An Approach to Teaching Orientation and Mobility
to Preschool Students with Vision Impairment
Sister Van Nga Le
Nhat Hong School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
3 – 5 Phan van Han (phan sau)
Quan Binh Thanh,
Ho Chi Minh City,
Phone: (84-8) 8 400 207
Abstract: Orientation and Mobility training is one of the most important areas to help students with vision impairment to be integrated into ordinary school confidently and efficiently. It is absolutely essential for preschool students, because independent movement effects the student’s development and learning processes. Although every educator is aware of the importance of Orientation and Mobility skills for preschool students, some may not make the necessary effort to develop an appropriate and successful program. This paper will review the Orientation and Mobility teaching in Vietnam and suggest an approach which uses ‘active learning’ methodology to encourage preschool students to play to learn and to learn to play. This method of teaching would assist educators to create necessary adaptations which take into considering local social, cultural and economical issues, and to make maximum use of local resources to provide better Orientation and Mobility training to preschool students with vision impairment and to enable them to be better integrated into mainstream education and into their local communities.
In recent years, the government and educators in Vietnam have paid more attention to inclusive education and early intervention for children with vision impairment. Early intervention has been seen as a necessary priority and one which may lead to successful inclusive education programs. A program for preschool students was started in 1999 in Ho Chi Minh City, in the South of Vietnam. One of the most important subjects of this program is Orientation and Mobility (O&M), because independent movement would effect the student’s development, influence learning processes, help social and educational integration, and improve confidence when integrated into ordinary school. However, the development of an appropriate approach to teach O&M to preschool students is a topic that still requires in depth consideration and discussion.
Following are two aspects that would need to be considered:
- Review of the existing Orientation and Mobility programs for preschool students in Vietnam.
- The application of ‘Active learning’: An approach to teaching O&M to preschool students in Vietnam.
REVIEW OF THE EXISTING O&M PROGRAM FOR PRESCHOOL STUDENTS IN VIETNAM
In the preschool program in Vietnam, O&M is one of the major subjects. Instructors have used the traditional methods to teach O&M to preschool students. These traditional methods use instruction methods in which the instructors give instructions and the students do whatever the instructor requires. This method relies on teaching and directing the student, rather than allowing the student to learn. After two years, teachers reported that some preschool students could not achieved the goals that had been set for the whole school year, while other students achieved but did not enjoy their learning. Several disadvantages of the traditional methods have been recognized. These include:
* Students were passive. They learned only the concepts that their instructor taught them.
* Students did not enjoy learning. With the traditional instruction method, students often feel that the lesson was boring and tiring as they had to concentrate hard to do what the teacher wants, not what they would like to do.
* Students did not have the courage nor permission to explore the environment by themselves.
* Sometimes, the teacher followed up the lesson after the instructor, using what the instructor thought was useful but the students did not remember because they were not interested in this particular information.
* Students may gain some skills separately but could not combine or link these skills.
* When the instructor was not with them, the students did not apply their skills in other environments of their daily lives
* Parents and other specialists did not participate in the O&M training process.
* Many students did not achieve the goals and objectives of the O&M program, because the program was planned for every student regardless of the students’ ability, level of development and degree of impairments.
Specialists have called out for an alternative methodological approach, which changes the function of O&M instructors. This new approach requires give-and-take between the instructor and the student (Roman & Zimmerman, 1994). Since September 2001, a new method to teach O&M to preschool students has been introduced and tried in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This is the active learning approach.
Active learning is an approach in which the student is an active partner in the teaching-learning process. It does not mean that the instructor does not provide instructions to the student. According to Brannock and Golding (2000), at the beginning, the instructor strongly direct the student, but as the student learns how to attend to relevant environmental information, the instructor input reduces while the student input increases.
The active learning approach to teach O&M in Vietnam is developed from the child learning centered approach of Brannock and Golding (2000) and the active learning approach that was introduced by Lilli Nielsen (1993), with adaptations to suit the social, economical and cultural issues and the characteristics of preschool students in Vietnam.
