Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Week of School

In many ways, the first week of school this year was just like any other.  We established classroom rules and procedures.  We talked about respect of teachers and peers.  We identified and practiced ways to solve common problems and conficts.  We read stories.  We went to recess.  We finished beginning of the year tests, etc, etc, etc.

However, this year was quite a bit different for me.  For the first time, I have a student who is blind.  She also has some other exceptionalities, but to be perfectly honest, it's her blindness that has caused so much thinking and reflecting on my part.

I've always known that I rely very heavily on visual supports.  For many children with learning disabilities and language impairments, adding a visual cue provides them another way to access concepts.  I do this deliberatley and systematically with Boardmaker, graphic organizers and simple line drawings on assignments, tests or the white board or Activeboard.  It's become an integral part of my planning and lesson delivery.

What I didn't fully recognize until this charming, engaging, delightful girl who happens to be blind was in my class was how heavily I use and rely on facial expressions and gestures.  Simple things like giving a thumbs up across the room to a child who is working on independent work while I have a group at my table.  Or using the sign language symbol for "stop" in an assembly for someone who is talking to a neighbor. Or smiling to welcome a child who is joining the group from speech therapy or OT without interrupting the flow of the group.  And of course, giving the "evil eye" when a child is doing something he/she knows is inappropriate.

I like this.......facial expressions and gestures give encouragement or redirection in a way that doesn't distract others. 

Not surprisingly, these strategies are completely ineffective for my student who is blind.  I'm in the process of re-thinking how to discretely give these types of cues to her in a way that helps her but doesnt distract the other students. 

She happens to be very affectionate, so we're practicing high fives, pinky hugs and "golf claps"  (quiet clapping that celebrates her successes).   Right now in large group settings, I'm also using a lot of proximity and whispered cues to let her know things that are happening.

In addition to this, I'm modeling talking about pictures and details of things as we pass to her and the class.  I'll have to let you know how this goes...this is one of those "gut" things.  I don't know of any educational theory to back this up.  But, my hope is that in modeling my description of pictures and things we pass, the other students will notice this and start to do it, too.  I hope that this will not only  increase their acceptance of others' with differences, but it will also increase their own skills at recognizing main ideas, important details, clues, descriptive words, feelings, etc.  That verbalizing all of these things for one child will also help the other to more fully understand the importance of them.

This is one of the most exciting parts of teaching children with special needs.  I get a chance to think about problems and hopefully come up with solutions.  Then not only do I think about the potential solutions, but I get a chance to implement it and observe the results.  Whether or not the things that I'm trying right now will work, I don't know.  I do know that the process of thinking and reflecting on this and trying things out and observing the results, which then prompts more thinking is defintitely making me a better teacher.  It's making me more aware of some of the things I do without thinking and it's requiring me to think in new ways.....that can never be be bad. 

I hope by the end of this year I have a few more posts that tell you how excited I am over my students' successes!


Jessica said...

I have never taught a blind child but I have one! He is turning three next month and entering preschool. He is starting at a school for the blind but will transition into our home district for kindergarten. I hope his teachers are as thoughful and caring as you in public school!

But I agree that small verbal and touch cues are an excellent way to go.

Laurie Sanders said...


Dr Fred Young said...

I like the use of facial expressions; of course, you are right that it won't work on the blind; but the use of tonalities will. The important thing for *all* students, and especially special ed ones, is to find their learning modalities and work with those. There was a study in the UK which showed how students with dyslexia were helped by this approach, and it would help everyone.

LeaMikhaela said...
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psychology education said...

i love your article..their are some students who needs some attention but they have a different attitudes and they have a great intelligence that others don't have.

Freddy Meyers said...

That's a good thing that you have able to put your experienced during that first week. You have putted some wonderful insights regarding the used of different special education strategies which is very useful for us to know.

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