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Concept development: Drawing

Why do students who are visually impaired need to be able to draw items for educational purposes?

In a recent series on Remote O&M Instruction for Students Transitioning to College, Victor, a rising college freshman, applied his strong O&M skills to successfully and confidently travel the main areas of campus – after one remote O&M lesson on non-visual digital maps and one lesson traveling campus. (Note: Victor is not finished with campus orientation; he will receive additional O&M once he has his class schedule and the buildings are open. Update: Victor actually declined additional O&M on campus, as he felt comfortable traveling independently after receiving his class schedule. Go Victor!) Since those posts were published, I have been bombarded with questions about how to teach the mental mapping skills and foundational concepts that Victor applied in order to travel his college campus. As an O&M specialist, I consider these skills to be the “ORIENTATION” part of O&M that should be introduced – with age appropriate activities – beginning with the child’s first O&M lesson. These concepts are not just O&M concepts; these skills also foundational concepts for a variety of other educational areas – especially math. Therefore, this series is applicable for TVIs and O&Ms. 

For background on Victor’s transition to college, please read the previous posts:

Big picture: Victor’s map drawing

Since this series was sparked by Victor’s success with learning Elon’s campus, let’s start with the big picture (end goal) and break it down into individual skills and how Victor learned these skills in preschool and elementary school. Sitting in the car in an Elon parking lot, Victor was asked to review his mental map of campus by drawing a map of the main campus roads. 

Say that again? We should be teaching our blind students to draw? Absolutely! There are numerous reasons why every student – including students who are visually impaired – should be able to draw and be creative. This post will focus on quick drawings for educational purposes. 

Victor used the Sensational BlackBoard, a raised line drawing tool. The Sensational BlackBoard is slightly bigger than a 9×13 sheet of paper; it has a hard slick surface on one side and a rubber mat on the other side. Using a pen with a medium point and a regular sheet of paper, Victor drew the main roads on campus. This was the first time that Victor had used a Sensational Blackboard and I believe it was the first time he had attempted to draw! While he had a solid mental map of the campus roads, Victor was not sure where to start drawing on the page. He wanted to start with East Lebannon Avenue, which he knew ran east/west (left/right) at the bottom of the map. However, he initially wanted to start drawing from the center of the page. With a quick prompt about spatial relationships on the page, he decided to draw a line at the bottom center of the page to the right, about 3/4’s of the way to the right edge. He expanded East Lebannon to the left side of the page when he drew in North Willimason the north/south road on the west side of campus. Victor used both hands to explore the space on the Blackboard and then placed his left index finger at the starting point while he drew with his right hand holding the pen. While Victor verbally stated that North O’Kelley Avenue ran north/south (up/down) on the right side of campus and was a “T-intersection” ending at East Haggard Avenue, he drew North O’Kelley past East Haggard down to East Lebannon Avenue. Victor also verbalized what a “round about” is, but needed confirmation on how to draw it. He initially drew the streets as a square, meaning that each of the boundary streets ended at the intersection instead of continuing on. Victor went back and drew the streets past the intersection. He did understand and drew a curve in Phoenix Drive. We discussed how roads continued (with the exception of the T-intersection) so Victor expanded some of his roads. Victor mentioned that he thinks of most roads in grids/blocks (squares) and was focusing on the roads in relationship to campus (not beyond campus).

This map drawing activity clearly demonstrated and confirmed that Victor knew the names of the roads, the directions they traveled and where they intersected with other roads. It also demonstrated that while Victor used the correct terms, such as “T-intersection” and “round about” and has previous traveled routes with these features, he did not have a clear concept of these terms. After drawing his map, Victor clearly thought through and understood these terms!

Victor also thoroughly enjoyed the ability to draw using the Sensational BlackBoard!

Victor's hands drawing campus roads using the Sensational Blackboard tool

Advantages of the BlackBoard  

Using the Sensational BlackBoard


Sensational BlackBoard classroom use

Personally, I think the Sensational BlackBoard is a critical tool that every student and professional should carry in his/her backpack! Is your student sitting in class and the gen ed teacher has a diagram on the board? No problem! Your student can whip out the BlackBoard and ask a peer to quickly copy the diagram! Is your student doing group work and wants to share his idea? How can your student use this drawing tool in Geometry class? I sure wish I had known about the Sensational BlackBoard earlier and that I had thought to teach Victor how to draw when he was young!

Introducing tactile drawing 

Photo of hand and pen tracing around a square coaster using the Sensational BlackBoard drawing tool.As always, I believe that students learn the majority of their skills by third grade – after third grade they are applying these skills. Common preschool and kindergarten activities include identifying and drawing shapes. These basic shapes expand into three dimensional shapes (i.e. Squares into cubes); these shapes evolving into geometry problems and other more complex math problems and can also expand into O&M concepts!

Where do you start teaching a student to draw? Initially, start with drawing a line and have the student trace the line with his finger. If appropriate, compare lines that are horizontal vertical, diagonal, short line, long line, intersecting line, etc. (Use terms appropriate for your student – “up/down” might be more appropriate than “vertical” for a very young student.)  Don’t forget to talk about where the lines are spatially on the page (i.e. at the top).

Ask your student to draw a line. (Feel free to use a ruler as a guide!) Place a foam sticker at the start/end points and ask the student to draw a straight line from the circle to the star. Repeat the same line concepts mentioned above with the lines that your student draws. Be sure to provide opportunities for your student to free-hand draw (do not always use a ruler or guide!) and talk about curves vs.straight lines.

How about tracing physical shapes in preschool/kindergarten! Pull out those wooden shapes and show that kindergarten student how to trace the shape. Find items around the house to trace – a square or round coaster, or around the edge of a glass. Shape cookie cutters, especially those that have raised handles (easy to hold in place) work really well!  Once the student is tracing objects and naming them, have him draw his own. Can he draw two squares and a triangle? A big square and a little square?

Draw a tactile smiley face and ask the student to identify the lines/shapes used in the smiley face. Draw a frowning face – what is different? Draw different expressions – what does a surprised face look like? a crying face? Ask your student to draw his own faces – incorporate this into how he feels on a daily basis (emotions). 

Try drawing different weather symbols – sun, rain, wind, and snow. Incorporate a quick weather drawing each day as part of circle time weather concepts.

Draw different “stick” pictures and explain what they are and discuss what shapes go into that picture: Sun, house, water, grass. Can you draw a stick person? (stick body, legs, hands, head?) Ask a peer to draw a tactile picture.

Be sure to pair a tactile square or cube with the tactile drawing, so that the student can relate the two things. This is especially important when drawing 3 dimensional objects. Example: a house really does not look like box with a triangle on top! A chair does not look or feel like the stick drawing of a chair. If possible, have a student trace a small chair (doll chair) which is laid on it’s side on the paper. A stick figure chair is typically a long line (back of chair, perpendicular line (chair seat) and half line (front chair leg). Discuss that stick drawings of people represent the person using lines. As you draw a stick figure, discuss the head (circle like the smiley face), long body is represented by a longer line, two arms off the body just below the head, and two legs off the body at the end of the long body line.

Orientation and mobility early drawings

Draw a map of the kindergarten classroom (rectangular shaped room) and use simple shapes to mark various areas and/or use foam stickers. Use the same shape as the real object, if possible. Example: What shape is your student’s desk? Is your student at a round table, rectangular table, individual desks? Draw simple maps of the school, playground, floor plan of the student’s house.

Confession: I did not think about teaching Victor how to draw when he was young; but, he did have plenty of opportunities to create tactile maps of real places with tactile materials, magnetic shapes, etc. More on tactile map activities coming in another post!

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By Diane Brauner

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