Did you know there is probably one colour blind child in every class in your school, or that you may have had a colour blind child in every class you have ever taught?
One of the very first things we teach young children are the colours of the world around them. They learn that grass is green and the sky is blue, but what if the colours we see and describe aren’t the same for the all of children we are teaching?
Colour blindness affects 1 in 12 boys (8%) and 1 in 200 girls. There are approximately 3 million colour blind people in the UK, and 450,000 are school children – that’s one in every classroom!
For colour normal students and teachers colour can be a useful tool, but for colour blind students it can be a nightmare – undermining confidence and their ability to learn, encouraging basic errors in the simplest work, making them slower to follow instructions and causing frustration and even anger.
When children start school they are asked to pick up the ‘red’ brick and describe the big ‘brown’ dog. We ask them to fill in colouring sheets and sing songs about the colours of the rainbow but if children don’t understand some of what we are saying, they can’t learn to full capacity. This is a problem that can not only undermine their confidence but provide a faulty foundation for future learning.
While colour blind children can learn to identify colours through their hue and saturation they still can’t actually see what everyone else sees. This means that a colour blind pupil in Nursery or entering school in Reception must learn what he is told is the colour of each everyday object he comes across and try to memorise it. He is likely to focus on this ahead of other learning to ensure he doesn’t embarrass himself in front of his new classmates.
To get a brief insight into how it feels to be a colour blind child in primary school, watch our short #1ineveryclassroom animation commissioned by 6 year old Marcus (he also sings the words). Click the bar at the top of this page and watch the TV clips too!
We offer training sessions for teachers in Early Years’ settings and Primary schools in how to identify and support colour blind pupils. For more information see our One Child In Every Classroom Training sessions leaflet for Early Years’ Settings and Primary Schools.
How to spot a colour blind student
Whilst every teacher will want to identify and support their colour blind students, they are thwarted. This is because they are unlikely to have had any training in CVD, the Department for Education provides no information and advice (because perplexingly CVD is not considered a SEN), Local Education Authorities have phased out colour vision screening at school entry (see article from the British Journal of School Nursing May 2015) and colour vision testing does not form part of the NHS eye test for children. All of this results in approximately 80% of CVD students being undiagnosed when they enter secondary school.
Luckily there are some classic signs to help you spot your colour blind students so we have listed a few here for you.
Key Stage 1
– Inappropriate use of colour – commonly purple skies, yellow/green/grey faces, red leaves, brown grass etc
– Reluctance to help when tidying up if boxes are colour coded
– Disruptive behaviour/unwillingness/inability to play board games, matching games, some memory games, sequencing, games in PE
– Copying other children in colour situations where the child might consistently hold back and watch so he can borrow a colour from a friend routinely after the friend has used it, then copy exactly where that colour went
CVD students can sometimes appear slow, distracted or disruptive – this may be because they need extra time to process information and can result in them missing some teaching points because they are still trying to understand the previous one.
In Key Stage 2 also look out for
– Inappropriate colour choices when completing worksheets, drawings and diagrams
– Presentation of work which seems ‘boring’ and lacking in colour formatting.
– Unexpected poor results from worksheets or Web-based homework programmes
– Holding back in sports e.g. when (i) team colours clash (ii) balls, beanbags, training cones, sports hall line markings etc. ‘disappear’ against their background.
– Reluctance to speak in discussions where colour is a main element e.g. maps in Geography, colour propaganda in History etc.
– Holding back in (i) Science – practicals/diagrams and (ii) History and Geography due to difficulty interpreting information in coloured pie/bar/line graphs
– Mistakes in use of colour names in language lessons
If you think a pupil might be colour blind, refer parents to an optician for a colour vision test.
How might you be inadvertently making life difficult for your colour blind pupils?
– use a traffic light system for marking or for the children to indicate how difficult they thinks tasks are?
– place pots of mixed unlabelled coloured pencil crayons on tables for groups of children to use together?
– have coloured labels on library books to indicate different reading levels?
– use games e.g. counting games with coloured counters?
– use worksheets/software which rely on colour e.g. for maths – ‘write the number of red balls as a fraction’?
– use books which highlight familiar sounds using colours?
– highlight teaching points in red and green on the white board?
All of these common classroom practices can make school life difficult for colour blind children.
Consider too how you use common educational products such as Unifix and Numicon and how you might help your colour blind student use these tools.
Primary school teachers regularly use the ‘traffic light’ system for marking, to help them understand how difficult their pupils find different worksheets or to indicate expectations of good and bad behaviour but for a traffic light system to be effective it relies upon all the children being able to tell the difference between red, green and orange. A colour blind student won’t be able to complete worksheets, give you feedback or follow your marking as he can’t always see the difference between these colours.
This means the child will need to ask for confirmation from someone else. Most children won’t want to draw attention to themselves, so if they don’t have the correct colour name marked on their pencil crayons or you don’t use a secondary label with your RAG marking system you won’t be able to have effective communication with your colour blind students.
For more information, arrange for a representative of Colour Blind Awareness to visit your setting and demonstrate what your own school and classroom look like to your colour blind students and experience first-hand how you might cope if you were colour blind.
In addition to our #1ineveryclassroom video pre-school teachers and infant teachers may want to take a look at the Chuggington episode detailed in our Noticeboard section which is good at demonstrating to colour blind children, their siblings and peers the problems of being colour blind.