Colors Can Help Students Read
The Impact of Blue
By Kelsey Nelson
When we‘re born, we can‘t see the brilliant colors that make up the rainbow. It’s only over time, as we mature, that our eyes begin to see these complex hues. Then the world comes together in color, and we gasp at its vibrancy. Some people are color blind, exchanging blues for purples and yellows for greens; others only see a limited number of colors, and some see none at all. It has always been a wonder to me how others see colors. It wasn’t until I started teaching, fresh out of college, that I discovered how using colors can help certain students to read.
In my first “big girl” job as a first grade teacher, I made a point of reading one-on-one with my students. One boy, in particular, labored and grappled with each new word on the page. Then one day, he told me why the words were hard to read—because they would move.
Move? This sounded like dyslexia.
Sure enough, a doctor confirmed it.
I needed to figure out how best to help him navigate this. I remembered how my mom, who had worked in special education for 35 years, had talked about using color to help with memorization. She said the brain responds to seeing certain colors. Growing up, I used orange to highlight my notes, lines in plays, and anything else I needed to memorize because this shade was a memory color. I also used blue paper instead of my favorite pink because, blue, as my mom said, was a calming color.
I wondered if color could be an answer for this struggling reader.
As always, my mom was there to help. She told me about colored overlays and how they were thought to alleviate visual stress and improve symptoms commonly related to dyslexia. Colored overlays had proven to aid in reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension.
It was worth a try.
Each person is different, so we used trial and error to find the right color to help him read. I placed a colored overlay on top of a sheet of white paper with bold black letters. I started with blue. After all, it was a calming color.
Colored overlays had proven to aid in reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension.
“The letters aren’t moving,” he said, shock in his little six-year-old voice.
“What?” I said, as if a part of me hadn’t really believed the color change would work. But it did.
Now, my student didn’t magically learn how to read that day, but the combination of hard work and the use of the color overlay to calm his mind and eyes helped him to eventually learn to read fluently.
Over the past ten years, I have kept in contact with this student and his family, and he still uses a pale blue overlay to help him while he reads. It was no mistake that God put this child in my classroom all those years ago.
A simple, soft blue color changed this student’s life and mine. A color so many of us take for granted gave a six-year-old the ability to read. I don’t believe I will ever see colors the same way.
These hues God created are so much more complex in design than merely the names we read on crayons. These shades can open up a new world. What colors might help you see the world, and maybe even yourself differently?
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