sábado, 14 de marzo de 2015

My experience teaching English to a visually impaired student

There are many things I was not prepared to do as I graduated from teacher training college.  Teaching English to the visually impaired was one of them.  There are also many things I dared to do after building a professional network of trusted and likeminded educators.  Having them at my disposal via Twitter, Facebook, Skype or Google Communities gave me the confidence to say yes when Gustavo, a visually impaired 45 year old Informatic System Engineer, asked me to teach him English for an upcoming leadership course he was invited to attend in the Netherlands.  If I needed help I knew I could always ask my PLN for help.
The first adjustment I had to do was forgeting to work with pictures and paper coursebooks.  However Gustavo is able to read digital content at home by means of a special magnifying tool installed in his personal computer, so everything I decided to deal with in class I then transcribed to a shared Google Doc,  This document became our online workbook and everything we had to share we did it via  this Google Doc. Since he would be asked to interact in English with people from different countries, some of them visually impaired as well, and we did not have much time (only 3 months) I decided to focus on delevoping his speaking skills during classtime and leave him the responsability to devote as much time as possible to listening to everything he was interested in outside class.  I compiled a good list of podcasts for him to download and listen on the go,  his favourite was Elementary Podcasts , a series by the British Council that has often come in handy and is very popular among my students.
I also compiled a list of useful conversation phrases and at the same time I went over the basic survival vocabulary.  His previous knowledge was one he acquired from work, which was a good thing in terms of grammar structures, but I still needed to work on personal introduction and group socializing.
In the meantime, he had to prepare some content for the course so we decided to work on that.  He had to be prepared to talk about his personal and professional, life as well as his volunteer work in the association for blind and visually impaired people in our neighbouring city of Santa Fe.
As I was surfing the internet, exploring sites related to visually impaired and blind people, I came across Insight Radio and Insight Extra, a wonderful initiative to bring blind and partially sighted people content refering to sight loss issues from around the world. My student was able to listen to music as well as people speaking in English online about all sorts of stories.  I myself became a listener as I discovered the variety of options available in the different shows.
Then the day of the Skype session with one of the course trainers arrived. Being a Hello Little World Teacher Skyper I could only reassure him and tell him that everything would be all right with me on the side.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience where the interlocutor showed herself interested and kind and there were moments when the conversation seemed to flow as if we had been long time friends.  All in all it was woth every drop of Gustavo´s sweating!  My role was to set up the call, and keep my intervention to the minimum, I just provided the unknown words and intervened only when I realised that the message was not clear.  Because I had time and my phone was handy I decided to record the conversation.  I had never done it before because the mere thought of being recorded makes my students start sweating.  However Gustavo was too engrossed in the conversation to realize that I as recording him (Am I too mean for this?) and I coul not be happier later on.
Many times I heard about the benefits of videoing or recording ourselves while teaching.  It wasn´t until I did it that I came to realize how useful a recording version of a class can be.  With the digital recording of my student´s performance in my hands  I was able to upload it to the Google Doc we used as workbook.  Later on I used it to note down grammar, lexis and phonetic areas which needed to be dealt with in the course of  the following classes.  The recording was a record of my student´s achievements as well.  I highlighted phrases and sentences that I considered brilliant and complimented him on them.
My job has not finished yet and there are still many things to be done, but as I am sitting here looking  back at the work done during last month I am aware that pulling yourself out of your comfort zone by doing things in a different way is a rewarding experience.  I used my PLN when I contacted Shelly Terrell, the I-pad queen, to ask her about orientation tools or other tools that my student can use in his I-pad.  She responded asap via twitter message, and I am thankful to her for that.  It´s a great time to be a teacher today and I am glad to have taken the challenge to teach Gustavo.

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