“Well, yes, sometimes the words switch places when I am reading, like that just now,” said Quinn with a smile. She had just been reading aloud to me as part of a timed fluency test required by her school for fourth-graders. “But if I notice it, because the words don’t make sense, I go back and read it again.”
Good for Quinn for noticing!
Too bad that she has to “go back and read it again” just to make sense of the text, and too bad that as a fourth-grader she has had to do this for five years already! No wonder she is beginning to resent school and to have feelings of failure about herself.
As I watched her – and I was listening to her at the same time – I could see that she moved her head as she read, not her eyes. Many children who are behind in reading do this. It slows them down, and it gets pretty tiring. It is a hard habit to break.
‘Have you had your eyes checked lately, Quinn?” I asked her.
“Well, the nurse checked us all in September, you know,” she reminded me.
“True,” I nodded. She was referring to the distance vision screening required by most states at the beginning of grades K, 1, 3, 5,and 7. “And have you been to an eye doctor too?”
“No,” Quinn replied, shaking her head. “I don’t know if I have ever been to an eye doctor, just my regular doctor. He has the same eye chart the nurse uses,” she added helpfully.
“I am sure he does,” I said, sighing inwardly. The chart the nurses use is called the Snellen chart, after the person who devised it more than a century ago, and it is used to assess how well a person can see at a distance of twenty feet. Useful, perhaps, for seeing a chalkboard if there were indeed any chalkboards in classrooms these days. (And even if there were reading to be done at a distance, whether the board twenty feet away were brown, green, or white, it is not the same as reading from a book or a paper at a distance of 7 to 15 inches.)
If the pediatricians don’t know that there is a difference between far and near vision, it is no wonder that parents and teachers don’t.
When I am working as a volunteer for elementary classrooms with Quinns in them, I am usually doing some reading or writing with the least successful students in the class. They usually read aloud to me, and I can watch them as well as listen.
As Quinn W. read to me, her head was bent over the page and her whole body was leaning forward. Her eyes were probably about eight inches from the text. A few times she used her finger under a word, but she did not use it to track all the words (as many second-graders do, just to know where they are).
On one line of her first was the word “position,” which Quinn initially read as “potion” and then corrected to “position” as the rest of the sentence required that word in order to make sense. In another passage she was required to read she came upon the word “electricity.” Her first attempt at this word was “electity,” which she could hear was wrong when she said it, so she moved her finger under each letter and read it again, correctly.
Quinn was reading words that were not too hard for her, but her eyes were almost literally playing tricks. When she tried to read the word “position,” her eyes were not working together on the word, Probably one eye saw the “po” and the other saw “tion” and only because she knew that had nothing to do with water skiing did she go back to check it out, at least once with her finger tracking the letters.
I hope Quinn can get to an optometrist soon, so that she can get some help with the way her eyes are going after print.