The Visually Impaired Child|
by Dave Melanson
Helping Sight Impaired Students Within the Social Structure of the Classroom
At the beginning of the school year, the students in your classroom are often forming new friendships and beginning to relate to each other. As we are all aware, children can often be very judgmental of each other in terms of who is "cool" and who is not. Often the children will base their judgments on such things as the clothes classmates wear, how competitive they are in phys ed, and whether they are physically challenged in any
This is one of the reasons why sight impaired or blind children often try not to look different than the other children. One of the most common problems I have heard teachers tell me is that many sight impaired children do not want to use their adaptive aids in the classroom. If they have special reading glasses or magnifiers they often do not want to use them in front of their classmates for fear of standing out and looking different.
It is important that you as their teacher encourage the students to use their adaptive aids as this is what allows them to be on a more equal path with the rest of the class. You as their teacher may want to try having an open discussion with your students about "differences," not talking specifically about your sight impaired student but rather about differences in general, pointing out to your students that every single one of them in your classroom has different qualities and that everyone cannot be equally good in all of the tasks that they perform.
You will often be able to detect any signs of intolerance about differences by some students and be able to help put them in check. There are many ways to put positive pressure on these students to stop being intolerant. For example, if you detect unfair treatment of the sight impaired, or any other child in your class, you could invite the children displaying the unfair treatment to participate in acting out situations (role playing) in which THEY are the physically challenged students being treated unfairly. In this way they have the opportunity to experience how it feels to be treated unfairly. This might help them develop empathy for the challenges experienced by others. When you notice them being helpful afterward, be sure to acknowledge that appropriate behavior with a smile, a pat on the back, a comment showing your appreciation.
Peace Pals Pave the Way to Tolerance
Here in Montreal Pierre Eliot Trudeau School has a new program for students. Peace Pals is open to senior students (grades 5 and 6). This program is designed to encourage students of the school to become actively involved in the well being of their school community. At the beginning of the school year students are asked to write and submit a letter stating their interest in becoming a Peace Pal. A limited group of students are chosen for the program. These students then go through a training program which lasts until the middle of November. They learn how to be tolerant and how to negotiate and, most importantly, how to be fair.
In the middle of November the school has an assembly in the gym where the certificates are handed out to the students who have successfully passed the Peace Pal program. They are then given orange vests to wear at school so that they are easily identified by both students and other teachers.
The Peace Pals are then given the responsibility to assist the teachers in the school yard at recess and lunch to look out for the physically challenged children and ensure that these children feel included in the play activities. If they see a fight, they will try and talk to the two students involved in the fight to resolve it peacefully. Often the children do resolve it with the Peace Pals because they know that if they do not resolve it with the Peace Pal, a teacher would resolve it.
Peace Pals are also permitted to leave their classroom during the school day to resolve disputes. If there is a dispute between two students they go to the Peace Pal table which is situated near the main office where they are allowed 15 minutes to resolve any problems which may have occurred. This is usually effective as the students know that if they can settle these issues with one of their fellow students voluntarily they do not have to have a teacher settle the issue in a way with which they may not feel comfortable.
It has been very encouraging to me to talk with teachers today who tell me that visually impaired and blind children are now often able to form strong, positive friendships with their classmates. These other classmates often look out for and assist their sight impaired friends. Such assistance is always welcomed and beneficial to the giver as these children are able to learn at an early age how to assist someone who is physically challenged and, most importantly, how to be tolerant and accepting of others.
David Melanson, frequent contributor to the Teachers.Net Gazette,
has just self-published Integration: A Rewarding Experience, a manual for educators on the topic of working with sight-impaired students. As a sight-impaired person whose parents persisted in having their son placed in "regular" (public school) classrooms, David's experiences, perspective, and advice are particularly interesting and helpful. The manual is interesting and worthy of reading even if one does not currently have a sight-impaired student in class.
The cost in the U.S. is $10 plus $2 .45 for postage. In Canada: $15 Canadian plus $1 .45 postage. Money orders are preferred. To order the manual, contact Mr. Melanson by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Should you have difficulty reaching Dave directly, contact Kathleen Carpenter email@example.com with "Melanson Manual" in the subject line.
To access monthly chats on the topic of working with sight-impaired students, moderated by David Melanson, visit the Teachers.Net Archives.
Sight Impaired Students, December 12, 2001
Integration Of Visually Impaired And Blind Students Into The Regular Schools
Accommodating the Visually Impaired Child
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, Sept. 21, 2000
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, December 6, 2000
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, February 15, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, May 7, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, July 19, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, August 6, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, October 23, 2001