Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments currently working in Florida. She shares how she uses Google Slides as a tool to adapt and present material to help her students with CVI move toward their literacy goals. Francesca uses assessment and consistent evaluation to develop an approach to literacy individualized for her student's specific needs and unique vision.
As a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVI) with a background in writing, I am so excited to be a part of a student’s journey with words—reading them, writing them, putting them together to make a sentence, stringing a sentence of them together to make a story. I believe that my proudest days as a TVI have centered around the moments when I’ve been fortunate enough to witness a student finding out—on their own—that, with the right adjustments and proper accommodations, they’re reading! The path to that moment is often long and can feel a bit uphill, but it’s an exciting, rewarding trip for all involved. For my students with CVI on the higher end of Phase II and in Phase III (Roman), I’ve seen a lot of this progress when their curriculum and supplemental reading materials are adapted using Google Slide word slides and Google Slide stories.
As we know, the educational approach to literacy for children with CVI is vastly different from that of children with ocular visual impairments. We are not simply enlarging the text, placing the text under a video magnifier, transcribing the text to braille, or providing a supplemental audio version of the text. With a deep knowledge of CVI and how the characteristics of CVI manifest in an individual, we can help school teams understand why approaches to literacy and unmodified reading materials are not appropriate. Making literacy accessible and motivating, then, for our students with CVI, will need to take a different approach.
As their attention is pulled in so many different directions, motivation to read can be a hurdle that many students come up against in their early learning years. For some learners, it may take one great story with fun characters and a surprising ending to get hooked on reading for life. For other learners, especially those with CVI, it will require ease in accessing the letters and words, a user-friendly medium through which those words are presented, and, most importantly, a comfortable, quiet environment where they can view, perceive, and then process the letters, words and images on the page. In other words, we need to take that reading textbook used in class, in all its complexities—tightly spaced small text, non-realistic, busy cluttered illustrations, glossy pages—and bring it to life to our students with CVI.
Why Google Slides?
I base the success I’ve had with Google Slides on several elements—the medium itself, it’s flexibility and convenience, and it’s inherent motivational quality.
The first, fundamental element comes from many years of research and practice that show that students with CVI will more readily access a target that reduces glare, visual complexity, and provides proper lighting for attention.1 Many have found that the backlighting on an iPad or tablet provide the best accessibility. The program then allows us to adjust color contrast, text size, font, and spacing between letters and words and easy drag and drop images from the internet or desktop. It allows teachers to share content with parents and caregivers, for at-home practice. And, without a doubt, many kids are motivated by the opportunity to use a tablet or iPad. While our end goal might be to read text on a page one day, we need to start with making reading fun. If a child associates iPad with fun, for it’s game Apps and YouTube, and now iPad means words and reading, let’s thread the two truths together so that fun means reading and reading means fun.
Getting Into It
Once I’ve determined the least restrictive elements—comfortable size text (and maybe a few notches larger to avoid fatigue), preferred contrast (i.e. yellow words on black background, white words on black background), necessary spacing between letters and words, it’s adaptin’ time.
Depending on the student’s needs, the Google Slide Story can include the same text as the story being taught in class, it can be a modified text (being sure to include the keywords, spelling words, grammar constructions of lesson), or it can be used as a supplemental guide to the text being taught, like flash cards for the story, focusing on teaching the words, characters, and plot in a non-literary way. As the text and core curriculum stories get more complex, the second option may be most compatible. A Google Slide Story that is modified will contain all of the same spelling words and keywords, the same characters, less complex images coupled with the image used in the book.
"Bea’s Reason for Liking Each Season” was written to supplement the lesson teaching the long “e” sound created by “-ea.” We practiced moving away from the traditional Comic Sans font to Arial; we played around with spacing between words and font size to reassess comfort levels.
