Teaching learners with special educational needs doesn’t come easy.

It calls for prowess along with ‘sense sensitive training’. In this post I would like to share my experience of teaching a bright and ambitious visually impaired teenage girl, in the mainstream classroom.
I vividly remember the first day when I was in for a surprise. I marched into my classroom armed with usual handouts and power points oblivious of my class profile. At the door stood a woman who apprised me of her daughter’s small amount of residual sight not enough to read and study.

Like any other normal student, she was an intelligent and ambitious school girl looking forward to join Kings College London for an undergraduate program.  

My view of visually impaired as ‘godsend’ swelled my heart with sympathy. This view however didn’t last long. My overt concern and sympathy seemed like an abuse to her, and she gave a clear message that ‘I can mingle and be part of the class as any other student and that I don’t need anyone to manage my affairs’.
Perhaps my outlook and societal empathy akin to people with special needs needed a rethink. This attitude of hers’ was a mind changer of my perspective of people with special needs.

I decided to teach inclusively offering her minimal assistance only when needed and I used the following strategies to support inclusive learning.

  • First and foremost I made sure that the classroom was clutter free and   made few changes to the seating arrangement to help her succeed in a normal classroom setting.  I used a lot of verbal explanations not worrying about TTT (teacher talking time).
  • I started off with a ‘getting to know your environment ‘activity and asked students to explain the spatial settings of the room.  The students spoke about all they saw in and outside the classroom. 
  • Following this was the introduction round where students spoke about themselves. This helped her associate names with voice. I also addressed all students by name to reinforce her association and familiarization with all.
  • During the normal course of teaching, whenever grouping or pair work was needed, I gave spatial directions. She could move around and find her group/partner without much difficulty, which gave her independence. I was patient and observed her silently and would wait until she asked for help. This built her self-confidence and independence and her involvement seemed natural.
  • Speaking and listening were her strengths and so was her ‘world knowledge’. I exploited this and, in a way, encouraged her to trade this for the support she needed for reading and writing stuff. For instance while doing process writing she would contribute the maximum ideas in the brainstorming stage, provide the language and vocabulary in her group for them to construct the essay and others would choose to become scribe or note- taker. This gave her opportunity to help others as to be helped by others.

In addition to the above she was a great talker with good pronunciation. I centred my activities on speaking tasks and encouraged her to give peer feedback on pronunciation of difficult words.

  • She had good rapport with her classmates who would volunteer to work with her. Often I paired her up with someone who struggled in reading tasks. In this way, both benefited and both felt gifted and competent. 
  • Since it was an IELTS preparation class and required lot of comprehension practice, I suggested her to use ‘text to speech app’ to practice reading tasks at home.

At times I let her use the speak option on her phone (using head phones) to listen to sample texts /questions and work out the answers individually. She felt she could manage her tasks and didn’t always need peer support.

Teaching for inclusion may not always be easy and can be challenging depending upon the nature and degree of disability. Apart from training and orientation I think a mental makeup is also important. I say so because there are varying perceptions about inclusivity. The attitude of the teacher is paramount to the success of learners with disabilities into their classrooms. Also it can be challenging to foster mutual understanding between all students in the class.

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