A deafblind student and a teacher at NASA

Effective Science Instruction for Students Who Are Deafblind

Suggestions for teaching science to students who are deafblind

I recently ran into an intervener, Jennifer, who works with a student with deafblindness whom I taught for several years.   As we spoke, she mentioned how effective an approach she is now using is in helping this student to both grasp and remember science concepts.  Completely coincidentally, I ran across an old letter in my classroom that this same student had written to me.  She was asking to spend more time observing tactile models.  The thing that really struck me about the letter was that she used the word “touch” almost 10 times (in a letter that was only about 70 words).  This really drove home the point…..  PLEASE GIVE ME SOMETHING TO TOUCH! 

Often students who are deafblind are expected to cover similar science content as general education students.  This is problematic due to the fact that the amount of content required for most high school science classes is more in-depth than most deafblind students can master in the year. Often the lesson will need to be simplified for a student who is deafblind depending on his or her prior knowledge.  This will allow for the deafblind student to follow similar content throughout the year. 

Suggestions for Instruction of Students Who Are Deafblind

  1. Work with the classroom teacher to determine the main concepts of instruction for each unit.  

Also, choose content that will be of most interest to the student.  It will likely be necessary to choose ONLY 3 to 4 main concepts per unit in order for the student to have time to master the content.  Stress to the classroom teacher that this simplification of content will allow the student to truly master the material.  

  1. For each unit choose ONLY 5-6 words to define.  

Again, work with the instructor to decide which words to choose.

  1. As you begin instruction in each unit, assume that the student has NO prior knowledge.  

Ask specific clarifying questions throughout instruction as students who are deafblind will often acknowledge understanding content that does not make sense to them.  Always consider whether the student understands simpler concepts upon which the science content is based.  Back up to the point that the student has knowledge of the content. This will take more time, but it will result in better comprehension and interest for the student.

  1. Take into account the reading level of the student.  

Typically high school students who are deafblind have reading levels 7-8 grade levels below their general education peers.  This will often require using a simplified text or creating text at a level appropriate for the student.  If the student is not comprehending the classroom text, don’t frustrate him or her by using it.  

  1. If possible, have the TVI or intervener introduce content instead of remaining part of the class for instruction.

This is particularly important if some of the content covered in class will not be covered by the student, as this would be confusing to the student.  This will generally occur if content has been significantly simplified for the deafblind student.  

  1. It will likely be advantageous to allow the intervener to work individually with the student for much of the instructional time.  

The better understanding the intervener has of the material, the better he or she will be able to facilitate instruction.  Ideally, the intervener would be offered a planning period for this preparation.

  1. Each unit should include tactile models and/or student-built models.  

Links to models built by Jennifer’s student are at the end of this blog. 

A Typical Model Instructional Unit for Students Who Are Deafblind

(Per Jennifer Groeschen)

Day 1: Introduce vocabulary to the student and allow student to make flashcards.

Day 2:  Simplified lesson provided to the student in his or her reading medium.  Individual instruction and discussion of the content with the intervener. The format of the lesson will depend upon the student.

Days 3-5:  Student-built model of the content

Day 6:   Assessment: A variety of assessment formats can be used.  The assessment should be based on the words and concepts of the unit. 


Sample Student-Built Models

These two models were created by a student who is deafblind:

In closing, this approach to instruction allows the student to gain the main ideas of the content without frustrating him by presenting the material in a manner that is too complicated.  The student remains engaged in instruction and enjoys learning.   

Many thanks to Jennifer Groeschen for her wisdom and time. 

science instruction collage for Pinterest

By Laura Hospitál

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