In this webcast, TVI Barbara Gillmeister talks about the strategies she uses to support students who are visually impaired/blind in the public school classroom. Barbara talks about the importance of forming partnerships with the science teacher and also clarifying the role of the TVI. She also discusses the need for long range planning in order to ensure the student has the appropriate materials, textbooks, access to websites, etc.
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Length of time to complete: approximately 30 minutes
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
NARRATOR: Barbara Gillmeister received her M.Ed. in teaching children who are visually impaired or blind, from Boston College. She has worked as an independent contractor for many school districts and collaborative in the MetroWest Boston Area for over 40 years.
Her professional experience has spanned the field from students who are totally blind in regular school classes to multiple impaired students with cortical visual impairment in substantially separate settings.
To continue the excellence of future TVIs in the filed she has mentored teachers through the U. Mass TVI program. Her teaching philosophy forge professional relationships with all school staff by being an impactful resources, offering positive reinforcement for staff efforts and above all, be respectful of everyone’s time.
GILLMEISTER: So for a successful year in science, it would be great if you could find out the spring before who the teacher is going to be. In public school, that really varies a lot. You don’t always have that information, but you can usually always get the information about the curriculum. And you can talk to a science teacher.
It’s important for the administration to understand that the sooner you know who the teacher is going to be for science, the more you can really key in on what it is on the information that you’ll need for the following school year.
So generally speaking — and it certainly goes for more than just science, but I would say science and math especially — teachers are very nervous about having students that need many accommodations for class.
I think the key piece right at the very beginning is to form a partnership or relationship with the science teacher. And you want them to understand that you are relying on them for science, and they can rely on you for accommodations and making sure that there’s successful inclusion into the science program.
When you first meet with the teacher, whenever that is, spring, summer, in forming your relationship, it’s important for them to understand what your role is. And sometimes, I think those of us who’ve been around a while, it’s easy to kind of forget to tell those things. You just sort of jump in and start working.
And I think it’s important for the teacher to understand it’s their curriculum that you are there to help make it accessible for your student. But to let them know what your role is, and here’s what I can do. Let’s work out what would work for you. And I think that it’s very important for teachers to understand what your role is.
CHAPTER 2: Long Range Planning
GILLMEISTER: If you can find out about the curriculum in the spring, then you want to begin by finding out what materials are going to be used for class– what are the subjects that are going to be covered and what the materials are. So is there a science book that’s going to be used? And I’ve had science teachers say to me, well, I only use chapter eight and nine out of the book. I still want to have the book for my student.
Then, you also need to find out what websites teachers use, what primary sources they use. Are there apps that they use? Because you need to find out with your student, their modus operandi, is that going to work with what the teacher is using? So a website that they might go to all the time, will voice over or whatever speech output you’re going to use with a student who uses that, is that going to work with websites that the teacher is using?
And you also may need to teach your student how to use those websites. Because sometimes, they’re complicated to get around. And so, you want your student to be comfortable so that they can go right to the material that they need.
So the more you can find out sources your teacher is going to use — sometimes they use a publisher’s website, science.com, let’s say, or science K to 12. And they use materials from there so there. So they can be electronic. Anything that can be electronic can be used much easier for kids who are using all kinds of computer devices.
NARRATOR: We see an example of a science lesson available on the website k12.com. It’s a lesson about animal classification — specifically, the differences between spiders and insects.
One of the suggested activities is building a three-dimensional insect using sections of an egg carton to represent the head, abdomen, and thorax, pipe cleaners for the six legs and two antennae, and wax paper for the wings.
This would be an activity that would require little or no adaptation for a blind or visually impaired student.
NARRATOR: The activity to help identify a spider involves cutting out a two-dimensional diagram on a sheet of paper and coloring in the various body parts.
This would require some adaptation for a student who is visually impaired or blind in order for it to be informative.
GILLMEISTER: I’ve learned a lot of new science lately. It’s a lot of curriculum to understand so that yes, you can make it as accessible as possible for your student. Yes, sometimes you do need to look at more than just the picture. You do need to understand how is this supposed to work. Because you may think of another way to make something once you understand more about the example that’s given.
CHAPTER 3: Preparing Materials to Access the Science Curriculum
GILLMEISTER: Prior to the first day of school, I always like to know what’s going to happen the first couple weeks of school in detail. And perhaps the first month, because you really want to be on top of things right as school is starting. You also want to know what kinds of tactile graphics teachers are going to be using within their texts. And that’s probably the most time-consuming.
