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How Do I . . .

"Managing a classroom as a blind person requires structure and discipline. But then again, I would argue that any kind of adequate classroom management requires these attributes. It helps immeasurably to put in time at the beginning of each school year establishing a classroom culture of mutual respect and consideration. Yes, you will do some things differently than other teachers. But that’s the beauty of being human—we are a wonderfully diverse species. Helping our students—and by extension their parents and our community—develop positive and respectful attitudes toward creative problem solving, outside the box thinking, and techniques that successfully include everyone in the classroom and workplace is one of the great privileges and responsibilities of being a blind educator."

Cayte Mendez, President
National Organization of Blind Educators

How do I . . .

Work with proprietary software that is inaccessible?

  • Begin with social networking sites to see if anyone else has already solved your access problem.
  • Then go to software specific tech support, using an email because it facilitates laying out the problem and provides a paper trail.
  • Mention up front you are using a screen reader.
  • Be descriptive, but use step by step explanations to illustrate the problem.
  • Know your web navigation keys as well as you possibly can, expand your technical proficiency.
  • If digital buttons are unlabeled, sit down with a sighted person so you can then label them yourself, to eliminate future identification issues.
  • If your chosen screen reader is not correctly interfacing with a web site or digital teaching product, try an alternate reader. Sometimes the coding is just different enough that it will work.

Keep track of who is who?

  • Assign seats. That way you get a clear and consistent audio picture of the room: who is who and where they are. This works even in lower elementary classrooms with meeting areas. You can designate spots on the carpet or in the circle.
  • Learn the way each student sounds. Get to know their voices and the way they move, even the way their footsteps sound, and you can readily track classroom activity.
  • Instead of having students raise hands, ask them to call out their names if they wish to speak. This may take some getting used to, but it is a technique that is frequently implemented by blind people facilitating meetings and can be transferred to classrooms with students at any age level.

Do all the paperwork required by administrators?

  • Much of your paperwork can be completed electronically, so using a screen reading or magnifying program is most helpful. If you fill out a particular form often, scan it or obtain a digital copy, to facilitate filling it out. In a pinch, many forms can be filled out by including all relevant information on a separate typed sheet. This may be the most efficient method for filling out feedback forms or surveys, where the information is more important than the format.
  • If you have some residual vision, using either a desktop or portable CCTV may help you fill out forms.
  • Use student volunteers. Once you know your class, have someone reliable help you take attendance or put work into portfolios. Kids love to help and these will quickly become coveted jobs.
  • When labeling your classroom, make a digital file so that you only have to create each label once. From time to time have a colleague do a quick visual scan: “Hey, does my room still look ok, or do I need to update some stuff?” This will help you avoid things beginning to look tattered from wear and tear. Make a list of what needs to be updated and print from your pre-existing file.
  • When making classroom anchor charts, first check to see if your school has a poster maker. If so, you can create a master copy of the chart on your computer, print it out and have it blown up. This circumvents the need to make charts by hand. This also works well if you want to develop a chart with your students—you can project the work on the smart board while it is being created, then print it and enlarge it to be hung up. If you do need to make things manually, see if you can have a student (either one of yours or a student from an upper grade) do the hand-writing, and then laminate the final product for future use.

Evaluate students’ work as they work on it in class?

Have students read aloud what they have written on the paper. It is easy to tell if the student is actually reading. You can give feedback based on their reading. Additionally you can have student use your hand to trace lines to help them describe their drawing, problem-solving, etc.

Grade assignments and homework?

  • You may ask students to read their work to you verbatim, including punctuation, to help them make appropriate corrections. Students can also use their hands to trace drawings or graphics, so you can follow along.
  • You can make arrangements to work with a reader outside of school or during your planning period to look at larger volumes of work, or, for older students, ask them to turn in assignments digitally, which you can then access with your screen reader.
  • Again, use student helpers. If you want to make sure everyone’s work has their name and date, ask a student to circulate through the room and check to make sure that it does. Have students help you check homework as a special class privilege.

