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Tips for Classroom Teachers
by Carol Castellano
Reprinted from Future Reflection

The Goal of Independence

• The overriding goal is for the blind child to become a competent, self-sufficient, independent person.

• The blind child needs the same information, education, and experiences which sighted children require.

• He/she needs to know the same things others need to know in preparation for the future—going to college, having children, holding a job, etc.

• The blind child will use alternative techniques where the sighted will use eyesight.

Essentials a Blind Student Must Learn

• On whom to focus.

• Teacher's expectations.

• To respond quickly to teacher's instructions.

• How to respond; e.g., facing the teacher so teacher can tell he/she is paying attention, raising hand high, when to lower hand, when to answer aloud in unison with class, etc.

• How to interpret questions expressed in "teacher language." For example, in ordinary English a "who question" would be answered with a name, but in the classroom, "Who can tell me what 5 plus 2 is?" means, "Raise your hand." A "how many" question would ordinarily get a number for an answer, but in the classroom "How many of you put the big hand on the 3?" means raise your hand if you did it that way. Hearing the teacher say your name (getting called-on) usually means, "Say the answer out loud."

• Where and when to move.

• The pace of the class.

• To know what other children in the classroom are doing.

• How to interpret activity around him/her.

• How to participate fully.

• Eventually, how to figure out all of the above by him/herself.

Skills of Blindness

• Braille reading and writing is the equivalent of print reading and writing (see Quick Braille Lesson later in this article).

• Cane travel is essential to the child's independence (see Cane Travel later in this article).

• Looking at objects with the hands. The blind child gets information tactually just as sighted children get it visually.

• Doing things by touch instead of by eyesight.

• Tactually exploring a room to make a mental map and find out where things are placed.

• Developing and using other senses. "Hmm. Smells like Mr. Thomas, the janitor, waxed the floors last night. Feels like it, too. John says it's fun to slide on waxed floors. I don't hear anyone coming; maybe I'll give it a try!"

• Developing and using memory. "Mom, I just remembered it's Tuesday night and we have library period on Wednesday. I have to return my book along with that form the librarian wanted parents to fill out. You put the book on the shelf in the den after we finished reading to each other yesterday. I can't reach it; can you get it down for me?" "I remember my teacher saying that Melissa had thick, long hair. I wonder if Melissa would like this big barrette set for her birthday?"

• Developing and using sound localization, that is, the ability to tell where a sound is coming from. "Jenny, I think your pencil just dropped. It sounds like it rolled toward the door. Look under Peter's chair; it might be there." "That sounds like the door of the storage closet in the back of the room. Must be time for art; I can hear Mrs. Mullin getting the cans of paint out."

• Learning to ask for information. "Who just walked into the room?" "Is this the bus for the 4th grade skating party or the bus for the 3rd grade trip to the zoo?" This also includes learning to give a polite, but firm "No thank you" when assistance is not needed.

Assisting on the Road to Independence

• Help from teachers and aides should be aimed at teaching the child to do the task for him/herself, not doing it for the child.

• Many times teachers can give information instead of help; e.g., give directions to what he/she needs instead of getting it for the child.

• Child should be able to learn any task that is repeated each day; e.g., opening milk carton at lunch. Assume the child can learn the task.

• If the child is not doing something the other children are doing, teach him/her how; if something must be done for a child on a regular basis, let parents know. Perhaps it can be worked on at home.

• By understanding and respecting the alternative skills the child is developing, classroom teachers can help the child progress in these skills.

• The child may need extra time in the early grades to do things independently. This must be balanced with general classroom expectations.

Be More Verbal

• Use children's names when you speak to them; this will help the blind child interpret situations; encourage other children to use names, too.

• Use description when modeling action; e.g., "Fold the paper lengthwise" instead of "Fold the paper like this."

• Explain your routine a bit: "I'm handing out the papers to each child. I'm so happy you're all being quiet." Again, this will help the blind child interpret situations which he/she cannot see.

• Explain illustrations in a story when they help carry the plot.

• Think about attributes in addition to color when describing or referring to objects; such as shape, weight, texture, size, use, location, quantity, etc.

• Give the blind student the opportunity to get things for you by describing the object and giving verbal directions to the location; e.g., "the square container on the back left corner of my desk."

• Explain completely visual situations; e.g., the principal comes to door, puts finger to lips, and silently beckons children to her.

• Use normal language like "look" and "see."

