It has been pointed out to me that many visually impaired (VI) students have
been advised not to take geography at exam level or have found understanding
geography difficult at KS3. This is especially the case if the student is
totally blind. This should not be the case as visually impaired children can get
just as much out of understanding the environment and different countries as a
sighted person, so it is important they are fully included and encouraged.
As a teacher in a VI school I realise I have many advantages, the fact that I
only have small class sizes and I can get them into a minibus and visit various
places. But what I would like to do is give one or two pointers as to how their
understanding of geography might be improved in the classroom.
I am new to teaching in the world of the visually impaired, but I have
learnt a lot in this short space of time. It is important when planning your
lessons you think about any VI students you might have, and ask yourself will
they be able to access the material you are putting before them. If you have any
doubts ask the student if it is OK or how might it be improved next time. It
might mean simple things like enlarging diagrams or using a larger font size.
Remember if you are explaining things on the board a person with a visual
impairment might not be able to see the board and to self conscious to say
anything. When writing on the board make sure your writing and diagrams are big
enough and distinctive. Check if they are seated in the best place for them and
that the lighting is suitable.
When producing diagrams and handouts, think about whether all the information is
necessary. You may be able to simplify the diagram and cut out some of the text,
making it easier for a VI students to access. Make sure that the work is printed
on the correct colour paper, some students may prefer things on a certain paper
or in a certain type face.
I have found that making models of landforms helps increase a VI students
understanding and appreciation of what the landform looks like. I have a
container of children's modelling clay in my classroom from which I can make
models. It does not take long to make them nor do you have to be artistic, it is
just a matter of getting across the basic shape of landforms. The models I have
made include a headland with a cave, arch and stack which when turned on its
side can become a wave cut notch. I have made models of cacti to help them
understand their shape, as well as models of sea walls to explain how the water
is reflected back. Other models I have made out of modelling clay are; the lower
course of a river with meanders, flood plain and levees; waterfalls and 'V'
shaped valleys. Models can be made of any landform and may sound difficult but
trust me they are not, you can make a model in a matter of minutes and increase
the VI students understanding of a landform.
If a VI student is given a photograph to look at it might be difficult for them
to pick out all the features, especially if it is a busy photograph. This can be
got round either by adding a description or producing a simple sketch of the
photograph. A way I have found that works is to get another student to describe
what they can see to the whole class, so the VI student does not have any extra
attention placed on them.
Mapwork is a very difficult thing to get around, I have found it impossible
to recreate an OS map in a form that would enable a VI student to access it.
Even if the student has some sight it is difficult to pick out the detail on a
map, it is also extremely tiring for a student to concentrate like this. If you
enlarge the map it becomes increasingly difficult for the student to grasp the
bigger picture of what the map is showing them. Finding grid references is also
difficult and time consuming for VI students. Here at RNIB New College we don't
teach mapwork, except for basic directions etc in year 7. At GCSE we use AQA A
exam board, which provide a taped descriptive alternative to the OS mapwork
question. I am not sure if other exam boards also do this, if they don't they
should offer some alternative otherwise they are discriminating against your
student by not allowing them to access the full range of questions.
I realise I am in a more fortunate position, when it comes to teaching
students as I have many resources at hand. I also realise that time is not a
commodity teachers have to spare, but with a little foresight and imagination
and a few extra minutes spent on resources and planning a VI student should be
able to get the full benefit of a good geographical education.
If you have any
problems or questions about teaching pupils with a visual impairment, please
feel free to contact me on: