Vision in the Classroom

School performance is affected by a significant visual issue in 25% of all children.

Vision in the Classroom Optometrist
Specialty Vision

What are the visual demands of a classroom?

Binocular teaming - this is a skill that represents how well the eyes are coordinated with each other. It translates as depth perception which helps prevent clumsiness and bumping into things. If there’s a lack of binocularity then it can show up in a student’s behavior as he can have a hard time maintaining concentration and interest in reading. A highly motivated student will push himself to overcome this obstacle but then will complain about headaches, discomfort, fatigue and blurry/ double vision. Poor binocularity also causes lower performance on timed tests because it takes these students longer to read and to maintain their visual attention.

Focusing - it’s important to develop the ability to focus at different distances and to be able to smoothly adjust the focus from one distance to another. This is very important in the classroom because a student must be able to focus on the board which is usually at a distance and then to be able to take notes in their notebook or on their computer which is at a much closer distance than the board is at and the demand to shift their gaze at different distances is constantly required in the classroom.

Other very important visual skills for school performance include:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual perception
  • Visual memory
  • Central and peripheral vision
  • Fine and gross visual-motor skills
  • Convergence

There are many visual demands in the classroom because so much of a student’s performance depends on their vision skills which can actually be strengthened and developed when necessary. Some of these visual abilities are explained as follows: 

Eye tracking - this is necessary for visually monitoring what’s going on in the classroom environment which helps with attention behavior. The six muscles surrounding the eyes must be working properly together to allow for different kinds of smooth eye movements.

A student with undeveloped eye tracking:

  • Has a hard time following a teacher who is using objects and gestures to explain something 
  • Tends to lose their place when reading
  • Has a hard time catching a ball
  • Has difficulty with making smooth transitions and shifting attention. 
Convergence Insufficiency in the Classroom

Convergence Insufficiency in the Classroom

Maybe you have a student like Charlie who is able to read and to complete the task, however it is not obvious that this very same student is exerting at least double the amount of energy in order to read and it’s taking him longer than his classmates. If the student has a hard time focusing both eyes together in sync when looking at a target up close, otherwise known as convergence insufficiency, the task of reading could take a lot more time and energy than it does for his peer who does not have this visual challenge. Even though Charlie is able to read, by the time he gets through a paragraph, he could be drained and frustrated and lose his attention span for other subsequent visual demands.

These types of scenarios are much more common than they might seem and with the proper awareness of potential visual challenges, a teacher can make great improvements for their individual students who are struggling which has a ripple effect that can also benefit the entire class.

What are symptoms of a student who could be having visual challenges?

What are symptoms of a student who could be having visual challenges?

General symptoms:

  • Has wandering eye(s) which means that both eyes are not focusing on the same target
  • Struggles with time management
  • Gives up before attempting a task
  • Loses things, demonstrates clumsy tendencies
  • Gets frustrated when doing assignments such as reading or writing
  • Struggles with depth perception
  • Avoids doing work that requires looking at something up close
  • Complains of headaches
  • Does not enjoy sports
  • Sits close to the computer 

When reading, your student:

  • Skips or repeats lines
  • Gets drained and exhausted
  • Complains of blurry or double vision
  • Closes one eye
  • Has difficulty with reading comprehension and has better reading comprehension when someone else reads to the student
  • Reads very close up
  • Needs to use a finger or something else to avoid losing the place

Regarding writing, your student:

  • Confuses or reverses numbers/ letters
  • Writes on an upward or downward slant
  • Has a hard time writing down answers and finds it easier to answer orally
  • Has a hard time copying notes from the board

What can I do for my student who appears to be having visual challenges?

The first step is a very important one and that is being aware of the visual demands of a classroom. Understanding that even a child who can see with 20/20 clarity may be struggling with other aspects of their vision and this knowledge can help your students tremendously. 

There is an entire professional field dedicated to helping children develop their visual abilities and that is known as developmental vision care. A developmental optometrist is trained to do a full evaluation of a child’s visual skills and to determine if your student can benefit from treatment which often involves glasses and/or vision therapy.

Convergence Insufficiency in the Classroom