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An introduction to tactile teaching aids

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 11:11 -- admin

By Monika Sharma
Ask people to describe a classroom situation and most would think of a teacher standing at a blackboard, chalk in hand, drawing diagrams and writing the lesson down for the students. Now look at the students, all busily copying the lesson into their books. But what if there is a blind or visually impaired student in the class? Even if they are seated right at the front, how much can they learn from such teaching methods?                                  
As inclusive education becomes more widespread, teachers must learn to include tactile teaching aids as part of their teaching strategy. It is known that lessons become more interactive, and inclusive, with the use of these teaching aids and appliances.
Almost all disciplines today, be it natural or social sciences demand the use of these aids. For example, social sciences such as geography and economics demand the use of tactile maps and graphs, similarly mathematics is incomplete without the use of a geometry kit, and all physical sciences necessitate the use of three-dimensional models.
Although inclusive education might sound complex and complicated, it is really quite simple. A little thought and effort can actually make a big difference to how well a visually impaired student understands the facts and information presented.
Read further for a guide to teaching aids that you can use for teaching visually impaired students. The aids are simple to use and inexpensive: you can even make some of them yourself.
Here is a list of items, we have talked about in this piece:
At the primary stage, imparting the concept of time becomes crucial, and equally so for a visually impaired student. It cannot be taught without a concrete presentation. A good idea is to devise a clock-face made of a thermocol placed on a cardboard. Special care should be taken while designing the clock to make it graspable and comprehensible. Buttons can be used to demarcate the hours, while the hands can be shown through the use of matchsticks.
This is a kit adapted for use by visually impaired students. It consists of a thick rubber sheet, with a box containing a tactile scale, tactile angle-constructers, tactile compass and a tactile divider. A thick sheet of paper is placed on the rubber sheet to draw the desired shapes and figures. Not only this, the graphs used in economics or statistics can also be easily drawn using this kit.
If more teachers were aware of this kit and promoted its use, blind students would not need alternative or compensatory questions in place of any that involve drawing graphs or figures.
Tactile maps
Visually impaired students are always offered a compensatory question for a map, but that does not reduce for them, the need to know the world around.
A map in an engraved form can be conveniently used to teach the location and the relief features of the area.It is devised using an embosser.
Teachers can also design their own tactile maps, using a thick cardboard, supplemented with thread, cotton or thermacol to highlight the different features such as mountains, plateaus, plains and rivers, in case an embosser is not available. Remember however, not to make the map too complicated. As far as possible, try showing only two to three features on a single map.
The blind student should not be deprived of the knowledge of the structure of the earth. The basic concept of its spherical structure and the poles can be easily taught using a globe.
In chemistry, making the students learn to solve chemical equations really poses a great challenge. This can be easily done by using scrabbles with raised letters, where different letters can denote different symbols. By placing them accordingly the equations can be solved.
Three-dimensional models
First-hand experience of various concepts can be provided through models. In chemistry, the tetrahedral structure of the methane molecule for instance, can be easily taught by designing a model to this effect. A model using five plastic balls, representing one molecule of carbon and four molecules of hydrogen, connected through matchsticks canbe developed to illustrate it. Similarly in biology, the structure of amoeba or the digestive system of a human being for that matter, can be taught through a model that students can feel and handle. Even the concept of the solar system can be imparted by designing a model.
The list is endless. To creativity and innovation, sky is the limit! So be as original and inventive as you can.
While scheming these aids however, some important considerations ought to be kept in mind. The nature of material to be shown should be matched by the substance used to make it. For instance, a thick sheet of paper is sufficient to make a map while cardboard would be needed for a three-dimensional model.Thus, tangibility of the aid is as important as the variety of the material used to represent its various components. The model however should not be too complex or complicated. For instance, in a clock the use of four buttons for three, six, nine and twelve would be enough to represent the hours. Using twelve buttons would make the model too confusing. Remember, graspability, clarity and simplicity must be ensured.
Though the aids listed out above may be simple in design, the idea is that such concrete presentation can provide a foolproof understanding of concepts, ideas and objects. Perhaps the whole class can learn through making their own models, with the visually impaired student advising non-disabled ones on what works well and what does not. Therefore, we see how the class as a whole can also benefit from such aids as abstract ideas can be understood better with graphic and tangible models.
In the ultimate analysis, it becomes evident that in the absence of sight, the students have to be made to explore the environment through their hands. The use of tactile teaching aids as assistive devices in the classroom, therefore seems indispensable to make the integrated system of education more efficient and fruitful in the real sense of the term.

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