The active learning approach to teach O&M uses the following principles:
1. The preschool student is given opportunities to learn from his/her own individual level.
The active learning approach provides O&M training to each preschool student according to the student’s ability and needs, as stated in the Individual Education Plan. This approach is a child learning centered approach that focuses on each individual student’s learning and helps each individual develop in their particular way to gain the skills. It is more suitable for Vietnamese preschool students because they are very different in degree of vision impairments and developmental levels.
2. The instructor allows the student to learn-to-play and to play-to-learn.
Preschool age is a period of extreme creativity and imagination (Skellenger and Hill, 1997). Students are very active in playing and would learn the skills through play and by their own activities. This approach alters O&M lessons to games that the students play together and play with the instructor. Lessons are combinations of games, songs, stories, and movements. They look more like play than work. This is especially appropriate to Vietnamese children. Most of them were visually impaired because of deficiency or deprivation of food and of appropriate medical intervention. They have poor health, lack confidence, lack motivation and demonstrate poor communication skills. They need to learn how to play and since they have started playing, they would learn by play. For instance, the NBC game of Brannock and Golding (2000) is used to develop the senses. NBC stands for ‘Near By Considerations’, an attention directing tool for increasing the student’s sensory awareness of their surroundings. Playing this game, the students would learn how to use the senses meaningfully, systematically, and automatically. This type of game encourages the students to move and they thoroughly enjoy learning.
3. The student is allowed to discover, experiment, explore and perform a skill in his/her own way.
This approach encourages preschool students to move and to explore the world. The more they have the desire to explore, the more they enjoy moving, and the more their O&M skills are developed. Nielsen discovered that if a child is “given opportunity to learn from his own active exploration and examination, the child will achieve skills that become part of his personality.” (Nielsen, 1993:19). O&M skills are fundamental to exploring and in turn, exploring promotes the development of O&M skills.
In addition, the instructor allows the student to act in his/her own way. The active learning approach is essential in the ‘6-Step Method’ of teaching a route (Brannock and Golding, 2000).
· Step one is Establish Your Position (EYP): the students examine a start point and two near by features.
· Step two is Establish Your Target (YET): the students examine the target point and two near by features.
· Step three is Distance, Direction and Time (DDT): the O&M instructor provides an estimate of the distance and direction to the target and time it will take.
· Step four is Near By Consideration (NBC): the instructor helps the students to gather information in the surroundings by using their senses.
· Step five is Useful, Useless and Interesting (UUI): the students are asked whether any information was useful, useless or interesting. Finally,
· Step six is Say The Route (STR): the students are asked to say the route in their own words.
This 6-step method gives students opportunities to actively participate throughout the lesson. To achieve active learning, the student is given sufficient time for doing and thinking, as well as opportunity to repeat it many times if necessary in order to store, confirm and comprehend the information gained (Nielsen, 1993). This approach allows students to review the lessons by playing and gives them opportunities to compare their experiences, link new experiences to other experiences, to catagorise and generalise experiences.
4. The student would be able to use O&M skills in other areas of learning.
The active learning approach links formal O&M skills with other skills such as concept development, language development, motor development, environment awareness, and community awareness (Anthony et al., 1992). This approach can also tie O&M training in with other subjects such as activities of daily living, Braille, mathematics, etc. For instance, the WESST game, a technique for directing attention to the important properties of an object (Brannock and Golding, 2000), could be use not only in O&M lessons but also in teaching Braille and mathematics. WESST stands for Weight, Ends and Edges, Size, Shape, Sound, and Texture. By playing this game many times, the students would be able to examine an object systematically and automatically. Vietnamese children enjoy the WESST game very much and apply it many times in other subjects.
