Most classrooms in schools and colleges are designed for fully-sighted students. However, as more and more focus continues to be placed nowadays on the importance of inclusive classrooms, trends are changing. Classroom design has to take into account the challenges and requirements of each student, and be a flexible space that caters to different needs and different teaching methods.
The modern classroom needs to cater to visually impaired students, speech-impaired students, students with learning disabilities, mental illnesses, and so on. Everything from classroom design, furniture, seating arrangements, visual cues, as well as teaching methods, tools, and schedules, needs to be taken into consideration to make every student in the classroom comfortable.
What do we mean when we talk about visually impaired students? There are certain differences, or levels of impairment, that teachers should be aware of. Totally blind students will have complete loss of sight, while legally blind means that their vision can’t be corrected to better than 20/200, or that their field of sight is 20 degrees or less. Students with low vision experience impairment that can’t be fixed with glasses; they can have difficulty seeing things up close, or at a distance, or both. Finally, partially sighted students experience a slight degree of vision loss in one of both eyes.
When your classroom includes visually impaired students or children with learning disabilities, environmental factors play a big role. The classroom will have to be designed with functionality in mind, and taking into account each student’s strengths and vulnerabilities. You might require extra storage space for visual aids, large print materials, or Braille materials for students with vision problems.
Teachers will also need to pay attention to positioning, making sure that students with low vision are seated properly, depending on their specific disabilities. For instance, if a student in your classroom has partial vision loss in their left eye, seat them on the right side of the classroom and away from direct light from the windows.
Lighting is another crucial factor when you have partially sighted students in your classroom, so you should do your best to adjust it accordingly. Eliminate glare as much as you can, by using seating, drapes and shades, and avoiding direct light from hitting computer or tablet screens.
Last but not least, don’t forget about safety in the classroom. Put away any cables, cords, and clear the floor and desks of any clutter or things that students might bump into.
Teaching tools and strategies
Besides considering environmental factors when it comes to teaching partially sighted students, it’s important to adapt teaching methods to fit the needs of these students and make sure they get the best possible education. To achieve that purpose, there are three main strategies to follow and incorporate in your day-to-day schedule:
- Paper strategies – this can include enlarging paragraphs or short texts, using handheld magnifiers, video magnifiers, or Braille support materials;
- E-text strategies – this includes plain e-text with no enhancements, adjusting brightness and contrast levels, background colors, or text color; magnifying text or the entire screen page, auditory support, and refreshable Braille;
- Auditory strategies – this can include using a live reader, audiobooks, tape, CDs, MP3 players, and headphones.
Other tips and tricks
Here are some additional tips and strategies to consider when you have partially sighted students in your classroom. These tips will help the students feel more integrated, and will help them adapt and unlock their full potential without being hindered by their challenges. They will also help streamline the communication between students and educators, so keep them in mind.
- Always refer to students by name; don’t say ‘why don’t you read the next chapter?’ or point, nod, or use other visual cues when talking to students. Instead, always use their name; say ‘William, why don’t you read the next chapter?’
- The same goes for pointing at objects or areas in the classroom. Don’t tell a student to move to ‘that desk over there,’ but be specific when identifying objects and locations. Say ‘please move to the second desk from the door,’ or something very specific; don’t be vague, because a partially sighted student might not catch the subtle visual cues you send out.
- Make the best of alternative teaching resources and assistive technology, like tablets, computers, Braille, feel-and-touch tools, audio lessons, and so on. When setting up visual cues, blackboards, or screens, increase the brightness and turn up the contrast to make the text and materials more legible.
- Adjust lighting according to your students’ needs. This can mean adjusting classroom lighting intensity, using shades and curtains, and eliminating glare and excess sunlight that can make it hard for students to follow the lessons.
- Eliminate unnecessary objects from the classroom to reduce visual fatigue. Try to ‘feng shui’ your classroom by reducing clutter and keeping everything neat and clean, without overwhelming colors and decor.
- Run a Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) to determine how students are using their vision and what challenges they have. Follow this evaluation with a Learning Media Assessment (LMA) to determine which assets would be most useful and impactful for each student. That could be Braille, print, dua media, auditory or tactile strategies, pictures, or some combination of all these.
Want to learn more tips and strategies to accommodate students in your classroom with learning disabilities? Follow our blog for more insight and check out the Da Vinci Collaborative online shop to find relevant courses and training.