FOUNDATIONS OF EDUCATION

VOLUME II

INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING CHILDREN AND YOUTHS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS

Introduction

The job of a teacher of students with visual impairments is both rewarding and challenging. The rewards come from working closely with individual students or small groups of students who are blind or visually impaired, providing instruction in unique skills, and watching them grow with increasing independence and self-actualization to young adulthood. Given this individualized approach, teachers of students with visual impairments have many opportunities for working closely with parents, general education teachers, and administrators. Teachers in this field often have more autonomy than do professionals in other jobs, and their work may vary greatly from day to day. Furthermore, there is a close camaraderie that exists among teachers and other specialists who work with students who are blind or visually impaired. Those entering the field are often surprised that they can contact the most noted authorities and receive personal advice and guidance.

Although there are many unique rewards for teachers of students with visual impairments, there are also significant challenges. Given the low-incidence nature of this population of students, it is highly likely that supervisors and administrators will have little or no knowledge of or special preparation in the area of blindness and visual impairment. If this is the case, they may not be prepared to plan and administer programs for students who are visually impaired. As a result, caseloads assigned to teachers in day school programs often exceed reasonable numbers. Circumstances such as these can place teachers in the uncomfortable position of addressing some, but not all, student needs, or addressing needs in a superficial manner. In addition, students with visual impairments vary greatly in their individual characteristics, both in the extent of visual impairment and in the presence additional disabilities. Teachers are expected to carry out a variety of specialized assessments, as well as to teach the many unique skills that students with visual impairments need to be independent. Teachers of visually impaired students are expected to know how to provide support to a high school student who is blind in a trigonometry class, while at the same time know how to teach a toddler with severe disabilities to feed himself or herself.

Accomplished teachers of students with visual impairments balance the challenges of the profession with the overarching rewards that are interwoven throughout. For new professionals entering the field, the daily complexities of the job may at first seem to be insurmountable. New teachers should remember, however, that other professionals are always willing to provide assistance, advice, and support. Also, an ever-expanding wealth of materials and resources are available to assist the beginning teacher of students who are visually impaired. The book you are now reading represents part of that wealth of materials.

Foundations of Education: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments presents information and strategies for assessing, planning programs for, and teaching students who are blind or visually impaired. It is intended to be a basic methods textbook in visual impairment and, as such, is written to address the needs of university students in undergraduate and graduate preservice programs. Practicing teachers of students with visual impairments will also find this book useful, as it presents updated and new strategies for teaching their students. Parents, administrators, orientation and mobility specialists, general classroom teachers, and eye care specialists will also find the information to be helpful and, along with a wider audience, may use this book as an important desk reference.

While some beginning and practicing teachers in the field may look for a "cookbook" to help them address all of the complex needs of their students, this book is not such a resource. Although cookbooks are effective resources for preparing meals, they rarely, if ever, address the real-life issues and strategies needed to meet the complicated needs of students with visual impairments. Instructional Strategies presents essential background information and theory, with a focus on strategies that will be useful to teachers. However, these strategies must be tailored, modified, and expanded to meet the individual needs of each student. To accomplish this, teachers should observe the behavior of their students carefully, use principles of diagnostic teaching skillfully, and make changes on an ongoing basis to address their students' changing needs. The information in this book should be considered a springboard for the creative and reflective teacher to begin planning appropriate strategies, knowing that other resources, ongoing professional development, and a solid dose of common sense will be needed to refine effective teaching techniques.

Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on the topics of teaming, assessment, and basic instructional strategies. The book begins with a chapter on fundamental principles and strategies for working as an effective team member, the basis for all work of teachers of students with visual impairments. Then three chapters present assessment strategies for students who are blind or visually impaired. A key role of the teacher is to provide information to diagnosticians and school psychologists on effective assessment techniques, as well as to carry out portions of the assessment related to unique skills. This section concludes with two chapters on basic instructional strategies. The first relates to principles for making appropriate modifications in instruction, whereas the second relates to strategies for designing instruction in the areas of unique skills, called the expanded core curriculum, needed by students with visual impairments.

The second section focuses on specific instructional strategies in various areas or for specific groups of students. This section begins with a comprehensive chapter on addressing the needs of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with visual impairments. The next five chapters focus on academic subject matter areas—literacy skills, social studies and science, mathematics, fine arts, and physical education and health—with special emphasis given to teaching the unique skills in each of these areas. The next seven chapters focus on specific components of the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments. These include the areas of visual efficiency, assistive technology, orientation and mobility, independent living skills, social skills, recreation and leisure skills, and career education. The success of students with visual impairments is influenced heavily by mastery of skills in these disability-specific areas and, therefore, a substantial portion of the book is devoted to these essential topics.

A chapter is then presented on general strategies for teaching students with additional disabilities, although the beginning teacher will need further information and strategies to work effectively with this population. Additional readings are offered for this purpose, as well as additional strategies on this topic in Chapters 7–19. The book ends with a chapter devoted to providing information on blindness and visual impairment to parents and the general public, a unique role of teachers of students with visual impairments.

A key component of success for a teacher of students with visual impairments is a commitment to lifelong learning and continued professional development. New strategies, materials, resources, and technologies are being developed at a rapid pace, and the successful teacher must take steps to gain new information on an ongoing basis. Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments presents a wealth of information from highly skilled professionals in the field and represents a foundation on which further knowledge and skills may be built.

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Foundations of Education, 2nd Edition, © 2000 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.



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