5. The active learning approach establishes a comfortable working relationship between the instructor and the student.
This approach relies on an open and cooperative relationship between the instructor and the students. The instructor provides suggestions rather than directions, and in addition, the instructor creates a way to attract the attention of the students to whatever the instructor wants them to pay attention to. Through playing together, the students feel more comfortable and close to the instructor. This approach encourages the students to communicate with the instructor by sharing their experience. In practice, there are instructors who do not like to change the relationship with students, because according to Vietnamese tradition, students always have to obey passively. Some instructors have felt that their authority was decreased. On the contrary, other instructors have received good results in changing the relationship. As the students enjoy to work with instructors, it is easier to draw them to the objectives of the lessons.
6. Together with a coordinated approach, the active learning approach makes maximum use of local human resources.
The interrelationship between preschool students and other members in their families is especially strong and important. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese is a very close relationship between members of a big family of three or four generations and a close relationship with neighbours and other people in local communities. O&M program involves not only parents but also other members in the families such as grandparents, siblings, relatives and people in the local communities such as teachers and students at the ordinary schools, neighbours, village workers, doctors, specialists and volunteers. Workshops to train these people are essential to provide basic O&M skills and train participants to know how to play with and assist the preschool students to apply O&M skills to their daily lives at home, in the school and in local communities. By cooperating with families, ordinary schools and communities, the instructor would be able to modify the O&M program to suit the needs of each student and each family while taking into account the social, economical and cultural issues of each community.
7. The active learning approach makes maximum use of local material resources. O&M activities are more motivating and enjoyable through the use of interesting and playful materials. However, Vietnam is a developing country. Even though the government is paying more attention to education for preschool students with vision impairment, it is not able to provide the necessary funds for purchasing teaching aids and other educational resources. This approach encourages the instructor to use every day items and any appropriate resources in local communities to teach O&M skills such as bamboo, coconut hard cover, coconut trees, wood, various types of rice and bean, various types of shells and pebbles, second-hand stuff, etc. When understanding the O&M program, other members in the educational team will find and create many different resources or introduce resources that can be purchased at low cost. Even the preschool students themselves may create and use very simple resources.
8. The active learning approach helps to increase positive self-esteem and develop a more positive and wholesome personality.
This approach provides the students with more opportunities to explore the environment and make social contact with people. Lack of moving may result in lack of confidence and a shy and reserved personality. Many Vietnamese preschool students do not frequently have opportunities to interact with other children and adults, particularly if they come from communities where people have an inappropriate attitude towards children with vision impairment. Some believe that the parents or grandparents of the child must have done something wrong in the past so now have a child with vision impairment. Some parents blame themselves. In many cases parents do not want anybody to know of the existence of their child in the house. The active learning approach gives students a willingness to face the challenges because the students have been encouraged to move, explore, develop and satisfy their curiosity. They also build up decision-making skills. Even though the students are still very young, they need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences of their decision (Jacobson, 1993). From observations, the students appear more willing to take risks, are more confident in problem solving and decision-making while moving in familiar or unfamiliar environment including the ordinary preschool where they are integrated.
Although this active learning approach has been used in Vietnam for one school year only, it has made a big change. Preschool students show more confidence and independence than previously. They have improved not only in their O&M skills but also in motor and language skills and their concept development. However, every change needs time and will encounter many difficulties as it grows in acceptance. It is hoped that the active learning approach will be included in the teacher training programs and be used more broadly in Vietnam in the near future. This would ensure the provision of better O&M training to preschool students with vision impairment and would enable them to be better integrated in mainstreaming education and in local communities.
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Nielsen, L. (1993). Early Learning – Step by Step in Children with Vision Impairment and Multiple Disabilities. Copenhagen, Denmark: Sikon.
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Skellenger, A.C. & Hill, E.W. (1997) “The Preschool Learner.” In B.B. Blasch, W.R. Wiener, & R.L. Welsh (eds) Foundations of Orientation and Mobility – 2nd Edition. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
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