Accurately reading and interpreting tables is instrumental to understanding science content in middle school and high school. However, many students with visual impairment lag behind their sighted peers in this important skill. Why is this so and how can TVIs ensure that their students are able to stay on track?
Many thanks to both Mrs. Sue Mattson, Braille Transcriber, TSBVI, and Dr. Kay Pruett, Braille teacher, TSBVI, for their valuable input.
Start Early and Start Simple
As braille students are taught to read in the early grades, it is important to teach the the necessary spatial concepts and skills for comprehending tables in later grades. These skills go beyond the left to right tracking learned as your students are taught to read braille text. Viewing an entire table requires different tactile skills from reading, including learning to scan the entire page. They include teaching the student to differentiate the following concepts: above, below and side-by-side. Also, training in horizontal and vertical tracking is valuable for an understanding of rows (horizontal) and columns (vertical). All of these skills must be explicitly taught because gaining spatial information tactually from a graphic requires a systematic part to whole approach unlike gaining the information visually which is usually done with a more intuitive whole to part method. For the braille reader this instruction begins at the pre-braille level as the student learns to track both horizontally and vertically.
Teaching comprehension of tables should begin at least as soon as tables begin to appear in the curriculum, in early elementary. The skills necessary will continue to be taught and will build developmentally. See Tips for Reading Tactile Graphics in Science with a Focus on State Assessment.
Intentional Collaboration with the General Education Science Teacher
Collaboration with the general education science teacher is vital.
As with all subjects, building a good rapport with the general education teacher in science is vital. In your collaboration early in the school year, make sure to mention the extra time necessary to pre-teach science graphics, including tables. Ask the teacher to provide materials beforehand and to give you as much time as possible to prepare (at least a week). If the teacher teaches from a well-established curriculum, he/she may be able to provide access to all of the materials for the year in the beginning of the school year and the syllabus can be utilized to determine when tables will be included in the lesson.
Though it is always important to have materials beforehand, this is particularly true of tables and other science graphics. As students with visual impairment require more time to successfully learn to interpret tables, It is important to Pre-Teach, Teach, and Reteach.
Prior to the introduction of the first table in instruction in the general education classroom, make sure the student understands the use of tables by introducing similar tables to him. This will require one-on-one instruction with the student during his regular pull-out time. Then, prior to the lesson which includes a table, pre-teach that particular table. Help the student learn to practice looking ahead for tables and studying them ahead of the lesson. Ideally, this will become habit for the student and he will learn to practice this important study skill independently by high school as it is vital to have established this habit in order to succeed in college.
Good sources for tables are old textbooks and released standardized tests.
Spend time with the student preparing for instruction on the table to be used in class. The student should already be confident of the layout of the table and the content prior to the class in which the table is to be utilized. This way, the student will be confident of his/her ability to comprehend the table and will be able to focus on instruction during class.
After instruction in class including a table, set aside time with your student to review the table and the related content. Make this a regular practice.
Tables with a Screen Reader
The wave of the future (whether we like it or not !) is auditory books. This will require that our students gain skills in auditory comprehension of tables (for instance read by JAWS). To be successful at this task, students will need a thorough understanding of the layout of tables and the ability to read them. For this reason as well, students must be taught to read and interpret tables intentionally.