In this video, Caitlyn shares ten tips for math teachers with blind or visually impaired students. These tips are primarily directed at elementary and high school math teachers, but some can be applied to college professors as well. Below, you will find a written summary of the tips.
1. Be descriptive. Make sure that your lessons can be followed with no visual context. Vague visual statements like, “We’ll move this over here,” are not helpful for blind and visually impaired students. Be specific about what you are doing with the numbers on which side of the equation.
2. Make sure you get all of your course materials to your student’s TVI, (teacher of the visually impaired). Your student’s TVI will be able to evaluate the materials to determine whether or not they will work for the student in question and adapt them as needed. It is crutial to get the materials to the TVI at least a week in advance because converting math assignments into braille and creating tactile graphics is very time consuming.
3. Make sure that your blind or visually impaired student understands the visual layout of math problems. This may sound contradictory, but math is a very visual subject, and your blind student needs to have some degree of context for what is happening visually. If they don’t know what an equation looks like, balancing both sides of the equation won’t make much sense. If your student is a braille reader, it is extremely important that they both read and solve the majority of their math problems in hard copy braille on paper so that they can fully grasp the layout of things. Failing to understand this early on will make more advanced math classes extremely difficult.
4. Be hands on. Make sure you are working with your blind student in a way that they can understand. Bring in manipulatives to explain concepts in a more tangible way. Show your student a cube and explain how the sides of the 3D object relate to the two dimensional representation of a cube on a page, (your student’s TVI can create the tactile graphic for this). You might also consider using a Math Window so that you and your blind student can solve problems together. A Math Window is a magnetic panel with print/braille numbers and symbols. This should not be used as a replacement for solving problems in braille on paper, but it can be useful for teaching new concepts and making sure your blind students understand how to solve problems without the delay of waiting on a TVI to translate braille assignments.
5. Use accessible resources. Online programs like IXL and Kahoot will not work for your blind student. If you plan on using these tools in your classroom, you will need to work with your student’s TVI to come up with alternative assignments for your blind student.
6. Work one-on-one with your blind student. It will most likely take your blind student longer to fully grasp certain mathematical concepts because they are so visual. It may be necessary to work one-on-one with your blind student before and/or after class to ensure that they understand the layout of the problems, know how to set them up in braille, and understand the process for solving them. It can be beneficial for some students to have your student’s TVI braille a list of the steps needed to solve each type of problem. You may also wish to use a Math Window to present visual concepts like factor trees to ensure that your student understands what they are before you discuss them in class with your sighted students. Even if you are being specific with your descriptions, your blind student most likely will not be able to keep up with everything you do in class without supplemental instruction.
7. Familiarize yourself and your blind student with the TI-84 graphing calculator. The only accessible graphing calculator is the Orion TI-84 Plus which is a version of the TI-84 that has been modified to provide auditory feedback for the blind. This is the calculator that your blind student will be expected to use on the ACT and any other standardized math test.
8. Be careful with group projects. In general, it is best to avoid group projects in math classes with blind students. Most sighted students do not understand how to communicate mathematical concepts in a way that blind students can understand. Putting your blind student in a group of sighted students who don’t know how to interact with them can set both your blind student and the sighted students in their group further behind. If you wish to have group projects in your class, it could provide an opportunity to work one-on-one with your blind student while your sighted students work in groups. You can consider having your blind student participate in group projects if the projects involves a concept that the blind student understands very well, and/or if you have a group of sighted students who will work well with your blind student. This is something to discuss with your blind student and their TVI.
9. Lessen your blind student’s work-load when possible. It takes blind students a long time to solve math problems. One algebra problem might take your blind student an hour and six sheets of braille paper to solve. If they can demonstrate that they understand the concept and can apply it to a variety of problems by solving ten problems, there is no need to make them solve a hundred problems.
10. Challenge your blind student. Being blind makes math difficult, but it does not make it impossible. Some blind students go on to work in computer science and other STEM fields. while you should give them fewer problems when possible, you should also give them problems of progressing complexity just as you would your sighted students as they demonstrate that they are ready for them. They will definitely hate you in the moment for making them spend their Saturdays solving seemingly impossible math problems in braille, but they will probably eventually thank you for not simply letting them pass because they are blind. Equality does not just mean providing equal access to educational materials; it also means providing equivalent challenges. I am forever grateful to all of the teachers who pushed me to do more than most of the sighted world believed I could.