reading

Troubling Misuse of Promising Practice

When a new approach to teaching learners with CVI is suggested, we need to ask ourselves:

  • Does this match our understanding of the unique learner’s visual behaviors?
  • Is there scientific research to support the use of this strategy?
  • If there is no scientific research, is it a “promising practice” that we can carefully try and carefully apply to each unique student’s situation?
  • How do we decide to use this “promising practice”?
  • How do we use it as it was meant to be used?
  • How do we evaluate its effectiveness since not all inventions will be useful for all learners? (I hope the words collect data popped into your mind here!)

Recently I visited a school to consult for a student who was barely using any central vision to access literacy. The TVI had learned about word bubbling in a conference. Word bubbling is a promising practice suggested by Christine Roman in her book Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles.

This TVI took the app for word bubbling and suggested that all the child’s literacy materials were bubbled.

  • This does not match the student’s visual skills. Central vision use would be essential for this intervention.
  • This is not the suggested practice from the text: Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles.
  • This was randomly applied with no diagnostic evaluation of the tool as applied to the student.
  • The TVI never partnered with the reading specialist who would be the expert about the teaching of reading. That collaboration would be essential.
  • There was no data on the effectiveness of this strategy for this unique learner.

Here is just one example of a sentence this poor student is now struggling visually recognize:

 

Please:

  • Understand your student’s visual behaviors.
  • Try promising practices with careful consideration of those visual behaviors.
  • Use the strategy as it was meant to be used.
  • Collect data on the effectiveness of your trial. (Baseline data then progress data)
  • Random application of any strategy is as inaccessible as doing nothing..

The Neuroscience of Reading

As people suggest methods for our children with CVI to learn to read, I wondered what does the brain need to do in order to learn to read?  I found a local researcher, Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University who wrote extensively about the neuroscience of reading in her book Proust and the Squid.

As it turns out, the brain needs to do quite a lot. It certainly requires a high degree of sustained visual attention, which can be problematic for many of our children with CVI.

Reading requires the whole brain including the occipital lobes, parietal, frontal and temporal lobes. The brain needs activation in both hemispheres and needs the “language areas” of the brain to be engaged and active. There are steps to reading function from decoding to understanding what is read. This reading “thing” is quite complex which is no surprise given how complex the brain is!

When we apply reading methods for our students with CVI, we need to apply methods to the child not decide that all methods work for everyone. We need to be diagnostic. What is working? Why is it working and under what conditions? Is it working at all? What can we do to improve this complex process that includes learning to use vision and to build reading skills?

No one of us serving students with CVI can know everything. We can certainly educate ourselves but will not be experts in everything. We must seek out and collaborate effectively with experts. In this case of reading, we need to partner with reading specialists as we apply any techniques for learning to read.

One size will not fit all because every brain is different and learns differently.