The Visual Legacy of Edward Dolch

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 5.18.35 AMThe outstanding post by Dr. Fortenbacher yesterday focuses a spotlight on the examination requirements to ascertain that a child’s vision is functioning adequately for reading and learning.  Although visual abilities are important for all aspects of learning, their greatest implication is for reading.  In doing some spring cleaning this year I set aside a book in my library that I had liberally highlighted many years ago but forgot about until Dr. Fortenbacher’s post prompted me to take another look.

Edward William Dolch, Ph.D., a faculty member at the College of Education, University of Illinois in the mid 1900s, is famous in education circles for his list of 220 high frequency sight words.  If you haven’t heard of the Dolch Sight Word list, you may be more familiar with Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) who tapped into Dolch’s list for his repository of words used in The Cat in the Hat and his many other books.  Every reference that I’ve seen to the Dolch Sight Words traces their origin to a book authored by Dolch in 1948 titled Problems in Reading.  However the book in my collection that Dolch published in 1945, A Manual for Remedial Reading, published it as Appendix B titled: “A Basic Sight Vocabulary of 220 Words”.

IMG_4667Dolch’s 1945 book is a timeless masterpiece, and contains the antecedents of Dr. Fortenbacher’s message.  Consider the following passages from Chapter 3, Finding Out About the Child:

  • “The Snellen Chart and wheel chart are useful, but many children who have been reported as having no eye troubles, according to the Snellen Chart, have shown real defects when tested further.  In the first place, some children memorize the chart or guess what the letters are even though they are very much blurred or distorted.  In the second place, the Snellen Chart tests each eye separately and thus fails to measure how well or how poorly the two eyes work together.  And eyes must work together in reading.”
  • “Many children are farsighted on entering grade one … usually their lens accommodation is so strong that they can still see at close range without trouble.  But sometimes the constant accommodation necessary for close work causes discomfort and fatigue.  The child will find that he does not like to look at a book for any length of time.  In extreme cases there may be headaches and even nausea.”
  • “Do the child’s eyes work together correctly?  Most persons do learn to use the eyes together but there may be conditions which cause them to have trouble in doing so. The commonest difficulty is a tendency for the eyes, instead of pointing straight ahead, to point outward at a slight angle.  Then in reading the individual must pull the eyes in so that they point at the printed page about thirteen or sixteen inches away.  The eye muscles can do the pulling if that is necessary but after awhile fatigue results and the individual may get a headache or even feel sick at his stomach.”
  • “Even if there is no muscle trouble, sometime the eyes do not satisfactorily work together because of poor fusion … Sometimes there is a state of ‘slow fusion”; that is, the eyes may fuse at blackboard distance and then when the child looks down at the book, he may see two images which slowly come together.”
  • “Failure of the two eyes to work together correctly or easily may be a major cause of reading difficulty.”

There are many jewels about visual processes and reading in Dolch’s book.  So many, in fact, that they invite a Part 2.


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