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By Jim Durkel, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach

Originally published in the Summer 2003 edition of See/Hear newsletter.

There is a term used by professional cooks called "mise en place." Translated from French, it means something like "put in place" or "prepared ahead of time." It is the idea that when cooking, the first step is to measure all the ingredients and line them up in the order in which they will be used. The thinking behind this is that it might not be convenient to be in the middle of a recipe and discover that you need to get and measure some ingredient. By using the idea of "mise en place," you also don't run into the problem of trying to remember if you have already added a certain ingredient to what you are cooking; if the bowl with the measured ingredient is empty, then you added it!

There is a similar idea related to house cleaning. Experts in this area will tell you to fill a bucket or caddy with all the cleaners, paper towels, rags, etc. that you need to complete cleaning tasks. The thought here is that you can take these materials from room to room, instead of having to go from the room you are cleaning back to where the materials are stored, then back to where you were cleaning.

This kind of organization is important for all children, especially those with visual impairments. Thinking about an activity before it happens, thinking about what materials will be needed, reviewing the steps that will be needed to complete the activity, then gathering all the materials ahead of time saves time and effort.

Take the example of "mise en place" while cooking. As a person who is sighted, it often takes me several minutes to locate an ingredient, especially if it is something I don't use very often. (And yes, my kitchen is organized!) Sometimes it just takes time for me to look in the cabinet where I keep the herbs and spices to find the turmeric, which I rarely use. Sometimes the time I take to look for an ingredient is all the time that is needed for what I am cooking to burn or get lumpy or, well, you get the idea. And I really hate it when I have started to cook something and am half way into the recipe when I realize that I don't have any turmeric at all! If I had measured all my ingredients ahead of time, I could have saved myself some problems.

As parents and teachers, we can help children with visual impairments develop organization skills in several ways. One way is that we can model these behaviors. Children who are sighted might be able to see me organizing my space as I get ready to do something. For a child with a visual impairment, I might want to "think out loud" as I get ready for this task.

To continue with the example of cooking, as I get ready to make dinner I might read the recipe out loud and say things like: "OK, first heat the oven to 350 degrees." "Next, I need a 13 by 9 inch pan. Lets see, all those pans are in the cabinet under the toaster oven." "Next I need a bowl and a mixing spoon." "I think I will measure out everything before I start mixing." By saying these things out loud, we provide a model for our children to copy later.

Think about other tasks during the day. Do you make grocery lists before going shopping? Do you write down the names of items that you need as you use them up? Do you look through the refrigerator and cabinets to see what you need before you go shopping? Does your child know about how you get ready to go shopping?

What steps do you follow when you get ready to pay bills? Do you get your checkbook, a calculator, envelopes and stamps ready before opening this month's bills? When you finish paying one bill, do you start a pile of the bills that are ready to go to the mailbox? Does you child know that you do these things regularly as part of paying bills?

As teachers, when we are getting ready to do a lesson with a child, do we model organization? Do we have materials ready ahead of time? Do we have the area arranged? Have we made our organizational strategies obvious to our students? Do they realize that we have made a plan ahead of time?

There are many different ways we can help ourselves be organized. Think about dresser drawers. Some of us may organize by similar clothing items: all the socks go in this drawer, undershirts go in that drawer, etc. Others might organize by association: gym socks are in the same drawer as gym shorts and shirts we wear when exercising. It doesn't matter what your system is if it works for you. What matters is having a system, and then helping a child use the system that works for them. Doing this proactively may help prevent some behavior problems later. It is not fair to yell at a child for taking so long to get dressed if we have not helped her learn how to organize her closet and dresser. (If she has a system and doesn't use it, however, then some consequences might be appropriate!) This also means that as a parent, I should soon stop putting clean clothes away for my child and make that her job. Putting clothes away is part of developing and learning to use organization skills.

Children with visual impairments often have quite a bit of stuff they need to use during the school day. It is up to us as teachers to help create a system in the classroom that helps the student find their materials easily. We then should expect the student to be responsible for using that system.

There are many ways to organize a study space or a desk. Some us might want to arrange things in drawers; others may want everything in its own container on top of the desk. Go to "The Container Store" and see all the different ways you can organize a desk or drawer or closet! Then go back and think about how you can organize a space with materials already in the classroom or with things you can buy at "The Dollar Store"!

Sometimes storage is what is needed. I saw a student that had a small cart on wheels. The cart had several shelves that held a Braille embosser, Braille paper, the child's abacus, and other materials the child needed. This student could then roll the cart with all his materials to wherever he was working.

Sometimes having a clearly defined workspace may be the problem. This is especially true when students work in small groups at tables. How can we let the visually impaired child know where her workspace starts and ends? Does she need a mat to help her have landmarks so she can easily find materials? Maybe she needs a tray to keep her things from rolling into another group member's space.

Does the child need help organizing materials? Ask the child for his ideas and talk with him about his preferences. Some people may want to organize materials in a left-to-right fashion: whatever I need first is to the left side of my workspace, and what I need last is the farthest to the right. Other people may like to organize in a top-to-bottom fashion, starting with the first material at the top of the workspace and the last material at the bottom. Again, what matters most is that we help our children find a system that works for them and then help them make using that system a habit. Teaching the child to put something down in the same spot is not teaching obsessive-compulsive behavior. It is teaching the child a strategy that can save the time and effort it takes to search over and over for materials.

For younger children and children with multiple impairments, organization helps support the development of concepts. Consider the example of making nachos. We can help the child understand the concept of "making nachos" by getting all the materials and ingredients we need ahead of time. "Making nachos" becomes associated with having a plate, chips, grated cheese, and hot peppers. We help the child further understand the concept of "making nachos" by arranging the materials and ingredients in the order in which they will

be used: first the plate, then the chips, then the peppers, and then the cheese. When we reach the end of the ingredients, it is time to put the plate in the microwave.

For older students, we can use these same organizational strategies to help them make associations and develop categories. Asking questions helps students organize their thinking and make a plan. For example, we can ask: "Where are chips stored, in the cupboard or in the refrigerator?" "Where is cheese stored?" "Where do you buy cheese, at Sears or at Krogers?" "In the grocery store, where do you find cheese? Is it in the produce aisle? Is it at the meat counter?"

Organization can support concept development, and that supports better thinking and problem solving. "A place for everything and everything in its place" can become a powerful strategy for teaching and learning.