VoiceOver Teaching Strategies for Preschool TVIs

iPads are now an accepted tool in your TVI toolbox. You – the TVI – personally use tech daily for work and in your personal life. Your smart phone is your lifeline (tethered to you during the day) and you are comfortable with an iPad. You know about VoiceOver, Apple’s native screen reader, have at least seen VoiceOver in action and may even have some personal experience with VoiceOver. You have a large arsenal of iOS apps that you use with young students who are visually impaired. You know that students with vision are entering kindergarten having independent tech skills and you want to introduce your preschooler/rising kindergarten student who is blind or low vision to technology, or you want to helpp your kindergarten/first grade student ‘catch-up’ their tech skills. You have searched for resources and found the free ABC’s of iOS: A VoiceOver Manual for Toddlers and Beyond! (ABC’s of iOS post) and you have installed a number of recommended apps. Now what?

A group of preschool TVIs are currently participating in a semester long course on how to introduce VoiceOver to their young students. The students are the shining stars of this course, and behind every student is an awesome TVI. Let’s take a look at one adorable 4-year-old student, Angel, and his success with an iPad running VoiceOver. In this post, we will focus on strategies that Becky – Angel’s amazing TVI - used to support Angel’s learning.  

Student Background

Like many students with some functional vision, 4 year old Angel is being introduced to a screen reader early as he will likely use a screen reader to reduce eye fatigue and to increase efficiency when he is older. Angel was introduced to an iPad (without VoiceOver) before the spring 2020 school closures and has had 2 iPad-related lessons in November and two lessons in January. As you can imagine, the pandemic has impacted Becky’s ability to work with Angel, and in turn, decreasing the amount of time dedicated to technology when Angel was available for VI lessons – and yet Angel has made significant progress!

Analyze

There is so much more to teaching tech than simply sharing an app with a student! TVIs have to set the student up for success and often adapt on the fly during the lesson. Throughout the lesson, it is important to carefully observe and analyze what is happening. It is often beneficial to record the lesson and review it later, as it can be challenging to catch the minute but important details of what is happening during the actual lesson! Determining what is happening and why will help you adapt your lessons in order to address your student’s unique needs. In the videos below, what do you notice and how would you adapt your lesson?

Note: Each video clip is a quick “snapshot” of only a piece of Angel’s lessons; the clips give a glimpse of what is being taught during the lesson and does not show the entire lesson. In the previous lesson, Angel reviewed and demonstrated tap, swipe right and swipe left gestures that he learned before the pandemic, and he was introduced to the drag and double tap VoiceOver gestures. (For more details about how to teach one-finger gestures, see Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 1-Finger Tricks and Tips post.) Becky reviewed these gestures in the second lesson before recording Angel.

As you watch the video below (second lesson), pay attention to Angel’s double tap gesture. What is he doing and how can he improve the efficiency of his gesture? Watch carefully to discover how the iPad reacted in unusual ways – did the iPad misinterpreted some of Angel’s gestures?

(Unfortunately, the videos are not audio described; however, additional information about three videos is available here.)

Analyze Angel’s Double Tap Gesture

Did not catch everything the first time? Watch the video again! 

  • Describe Angel’s double tap gesture.
    • Multiple taps
    • Large hand movements
    • Slow tapping
    • Hard tap – could be more gentle
  • Describe Becky’s teaching strategies
    • Model double tap
    • Physically assist double tap
    • Practice double tap on table
    • Verbal prompt, “tap,tap” for rhythm
    • Praise and excitement after successful double tap!
  • Did the iPad react in an unexpected way? If so, why?
    • Music began playing
      • Reason: When Becky modeled the double tap, Becky and Angel’s finger tapped the screen simultaneously. A two-finger double tap starts or stops music.
    • VoiceOver announced, “edit mode” and “started editing”
      • When VoiceOver is on an app icon, swipe down will enter the Edit mode. Swipe down again will activate the edit mode. Instead of tapping, Angel made a slight swipe down gesture instead of a tap gesture.
  • iPad positioning?
    • The iPad is in a good position (upright not flat on the table) enabling Angel to sit upright and easily see the iPad screen. Note: The iPad could be raised to be more level with Angel’s head; Angel is sitting in an appropriate child-size desk and chair.
    • The iPad does “bounce” when Angel taps the screen. A sturdier slant board would eliminate the bounce. (The “bounce” may impact how the iPad interprets the gestures.)