Helping the Blind Child Participate

• Find ways to adapt each activity so the blind child can participate; don't ask if it can be done, ask how can we do it. Don't make the blind student a "special helper;" he/she needs the same or equivalent educational experiences other children get.

• Use sound localization to direct child; e.g., he/she can join the other children by moving toward their voices; can listen for footsteps in order to follow in line; can come when called by walking toward your voice; can find the chair when you tap it with your hand.

• Model movements for songs or in gym by moving the blind student through the motions. Other students can learn at the same time by observing teacher and student. Let parents know if child has trouble with a movement; it can be practiced at home.

• Hands-on opportunities along with verbal descriptions will make experiences much more meaningful for a young blind child; e.g., on a trip to the nurse's office let the child explore by touch the scale or other characteristic objects.

• With objects that ordinarily would not be handled, let the child tactually examine it, if possible, before or after the activity.

• Tell the child to "look with two hands" or "use both hands" when examining something; a touch with one hand or a few fingers gives almost no information.

• Facilitate appropriate play with others and by self.

• Remind the child to face the person with whom he/she is talking.

• Help the child learn to face the correct way in general. A rule of thumb is to give the blind child the same instruction or correction you would give a sighted child who was situated in an inappropriate way.

• If applicable, remind the child to keep his/her head up.

• If applicable, remind child to sit and stand up straight.

• Position crayons correctly in the child's hand for normal muscle development.

• If applicable, remind child not to press his/her hand to the eye, or engage in other inappropriate behaviors.

School Work

• For written work, worksheets or book should be on the table next to the Braillewriter for student to read; answer sheet should be in Braillewriter.

• If manipulatives are used, place in small box or tray so they will not fall off the desk.

• For marking answers, the blind student can use crayon, pencil, small pieces of Sticki-Wikki, magnets and magnet board, push pins. (The advantage of Sticki-Wikki, magnets, and push pins is that the child can check his/her own work; with Sticki-Wikki, work can be saved to take home.)

• Help child organize the work space; clear place in front and put materials in common sense places.

• Stick-on Braille (Dymotape) can be used for quick labeling.

• Sewell Kit, coloring screen, and TactiLiner can be used for making instant raised line drawings.

• Hi-Mark, t-shirt markers, Elmer's glue, and Sticki-Wikki can be used for outlining figures. (Hi-Mark and t-shirt markers must be used in advance, for they take hours to dry.)

• Stick-on Velcro, cork, felt, etc. can be used for variety on math worksheets.

Cane Travel

• The cane is held so that it lands about three steps in front of the feet, and is swept back and forth.

• The cane gives a preview of what is ahead: Is the way clear or is an object in the way? Stairs, up or down, can be located and negotiated. Objects such as trash cans, chairs, desks, and outdoor play equipment can be located and identified.

• Sound is an important element in cane travel. As the blind child walks down a hallway he/she can use his/her hearing to tell the difference between a wall and an opening, such as a doorway or intersecting hallway. Therefore, the child can be given directions such as "the office is the first opening on the left" or "the gym is the second open door on the right"

• By listening to the sounds and echoes the cane makes when it is tapped, the child gets information about the space around him/her and, with practice, can tell how far he/she is from the wall.

• Textures and slopes beneath the feet—differences between tile, carpeting, concrete, etc.—will help the child know where he/she is.

• The child will use landmarks (the rug outside the office door, the hum of the water fountain, etc.) for self-orienting.

• The child will learn to make a mental map—information linking one part of the room or building to another—of an area.

• The child might not use the cane in the classroom but should always have it with him/her outside the room; e.g., cafeteria, playground, fire-drills, office, gym.

Quick Braille Lesson

• The Braille "cell" is made up of six dots which correspond to the six keys on the Braillewriter. Dots are numbered 1 to 6 in columns two dots across and three down.

• Each Braille letter or other symbol is formed using one or more of the six dots.

• Capital letters are formed by placing a dot 6 before the letter.

• Punctuation marks look like letters but they are formed in the lower part of the cell.

• In "literary Braille," the first ten letters are also the numbers when preceded by an arrangement of dots called the number sign (dots 3,4,5,6).

• In "Nemeth code" (math Braille), the shapes of the numbers are the same, but they are formed in the lower part of the cell.

• Braille has many contractions (such as Brl for the word Braille) in order to save space; contracted Braille is called Grade 2.

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