In the first Spatial Tech Standards post, we learned various hands-on activities and apps that can be used to teach spatial terms. This post will focus on the importance of and activities to teach the spatial concept of rows.
Row is defined as, "Things arranged next to each other, typically in a straight line". Educators know that the concept of rows and columns is important for math, grids, and spreadsheets; however, the term “row” is also frequently used much earlier in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Teachers often tell students to “line up in a row” before walking down the hallway. When learning to read, students track from left to right across a line or row of words. Tablets and smart phones organize app icons in rows on the Home screen and many apps have a row of options in the Tool bar located at the top or bottom of the screen.
Early understanding the concept of a row is a critical skill for young students who are visually impaired – and this foundation concept is often overlooked! As always when working with young students, start with manipulatives and hands-on activities. Incorporate the concept of rows into whatever you are teaching. Here are a few examples:
- Tracking, pre-reading skill: Using a straight horizontal tactile line, have the student trace the line in a row from left to right. Make it more interesting by adding an object (fun texture or shape) at the end of the line and ask the student to find what is at the end of the row. (Note: Remember to use the term “row” not line, as the goal is to teach the concept of a “row”! In some instances, the words “row” and “line” are interchangeable.)
- Tracking, pre-reading skill: Make a tactile braille row (using dots 3 and 6) and place a fun object somewhere in the row. (This is a great way to practice left, middle and right spatial terms!)
- Distinguishing dots or letters: Make a tactile braille row using dots 3 and 6 or a single repeated letter - mixing one or more of the desired target letter(s). Ask the student to find the target letter.
- Practice writing braille letters: Ask the student to create a row of letters using Perkins Brailler or a refreshable braille display.
- Counting: Using a tactile line for reference, ask the student to place objects in a row (along the line). Use the student’s favorite toys (trucks, figures) or use items from the class such as counting bears, snacks, etc. How many items are in the row? Place a couple bears as outliers and then ask how many bears are in the row!
- Walking in a row: When the class lines up at the door, ask the student to check to see if his/her classmates are standing in a neat row by physically walking past the students – if your student maintains a straight line of travel and bumps into another student, that student is not in the row!
Once the student understands what a row is, teach the concept of multiple rows. Again, using manipulatives or tactile materials laid out in several rows, ask the student to find the beginning of the first row (top left) and track across the row. Now, ask the student to go back to the beginning (top left) and drag a finger down to the next (second) row. Continue the activity (tracking across Row 2) after the student says the name, “Row 2”. Repeat for any additional rows.
Ask the student to find the third row. To do this, start at the top left and say, “Row 1” out loud. Drag down the left side to find Row 2 – and say, “Row 2”. Drag down again and say, “Row 3”. Remind the student that rows go from left to right (or ‘side-to-side’ or ‘across’ if the student does not fully understand the terms, ‘right’ and ‘left’).
When initially introducing multiple rows, try using different objects in each row. Row 1 might be the colored rocks. Row 2, directly below Row 1, might be a row of toy trucks. Row 3, directly below Row 2, might be a row of Legos. (To eliminate potential confusion, the rows should be the same length.)
Note: Do NOT introduce the concept of columns until the student fully understands the concept of rows! When rows and columns are introduced together young students become confused due to the spatial nature of the concept. If a student is asked to find the second row, most young students will find the first row and move to the right once (Row 1, Column 2) instead of finding the first row and moving down to find Row 2. This confusion can be eliminated by solidifying the concept of a row before introducing columns.
Now that blind and low vision students are being introduced to smart phones and tablets as preschoolers, it is critical to introduce the concept of rows early on as this is a foundational tech concept. The home screen on a touch screen device has app icons organized in rows. Just like the student learned to drag a finger across a tactile row or across a row of braille letters, the student should first learn the drag gesture – before learning the swipe gesture. When dragging across the screen, encourage the student to pay attention to where things are located spatially on the screen. Rows are used to help organize the apps on the screen. Is the desired app icon in the first row? Is it on the left, middle or right side of the screen? Is it in a corner? The power of a touch screen device is that a visually impaired student knows exactly where his/her finger is located spatially on the screen. The student can use this information to develop a mental map of the screen layout, making him/her a more efficient tech user. Mentally organizing the screen by rows helps the student remember the spatial location of specific apps, recall the locations, and discuss the locations. If the student uses a swipe gesture to move across the screen, he/she does not know where he/she is on the screen and loses all the spatial information. Not to mention, the drag gesture is physically easier to do than the swipe gesture!
Note: Students can swipe right or left to move across the Home screen row; however, they cannot swipe up or down to move from one row to another. Students can drag right, left, up or down!
Dragging in a Straight Line
It can be challenging for some students with visual impairments to drag in a straight line on a touch screen device. It is recommended to create a simple tactile row overlay to initially guide the student across the row. (See Tactile to Digital Part 3: Creating a Tactile Overlay on the Go! post for ideas on how to make simple and quick overlays. See other posts in this series to make embossed or PIAF/Swell graphic machine images.) Be sure to encourage the student to carefully listen to the app names as he/she drags his finger across the row.
- Ask the student to repeat the app names as he/she drags his/her finger.
- Can the student say the app names in order across the entire row?
- Ask the student which row a specific app is in (choose the student’s favorite app)
- As the student’s skills progress, ask the student to find an app in the second or third row. Instead of dragging across Row 1, guide the student in finding the first app (Row 1, top left) and then drag straight down to find Row 2 (or the desired row). This method helps to establish navigating efficiency on the iPad; when searching for a desired app, the student should not drag all the way across Row 1, 2, 3, etc. but should simply drag down to the desired row and then across. Students will quickly learn shortcuts, such as if the desired app icon is located on the right side of the screen in the third row, to find the top right icon and then drag down to the third row.
- Students who are using apps with a Tool Bar (typically located at the top of the screen) can also practice dragging in a straight line across the items in the Tool Bar. Some students may use the physical top edge of the device to help drag in a straight line across the top of the screen.
Note: The first post in this series discusses several apps for young students which provide opportunities to drag in a straight line across the page.