The next video clip was recorded a few minutes later during the same lesson. In this video, Angel is using the PeakaBoo Forest by GotClue, Inc app. There are additional PeakaBoo Apps by GotClue, including a cost-saving bundled with PeakaBoo Rides, Forest, Ocean, Safari and Jungle apps. (Note: There is a PeakaBoo Forest app by Night and Day - the same developer as the popular PeakaBoo Barn app. These are two different apps!)

  • Describe Angel’s double tap gesture at the end of the video
    • Good 2 taps instead of multiple taps
    • Small hand movement – finger hovered in front of the screen instead of a large movement from his body to the screen.
    • Appropriate tap speed (quick!)
    • Tap is slightly more gentle (still a little hard – ideally should not hear the tap)
  • Describe Becky’s teaching strategies
    • Verbal prompt, “tap,tap” for rhythm
    • Praise and excitement after successful double tap!
    • Encouraged Angel to listen
    • Model double tap
    • Physically assist double tap
    • Practice double tap on table
  • Did the iPad react in an unexpected way? If so, why?
    • VoiceOver announced, “44 percent” and “39 percent”
      • When VoiceOver is in an app, swipe down will activate the rotor. In this case, the rotor was set to Speech Rate. The swipe down gesture decreased the VoiceOver Speech Rate. (Angel created a swipe down gesture instead of a tap.)

Angel was very engaged with the Peak-a-boo Forest app. Angel did not need physical prompts and Becky gave fading verbal prompts. Through game play, he focused on the game and had numerous opportunities to practice his double tap gesture - significantly improving the double tap during this 3-minute video clip! Angel perfected his double tap gesture and was building muscle memory. By the end of the app, Angel was not thinking about the gesture – he was simply enjoying the game! 

Becky mentioned after this lesson that Angel does need to listen more carefully, as he tends to “do” before “getting directions”. As part of the next lesson (lesson 3), she chose to introduce the Ballyland Stay Still Squeaky app which encourages listening and waiting. With this app, students must listen to the story as touching the screen at the wrong time does not do anything. The game provides a verbal prompt “touch the screen now” (tap to make something happen) and an auditory bell prompt (to turn the page). (Learn more about the app in the blog post, Ballyland Stay Still Squeaky App: Following Directions and Independence.)

Note: When introducing technology to students with visual impairments, in addition to teaching gestures and apps, there are many critical digital concepts that should be taught. During this lesson, Angel worked on spatial concepts such as top, bottom, left, and right, listening as VoiceOver announces app icons on the Home screen, and introduced the split tap gesture. (Learn more about the split tap gesture in the blog post, The Unknown Gesture: Split Tap post.) 

The next video clip demonstrates Angel's first time playing the Ballyland Stay Still Squeaky app. Becky stated that it took several pages in the Stay Still Squeaky book before Angel listened to the story and waited to touch the screen. In this video clip, Angel is actively listening to the story and sits up straight ready to tap the screen as he hears, “When I say now . . .” direction.

  • Describe Angel’s single tap gesture and listening
    • Gentle, small singe tap
    • Small hand movement – finger hovered in front of the screen instead of a large movement from his body to the screen.
    • Anticipated and waited for direction
  • Describe Becky’s teaching strategies
    • After initial instruction (not shown on video), Becky remained completely quiet, giving Angel the opportunity to listen and be independent with the app
  • Did the iPad react in an unexpected way? If so, why?
    • N/A
  • iPad positioning?
    • Sturdy slant board – no bouncing
    • Raised higher (perfect head/chest height)

Summary of Best Practice Teaching Techniques

Wow! Did you see how quickly Angel transitioned from big-movement gestures (that did not always work) to accurate single and double taps?! 

With young students, it is so important to break things down into small chunks and specifically teach each chunk. Students need to build muscle memory and strength before they can truly "mastered" a gesture. This requires lots of practice! Use a variety of motiviating - but similar - apps to support the gesture/skill being taught while providing opportunities for the student to transfer the skill to different scenarios. Often it is a small teaching strategy that sets the student up for success! Be sure that the iPad is stable (not bouncing) and at the right height and position for your student to see items on the screen (if applicable for low vision students) and physically be able to reach items on the screen. Keep in mind, that many young students who are visually impaired may struggle with visually locating items in the lower field. It is also important to note that low vision students can use their functional vision while learning VoiceOver. It's all about tools in the toolbox!

Continously analyze what your student is doing, why and how it can be improved. Carefully choose a goal and find an appropriate app - for your student - to introduce this goal. As your student progresses, try multiple apps that reinforce that gesture or skill. Provide opportunities for the student to listen, wait, and follow the app's directions and encourage the student to be as independent as possible. Be sure to use fading physical and verbal prompts and provide opportunities for your student to explore and learn at his/her pace!