Archive for August, 2012

Inaugural Braille Chat – Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 31, 2012

The awesome Natalie Shaheen, who’s one of those teachers who never seems to run out of ideas, came up with the idea of having a twitter chat for teachers of blind students. I was a little skeptical at first. I like to talk, I like to debate, and I couldn’t figure out how any of this would be affective in 140 characters or less. However, I’ve been proven wrong, and once again seen that social media is awesome! I’ve been able to participate in the #brlchat for the last two weeks, and I’ve learned tons and been introduced to lots of other teachers that are going to serve as fabulous resources for me as I go through school and start a career. I was going to write down the stuff I learned for myself, but then thought that other people who weren’t able to participate might like all of these resources in one place. So, here we go.

The first week’s topic was ways to make Braille fun for students of all ages. It’s something that’s always kind of broken my heart, seeing students come into summer programs who’ve had no interest in Braille because their teachers have made it seem like something to dread. Natalie’s first suggestion was to incorporate students’ interests into your teaching. If they’re sports junkies, let them read a sports magazine or a football roster. If they love music, go onto Google and print out song lyrics, or facts and articles about their favorite artists. Natalie says, “Using short interesting articles or blog posts is great for older kids learning Braille 2 keep them motivated & feeling like they are accomplishing.” Domonique says, “I like to have students use contraction, word, and concept sorts. With these activities they read & learn sorting & organization.” I had to ask for some clarification on this one, and she told me that she writes up words or contractions and then has students put them in different piles or sections. Someone might sort seasons, etc. She does note, “Make sure that if you are making sorts or card games that you cut a corner of the card for orientation purposes.”

Natalie also says, “Braille twister is lots of fun for working on memorizing dot patterns.” Braille Twister involves creating life size Braille cells by using your hands, feet, and other body parts to make letters/contractions.” Casey said, “I like to include games such as Braille twister, Braille go fishing, file folder games. Etc.” Natalie suggested that teachers and kids could make puzzles for each other, which works on other skills along with Braille. Older kids could also make puzzles for younger ones. I’ve also played cards in Braille class, especially with high school students. I’m no card shark, but they love the chance to teach me games they already know. Natalie also said that she knew people in Ohio who had a Jeopardy game with Braille contraction usage questions. Brooke says, “We did a Braille bee where everyone was given a study guide for a week so that students had an equal chance. Our newest student won the bee because she memorized all the contractions.” I also love Natalie’s Braille musical chairs idea, where each chair has something in Braille on it and students have to read what’s on the chair they land in. What a great way to keep students up, moving, and interacting with their environment.

A few different teachers suggested communicating with students during, or outside of class, in Braille. Natalie suggested having a conversation with students in Braille, letting them talk about whatever they want but having them write it all down. Eric suggested fractured fairytales as a great way to promote literacy for all kids. Natalie also said that texting or chatting with students using contractions is a fun way to get them interested. (As a random side note, I do this all the time with my friends and it shortens my texts a lot!)

As Natalie pointed out, “cooking with Braille recipes is always fun too!” Domonique says, “Have kids write out grocery list for a Braille recipe. Then have them make m&m cookies or cupcakes. Make contractions with the candy.” Casey says, “One of my students loves to bake and decorate cakes with candy dots making Braille messages.” We did something similar to this in Nebraska when we held our BELL program, and the kids loved it. (I loved it too, but that was partly because I got to eat the skittles.) Next time I have a student with a birthday, I’m totally going to make time to make a cake that says “happy birthday” in M&M Braille.

One of the things I liked most about the whole chat was teachers’ willingness to let their students see them under sleepshades. Kelly says, “I have students make a scavenger hunt for me. Complete with Braille directions tactile map and sleep shades,” and, “As a sighted person I put on the sleep shades and have the kids teach me their favorite contraction. Love to c their different styles.” She also says, “I race all my students writing the alphabet on the slate & stylus. Then we race writing numbers, drawing pictures, etc…they choose.” When I was growing up I never had a teacher who seemed like they knew the slate and stylus well, and that included the blind Braille teacher I had, so that was especially impactful for me.

