I thought I was WiFi dependent as an instructor but that petty addiction pales in comparison with my ‘eye’ fixation...
J. McKay / As the bio I’ve been meaning to write for this blog will mention, I work at an intensive English language program for adult ESL learners. One of my duties is related to placing new students in their appropriate proficiency levels. Other than an occasional language difficulty, I’ve done this for long enough I could administer the test in my sleep, until today, when I was totally thrown a curve-ball.
Several weeks ago I was informed that we would be testing a new student who I met when he toured the building and met with administration. I set the appointment for him to take the test and as was both mentioned and obvious from our interaction he is highly visually impaired (is ‘blind’ offensive? (parentheticals are duty-free zones for politically incorrect jargon, right?)). I’m not sure why the difficulty that this would create didn’t really register with me before. Perhaps it was because of his gracious demeanor but I made a mental and digital note of his appointment and then thought of it no more.
We have made sensory and physical accommodations for students before, i.e. lip reading for deaf students, taking dictations for student without physical faculties for typing and we have even had a marginally vision impaired student before. I had made arrangements for a personal test assistant (I like to give my additional work roles official sounding titles (I also like including things that I, myself, will do under the umbrella of ‘making arrangements)).
I knew we were in trouble when the first task of the test was a picture description writing task. Like a chain of slow motion dominoes, I began to register how visual dependent our assessment was. Domino #1, it’s a computerized test. He can type but is not familiar with the English keyboard yet (like many of our students). Workaround #1, I’ll type what he says. Domino #2, he can’t see the picture. Workaround #2, I’ll just describe the picture to him. Domino #3, okay so you’ll tell him what he will tell you to describe a picture that he only knows from how you described it to him. Domino #4, oh and go ahead and type what he says because it’s supposed to be a writing test. Domino #5, Mission Obscured! Let’s move on to our computerized reading test. No dominoes needed…I got it.
To his credit and patience we got through the assessment and I think got a good view of where he is at and would best be placed in the program. However I think we also got a short snapshot of how unprepared we are to meet his well-deserved needs.
I have full confidence in his abilities as a student and his ability to persevere (he’s a Black-belt in karate after all). I do however feel for his teachers. They will be like bakers trying to suddenly cater to a gluten-free client at an event for the International Flour Trade Show.
I am sure that we will learn a lot about enabling technologies for both this student and his teachers and I’m very grateful that I work for a program that welcomes the unique challenges of each of the students and takes them in stride and under wing. However the experience has been like catching a waft of smelling salts to my sensibilities as an educator. I thought I was WiFi dependent as an instructor but that petty addiction pales in comparison with my ‘eye’ fixation.
What advice do you have for accommodating this student or what stories do you have of being impressed and/or challenged by learners with unique profiles? What did you do? Put in your input! (Palindromes can be very persuasive, wouldn’t you agree?).