What does Ms. Milton need to know about students with visual impairments?
Page 3: How Visual Impairments Impact Learning
Now that Ms. Milton better understands the visual functioning that Evan and Emily experience in their daily lives, she feels more prepared to include them in her classroom. Still, she wonders how having visual impairments will affect the ways in which Evan and Emily will learn new concepts and skills. Moreover, she is concerned about how she will support them in developing these concepts and skills, especially Evan who will learn about things that he cannot see.
Concepts are ideas or mental images created through interactions in an environment. The understanding of specific concepts is developed through a process of classifying or grouping similar things (e.g., beagles, poodles, and golden retrievers are all dogs) and through discriminating categories of concepts (e.g., dogs are not cats). Children often learn new concepts naturally through direct interaction, observation, reading, pictures, media (e.g., television, Internet), and verbal explanations.
Some researchers estimate that 90% of what young children learn is acquired through visual experiences. However, teaching students with visual impairments can be challenging. Understanding the following challenges will help Ms. Milton teach Evan and Emily more effectively.
- Fewer opportunities for incidental learning: Students with sight learn through incidental learning—simply observing the world around them (e.g., watching fireworks bursting or birds flying). Similar concepts must be directly taught to children with visual impairments.
- Part-to-whole learning: Vision enables individuals to quickly take in a lot of information and gather the whole picture. Because students with visual impairments sometimes, learn through touch, they first learn about the parts before putting them together to create the full entity (e.g., looking at a tree instead of touching its leaves, branches, or bark). This is known as part-to-whole learning.
- Lack of physical access: Some environmental concepts cannot be developed through touch due to physical access or safety issues (e.g., elk in the zoo). To develop such concepts, teachers may have to rely on a combination of verbal explanations, realistic models, books about the particular animal, and other related experiences (e.g., a trip to a natural history museum to touch a preserved animal).
Strategies to Support Concept Development
Now that Ms. Milton has an understanding of Evan’s and Emily’s visual abilities and the challenges associated with concept development, she can focus on effective strategies for presenting information to them. Because children who are blind or have low vision use other sensory information to learn about the world around them, teachers can support conceptual learning by providing meaningful opportunities for hands-on interactions with real items. For example, during geography lessons, a topographic globe for Evan and Emily would be a helpful learning tool. Likewise, when teaching money concepts, she should use real money because of its true texture, weight, and feel, rather than using imitation currency.
It is also important for Ms. Milton to include other senses, in addition to touch, to ensure that Evan and Emily have adequate information to better understand the concepts being taught. For example, while learning about the structure of plants, opportunities to touch, smell, and taste (when appropriate) the various parts of plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables will assist Evan and Emily in developing a complete understanding of the related concepts. This approach will also provide a motivating learning experience for the entire class.
The 2013-2014 sitcom “Growing up Fisher” features J.K. Simmons, who plays Mel, a typical family man and lawyer, who happens to be blind, coping with divorce. Take an hour or two to watch a couple of episodes, and then discuss how the series portrays blindness, Mel’s compensatory skills, as well as the other characters’ reactions to Mel’s visual impairment. Episodes can be viewed at the NBC Website: https://www.nbc.com/growing-up-fisher