Lots of resources were suggested. Eric and Krystal say, “Fun with Braille from the American Printing House for the blind is a great resource.” Casey says she likes “Adapting the exceptional teaching aid’s “Hot Dots” to Braille. Kids love it.” Kelly says, “Quiddler is a great game for Braille, spelling, nemeth and dare I say it…abacus.” If you’re like me and hadn’t ever heard of Quiddler, you should check it out, it looks fun.

I always liked reading books about blind kids in Braille. Kelly suggested Girl, Stolen, by April Henry. This one’s available from NLS, Bookshare, or in print from I downloaded it, and when I find time to read for pleasure I’m gonna give it a try.

Kelly is in the process of adapting Scrabble into Nemeth to, “help students learn math facts.” I think this would be awesomely fun, and I really hope she’ll share her secrets. Natalie suggested Sudoku as a fun way to work on numbers, too. I’ve seen this done a few different ways. I saw a plastic sort of board with squares you can set numbers into, I’ve heard of people using magnetic numbers on a magnet board, and you could also use basic tactile graph paper for something that’s only going to be used one time.

You can also make Braille art. Serina says, “I teach adults and find it fun to use Drawing with Your Perkins Brailler.” I just ordered this book from Perkins Products and I can’t wait to try it out. Barbara has also created art using a BrailleLight and a Blazer embosser, which is super cool. And I was absolutely enthralled a couple of years ago when Natalie pulled out a Janice slate and stylus and started to doodle. She made a train and a pumpkin, and to this day I have no idea how she really did it but they were some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!

Regardless of the techniques they use, everyone who participated in the chat agreed that our attitudes as teachers impact student’s willingness to learn. Sighted students are encouraged to love reading, to love literacy, and to see it as something exciting and new. Blind students should be offered the same opportunities, and taught with the same positive attitude. It makes all the difference.

**note: I changed some quoted tweets very slightly by translating commonly used internet abbreviations into whole words and in some cases complete sentences.**

Attachment Theory and Older Children

August 31, 2012

In the past, it’s been very rare that I’ve read articles for class and had past experiences come to mind. However, after reading the article on attachment theory, I immediately thought of one of the students I had last summer.

I should probably explain the program before I go much farther. The idea of the program was to teach blind students skills for independence. Blind adults, many of whom are college students, are hired to teach things like how to travel around independently using a long white cane, how to cook, how to read Braille, and how to use a computer. Students come and live with us in a specific location, usually in apartments on a college campus or something like that, for the duration of the program. Last summer I worked with middle school kids, and that program lasted 3 weeks. There are also programs for high school students that last between 6 and 8 weeks, which also give the students a chance to hold a part time job and get some experience to put on their resume.

John was one of the more challenging students I’ve worked with in programs like these. He was terrified of things like sirens and weed whackers, largely due to traumatic experiences when he was a young child. This made the program difficult for him, particularly since we were living on a college campus in one of Baltimore’s suburbs where sirens passing was an every day occurrence. John and I walked around outside almost every day, and he would freeze exactly where he was if he heard a siren anywhere near by. John also had a great deal of trouble managing his emotions, which often resulted in him lashing out in anger. At the time I realized that the anger was a way for him to deal with other emotions he wasn’t sure how to handle, and I found a couple of occasions to sit down and talk to him one-on-one. By the end of the program John and I had developed what I would consider to be a close relationship. When he was upset or frightened, he would come to me, and was willing to try talking things through with me.

This semester I’m taking a class that’s talking about families, and the different types of relationships formed in different families. (It would be a really interesting class if the teacher wasn’t so monotone, but that’s neither here nor there.) For class this week we were assigned an article that talked about a program called Through the Looking Glass. It was a program for children ages 1-3, and involved care providers as well as parents. Basically, when the children were at daycare, they were assigned one person who would be their primary caregiver. This person was with them for things like diaper changing, meal time, and play time. It wasn’t that kids weren’t exposed to other people, but they had that specific person to come back to as a sort of home base. The idea was that if the kids were secure in knowing they had someone to come back to, they would gradually be more willing to go out and explore things on their own. The primary care giver also formed a relationship with the child’s parents so that expectations and consequences could be the same at home and at daycare.

