Too Much Screen Time: Cultural Changes Which Affect Reading

Jan 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Brain

By Dr. Ann Harvey, Associate Professor of Reading, Western New Mexico University

Young children spend much time in front of a screen.  Whether it is a TV screen or a computer screen, there seems to be one result:  the child’s near point vision development suffers.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has noticed the problem because they have recommended that no more than one to two hours of quality TV, video, or internet be viewed each day for older children and no screen time should be given to children under the age of two.  Beginning readers need to have all the physical benefits of learning to read with minimal effort.  Since 80% of information gathered is visual, this is an important aspect of learning.  Having both eyes move, align, fixate, and focus as a team enhances the ability to interpret and understand the potential visual information that is available.  Extra effort spent on getting print in focus should be used on comprehension efforts.

An emergent reading assessment measures problems with eye movement, as well as cognitive, motor, social-emotion development and concepts of print.  The information that follows will offer simple remediation efforts to correct delay in the eye movement development.

Schools regularly screen students for far-point vision while near point vision abilities are largely ignored.  Near-point visual conditions are those that correlate with learning problems and are prevalent with children in poverty.  W. C. Maples did a study of 679 rural poor children in Oklahoma and found that near-point vision problems were a bigger predictor of school failure than either race or poverty, (Orfield, 2001).

The DIAL test directs three month old babies to track a light from a flashlight both vertically and from side-to-side by moving both their eyes and heads.  By six months, they are expected to perform the same task with small motor eye muscles while holding their heads stationary.  If these babies have delayed development, they are given practice to remediate the problem by Parents as Teachers professionals.  However, by kindergarten, not much attention is paid to eye muscle movement or development.

Behavioral Optometry is concerned with eye movement disorders, inefficiency in using both eyes together, misalignment of the eyes, lazy eye, focusing problems, visual information processing disorders and visual sensory and motor integration.  At this point, optometry and education share concerns about reading achievement and need to collaborate to encourage children to have efficient visual performance.

Vision is a set of abilities.   It is a skill that involves more than 20/20 acuity.  Vision involves the ability to identify, interpret and understand what is seen.  This ability is developed starting from birth.  A child begins to walk by creeping, crawling, standing, and finally walking unassisted.  A similar process from gross to fine motor control takes place in the development of vision.  The eye has six muscles.  Two of the muscles control the up and down movement while two control the right to left movement.  A final two muscles control diagonal movement.  All of these muscles must be controlled with finesse which comes with practice. Having both eyes move, align, fixate and focus as a team enhances the ability to interpret and understand the potential visual information that is available.

Near-point vision problems include inability to track, focus, or converge on near print.    Students must be able to track, focus, or converge on near point print with their eye movements.  Awareness of this problem and suggestions for remediation will help students approach print more successfully.  Simple movement games conducted for twenty minutes per day would help with visual tracking.  When the child is able to control eye muscles adequately, less energy is exerted on tracking and focusing on print, and more energy is spent on creating meaning from the print.

Research which precipitated the assessment

During the 2006-2007 school year, 2,789 K-3 students were screened.  1,213 of those students or 43.6% were found to have vision challenges.  These vision issues are probably a result of the change in culture.  In the last 30 years, games that encourage development of good vision skills have been replaced with passive activities such as watching television and playing video games.

A vision assessment program was developed by Successlink, a consortium promotion technology in the classroom which is funded by the Gates Foundation and the state of Missouri. A vision assessment devised by Dr. David Peirce was a result of a 2004 Proven Practices Award winning program in Blue Eye, Missouri.  After using vision enhancement exercises, the second graders at the school all scored above grade level in reading.  The vision enhancement program was replicated through the state in as many as 30 schools.

The screening instrument that Dr. Peirce devised was composed of five sections:  visual pursuit, cover test, saccades, near point convergence and form reproduction.  In the visual pursuit test, the examiner who was trained for sixteen hours, held the target twelve inches from the nose.  The student watches the target without moving his head.  The target is moved in a large circular motion from 12 o’clock back to the 12 o’clock position.  The examiner repeats this task but starts in the center and moves the target up, down, left, right and diagonally.  He progresses from slow to moderately fast and continues for one minute.

In the cover test, the examiner also holds the target twelve inches away from the nose and directs the student to fixate on the target.  Then the examiner covers the right eye and notices movement through the occluder. Then the examiner uncovers the eye and again watches for movement. Any jerky eye movement is noted. This task is performed three times. Then it is repeated in the same manner for the left eye.

