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Institute for Blind and Partially Sighted Children,
Teaching geography in school for blind and partially sighted children presents at the same time a challenge and a great responsibility. Geography is very important for visually impaired pupils because it gives them the ability to understand and gather information about environment and space. The approach to blind or partially-sighted pupils differs from that to normally sighted pupils.
The aim of this presentation is to mediate the experience and knowledge of teaching geography in a class with visually impaired children. This experience should help other teachers, especially those in ordinary schools, who encounter visually impaired pupils integrated in a class.
For the blind the word see means a special way of perception. That is to accept the world with other senses - smell, touch, hearing, ... Pupils who lost sight later and still have some visual experience gather spatial knowledge and relations in space much easier than those who have been blind since birth and have no visual experience. How to strive for something which doesn't exist for the blind, for something they cannot imagine or even dream about? A teacher should stimulate interest in the blind for things they are not aware of.
It is necessary to find, make or show in some other way the information that will be acceptable for the blind. These can be tactile displays - tactile pictures, graphs, adapted to tactile perception, models, tactile maps and plans or displays by audio-tactile devices. Some coloured tactile pads are used for pupils with very low vision who are almost blind, as well as adequate visual material adapted to curtailed visual perception. Work with models and reliefs is advisable/necessary when the observed object is out of hand reach or is too big or it is a natural phenomenon or process.
Pupils with low vision gather correct experiences gradually, because they get only a little of back information. When meeting and describing a big object, a natural curiosity, geographical phenomenon or some other thing in space we should consider and pay attention to:
Partially sighted pupil's time of observation is longer because their eye needs more time to adapt to impulses from the environment. Exercises and experience improve perception of objects and colours. Partially sighted pupils have modest spatial experience as well. Low vision intensifies difficulties in perception so work at geography lessons should be adapted to perceptual ability of each pupil. When preparing teaching sheets we should pay attention to adequate enlargement of graphic material, to an assortment of contrast colours, lines and contents, eliminated of all unimportant details.
Teachers have to know pupils' personalities and their perceptual and learning abilities. Accordingly, a teacher must be flexible, inventive and factual. Actuality is a demand of geography as well.
Teaching visually impaired pupils demands using special teaching methods, forms, different treatment and principles of work. In the foreground there are motivation, demonstration, dramatization, method of direct observation or tactile perception, individualization, generalization and orientation.
The quality of a lesson, the realization of educational goals and pupils' knowledge depend on the lesson preparation. When planning and preparing a lesson some facts should be accepted. These facts are:
How will a teacher communicate with the pupil? Which perceptual paths will be used? Will the means of communication be Braille, Braille typewriter, textbook in Braille, teaching sheets in Braille or tactile displays? (touch, residual vision). Will the pupil work with a recorded text (hearing), or will he use Braille line on computer? Will the lesson be based on demonstration near the object or on a model? Will it be excursion or individual work? All these ways are contemporary and often used in the teaching process.
Educational material has to be adapted to the visual perception of an individual pupil. Sometimes this is ordinary material or educational material which pupils use with a magnifying glass or an electronic magnifier. For pupils with severe visual impairment who can not use ordinary material it has to be adapted to enlarged print, be generalized, be coloured intensively or somehow adapted so that it is suitable to individual perception of a partially sighted pupil. Adaptation of textbooks, teaching sheets and visual material should be made carefully.
Will pupils use a textbook in Braille, teaching sheets, tactile maps, plans or tactile pictures? How will they write, record or complete the exercise? Will it be done by a Braille typewriter, tape recorder or computer? Magnifying glass, electronic magnifier, individual light, or programs for enlargement (computer) should be available. Use of pencil, which makes strong lines and paper which does not reflect the light are very important In what way will teacher explain the appointed notion or content?
Teachers have to ask themselves as well whether appropriate teaching aids (adapted or made particularly for the blind) which are demanded for the topics are available. When teaching geography, simplified and graphically intensive sketches and spatial displays, generalized and free of unimportant elements have to be prepared.
Teachers should be acquainted with the pupil and should consider hidden individual qualities. Is the pupil self-dependant, trained enough for some manner of work? Does he/she have difficulties when writing, reading, touching? What is their orientation like? Have they been since birth or did they lose sight later?
Which educational methods and forms of work would be appropriate regarding work with the blind? Will they be individual in groups or in couples? Will demonstration methods, working with model or tactile display be used?
When planning fieldwork, an excursion or observation exercises pupils should already be familiar with correct usage of devices which will be necessary when observing and evaluating. Especially for the blind the teacher must make possible direct observation considering elementary orientation. Pupils should observe things, understand and recognize the relations to the environment directly. Pupils become familiar with the usage and work of the devices which are yet to be used in class. Geography lessons can not be successful enough without excursion and direct practical work. With predominating theoretical work in class pupils can hardly gain any concepts, knowledge or skills.
Each geographical topic presents a challenge for the teacher. There is a question how to present, explain, describe to blind pupils a certain conception, diagram, picture, graph or table. For partially sighted pupils a magnifying glass or electronic magnifier are used. For the blind no graphical picture means any value. The solution is to make a tactile picture which means a model or a diagram accessible to tactile perception. Tactile maps, plans and sketches are the most characteristic elements at geography lessons for the blind.
Didactic tactile devices are the basis for successful lessons. Solution may be simple but it demands some inventiveness.
Elements of each display have to be clear and adapted to diminished visual perception. Display must be made in correct proportion with the thing it presents. Material of composition should resemble the actual object or idea.
It is right that single parts of display work. Some graphic concepts, pictures, processes or models can not be simply translated to Braille or adapted into tactile pictures. These have to be made in such a way that they are acceptable to tactile perception or diminished visual perception.
More exacting conceptions have to be presented as a model. Models can be the starting point for understanding processes and the basis for a wider proceeding of contents.
Practical experience confirms these displays adapted to tactile and diminished visual perception are most suitable for gathering new knowledge and understanding different social and geographic factors in the environment. [...] Diagrams and graphic sketches can be presented using simple techniques, such as a positive, tyflograph (positive pointed drawing), or exacting thermo-vacuum technique.
When adapting teaching plans, educational material or other literature during work many ideas or even inventions may arise. Teaching blind and partially sighted pupils is creative. Geography lessons express the need for original ideas and approaches. Continuous innovatory approach and consideration of the pupils' special needs (of pupils) are necessary for achieving educational goals and A successful lesson.
Understanding (of the) space is quite difficult and
complicated for the blind. There are several hindrances for them which sighted
people do not even notice. Special requisites and knowledge are necessary for
more or less successful recognizing and defeating of problems. Geography is of
great importance for the entire personal development of blind or partially
sighted pupils. The knowledge and practical experience which pupils gain during
lessons allow for a better understanding and recognizing of the home
environments and the world. That makes the blind richer. In this way visually
impaired pupils understand the world as well as sighted pupils.