Making it Fun
Knowing your student, their motivators, and most importantly, their personality and sense of humor is what makes this whole process fun. Maybe, after teaching the salient features (Roman) of the animals in “Animal Homes,” you insert a slide with a hamster wearing a hat. Maybe, after teaching what it means to feel sad or left out in “Luke Goes to Bat,” we include a slide with a link to a YouTube video (non-visually complex) that explains emotions through a song or animation. When a student and I read “Super Storms” last year, and we explored different images of the dangerous effects of hail and wind. We also included a slew of images that exaggerated the learned concept, to make the student laugh and reconnect with the text.
After getting to know your students personality, inserting humor through jokes and funny images, Gifs, or videos can enhance motivation and make the reading process fun.
And, making it fun doesn’t have to be silly. The purpose of making it fun is to provide a visual and brain break. Maybe, after every 3-4 slides of text or words, we have a few slides of just images. Maybe the simple task of clicking on a link, stepping away from the google slide, and going to a video about the concept, is enough to allow the student to recharge and get ready for the next reading slides. Maybe, after every few slides of text, the student is allowed to open the camera app on the iPad and record a brief video on what just happened in the story. Maybe, we step away from the tri-fold board, project the slides up on the smart board, and trace the salient features of the animals in the story. Maybe we act out a scene together, or sing a song about the characters. Finding the right time for a visual break that is fun, on-topic, and geared to redirect eventually back to the text, is key.
Inserting the student into the story boosts motivation. These images allowed us to play with concepts of gravity and opened conversation about the solar system, space missions, and how life is different up there!
A Living, Breathing Document
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about teaching kiddos with CVI came from a question that my mentor, MaryAnne Roberto, asked me one day. She stood behind us, observing, as my student and I walked through a Google Slide Story about the four seasons. After the lesson, we discussed what was working and where I could sharpen the presentation.
“Okay,” she said, “he seemed to really get that, so now let’s ask, what are his challenge areas? That’s where we go next.”
She continued to ask questions about the formatting of the text, images used, and performance differences when reading text on slides versus text on paper or note cards. “Is he reading this font size easily every time? Okay, then, let’s try a size smaller. He identified the mug when it had all its typical salient mug features. What if if we present a mug without the steam rising above, or without a handle?”
Her questions really clarified, for me, the heavy lifting that a TVI must do to constantly recalculate and reposition our lessons for students with CVI so that it’s current, challenging and meaningful all at once. It must be in alignment with the student’s expanding bank of new concepts. Her questions also brought to light that mastering a story on Google Slides, with modified text, adapted colors, and spaced out words is not necessarily our goal. Once we’ve modified the text to make it accessible, we slowly, one at a time, remove those helpers (highlighted phonemes, word endings, text to background contrast, realistic images, etc.) to bring the text and images closer and closer to the original text.
The student can read the word “playing” when it looks like this: p l a y i n g. So, next, let’s remove the red word ending, used to elicit attention to -ing as it’s learned. Now it’s p l a y i n g. Can they still read it? Can they read it when there are just 2, instead of 4 spaces between each letter? Can they read the full slide when the text is one notch smaller? Can we put more text on the slide without creating too much complexity? Finding your students’ “how much is too much” is how we can see all that they can do. Then, we can take this new baseline and ask: Okay, what in this equation is still causing a challenge? Once we’ve determined those elements, we can start inching toward teaching them. Follow this routine can ensure that we are continuing to move toward literacy goals with our students with CVI.
All learners deserve the opportunity to build a relationship with literacy, to access the world of stories—new words, new sounds, new characters and new personalities—as they grow. Books can teach us so many skills in social development and self-awareness. Reading those books builds confidence, and that is our ultimate goal. One word slide, one phrase slide, one full page of text, at a time.
River reading a passage from “Luke Goes to Bat.” After a few days of pre-teaching keywords, spelling words and characters, we started reading the text together. We’d partner read moving from rotating every other word to River reading a full slide. This was toward the end of the year, graduating from black background/yellow text to white background, black text and less need for red highlighted word endings, digraphs, onsets.
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1 Roman-Lantzy, C. (2018). Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. 2nd ed., New York, NY: AFB Press; Dutton, G and Lueck, A (Ed.). (2015). Vision and The Brain. New York, NY: AFB Press.