Reading the article brought to mind an experience John and I shared in the last week of the program. We were coming back from somewhere and were almost home when we came upon someone trimming weeds in the parking lot. With my encouragement, John was willing to keep walking, despite the fact that he was terrified. Sure, it took a lot of me reminding him that I knew he could do it, but he eventually managed. Thinking about this experience made me wonder if there are ways we could use attachment theory to help some of our older students thrive. In many ways we’re asking them to learn things their sighted peers learned as much younger children. Consequently, I’m wondering if using an approach similar to that described in the article might help our students go farther. Maybe rather than having three or four different people working with everyone we should have one adult assigned to work with two or three students. That adult would teach them during class time, and also help them after hours with things like cooking meals and socialization.

I’m not sure this is the answer, and I realize it has its own problems, especially when you consider that a female staff member can’t live with male students, and vise versa. Still, I would be interested to hear what others think. Has anyone tried anything like this before?


August 26, 2012

Talk to anyone who knows me really well and they’ll tell you, I’m fairly fashion clueless. My best friend, who is a guy, has way better fashion sense than I ever will, and can tell me what color pink complements the pink dress I’m planning to wear, and whether black or silver shoes are the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete idiot, and once things have been explained to me I generally remember and can manage to get myself put together without asking questions about every single outfit. And, I like to think I have a basic idea about what one should or should not wear. My mom tried to give me a good basic foundation, and she taught me what questions to ask to find out what the styles were for that season. There were a number of fashion statements brought to my attention during my late elementary school early middle school years. Half my wardrobe had sequins or glitter attached, and I owned countless little flower and butterfly clips in numerous colors which I used to keep the four little twists of hair I pulled back in place. Mostly these were things my blind mom saw in the store, heard about from friends’ moms, or talked over with my “vision teachers.” I went along with the clothes, partly because I liked them and partly because I wanted to fit in.

I recently came across a “fashion accessory” that I was really hoping wasn’t worn by anyone outside of high school (and only then if you were begging for your daily swirly.) Back in fifth or sixth grade my teachers suggested another addition to my wardrobe; they wanted me to wear a cane holster. The theory was that it would be a way for me to keep track of my cane while I was running around with my friends in gym class or recess. I never went for it, partly because I didn’t want to wear belts all the time, and I like to think partly because I knew it would make me stand out like a sore thumb. And yet, as a grown woman, I ran across the cane holster in the course of my summer job.

Let me take just a minute and describe the cane holster. It looks a lot like a gun holster, six to eight inches long and made out of leather. It’s black, and you wear it on a belt. It’s the perfect size for one of those traditional folding canes, and the idea, I guess, is that you can fold your cane up and stick it in there for easy access.

The person I met this summer who wore one happened to be female, though I don’t think it would be any better if a blind man was wearing one of these things. She was getting ready to enter the workforce as a teacher of blind students. Though we had our differences in philosophy and teaching methods, I generally liked and respected her and thought she wanted the best thing for her students. So the fact that she wore a cane holster confused me. First off, it’s black, and only black. Is she going to wear the black cane holster with brown shoes, or on a brown belt? And speaking of belts, I guess she’s always going to wear one? Which means no cute little dresses or skirts, which seem to be fairly in fashion these days especially in the spring and summer. At least I hope it means she’s not going to wear dresses or skirts, because I can’t stomach the thought of someone wearing a belt over those.

The other thing that confused me was the fact that she actually seemed to realize that the holster wasn’t cool. She said things like, “I always have to wear a belt,” and made comments that made me think she knew this wasn’t really the normal thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go out of my way to avoid “looking blind” any more. I no longer wear sunglasses to try to hide my eyes, and I use my long white cane with pride. I’m comfortable in my own skin. But somehow this feels different to me, closer to the dark sunglasses end of things.

Maybe I’m just missing something here, some little fashion thing that actually makes this okay. If so, please feel free to point it out to me. But if not, do professionals really think this is okay for our blind kids? Is this how people think we’re going to teach our blind kids to fit in? If you’re going to insist on teaching the short heavy folding cane, can’t we at least teach kids to put it in a backpack or purse if they want to have it up and out of the way? Why do we need to wear something to make us look different?