The third test was the saccades test.  The examiner held the target at eye level about twelve inches from the nose.  Then the examiner told the student, “When I say yellow, look at the yellow pencil.  When I say blue, move your eyes to the blue pen.  Please move only your eyes and not your head.”  Any undershooting or overshooting of the eye is noted. Any observable behavior such as watering eyes, changes in posture, or excessive blinking should also be noted.  Next the examiner positions one pencil on the midline at twelve inches from the child’s nose.  The examiner moves the other pen six inches from the fixed pencil at the 1 o’clock position.  The child is asked to look form one target to the other.  This activity was repeated several times.

The next test was the near point convergence test.  The examiner held one target two feet from the student’s nose.  He asked the student to fixate on the target with both eyes and hold the focus.  Then he asked the student to watch the pencil come toward him and then away.  The student should say “one” when he sees one target and “two” when he sees double as the object approach his nose.  The examiner smoothly moves the target toward the nose of the child.  He observes both of the eyes.  He notices if one eye moves away from the target.  The distance at which the child states that he sees two objects is noted.  It is also noted at what distance he sees only one object.

The final test of the vision assessment was the form reproduction test.  The student is given a form master and told to look carefully at the page.   The student is also given a blank paper with a pencil.  He was asked to make the blank paper look like the first one.   The examiner didn’t give any further instruction except to tell the student to do the best job possible. The examiners watch for signs of eye fatigue such as closing eyes frequently, shaking the head to refocus or excessive movement during the test.

As a result of this research, an Early Emergent Literacy Assessment has been developed to assess eye movement as well as cognitive development motor development, communication development, social and emotional development and Concepts of Print.

Types of Intervention for Visual Motor Deficits

In order to improve the skill of body and motor planning, have students lie on the floor like a pencil and move one area of their body while other parts are still (snow angels).  Have them do hopscotch exercises with one foot, two feet, and then one foot.  Then raise their head up and down to make the neck muscles stronger.  Have them walk on the balance beam to increase body awareness and balance.

An easy to incorporate skill which improves eye movement is this exercise which develops eye muscle control to track moving objects.  Ask the student to track a swinging ball by moving only his eyes.  Have the student look at red and green targets and move them vertically and horizontally.  Darken the room and use a flashlight to make a spot light dance.  Have the students follow the spot light with their own flashlights.

To increase visual discrimination, have students sort, match, and sequence color, shape, size, and textures of objects.    Students practice this skill when they string beads in sequence. Playing dominoes, where the child matches picture to picture or word to word, is another helpful activity to develop visual discrimination.  I Spy, played both inside and outside, is an engaging game for improving this skill. Classroom centers lend themselves to these activities.  Finally, the alphabet game, which involves looking for letters in different fonts on billboards using far point vision, is yet another beneficial activity.

When students have visual spatial integration difficulties, they cannot use both hands efficiently.  Thus, they have difficulty following directions using word that describe positions in space such as below, above, in front of, behind, or beside.  To correct this developmental delay, students benefit from playing hokey-pokey, doing treasure hunts with maps, and completing dot-to-dot and mazes.

To work on eye-hand coordination, try playing bean bag toss. The old-fashion game of dropping a clothes pin into the mouth of a glass jar involves similar skills.  Copying a pattern on a geo-board with rubber bands also expands this skill.

Visual Form Constancy is the ability to recognize forms when they are smaller, larger, or rotated in space.  To improve this skill, give the students a page with similar objects to identify on a line.  Have the student mark out or color certain shapes.

Visual closure requires that a child predict what a finished shape would look like.  A child who lags in this skill often isn’t able to recognize familiar chunks in a new word.  The child reads letter by letter instead of word by word or phrase by phrase.  To correct this problem, encourage the child to finish a simple line drawing.  Have them play hangman and Wheel of Fortune for spelling words or to practice vocabulary.

Finding an object on a busy background requires the skill of Visual Figure Ground.  In order to improve this skill, a child might play Where’s Waldo.    Finding objects in a glass jar of sand is another activity requiring Visual Figure Ground.  Scribble trails and word searches can improve the skill also.  Playing a game where the teacher puts objects on the table and then takes one away is another activity that focuses on this skill.

Eye teaming requires the eyes to work together and focus on the same point on the page.  If there are problems with eye teaming, vision becomes fuzzy and the task of focusing becomes uncomfortable.  Students will cover or close one eye or lay their heads to one side when reading or drawing.  In order to improve the skill of using both eyes together, the space docking game is a good choice.  Have the student stand tall as you hold a paper towel roll vertically in front of him at eye level.  The student should be able to take his pencil and move it to the hole on the paper towel roll and dock his space ship pencil without touching the sides of the dock.

Gross motor development insures that the child has a good understanding of the body’s relationship with its surrounding space.  Both sides of the body should be communicating for proper visual motor development.  Playing jump rope, hopscotch, four square, balance beam, follow the leader, and hula hoop all help to improve gross motor development.   Using the wobble board also helps develops balance.  Have the students pretend to be a pirate and try not to drop the gold when walking on the balance beam.  Use a geo-board and copy a design with rubber bands.  Have the students reproduce the shapes on a worksheet or describe objects inside a bag by touch, rather than looking at them.  These exercises help students visualize their relationship to other objects in space.   Gross motor activity is especially good at promoting brain activity that integrates sensory motor development.

