Since Michigan changed their world language requirement in schools, which requires all students to take at least two years of a foreign language, I have been seeing more and more students in my classes with learning disabilities. Many students with learning disabilities were advised to not take a world language, especially French (since it is perceived to be harder than Spanish), by the counselors and the special education department. Within the past two years I have seen a large increase in special education students, but none that I have not encountered before or have not done a lot of research on. In the Fall I will be getting my first visually impaired student and I have been brainstorming how I could help her succeed in my classroom. I am very interested in finding a technology that I will be able to integrate into my lessons to help this student and future students with visual processing disorders.
While reading several articles on visual impairment, a lot of the information seemed like common sense. In the article, Essential Components of Educational Programming for Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired by the Alberta Education Response Centre (2006), they said, “Without vision, students cannot access information beyond those things that they can touch or hear” (p. 2). This is something that most people would be able to figure out, but then the article continues:
Without this information, students are unable to organize their environment or develop concepts that are important in understanding connections in their world. Students who are blind or visually impaired need to access information through direct experiences and hands-on, tactile exploration facilitated by qualified professionals who can address these unique needs (Alberta, 2006, p. 2).
While this may also seem like common sense, it is not. I all too often take my vision and the vision of my students for granted. When I teach, I use a lot of visual cues along with facial expressions. I am very sarcastic which I show with my facial expressions as well. With a visually impaired student, I now have to think about how I am delivering my content and instruction to my students. I do not want my visually impaired students to miss out on the concepts that are important to making sense of the French culture and language.
So what technology will help this student to be successful in a foreign language classroom? Well, in a world language class we are constantly using dictionaries to aid our everyday work. The dictionaries I have in class currently are too small and hard to navigate for students without visual impairments, so a while back I looked into online dictionaries that had more vocabulary and were easy to navigate. I found www.wordreference.com and had the students use it daily, but this website will not be the best for visually impaired students because it does not give an audio option in English and French. I researched good audio dictionaries and I came across, www.larousse.com which has both French and English pronunciations. With a computer, smartphone or tablet, this dictionary can be magnified to aid the student’s vision. According to the Alberta Education Response Centre, “Assistive technology, such as braille note-taking devices or computerized dictionaries, should be made available for use in school, with an appropriate level of technical support for students to use the technology in everyday activities” (p. 6). Students with visual impairments can use computerized dictionaries, like Larousse, to learn using audio. It will make it easier to pronounce French as well since they will be getting more auditory input than most students. I really like this dictionary because it gives several options for the student to look through to find the right word or phrase and then, each word or phrase has a pronunciation in both languages to assist the visually impaired.
Along these same lines, I found some interesting classroom recommendations for visual processing in Trutina Maria Sowell’s article, School psychologist interventions and recommendations for specific learning disabled students with visual and/or auditory processing disorders (2007), “Allow students to verbally articulate information whenever possible” (p. 59). She continues, “Allow student to use a typewriter, a word processor, or a computer to complete assignments” (Sowell, 2007, p. 60). This intrigued me, so I began to research technology that would allow students to give their writing assignments in verbal form. I found Google Dictation which is an application that allows students to speak in many languages and have it dictated into writing. By changing the default settings in Google Chrome, visually impaired students will be able to use Dictation, which is powered by Google, to respond orally in French instead of writing.
Furthermore, Dictation will allow visually impaired students to respond in a timely manner and when they have all their assistive technologies at their disposal. In Kelly’s article, Correlates of assistive technology use by students who are visually impaired in the U.S.: Multilevel modeling of the Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (2009), she mentions, “Without the use of assistive technology in learning experiences, students without vision struggle to be independent,” (p. 14). Teaching the content is important, but teaching students with disabilities to be independent is even more pressing. Dictation will give some freedom and a choice for students who are visually impaired.
Overall, I am excited to try Dictation and the online Larousse dictionary with my visually impaired student next year. It will be an adventure and I hope that I will be able to accommodate her so she is successful in a world language. Perhaps these technologies will also be beneficial for all of my students.
Alberta Education Response Centre. (2006). Essential Components of Educational Programming for Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired. Standards for Special Education. ERIC Clearinghouse. http://catalog.lib.msu.edu/record=b5816376~S8a
Kelly, S. M. (2008). Correlates of assistive technology use by students who are visually impaired in the U.S.: Multilevel modeling of the special education elementary longitudinal study. Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 112-n/a. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304540630?accountid=12598. (304540630).
Sowell, T. M.( 2007). School psychologist interventions and recommendations for specific learning disabled students with visual and/or auditory processing disorders. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 2814-2814. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/621709851?accountid=12598. (621709851; 2008-99010-454).