At that time, you should already know how much preparation you’re going to need to do for this science class. If you’re going to need to reproduce many materials, many tactile graphics, then you’re going to need space to do that in. You need administration to be on board so they understand that you are going to need more time to be able to produce those materials for your student.
And you’re going to need a dedicated space that you can set up that you can easily go to and have items that you need to be able to produce your materials. It can be basic items or it can be things that you make with Pictures in A Flash, which is a great device that I’ve used in school. It’s good for exactly what it says — a picture that you need in a second. You need a place to set that up. It’s not really big, but again, you need your own space.
NARRATOR: We see a photograph of a Picture in a flash Device. Diagrams, graphs or drawings on thermally-sensitive paper are passed through the device, and a raised line drawing emerges on the other side of the machine.
GILLMEISTER: I’ve had places where I’ve had great space, where I had a good size room that was dedicated space just for me. And then I’ve worked in one school where I actually could reach both hands to the walls. And I was reproducing all kinds of braille documents, and it was quite the little workspace.
And again, I think it depends on what’s available, how much you push. It’s really hard sometimes for teachers of the visually impaired who maybe aren’t working full-time for the school system, or they’re working as an independent contractor, or they work for many school systems. You have to really stand firm on what you believe your needs are, and you kind of pick your battles, and then decide what you can compromise on.
But if you don’t have a dedicated space and you’re going to be making a lot of materials, you’re going to waste a lot of time in trying to get the items together that you need every time you’re going to want to make something.
APH makes a tremendous amount of materials that are available so that you don’t have to remake things. I would suggest that you go to the APH catalog or go to a fair if you can to see what’s available.
NARRATOR: We see an example of a graphic illustration of our solar system and the eight planets that orbit the sun.
This two-dimensional color illustration would need to be adapted to provide meaningful information to a student who is visually impaired or blind.
NARRATOR: Next, we see a simple black and white template of the inner solar system, available as a free download from the image library at aph.org.
The template can be used to reproduce a raised line drawing with the aid of a picture in a flash device.
The four inner planets are depicted by black dots, and their orbits by thin black concentric circles.
At the center is a black eight-pointed star shape representing the sun.
The sun and four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are each labeled in Braille.
CHAPTER 4: Assistive Technology and Other Resources
GILLMEISTER: So you need at the beginning of the year, when you’re starting to find out what’s going to be required in the science class, you can figure out how the technology that your student is using, how’s got to fit in with what’s going on in class, or the method of operation of your student. You know where they’re a braille reader or they use devices to enlarge print, then you’ll be able to quickly figure out how is the student going to be able to fit into the curriculum that’s going on, or how can you accommodate the curriculum for your student?
So one place I’ve gone is the Perkins Accessible Science website, and there’s many good videos there. They give you ideas of how to do many things for science class.
NARRATOR: As an example, we see a textbook illustration depicting a cutaway model of the Earth’s layers — a yellow inner core, an orange outer core, a red mantle and a thin brown crust.
NARRATOR: Next is an example of a tactile model that a student who is blind or visually impaired can create using a hot glue gun and materials of different colors and textures.
Circles of four expanding sizes are drawn on the different materials with the hot glue gun. The materials represent the inner core, the outer core, the mantle and the crust.
The student uses the glue circles as a guide to cut out each of the layers and then stack them on top of one another. Each layer is labeled in braille tape.
The instructions are available on the Perkins Accessible Science website.
GILLMEISTER: There are other software and apps that students can use in class. One of them is called join.me. And it enables a student to have on an iPad what the teacher is using on a white board, or from their computer, projecting from their computer allows them to have that right on their iPad.
There’s Notability is another app that I use frequently. It allows a teacher to download a worksheet right into something that the student is then able to write on, either with their finger, or they can type on, or they can highlight, do many things that you might ordinarily do with a regular worksheet. And then again, it can be saved, it can be sent back.
It’s important to know kind of what the teacher is using most of the time. A lot of schools are using Google Docs. So you want your student to be able to use whatever it is that everybody else is generally using for communication, and then kind of beef it up with a couple extra things like join.me, Notability, recording apps.
Another technology that I like to use with my students when available is descriptive video, because there tend to be a number of videos shown in science class many times. A lot of people don’t know what descriptive video is. It has a narrator that when there’s no talking going on in the video, someone narrates what’s going on in the video. You can actually look at YouTube and get some snippets of what that is like. And that has been really valuable for classes that I can find descriptive videos in for students.