Cultural changes affect child development.  Being aware of developmental patterns and adapting teaching methods to respond to the changes is the mark of proactive teaching.  Using assessment to measure developmental lags helps teachers plan activities which will meet specific goals.  Assessment is an important part of the emergent literacy classroom. Marie Clay’s (1993) idea of Kid Watching is using daily observations systematically to inform instructional plans. These daily observations in conjunction with informal assessments prove useful in spotting eye movement difficulties and then remediating them. The results should contribute to successful emergent readers.


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15 Comments to “Too Much Screen Time: Cultural Changes Which Affect Reading”

  1. Hi Dave. Very attractive website. Easy, intuitive navigation. I’ll bookmark for further exploration. Thanks for putting in a link to my site.
    See you in Des Moines.

  2. Soy says:

    The article, “Too Much Screen Time: Cultural Changes Which Affect Readings” submitted by Dr. Ann Harvey was very informative. One information that struck me was the one when it states that sometimes schools fail to test for near vision. It does make sense why there are so many students that have problem reading and it is probably because of that the near vision problem. It has great information of the fine and gross motor skills that we can help the children develop and in the long run help them with their vision and in reading which is very important.

  3. Gabriela Walden says:

    Dr. Harvey,
    In this informative article, I learned about different strategies that I could implement right away in my classroom. Truly watching television and playing computer games have dominated the simple games we used to play, such as dominoes, ISpy, and the alphabet games. These wonderful games can not only improve vision skills, but can also be played while traveling in the car. As a teacher, it was very interesting to read about the W.C. Maples study.I couldn’t believe that vision problems were so critical to students’ success. Thanks for the wonderful information.

  4. Wow! That was a very interesting article. I taught one year as a first grade teacher and did not attribute or correlate reading difficuties with vision problems. This article was very good especially because I currently work with a student who has vision difficulties which effect her reading. She has to close one eye while she reads because her eyes flip back and forth. She stated that she sees the paper and then her hand. Are there any specific suggestions you have for this particular vision issue? Which of the games on your site do you recommend? The student does have physical disablities and is in a wheel chair so he wouldn’t be able to do any of the large motor activities. One of the activities the student does do very well is the stringing beads in sequence as you suggested to increase visual discrimination.

  5. Tia Driver says:

    Dr. Harvey,
    I think this article is very beneficial to the parenting and teaching community. I know from experience that visual problems can cause crippling effects to academic learning. When I went to middle school, it was the first time that I had been seated far back in the classroom and could not see; needless to say my grades suffered for it until my parents finally figured out the change that had occurred was as simple as not seeing the board. Students with vision issues can be easily associated with the symptoms of ADHD or learning disability and slip through the cracks. The simple strategies that are suggested for use in the classroom in this article can easily be implemented and make a difference in a student’s learning. Students without any visual problems can also benefit from these activities since memory retrieval is also a vital reading skill that needs practice in the classroom. Parents need to know this information, since they have the biggest impact on the child’s life!

  6. Soila says:

    Dr. Harvey,

    This article was very informative. I learned about the motor skills needed for children. It is good to educate the public about in not letting very young children sit by a tv screen. When I become a teacher I will make sure that not only long distance eye testing be done but close up too. I know in the schools we have many children with reading problems and it could be that they close vision problems.

    Thank you for your informative article.

  7. Sylvia-Cynthia Acosta says:

    This article is interesting and useful. I think it is important for teachers and parents to know this information because it can make the difference in a student’s learning. I have two nieces that were experiencing difficulties with their vision, but because of their teachers’ observations and suggestions, my sisters were able to seek the necessary assistance to aid them with their problems. And as a result, they have improved academically.

    One of my nieces was having difficulty in learning how to read. Her first grade teacher, knowing that near point vision was not something that was tested in the school, suggested to my sister that she might have a problem with her near-point vision. Her vision test results showed she was far-sighted. As soon as she put on her glasses, her grades improved. She now reads two grades levels above the average.

    My other niece was constantly glued to the TV, the computer, or her video games. It was observed that when she read, she would tilt her head so that she was only using one eye to view the information. She had problems with eye teaming. The problem is currently being worked on and it involves a lot more physical activity for my niece, but to her surprise, she enjoys it. Imagine that?

    My sisters were both fortunate in discovering the problems my nieces were having thanks to teachers. That is why this article is useful. It assist teachers in recognizing visual issues which can be easily resolved and once taken care of, can be beneficial to their students.

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