Blogging For and With Visually Impaired Students

from Educators' eZine

For most students, a blog is nothing new. Chances are they've blogged themselves or at least have read the blog their teacher uses to communicate with students, parents, and the community.

Up until recently my VI – visually impaired – students have been missing out on blogging. But not any more.

After taking a class that required the use of blogging to communicate about the new forms of technology with which we were experimenting, we discussed how we could implement these forms of technology in our own classrooms. I realized that blogging would involve a way for VI students to transition to new buildings. They could blog their concerns and questions about their new school and the new requirements. Other VI students currently in those grades and buildings could respond.

But there were other problems. To use a computer, VI students must invoke a screen-reading, text to speech, program, and these are not inexpensive. None of my students had invested in the program for home use. So I realized any blogging that I did with my students had to be done on our screen-reading-equipped classroom computer.

Other Obstacles to Overcome

However I couldn't just jump into this new form of technology. My students needed blog training. But first I had to update our screen reading program to a version that maneuvered around the Internet more easily.

Then we had to find a blogging site that was not blocked by the district's filtering system and that would work with the screen reader program. I researched Blogger, Gaggle.net, and Vox. All were easy to use for a sighted user but presented difficulties for the VI. First Blogger didn't get through our filtering system so I wasn't able to see how well it worked with our screen reading program, JAWS. The next site was Gaggle.net, but there were difficulties with the registration process. Fortunately there was Vox, which not only worked well with our screen reader but allowed me to control who visited and used the site. I was able to set the site so only people that I invited would be able to view any of my students postings. This was my way of protecting the students from Internet predators.

Lesson 1: Can a Dog Blog?

Once I developed the blog I had to start to develop blogging lessons to be incorporated with my adaptive technology lessons. My first blogging lesson, A Dog Can Blog, involved creative writing and blogging. To begin, I brought in a heap of stuffed animals and asked students to pick one animal that they could imagine themselves being. That animal would also be their classroom pet. Of course they picked ducks, hamsters, and even dinosaurs. They came up with a name for the pet and began to write from the perspective of that creature. Next students brainstormed about the classroom schedule, as they were having difficulty remembering their schedules and this was a way for each to focus on these schedules. Students were also required to stay in the persona of the class pet that they chose.

Students were required to write their stories in Microsoft Word, with which they were familiar. Once the writing was complete and reviewed by another student I would post it to the blog, as my students weren't quite ready to deal with technical issues just yet. However they were able to view and listen to their postings and comment with little assistance.

Lesson 2: How to Succeed in Grade Whatever

The next blogging lesson was adapted from Read-Write-Think but modified to meet my students' need to practice blogging. This lesson was How to Succeed in Sixth Grade or whatever grade students are currently in. To understand how to write a How-To manual we first viewed game manuals from eHow: How To Do Just About Everything and through the Google Accessible Search for the Visually Impaired to find instructions and/or manuals for two games. After discussing the common characteristics of the manuals we used these characteristics as guides for the 'How To Succeed In Grade Six' manual.

After students brainstormed all the materials, rules, and steps needed to succeed in the sixth grade we mapped out our ideas using Read-Write-Think's essay map. The screen reading program did not like this site, but it was the best I could find, so I had to work individually with each student. We first had to type what would be in each box on the easy map using Word, then 'cut' the material, then use the screen reading key command to switch to the Internet window (Ctrl, Shift, Tab), and then paste that item in the essay map site. The site did a great job helping the students focus on key ideas and not get lost in minutiae. It also helped make sure that the students use details in their writing. I was disappointed that they weren't able to save their organizers or put them into word documents so that I could enlarge them or use the embosser to put the text into a Braille format. We were able to print the essay map, and then I had to enlarge and Braille the work for my students. This meant that the students had to wait until I finished modifying the work for them before they were able to continue.

After students viewed the essay map they were ready to write their manuals. Once these manuals were done we posted them to the blog. They were more comfortable posting because we had more practice with the cutting and pasting command along with the window change command. My assistance was still necessary because the screen reading program would sometimes get stuck in an area of the site that needed sighted assistance.

This was our first posting, and we began to use the site to help with school transitions. I invited the elementary VI classroom to view it and allowed them to post any comments or questions they might have for my sixth graders. Of course, the elementary teacher would have to do the posting because her students hadn't had experience with blogging yet.

The next step in this transition blogging is teacher training. I have to spend time with each classroom teacher and share my ideas to help our students with the anxiety of transitioning into new environments: schools, rooms and teachers. This transition blogging would be great to use with the general education population also. All students have anxieties and fears of change. This is a great way to incorporate new forms of technology with language arts to help our students any transition fears. I believe you will find these ideas helpful for your students.

Email:Julie Burger

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