NARRATOR: We see and hear a video on cell mitosis — the process by which cells divide and replicate. This video contains a descriptive narration.
The fibers then pull the chromatids to the opposite poles of the cell.
This step is called anaphase.
Each set will become the chromosomes in the nuclei of two new cells.
GILLMEISTER: I actually once had a descriptive video shown to a whole class, rather than just my student doing that someplace else. And the class actually didn’t realize that it was any different. And I found that the descriptive video gave some great information that you may not have picked up on otherwise. So sometimes, something like that would be great for the whole class.
I had a third grader. They were looking at dirt samples. And he used a CCTV sometimes in class. And the kids all had little groups with little piles of dirt, and they were using small magnifiers to look at the dirt samples. And we took his dirt sample and put it under the CCTV, which had a nice big screen, and you could do many different kinds of enlarging on there. And the kids loved looking at it with his CCTV.
And it was great because it really made it part of the regular class, and it’s no big deal piece of equipment, and hey, it could benefit everybody. So I think there are materials and equipment out there that everybody can use. And I would suggest if there’s something you’re using with your student that everybody could use, I would say do that with everybody.
I also try and go to as many things as I can go to, either online or classes that are around the area that either Perkins has or other sources have. I’m on a great website called Flying Blind. There are definitely things that I’ve keyed in on that have been really valuable to have and to know about. So I think you kind of need to be all over the place. It’s very difficult. It’s great these days that there’s so much technology, and it’s also difficult that there’s so much technology, because it’s hard to stay on top of everything.
I like my students to know what’s available. I look at it as they have a tool box. And just as we have our favorite ways of reading or looking at things online, I want my students to know that there’s a variety of ways to do the same assignment.
CHAPTER 5: The Challenge of the Science Lab for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired
GILLMEISTER: At the beginning of the year, I like to go into a few science classes so that I can see how the teacher runs his or her class. And then either make suggestions to the teacher or make some kind of adjustments that are in the background. I try not to ask the teacher to make too many changes. Sometimes it particularly has to do with language — the words “here” and “there” and “this” and “that” aren’t particularly helpful, because we don’t know what you’re talking about. So I like to go in at the beginning of the year to a few classes.
As soon as the first lab comes up in high school, junior high, I like to try and be there, so again, I can see how organized is the teacher? What’s the set-up like? Generally, most labs in schools are done with partners or in small groups, which is terrific, but I also like to make sure that my students are as involved in the lab as possible.
So to do that, sometimes you need to preview what’s going to be in the lab, including looking at the materials that are going to be used, so that they’re not new as the student is walking into the lab. And I want to make sure that they’re a full partner in the lab. I don’t want them to always be the person who keeps data for the lab. I want them putting parts together. Whatever is safe for them to do, I want them to be part of that.
So sometimes you do need to be there to help the other students understand that Susie is perfectly capable of doing this. It might take a few seconds, a few minutes longer. And again, if you preview it and work on some of those skills, your student might be able to accomplish this better once it comes to lab time. But you want to make sure that your student’s a full part of the team for the lab.
NARRATOR: We see some equipment that has been adapted to allow students to participate in certain lab functions. Some of the equipment is used for measuring liquids, and has raised markings on the outside of containers.
A talking scale is helpful for measuring weights.
TALKING SCALE: 67 grams.
More information regarding adaptive lab equipment can be found on the Perkins Teachable Moments website.
GILLMEISTER: There’s some equipment out there that can be helpful for accommodations for a student. And some observations, honestly, they’re just going to have to get from a partner. We poured this liquid into this other one, and it turned red. And I think it’s certainly important information to know, just as I think it’s important for blind students to know that fire engines are red and pumpkins are orange. Generally, it’s important to know what happened, what the observation was in the science class. You can’t always make an accommodation.
Things that you might want to consider about labs after you’ve gone through the lab with the classroom teacher are the materials that are going to be used. Are there any sharp items? Are there any liquids that are harmful? Is there any heat that’s going to be used in the lab? Is anything being heated up in the lab?
Some things you can make replacements for or you can make accommodations for. And at some point, you might decide that no, this isn’t going to be able to be done by my student. And again, it’s going to totally matter what your student is like, and what their level of ability is like, and what their independent skills are, how good are they at pouring to begin with, that kind of thing.
So it’s important to know are there are any potential hazards that could happen during a lab, and how you might want to handle that.
