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Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Chris Montgomery, TSBVI Outreach deafblind educational consultant and summer enrichment instructor, & Holly Cooper, TSBVI Outreach deafblind educational consultant

Abstract: The authors describe a two-week-long summer school session consisting entirely of students with deafblindness. Specially designed instructional opportunities included grocery shopping, going to restaurants, visiting an ice cream making store, and visiting a zoo. These activities were used as opportunities for concept development; learning appropriate vocabulary and symbols; practicing orientation and mobility skills; making lists and creating experience books; and choice making. Opportunities for staff development and parent training were also included. Keywords: deafblind, summer program, expanded core curriculum, communication

In this age of inclusion of students with the environment and people. In some casdisabilities in the least restrictive environ-es this process is facilitated by an interment, is there a need for a special class for vener, in some cases a paraprofessional, students with deafblindness? The unique and in some cases the teacher. All too of-needs of such students lead us to believe ten, individuals with deafblindness do not the answer is yes. The key to quality pro-have access to appropriate intervention, so gramming for individuals with combined we at the Texas Deafblind Project and TS-hearing and vision impairments is the con-BVI Special Programs collaborated to decept of intervention. Intervention is the velop a special summer school program for process which allows an individual who is some select students with deafblindness deafblind to receive non-distorted informa-to provide a time of high quality programtion such that he or she can interact with ming. We also worked to develop a model program in which parents and educational team members could observe and learn.

This is the second year Chris Montgomery has organized and taught this special summer session for students with deaf-blindness. We believe this program has improved every year and provided many opportunities for learning that students would not have otherwise had. This program was developed with the philosophy that all students with deafblindness benefit greatly from experiential learning situations, situations that involve activities in which the student can learn by doing. Many off-campus trips were included in the instructional day to make use of the community as a tool for discovery and experiential learning. These experiences were then used as a way to increase topics for literacy skills, build concept development, and provide opportunities for conversation. The aim was to provide, and further refine, good communication system models (including calendars, routines, and conversational strategies) that might give family members and teachers of deafblind students some tips and new ideas to implement at home.

Each school day began in the dormitory with students participating in cooking their breakfasts. Students then walked a sometimes challenging route to their classroom, following temporary construction fences and avoiding obstacles that sometimes varied from day to day. In the classroom students previewed their schedule for the day using objects, drawings, printed words or tactile symbols. School-based activities included cooking, art, and physical education.

Classroom work infused literacy into the expanded core curriculum, particularly activities of daily living. Students in this small class had a wide range of abilities from a student with functional mastery of reading and use of the internet to a student whose primary goal was to improve his emerging communication and social skills. Students discussed foods they wanted to prepare, searched the internet for recipes, developed a shopping list, planned a budget, and went shopping to purchase the items. Activities were used to facilitate the development of concepts and tie concepts to spoken, signed and written vocabulary. Planning included the creation of lists using print and object symbols. Follow up instruction involved staff and students creating experience books in which they described the activity and their role in it. Books were made with print and pictures as well as with braille, tactile symbols and objects and artifacts gathered during events.

In addition to literacy, the class provided learning opportunities in a variety of other areas. Students learned time concepts through use of calendars, schedules and object shelves to discuss upcoming and previous activities. They had opportunities for choice making and self determination in choosing the foods for their own breakfast, as well as food projects to prepare in the classroom. They learned and practiced appropriate social skills on campus with familiar people, and off campus with strangers and in unfamiliar situations. Students with deafblindness who have limited ability to communicate often experience anxiety when they go with their families or classmates into public settings, and having support from familiar people who can judge when they may be reaching their limit of ability to tolerate noise and confusion can be an effective way for such students to learn to understand situations and gain skills.

Learning opportunities in the classroom and the community also provided experience and practice in a wide variety of additional skills. Learning to organize work space and materials, and cleaning up and putting away materials are important skills for all individuals; but they are especially important for children with visual impairments as they may not be able to observe others practicing these skills, and may spend considerable time searching for needed supplies. Students also had experience following instructions, whether spoken, printed, or presented with pictures, depending on their ability. They also had experience giving directions to others, requesting and providing assistance, and working together as a team. The summer program was also used as a parent and staff training opportunity. A wiki (see photo) was created that was accessed with a password to protect student confidentiality. Photos and links to videos were posted daily, along with some discussion of learning activities which occurred and how students responded to them. One intervener of students with deafblindness who works with one of the summer program students in her home district, also came to work with her during the session at TSBVI. She had many opportunities to observe others working with the student, as well as participate in planning and implementing activities. Parents of the students as well as educational team members of one student came to a training the last two days of the program, observing in the classroom and attending workshop sessions on communication, self-determination, infusing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) into functional activities, and making learning activities more motivating.

 

The staff members who supported this class, as well as other members of the Texas Deafblind Project, hope to offer a similar program in the future. We believe it is an effective method of enriching the educational experience of students with deaf-blindness, as well as an ideal learning lab for professionals and family members.

Chris Montgomery summed it up:

I think everyone felt that this (experience) gave a lot of depth to understanding how to work with the kids. With endeavors like these it’s usually the things you don’t plan for that turn out to be the best experiences— the things we take away and remember. I was amazed at the connections that were made during this short two week program. Two of our students became very close friends and worked amazingly well together to solve problems and support each other in the new and sometimes emotional experiences they shared. The staff to student bond was really remarkable too; the kids were able to trust their teachers to help them through the new and sometimes emotional experiences they encountered while away from home. Parents connected as well, trading phone numbers and sharing experiences during the BBQ picnic. In all it felt as if some lifelong friends and connections were made.