Familiarize myself with print curriculum?

  • Use scanners and live readers before beginning the school year to immerse yourself in the curriculum you will teach.
  • Some districts have curriculum on databases that only teachers can access, so a screen reading or magnifying program could help you to access the print on the web site.
  • As you are reading and learning, translate necessary materials into a format that you can access. It is also possible to contact publishers ahead of time to see if you can get an electronic copy of the text.
  • In the classroom, have students volunteer to read instructions, questions, or other material either in books or on websites, so that you can be sure you have all the information they do simultaneously.

Pick up on nonverbal communication from my students (i.e. tearing up in frustration)?

  • As much as they are able, encourage your students to express their feelings verbally. This gives them additional power, but it also gives you the cues you need to support them emotionally.
  • Make it part of your class culture to ask for help. Make it something respectable and laudable. Help your students understand that advocating for themselves will make them more successful, and head off those high frustration moments.
  • As much as you are able, check in with each student as they enter the classroom. “How are you today?” is a simple question that can give you a lot of information about the student’s mindset before they begin their work, and can help you know who might need a little extra support.
  • Listen to the background noise in your room. You will hear when one part of the room is too quiet, or when students are picking on someone, or when well-intentioned students are trying to support someone who is upset. Use those auditory clues to target your focus for assistance.

Do lunch/recess/bus duty?

  • Circulating and talking with kids constantly is an effective way to monitor larger groups. It keeps you informed as to who is where and what they are up to.
  • On the playground or in the schoolyard, you will probably never be the only adult present—this has nothing to do with blindness and everything to do with these places being high traffic areas. So, split the duty with another staff member.
  • Your best bet is to do one of two things. Either, as stated above, you can constantly circulate through the space, listening closely to students’ conversations, or you can stake out one possible trouble spot and make that particular area your own responsibility. The base of the slide or the climbing wall, near the merry-go-round or behind the swings—these are all potential challenge areas on a playground, and having an adult stationed there to head off accidents is a good idea under any circumstances. You can allow the other monitors circulate while you devote your attention to that one particular area.
  • It is also helpful to establish procedures with students ahead of time. This way, they can be held accountable for things like safety rules and line up procedures, which grows their responsibility and gives you clear language for expressing expectations and setting parameters.

Keep track of my class on a field trip?

  • Have an attendance sheet in braille or another medium that you can access. Then take attendance at designated times and places. You can also ask a responsible student to do regular head counts as a backup.
  • Using a buddy system is another way to keep kids grouped together. If managing behavior is an issue, you can pre-assign buddies, or let students; choose their own based on specific rules.
  • If you can manage it, go to the trip site in advance on your own time. Get to know the layout, key features, where the bathrooms and lunch facilities are, etc. Then when you bring your class, you will know the environment. Also use this time to get to know the educational aspects of the trip—what is each exhibit at the museum about? Are there new baby gorillas at the zoo? Does this factory have a vintage automobile out front? Then you can pass this knowledge along as you tour the site with your kids.
  • You may be expected or encouraged by your school’s culture to take parents on trips. As much as possible, utilize these extra resources. Give them copies of the map of the museum, garden, zoo, or facility you will be visiting, and let them be in charge of navigating the group from point A to point B. Give parents specific jobs according to the ages of your kids, so that they can feel useful and so that you can be more free to engage your students in the learning aspects of the trip.

Tell when my students are misbehaving?

  • Kids usually make noise when they’re not behaving. Use auditory clues and move around the room to pick up on nonvisual cues.
  • Keeping transitions smooth and having a full lesson also allows less time for the students to create their own activities.
  • Randomly calling on students during class activities for participation can also keep them focused.
  • Let one of your classroom jobs be having a student or two catch other students doing something positive. You’ll be amazed how quickly negative behaviors decline when students are regularly recognized for being kind, considerate, or conscientious workers.