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Winter 99 Table of Contents
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Observation: The Other Four-Fifths of the Day

By Millie Smith, Debra Sewell and Ann Rash
Teacher Trainers, TSBVI, VI Outreach

Most elementary students with visual impairments in public schools in Texas receive instruction in various subjects for about five hours in an average day. If a student receives an hour a day of direct service from a VI teacher, that's only about one-fifth of their daily instruction. Students with low vision or multiple impairments probably receive much less than that. If a student with a visual impairment received adaptations and modifications to make learning media accessible only when his vision teacher worked with him, he would be receiving, at best, the equivalent of one day a week of instruction compared to his peers' five days. In a month, he would have four days instead of the twenty days averaged by his peers. How important is it then to make sure that instruction during the other four-fifths of the day is modified and adapted for the student with visual impairments?

Observation is not a traditional part of the itinerant VI teacher role. For most of us observation was not emphasized in our VI teacher preparation programs. Flener says that, generally, the itinerant VI teacher gives direct instruction, travels a great deal, and uses the remaining time on administrative functions with a small portion of time left over for consultation (1993). Many VI teachers who do an excellent job of addressing specific needs in direct pull-out instructional sessions are frustrated by the fact that they do not always know what goes on during their students' day when they are not present. In her article on the consultative-collaborative teacher, Flener states that itinerant VI teachers nationally report little time spent observing students.

This unfortunate circumstance does not exist because VI teachers are unconcerned. It exists primarily because VI teachers find it difficult to expand their roles to include observation and to find the time to carry out this function. We belive that observation time has to be an essential part of the VI teacher's schedule. Without it, valid assessments and effective consultation are impossible.

Role Definition

Flener (1993) describes the consultative-collaborative teacher, the CCVI, as one who conducts extensive observations of students in their regular classes. Based on these observations, the CCVI teacher provides extensive collaboration with regular teachers for joint identification of specific problem areas in the regular instruction and joint development of strategies for solving problems. This collaboration between the CCVI teacher and regular teachers facilitates the maximum integration of the student with visual impairments so that peer interaction and social skills develop along with curriculum content.

Pugach and Johnson (1989) stress the importance of giving up the "expert" role. The itinerant teacher who is viewed as an outsider with special, but isolated, skills does not have the necessary shared communication and joint problem solving experiences that regular teachers need to ensure success for a given student with visual impairments enrolled in their classes.

The importance of collaboration based on an equal relationship is also stressed by Croxton, Embry, & Hinton (1988). They define the elements of the collaborative process as (a) mutual trust and open communication, (b) joint approaches to problem identification, (c) pooling of personnel resources to identify and select strategies that will have some probability of solving an identified problem, and (d) shared responsibility in the evaluation of the initiated strategy.

Time Management

There are some breaks with established practices that would go a long way to provide VI teachers with the time they need to be effective collaborators.

VI supervisors must include observation time in analysis of caseloads. VI teachers serving too many students have no option other than to minimize services. Observations tend to be one of the first things to go because they are not required. Along with them goes quality instruction in the other four fifths of the day.

VI supervisors need to support flexible schedules. VI teachers who must always see a given student at the same time are those most at risk for undersupporting programming during the parts of the day they never see.

Parents can support VI teachers by asking at ARD meetings for more specific descriptions of the service that will be provided for their child. If the words "direct" and "consult" are used to describe service, parents can ask for more information about how much time will be available in those models for collaboration and observation. They can also request observations in the home and ask to be included in trainings.

Building principals can help VI teachers be integral members of instructional teams by making time for VI teachers and regular staff serving the student with visual impairments to meet together. Principals may not realize that the VI teacher may work with fifteen or more different instructional teams. Each may consist of about five key instructional people. If the VI teacher tried to provide appropriate modifications and adaptations in each class by meeting with each teacher individually during a planning period, she would be trying to set-up and get to seventy-five different meetings. If she can go to one meeting for each team, not only does she spend less time in meetings, but the other team members can support each other in her absence.

VI teachers can establish a system for communicating with other professionals. For example, a notebook placed on the counter in the school office can be used between regularly scheduled meetings by all staff serving the VI student, to note questions, answers, upcoming projects, ideas, etc.

VI teachers must advocate for themselves. They are often supervised by special education directors who are very familiar with the roles of related service personnel but who may not appreciate the unique characteristics of the VI role. The VI professional is a teacher, but she doesn't have the same role as classroom teachers. She has an itinerant schedule and a caseload like related service people do, but she isn't a related service. She actually does some of the important functions of each of these groups of professionals. VI teachers can use processes like Quality Programs for Students with Visual Impairments to clarify their roles and responsibilities, and to generate the level of support they need from supervisors to make sure that they have manageable caseloads.

If anyone needs convincing of the importance of this issue, ask them to consider the following: In classrooms all over the state of Texas at any given hour, some students with visual impairments are sitting idly while their peers participate in learning activities. For example, a kindergarten student who is functionally blind may sit in a circle on the floor and listen while his peers visually participate in a calendar activity. His peers are busy learning the important emerging literacy skills of visually scanning from left to right, of starting at the top of the calendar, of moving from row to row, of matching spoken words with their written symbols, etc. The student with the visual impairment may learn to say the words his peers are saying, but he isn't learning any of the emerging literacy skills they are learning. By the time he sits down with his VI teacher for his braille lesson, his peers have practiced many times the skills he will work on.

In order to have a chance to develop the same skills, he would need a tactual calendar during calendar circle. In order to provide this modification, the VI teacher would need to observe the calendar circle, develop the appropriate materials, and teach someone to help the student use the materials during calendar circle. This is only one example of the multiple opportunities for learning that will take place when the VI teacher is not present. Making instruction available to the student with a visual impairment during the other four-fifths of the day is not incidental. It requires proactive administrative support and dedicated time on the part of the VI teacher and the teachers with whom she must collaborate.

References

Croxton, L., Embry, v., & Hinton, C. (1988). Supportive assistance: consultative/collaboration. Warren County Schools, KY: Unpublished manuscript.

Flener, Betsy Settle (1993). The consultative-collaborative teacher for students with visual handicaps. RE:view, Volume XXIV, No. 4, Winter, 1993. Heldref Publications, Washington, D.C.

Pugach, M.C., & Johnson, L.J. (1989). The challenge implementing collaboration between general and special education. Exceptional Children, 19(3), 1-14.


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