Wednesday 22 January 2014

Advice on adapting worksheets for a visually impaired Year 1 pupil

When a visually impaired child enters formal schooling there is much to consider. First it is important to understand the child's eye condition. Then it is vital to appreciate the impact of that condition on a child's learning. I work with teachers and learning support assistants giving advice on how to modify and adapt their learning materials. I thought it would be helpful here to summarise some of that advice  for others who are interested. This is what this post is about. 

Contrast on Handwriting sheet
Enhance or increase the contrast in all parts of a sheet.
Where the pupil has to trace make sure the tracing letters are significantly darker than the background and that the pupil can clearly/easily see what he has to trace. He can go over the letters in the dark coloured pen that he uses. If the letter-lines are faint the pupil will struggle to see what he has to trace.

Make sure there are ALWAYS dark bold guidelines for the pupil to write between on all pars of the worksheet where he has to write otherwise his letters may become too large and untidy.

Instructions, title & date
Instructions, titles and the date should be made bigger - about 24 point. He should be able to read texts on a worksheet without resorting to his magnifier.

Yellow paper
YELLOW paper is a good colour to use; alternatively use off-white. Pure white can be too reflective and may cause a difficulty for a child who is light sensitive.

Increase the character spacing between letters. Otherwise the pupil may have difficulty distinguishing between two similar letters or distinguishing individual letters in a word. For a child with nystagmus spelling is always a major issue because of this. Whole words have a pattern and can be read/recognized more easily than each individual letter in the word.

Key words or items of grammar should be highlighted for emphasis (e.g. ‘s’ in plurals). Use one of the following depending on what is appropriate:
-       bold type
-       black marker
-       coloured highlighter
-       different coloured felt pens

Size of worksheet
The larger the page the more difficult it is for VI pupils to scan; the smaller the page the better. A4 is the standard size for the UK; it is best to keep the pupil’s worksheets the same size as the other pupils. It reduces his sense of being different. If an A4 sheet is enlarged to A3 ideally it should be cut down in some way. Here are some suggestions:
-       Cut off wide borders
-       Cut the sheet in two or three.  
-       Reduce the information on the sheet. If it is a grid or table with up to 20 rows in a column cut down the number of rows to 10. Probably the information can be put into 10 rows and the remaining 10 be unnecessary.
-       Reduce the task; it is good practice when differentiating work for a VI child to reduce the work they have to complete. Have 8 sums instead of 10, 6 spellings instead of 8 and so on. Because they are slower at scanning they may likely finish later than their peers. This in turn can affect their self-image and give a false impression of their true ability.

Extra Box for multiple-choice answers
Sometimes in a sheet the answers are in a box at the top of the page.  If the pupil has this box copied he can match it while he is scanning the text for the answer. This should speed up his working.

Speed and short-term memory
A visually impaired pupil’s scanning of a page can slow him down. Find creative ways of helping him to speed up.
-       Put his finger on his answer so he can quickly find it again
-       Use a notepad to jot his answer down

A VI child often writes quite large in order to be able to read his writing back. It is sometimes necessary to assist the child to write a little smaller and neater. Here are some suggestions to facilitate this:
-       Ruled guidelines for handwriting on all worksheets even in boxes
-       A consistent gap between lines so handwriting is not too big
-       Sample/example of expected word size
-       Training & practice on ascenders/descenders (d/y)
-       Training & practice on letter/number formation
-       Tricks/techniques to aid letter/number formation (e.g. use of iPad app)

Pictures will often need to be adapted. In typical worksheets picture details are far too small for a visually impaired child to make out. Here are some suggestions:
-       If the pictures are not essential remove them or reduce them drastically. Four pictures of sports activities at the top of a worksheet do little more than add to the complexity of the page. They may be intended to brighten up the page or make the work more interesting but they are not essential. Instead of four insert one large clear picture or have no picture at all.
-       Where pictures sit alongside text to illustrate the text, they may well be not essential and can be removed, making use of the extra space to enlarge and clarify the text instead.

Font typeface, size & formatting
-       It is generally not a good idea to use italic formatting for emphasis on titles or in body text of a page. Italics are not easy to read particularly for a child with nystagmus.
-       A sans serif font is best; this is an undecorated font with no curly edges or corners; Times New Roman is a classic serif font. Even Primary Infant Sassoon has serifs. Arial does not and is the standard font used by the RNIB.
-       It is important to use the correct font and size of font for the child. If the pupil needs 24 point text remember that different fonts are different sizes. 24 point Primary Infant Sassoon is smaller than 24 point Arial.
©2014 M Sparrow www.visually

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