Helping Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Manage Classroom Work and Homework

Fabian in reading group

Your daughter's fourth grade class is studying the solar system. The midterm assignment is to find out 10 facts about an assigned planet, using sources such as books, magazines, and the Internet. Each student is to make a poster including facts, figures, and any pictures that are available. The students have a week to complete the assignment.

Your daughter's teacher recognizes that her visual impairment may make it difficult for her to do the work. When the class ends, he asks her to stop at his desk for a moment, then tells her she only has to answer five questions and write a paragraph about the planet rather than make a poster. At dinner, your daughter tells you about the assignment and the conversation with her teacher. What's your reaction?

Teachers and parents sometimes find it hard to decide, or agree, on how much classroom work and homework to require of a visually impaired student. Your child's teachers may shorten her assignments or extend deadlines from time to time. If that happens frequently, she might begin to expect the same sort of treatment in high school and later on the job. However, well-meaning those "perks" are, they're not really in your child's best interests.

Adapting Classroom Work for Children with Visual Impairments

Grade school is where students are given an increasing amount of academic work and also learn the structure of the school day. They need to absorb a lot of information to move on to the next level of academic work. An important focus at this stage for you and the other members of your child's educational team is to help your child develop strategies to keep up with her sighted classmates. Those skills don't happen automatically. They need to be developed and practiced so that she can later move on to high school with confidence in her academic abilities.

How You and Your Child's Educational Team Can Help

  • To reduce the amount of time your child has to spend in class copying work from the chalkboard, talk to her classroom teacher and teacher of students with visual impairments about providing a copy of the information to use at her desk in print or braille. It's best to make that request at the beginning of the term, or even before school starts, to alert these teachers to your child's needs and give them time to prepare.
  • In the earlier grades, you might ask the classroom teacher to consider having students work in pairs or small groups to complete assignments. In that way, your daughter can get a sense of what it's like to work on a multi-task project before she has to take full responsibility for completing one.

Homework

Homework is an essential part of school. If you find that your child doesn't get homework assignments, and discover that her sighted classmates do, speak to her teacher and the rest of the educational team about the importance of having the same expectations for your child as for the other students in her class. Here are some things you can do to help your child with homework.

  • If your child uses braille textbooks, ask for a set of print textbooks to have at home. This will enable you to understand what she's working on and answer any questions she has.
  • If the classroom teacher doesn't make it standard practice to provide your child with accessible copies of the information he or she writes on the chalkboard, ask the teacher to give you copies of class notes, especially if your child has to copy them from the board or take notes while the teacher is speaking. Use these to check the accuracy of your child's notes. If you find discrepancies, talk to other members of your child's educational team about strategies to help your child become a more efficient note taker.
  • If there are times when you have to help write out an assignment for your child, be sure to write exactly what she dictates to you. Don't correct her grammar or spelling. It's important that her teacher sees her work—not your cleaned-up version of it.
  • If your child needs to do homework in shorter blocks of time due to visual fatigue, try setting up a schedule for after school that gives her time to relax, then do some homework, have dinner, then do more homework, or some similar schedule.
  • For longer projects, such as a book report or science experiment, work with your child to develop a schedule for finishing each step.
  • If reading long text passages in print or braille slows down your child's homework, discuss with the educational team how she can have at least some of her reading material digitally to supplement textbooks or other written material.
  • Your child will probably have some assignments that require extra time. Encourage her to recognize when that's the case, to alert her teacher in advance, and to negotiate an extended due date rather than make excuses after she misses a deadline. In this way, she'll be developing skills she can use her entire life as well as a sense of organization and responsibility.

Let "nature take its course," so to speak when it comes to turning in homework. If your daughter doesn't hand it in on time, she deserves the same consequences as her classmates. Some of your daughter's teachers may want to be more lenient with her because of her visual impairment. But this isn't helpful in the long term because it misleads your child about what others expect of her, both in other classes and outside of school.

Being Organized Is Important

Whether at home or school, your child will be more efficient if she has strong organizational skills. For example, if she can distinguish colors, she may want to:

  • use a different color folder for each subject,
  • file handouts in the appropriate folder, and
  • use the same colors for tabs in a three-ring binder.

If your daughter is a braille reader, it will also be helpful for her to place braille labels in the same position on all her folders so she can quickly find what she's looking for. In addition, using small storage boxes and trays can make it easier for her to locate items such as her slate and stylus, abacus, index cards, and other smaller items she works with at home or takes to school.

Give your child space for an organized area to keep the materials she needs to complete homework or other projects. If she usually does her homework at the kitchen table, you might set up shelves or a storage container for her in that room so that things she uses often, such as her braillewriter, hand-held magnifier, markers, visors to minimize glare from overhead lights, and other items are close at hand.

Your daughter's teacher of students with visual impairments is a source of other ideas on how to help her keep up with her school work and homework.

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