading student named Sam, Dr. Jordan asked another question that would change his point of view forever. As Sam struggled to read, he asked, “Can’t you see the words?” He responded, “Oh, I can see alright. I just can’t see the words when I look at the page.”
Sometime later, Barbara discovered some European research from the 1880s that described a visual phenomenon called “word blindness.” Many word-blind students had 20/20 vision, yet could not see the words as they looked at black print on a white background. Finally, in 1987 while attending a reading workshop for teachers at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, she discovered how to correct the problem. At one of these special sessions Dr. Dale R. Jordan was the presenter, and he took his audience through the test called JVST (Jordan Visual Screening Test), step by step. This assessment was developed specifically to identify students who need vision development to be able to succeed.
When this special teacher introduced this test and explained the administration and purpose step by step, Barbara had to refrain from standing up and shouting, “Oh, this is what I have been searching for in my teaching career for 50 years.” She immediately began implementing this test in her Remedial Reading Laboratory throughout the years, five more in the classroom and 12 more since that time in her own private teaching. She says, “I have used this assessment for at least 600 students and individuals.”
As a teacher or a parent, here are some easily recognizable signs of vision difficulty:
* A book held very close to the eyes — only 7 to 8 inches away rather than 12 to 15.
* Pages counted before reading, only short pieces considered possible.
* The head moving back and forth while reading, instead of eyes moving along.
* Finger used to trace or track lines.
* Short attention span while reading — child tires easily.
* Homework takes hours when it shouldn’t.
* Child reads well enough but recalls only portions or has spotty understanding; whereas, if material is read aloud, child has virtually total recall.
* Schoolwork to a large extent depends upon reading — history or English, etc. are difficult, while subjects such as math and science are learned easily.”
If you have a child or a student whom you identify as having several of these signs, it is time to seek an assessment of the child’s needs. The key point to remember here is that it takes a behavioral or development optometrist who can do this. These people have an additional 60 graduate hours in the classroom with children who have vision-related learning problems.
The book “Dawning of Hope” is available from Faith & Life Bookstore in Newton, Kansas, or you may order directly from Barbara J. Smith, 509 Meadowbrook Drive, Newton, Kan. 67114. The cost is $9.95, plus $ 3 S& H. I bet Barbara would be happy to personally sign it for you.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)