CHAPTER 6: Accommodations for Testing and Homework Assignments
GILLMEISTER: Prepping a student for a test — when they know that there’s a test coming up on Thursday, I like to be able to give my students an idea of the format of the test. For example, it’s 25 questions long. There are four fill-in-the-blanks. There are five multiple choice. Each multiple choice has five choices, that kind of thing.
Because people who aren’t visually impaired can quickly eyeball the test and see how long the test is and what’s going to be necessary to finish it, whereas especially a braille student who’s reading a line at a time isn’t going to know that without taking a good amount of time to scan the whole test themselves. So it’s just a heads up. It doesn’t give away any information on the test.
I might also say there’s going to be three tactile graphics. You’ve already seen them. Or for a low-vision student, there’s going to be three pictures. You’ve already seen them. And that’s how I would prep a student for a test.
All students take different amounts of time to complete assignments, whether it’s homework or tests. I look at completing assignments for visually impaired students, that it shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. So if it’s an assignment that’s straightforward, then I think they can complete it like anyone else, again, depending on the abilities of your student.
If it has many pictures or many things that need to be labeled, labeling usually takes quite a bit of time. So I might want to figure out a way to redo that assignment, whether it’s homework or a test.
NARRATOR: We see an example of a labeling exercise from the K-12 website regarding the classification of spiders versus insects. It shows a photo of a flying ant.
There are six question marks that surround the photo. And from each question mark, a line points to various parts of the ant.
Clicking on a question mark reveals a label that identifies the part of the ant that the line points to.
This is an example of an assignment that would have to be modified for a student who is blind or visually impaired.
GILLMEISTER: On a test, an alternative way for a student to answer a question that has to do with labeling might be to list items. My student might just list the 10 parts that the other students are labeling. Another alternative to that, depending on what the teacher is looking for, could be to give a description of what that picture would look like. So knowing what is on top of something else, or what’s underneath something else, or knowing where the heart is relative to where the liver is.
And again, it doesn’t have to be completely exact, but a general idea so that the teacher knows the student has a general idea of how everything is placed. There are times that my students do things orally for tests. It proves to work out quite well.
For example, I had a student that everyone else was labeling a skeleton, and there was a skeleton in the classroom. So the classroom teacher just asked my student who was blind to show where certain bones were on the skeleton that was in the classroom. It went really quickly and the student was easily able to show where those parts were.
I think it’s important for students to have some prep time for science class, sometimes other classes as well. I think they need the time to be able to look at what’s going to be required of them that’s coming up, whether it’s looking at materials, or a discussion about materials. I think somehow, it’s been very helpful to always have some kind of prep time for students worked into their weekly schedule.
And again, it might not be daily. Do it depending on your student. Maybe it’s a weekly period that gives you a chance to go over materials that you need to go over.
CHAPTER 7: The Value of Timely Communication
GILLMEISTER: It’s important to have a regular meeting with the science teacher. And regular is up to whatever works for both of you. It’s important to find out what the comfort level is of a teacher for their time. Especially in high school, high school teachers have 100, 125 students. You can’t use all their time for your student. So I think it’s best to find out yes, what’s a good way to communicate with them? What method do they use? When are their prep periods?
I always make an appointment. I try never to pop in during a prep period, because they’re usually always have something planned. So if you can make a weekly meeting, that would be great, or every other week, or just find out — again, you could email them and say, can I meet with you during your prep period tomorrow for 10 minutes? And usually if you put an amount of time on it, then they appreciate that. So I think I always try and share with my teachers that I realize they have a lot of other students, so I’m going to be respectful of their time.
They usually have mapped out the unit that they’re on, when they expect to be finished with the unit, when they expect to have a test, when they’re going to have a lab. And that’s important for you to fill in on your calendar, so that you can be up on say, a week before a test is going to be given, you might even mention to the teacher, do you have a copy of the test yet? So that you can know what’s going to be asked and start to make it accessible for your student.
Because the teacher may not remember that they need to talk to you about it. It’s helpful when you know their calendar. You also have to remember that things happen and their calendar might change. And students didn’t understand the lesson the way that the teacher wanted, so they’re spending more time on this particular topic. And that moves everything out, so you have to be flexible as well. But I think a regular meeting can help give you those details of exactly what’s going to happen and on what days for the most part.
And I like to be prepared enough so that I give materials to the teacher a couple days before they say they’re going to use something. I want to be ahead. So if the teacher says, we want to be looking at this tactile graphic that was in the book on Thursday, I’d like to get it to them Tuesday, which means that you have to have gone over it with your student before then, because you’re going to be giving it away to the science teacher so that they have available at that time that they’re going to use it.