Tactile representation of a cursor placed between the first and second letter of the braille word

Tips for Young Students Learning to Use a Screenreader

Students who are in Elementary school and who are learning to use a screenreader require a concept base, repetition, and fun!

In Short-Term Programs, we teach week-long academic programs to students of a variety of ages. For our youngest students (1st– 4th grade), some of whom may be affected by homesickness, we offer a short-term program model that we call our Elementary series class. Students who come for this program attend three 3-day sessions (about once per month over 3 months). In between sessions, we work with the student’s Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments in order to support skill maintenance.

I teach a series class for students in grades 2-4 called Tech Tools. Most of the students who are referred to Tech Tools are using the JAWS screenreader. However, no matter what screenreader is being taught, sitting in front of the computer all day can be a challenge for young students! Over the years I have developed a few tools and activities that I hope make learning the computer more fun for young students.

Consider these tools/activities when teaching basic computer skills:

●     Tactually explore both a laptop and a desktop computer; label each physical component and compare and contrast each kind of computer

●     When teaching basic navigation of the computer desktop, use a model of a tactile desktop. One way that I use this tool is to illustrate the concept of focusing on one program at a time (computer focus). To help kids understand this, place 2 or more of the tactile icons somewhere on the screen portion of the tactile desktop. Use the highlighter tool to demonstrate how, as the user presses Alt + Tab, the focus shifts from one program to another.

The image below depicts a tactile computer desktop using an all-in-one board from APH; icons, start button, task bar, and system tray are all depicted using Velcro and foam board with Braille overlay.

Icons, start button, task bar and system tray are all depicted using Velcro and foam board with Braille overlay.

The image below shows a tactile computer desktop depicting the concept of computer focus; icons are depicted using Velcro and foam board and the “Focus” tool is a piece of foam board with a square piece cut out of the middle so that it can fit over a tactile icon to show the concept of focus.

Tactile graphic depicting the computer

●     Use tactile tools to support learning of abstract concepts (such as areas encountered in a dialog box)

The image below is a tactile tool representing the concept of radio buttons in a dialog box;  it is a piece of braille paper with round Velcro buttons on it and a foam board with a circle cut out to show the concept of selecting the button choice.

Tactile representation of radio buttons in a dialog box.

The image below is a tactile tool depicting the concept of a left/right slider in a dialog box; it is a piece of Braille paper with 0%, 50% and 100% in braille from bottom left to right in even increments with a paper clip attached to the top to indicate sliding motion.

 Tactile representation depicting the concept of a left/right slider in a dialog box.

●     Use a tactile tool to support learning about the cursor, if the student does not have a Braille display

The Image below is of an all-in-one board from APH being used to depict the concept of a cursor; foam board squares are Velcroed to the all-in-one board with one Braille alphabet sticker on each foam board square in order to form a word.  Then there is a cursor line that was created using a foam board cut into a long stick.

Tactile representation of a cursor placed between the first and second letter of the braille word

●     For learning key commands, consider command bingo! In this game, which is best played with students who have a pretty good working knowledge of commands, the teacher calls out the command function (e.g., this command underlines text), then the student locates the correct command (e.g., Ctrl + U) and places a tactile sticker on that spot. I used wiki sticks to separate and create each block, but a hot glue line (using a hot glue gun) or pipe cleaner would work just as well!

The image below shows a piece of braille paper divided into 12 squares that are separated by Wikki Stix.  Inside each square is an embossed key command.

A tactile Braille Bingo card with an embossed key command in each square.

●     For learning key commands, consider a physical game, such as Jumping JAWS: Peers stand in an area of the room that has some space to move. Teacher asks a student a question (e.g., how do you put the focus to the Desktop?) and student responds. If the student correctly answers the question, he or she asks a peer to do a safe and appropriate movement or activity for 5 seconds (e.g., jumping jacks, touch toes, sing a song). Repeat with each student.

●     Students who are learning the flash drive: if you have 2 or more students in a class – have students write a short letter to a peer. After the letters are typed, students can copy them to a flash drive, remove them safely, then give to a peer. Each recipient inserts the flash drive, locates the letter, copies it to a folder, and reads it.

●     Students who are working on reading commands: Find a short play for students to listen to; practice reading the play using different reading commands (e.g., by line or by paragraph). Emboss the play and have students act it out.

●     Students who are working on typing and editing: Find a short recipe that will not take too long to make, such as a yogurt parfait. Read the recipe to the students and ask them to type the recipe. Then, emboss the recipe and proceed to make the snack!

●     Students who are working on typing, editing, and formatting: Have a party! Make invitations in MS Word and use formatting to fancy them up (e.g., Center the title of the party, Underline the date and time, Bold the recipient’s name, etc…)

These are just a few ideas; many of my younger students have enjoyed these activities. I’d love to hear what others are doing to make learning the computer fun for young students who use a screenreader!

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