Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Writing: The Forgotten Focus for Literacy and Communication Instruction

Photo of Linda Hagood

In this webcast Speech Language Pathologist Linda Hagood discusses the importance and challenges of teaching writing skills to blind and deafblind students. She provides an array of strategies to teach writing skills in nontraditional ways that are both motivating and fun for students.

The webcast consists of the following chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Types of Stories to Explore with Students Who are Blind or Deafblind
  3. How to Begin the Storytelling Writing Process
  4. Strategies to Assist Blind and Deafblind Students to Improve their Writing Skills

 

Introduction

Transcript of Video

In many ways, our stories help... the stories that you and I tell help people to connect to us. They say, "Oh, my daughter did that, too." Or, "Oh, I know a story like that."  In many ways, the stories of the deafblind people that we know I think should help us realize, "Oh, they aren't so very different from you and I."  But in other ways, I think, the stories that I tell might set me apart from you.  So they might... it might be a story that says... about a particularly bad incident that I might have had with a family member that would never happen in your family.  And you would say, "Oh, that's so very different from me.  I feel like that's what makes her so strong or so weak or so confused."
 

Video Clip of Classroom

GIRL: That's another thing that I'm afraid of.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, three teenaged girls who have vision or hearing impairments sit around a classroom table and discuss things that scare them. One girl, who is deafblind, has an aide who uses tactile signing to communicate with her. The aide describes the girl's reaction to the idea of flying sharks.

HAGOOD: And so the deafblind person's story might help us to understand his unique perspective, as well as what he shares with us.  They can write stories to validate their experiences, thoughts and ideas, to help them connect and organize events, people and sequences-- because the very fact that they are deaf and blind makes it hard for them to do that-- to build relationships through the meaningful activity of writing together, to establish perspective needed to read and hear other people's stories, and last, to establish a cultural identity through the creation of artifacts.

 

The Types of Stories to Explore with Students Who are Blind or Deafblind

 

Transcript of Video

HAGOOD: Well, I've loved to write a lot of different kinds of stories with people who have deafblindness.  True stories that highlight our students' unique interests and perspectives, stories about the experiences they have doing everyday kinds of things-- going to the carwash, maybe picking out a pet at the pet store. Those kinds of things. Pretend stories that reveal our students' imagination and creativity.  And I think very often we consider their fascinations, their obsessions, their special interests as something that we're concerned about. Well, maybe they are the roots of creativity and can be built into some fiction writing.

Video Clip of Classroom

GIRL: Flying in the air doesn't help.  They would pop up a genie.

NARRATOR: Back in the classroom, the students explore ideas to include in the story they are creating.

HAGOOD: Another kind of story is a story that highlights our students' social and emotional challenges and triumphs. Sometimes it's easier for our students to be able to talk about social issues in a story format than in real-life situations, such as the social stories.

HAGOOD:  Why do you think people get married? Chase?

BOY:  I don't really know.

(laughter)

BOY:  I have to find out when I get married.

(laughter)

NARRATOR: In a different classroom, a boy and a girl who are visually impaired share and explore ideas with their teachers for a story they are collaborating on. Stories based on TV, video games or books that appeal to our students' interests.

And then we have some kinds of students who really like epics that provide an appropriate outlet for persistent interests and fascinations. Those kinds of stories that go on and on-- stories of the Titanic, stories like The Wizard of Austin that last for many chapters and become a kind of...maybe a connection ritual for the student to be doing with the adult who's writing with them.

Living in Munchkinland.

That's an idea.

A castle floating in the sky over Munchkinland.

NARRATOR: In the classroom with the three girls who are visually impaired or deaf, the teacher lists some of the ideas and topics which the girls had earlier suggested as themes to write about.

 
 

How to Begin the Storytelling Writing Process

HAGOOD: Start with something that the student likes or already can do and build that into a story. Maybe he's good at remembering routines, at memorizing lines from movies or TV shows. Maybe he likes sound play, or he likes the ABCs, those kinds of things. Get started with those and build on them, make them into a story at the beginning. Maybe she can draw, maybe she likes physical motor activity. Those kinds of things might be good ways to begin a story by ending the activity with a short, brief story writing session where the physical motor activity was maybe turned into a story.

They focus on the process and the process goals and don't make the story itself and the written product be the goal. Keep yourself in charges — you're the model and the guide. The student's the observer. He doesn't have to do a lot at first except be with you. Model, model, model. I think very often we forget that our students have never watched people write.

The teacher types the story that the girls are dictating to her. NARRATOR: In a video clip, we see a tight shot of the teacher's hands as she types the story that the girls are dictating to her. In the background, we see the aide signing the words to the young girl who is deafblind.

HAGOOD: They watch people read a hundred books, maybe, before they're expected to read, and yet maybe we write with them five or six times and then we want them to write a story or write a term paper, things like that. So, really, when we think about the difficulties our kids have as far as sensory input, they need lots and lots of modeling and lots and lots of writing together and to see how we think through something as we get our words on paper.

 

Strategies to Assist Blind and Deafblind Students to Improve their Writing Skills

HAGOOD: Use a standard format or structure, such as an experience story, so the student can think about the content instead of grappling with how the words will look on the paper. Maybe every time you write a story together, you're going to fold the paper in half. Or you're going to staple it on the side so that the student knows, "Oh, this is a story writing thing, "this is not a worksheet, this is not a calendar or schedule, this is story time."

Writing experiences should be short, frequent and pleasurable. Help the child understand writing as play by using your own imagination, using props, those kinds of things.

TEACHER: You're used to living in a mansion, and this girl has used her magic remote to turn your mansion into a tent. You're going to come out of there and what are you going to say?

The teacher prompts students to create dialogue for the story they are writing.NARRATOR: In a video clip, the teacher prompts students to create dialogue for the story they are writing.

GIRL: Hey, boy.

BOY: Who are you?

GIRL: I'm the girl's mother.

HAGOOD: Share written products with other people. It doesn't matter, from the very beginning, you need to create something, even if it's not wonderful, that you can take and show to somebody else so the student develops some pride and some ownership in being an author.

Collage of writing

Posted on June 21, 2012
Updated on: September 12, 2019