Immersion for inclusion

Issue: Volume 96, Number 17

Posted: 25 September 2017
Reference #: 1H9exA

An immersion programme delivered by the Homai School in Auckland plays a very important role in the educational journey of students who are blind or have low vision. Education Gazette finds out more about this unique service.

A nationwide service described as an ‘exclusive programme with inclusive goals’ allows students who are blind, low vision or deaf-blind to fully participate in learning at their local school.

The Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) is a Ministry of Education-funded national school that provides educational programmes and specialist support services to children and young people who are blind, low vision or deaf-blind.

Among other services to learners, BLENNZ offers unique immersion courses from its Homai campus in Manurewa.

These courses offer students aged 0 to 21 from all over the country an opportunity to stay at Homai and attend classes during the day and extra activities in the evening. The students then return armed with their new skills.

BLENNZ coordinator Natalie Stewart says immersion courses are all about facilitating students’ inclusion in their local school or early childhood setting.

“In order to achieve that, we sometimes need to teach certain skills in an exclusive setting, so we design our courses to target individual needs,” she explains.

“For each course, we target particular skills, and group together students – this can be done according to age, skill need or eye condition – we identify what they need and then plan a programme.”

These courses are planned and delivered by Resource Teachers: Vision to meet the specific needs of students centred around both the national curriculum and the expanded core curriculum. They may also focus on the needs of parents or in some cases bring both learners and parents together.

“We run all sorts of courses, depending on what our students need, and they normally have multiple aims,” says Natalie.

“I ran a course a couple of weeks ago that was centred around assistive technology skills, but we also took the students to the audio-described ballet, we went to Sylvia Park shopping centre and did orientation and mobility, and we had some music sessions too.”

As well as the specific academic skill targeted, there are of course strong social benefits for the students attending an immersion course.

“Often they might be the only low-vision student in their setting, and that can be difficult for them. They might think they’re an island – that nobody else is like them. But when you bring them together in immersion, they discover they’re not alone – they form friendships and find their peers.”

Natalie says a seven-year-old student recently exclaimed, “I love immersion because it’s like school, only funner!”

Learning together for success

BLENNZ employs specialist teachers called Resource Teachers: Vision (RTVs) who assess a child’s needs in their education setting or at home, then team up with other staff and specialists to provide the best support possible.

RTVs work with teachers and families to set achievement goals and create learning plans for students who are blind or have low vision. They also attend immersion courses with their students.

Trish Bishop is an RTV working with a small number of children with low vision, one of whom is 12-year-old Holly, who is in her first year of intermediate.

Originally trained as a new entrant teacher, Trish has worked as an RTV for around 13 years, and with Holly since she was a new entrant student, developing an individual support programme and adapting the curriculum to allow her full participation in her local school.

Trish says BLENNZ immersion courses play a vital role for students and their RTVs.

“The courses are very important, because an RTV doesn’t necessarily have skills in every single area that a blind child may need to learn. For example, I’ve had to learn to use assistive technology such as Braille Notetakers and other technology alongside Holly.

“At immersion, other RTVs who are experts in the technology share their knowledge with those who aren’t, and in turn this allows our students to participate fully in the curriculum.”

RTVs often participate in professional development prior to the immersion course, to give them a head start on using technology and supporting their students.

Another important immersion course focuses on teaching and learning tactile skills.

“Tactile skills are absolutely essential, because as the students move through their education, they will be faced with tactile diagrams that support their learning and assessment in maths or science, as well as other aspects of the curriculum. It’s important they learn to interpret these diagrams from early on,” says Trish.

She explains that young children learn to interpret tactile diagrams by exploring them in a 3D format prior to their presentation in a raised line diagram.

For example, bar graphs are introduced by building the columns in Duplo or other materials, then progressing to interpreting them in a raised line diagram.

“So it’s really a matter of thinking ahead, and upskilling the children prior to them facing the challenges at school.”

Trish believes the support and teaching provided through Immersion helps RTVs and students participate more meaningfully in an inclusive educational environment.

“I love my role because I really believe it can truly make a difference for the children I work with and their families. I love being able to get to know families as well as I do, and staying with them for a number of years, it’s enriching.”

Braille Music Editor: a sample day at Immersion

The following is a blog post written by BLENNZ staff about an immersion course in Braille Music Editor:

Seven young and enthusiastic music students gathered together at our Homai Campus to spend a day learning how to use the new and exciting Braille Music Editor (BME) computer programme.

Braille Music Editor allows students to write music in braille, listen to what they are writing, and at the same time feel the score in braille under their fingers!

This is the first time our students have been able to independently write music in braille using this new technology, instead of having to navigate around a print score on the screen.

Given that composition plays a key role in high school music programmes here in New Zealand, this is an important step forward for our students, allowing them to independently compose and then email their work to their teacher, who can open the file as print music.

Students learned how to set up a new music score, input and edit their music, navigate through the score, listen back for confirmation, and share their score with their peers both as braille files, audio files, and print scores. The day was a huge success and it was fantastic to see the students so excited about writing music and using music braille.

Here is what some of them had to say:

“This will get me inspired to compose more, which will mean that other people can hear my music.”

“The highlight for me is that I don’t need to rely on someone else to write the music as I can write and edit this by myself.”

“BME is going to help me with NCEA because I’m not going to be having to set up the braille paper, worry about making a mistake and not being able to fix it. Now I’ll be able to delete the mistake and make it look a whole lot better.”

BLENNZ employs specialist teachers to support children and students at their local early childhood education centres or schools.

BLENNZ is a national network with resource centres across the country. The Immersion Programme is open to any student on the BLENNZ roll, but primarily focuses on the needs of ORS funded vision only students. To be eligible for the BLENNZ roll students need to have a visual acuity of 6/18 or less. ORS funded vision only students need to have a visual acuity of 6/36 or less.

For more information visit link).

Special Education Study Awards provide financial support for educators to study for specialised qualifications at a New Zealand university. Applications opened on 1 August 2017 for the Blind and Low Vision Study Award. 

Applications close on 15 October.

Assistive technology (AT) is specialised equipment and technology that students with additional learning needs use in class to increase or improve their ability to participate and learn.

Find more information about applying for AT by visiting link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:09 am, 25 September 2017

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts