Lupe Castaneda slid a piece of colored plastic over the paperback page and read smoothly as teacher Mary Hunter loomed above his shoulder with a look of satisfaction.
Lupe, a fourth-grader at Neah Bay Elementary School, used to mix letters and had other reading problems before Hunter offered the turquoise overlay last month.
“It was kind of foggy when I didn’t have it,” he said. “This makes it clearer. It’s better.”
Hunter, who had taught at Neah Bay High School for 18 years before becoming a teacher at the elementary school last fall, aggressively has sought ways to help her students improve their reading skills.
She found that colored transparencies make a remarkable difference for some children.
“It has nothing to do with being Native American and nothing to do with intelligence,” she said. “It has something to do with refraction of rays of light.”
In her research, Hunter learned that weak visual-perception abilities can cause eye strain and headaches, letter and word reversals, slow reading and poor concentration and comprehension. For these children, letters and words even can seem to shake or move off the page.
Hunter found out about the colored overlays, which eliminate frequencies of light that may cause distortion.
“I never knew words could swim or go off the page,” she said. “This takes it away.”
Hunter found a company that sells kits with questions and eight different soft-colored, non-glare overlays to assess children with physical, reading and writing problems. Individual students react differently to various colors, while others react not at all.
The teacher tested her 22 students this fall with dramatic results.
One student, who was seeing letters moving on pages, tried an overlay, looked at his teacher and asked: “How’d you do that?”
“It was like I was a magician,” Hunter said. She has ordered more overlays, and those children who respond to them are reading much faster, for longer periods of time, and remembering more.Blake Hill, a fourth-grader, said: “I always liked to read, but it was hard. The letters used to move around. Now they don’t do that. It’s much better.”
Other teachers in the school are experimenting with the overlays. The district administration and school board also have reacted positively to the experiment.
Hunter, meanwhile, declines to take much credit for helping her students. “All I did was grab the bull by the horns.”