Years ago, ‘helping’ my son with homework, I noticed that he wrote the letter p, with an upward stroke, making it hard to join it to the previous letter. I carefully explained this to him, and showed him how to write it ‘correctly’. When I had finished, my son began to laugh, saying, ‘Mum….you have written the number 9!’ Clearly I struggle with this thing called visual acuity!
Does your child suffer with poor visual acuity?
Have you ever watched your child confuse b and d, when he reads to you? Do you struggle to read these letters in isolation yourself?
When I test children, I pick up a problem with several symbol combinations and numbers written backwards!
I know just how difficult these letters can be for struggling readers. I have mastered b & d, but p & 9 are a mystery to me, out of context! When Educational Psychologists write reports on struggling readers, they also comment on this confusion and the frequency with which numbers are written backwards by these children.
They identify ‘having poor visual acuity’ as the problem.
What is Visual Acuity?
This is the ability to distinguish tiny differences in the way something looks: in this case, the symbols b & d, b & p and p & 9.
What causes Visual Acuity?
I am not sure I know the answer to this, but it has little to do with vision. However, I have learnt a lot about struggling readers, and how to help them with this problem.
If children cannot distinguish b & d, or b & p, I begin by checking how they write these letters. What I note is that they often form them incorrectly. This means that children who lack visual acuity, can be helped immediately, just by showing them the correct way to write these letters.
I have also noticed that children with poor visual acuity will sometimes read these confusing letters without any difficulty, if they appear in whole words. This means that I can help them by practising these sounds in words, rather than in isolation.
If I teach a child to read from scratch, serious visual acuity problems do not occur. This makes me confident that my methods ease this problem
How do I improve a child’s Visual Acuity?
When I work with a child who struggles with b & d, or b & p I make sure that I introduce these sounds at different times, so that one is learnt, practised and written correctly, before the other is introduced.
I know I can improve a child’s visual acuity, through repeatedly ‘doing’. I make sure the words we use for practise, contain the tricky letters which a particular student is struggling with. Practise really does make perfect in this case!
I focus on how the letters are formed. This is very important. Letters b & d are both a stick with a circle at the bottom! Letters p & b are both a stick with a circle on the same side: one at the top and one at the bottom. Therefore, the way they are formed must be different!
Maybe you need to put away the reading book for a while (or you can read it to your child)! In its place, get out the sticky notelets and the big coloured pens again and have fun with visual acuity!
Let’s do something fun with sound b to aid visual acuity.
For one session, think of lots of simple words that have sound b in them:
Notice these words do not contain (d or p). You are introducing just one of these tricky sounds for this session.
Take three sticky notelets and place them on the table in front of your child, sticky side along the bottom, so they will stand up a little. Tell your child you’re going to make a word together.
Use one of your b words e.g. bug, and ask your child to tell you the first sound he hears in bug. If he can’t hear the first sound, play listening fingers (see my handbook). If he can tell you the first sound – tell him well done!
Ask your child to write letter b on the first notelet, saying the sound b as he writes it. If you think he is going to write d by mistake, gently remind him that he starts b with a downward stroke (aiding visual acuity).
Now ask him to tell you the next sound in bug. Repeat the first two sounds pushed together – bu until he can hear u. If he can’t hear it, you may need to play listening fingers again.
When he can tell you u – tell him well done! Now ask him to write sound u on the second notelet, saying u as he writes it.
Finally ask him to tell you the last sound in bug. Ask him to write g on the notelet, as he says it. (You might add an extra notelet for him to draw a picture of a bug, if he likes drawing!)
Now it’s time to aid Visual Acuity again, and read bug.
As you want your child to see b lots of times, you can now ask him to read the word bug. Begin by showing him how. Point to each notelet and say sounds b u g followed by the word bug. Then he can repeat the sounds and the word, and you can tell him ‘Well Done’!
Repeated Exposure to sound b helps Visual Acuity.
Why not stick this small word on the fridge, or the wall, where he can see it. Every so often you can point to each sound and say b u g followed by the word bug. Don’t ask him to do it, until he wants to. Remember, he is struggling, with sound b. He may have lost confidence, and needs your support.
You can now do this with the other b words. But make sure you avoid words with d or p, and just do a few words at a time.
How have you improved your child’s visual acuity?
You have helped him to write letter b correctly, before he ‘gets it wrong’. Great! And he will be seeing b, hearing b and feeling b, when he writes it. His three senses working to help him identify this tricky letter.
You have also introduced b in a number of words, because when he is reading his book, letters will be written in words, in sentences. This will help to build his confidence and aid visual acuity (isolated letters cause problems!). You have also avoided d and p and the confusion they cause.
Let’s do something fun with sound p to aid visual acuity!
You can continue this practise on another occasion, using words with p.
Please notice that these words do not contain b and d. Use the notelets and the coloured pens in exactly the same way, reminding your child where to begin to write the sounds.
Finally, you can continue this practise on another occasion, using words with d.
Again, please notice that these words do not contain b and p. Use the notelets and the coloured pens in exactly the same way, reminding your child where to begin to write the sounds.
Another Visual Acuity game:
Take two large fun shaped notelets and write letter b on one and letter d on the other. Place them on the table in front of your child, leaving a space between them:
This is a simple pointing game. You will need a list of p words and a list of b words! These words can be any length, but begin with the appropriate letter.
Tell your child you are going to say a word and you want him to point to the first sound he hears in the word e.g. p or b. Do not let him see the lists of words, but ask him to listen very carefully. Make this fun!! Laugh when he gets it wrong, or pronounce the word with the wrong sound, ‘We get our honey from pees!’
You can also do the same with a list of b and d words.
Can you teach Visual Acuity?
I am not sure if you can teach Visual Acuity, but I think these games will help your child, when he confuses b and d or other symbols. You might also point out the difference between these symbols, and ask him to look carefully at say b and notice that the stroke or stick comes first, or at d and notice that the circle comes first. Don’t expect him to remember these points, but you will be helping his visual acuity, practising close examination.
If Visual Acuity is a problem, keep the letters in words!
I think the most important message to offer you, is that you try to avoid presenting these symbols in isolation. For me now, b d p in isolation are no longer a problem, because I use a mental process to check which is which. But it’s so much easier for me, if they appear in words. Then they are no problem at all.
Embedding symbols in words, also aids visual acuity, because the context helps children identify whether they have sounded out the word correctly (they are quicker to correct themselves, should they read bee as pea).
If you need more help:
Please Help Me? I Really Can’t Read!
This is the book I have written, to try to make it easier for you to help your child with reading. You might like to download it for free from this website. I struggle with visual acuity, and many years ago, watched my child struggle. I have learnt a lot from this frustrating but sometimes amusing experience!
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