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KS2 maths – how to support a visually impaired pupil

Tackling maths can be tricky at the best of times, but how do you adjust provision to cater for a pupil with visual impairment? Olivia’s story shows it can be done, and done well…

Sam Hodges and Siobhan King
by Sam Hodges and Siobhan King
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When I was told that my new mixed Year 3/4 class would include a child who is registered blind, I had many questions going through my head. But my biggest question was around maths. As a school, our KS2 maths planning is very visual, especially in the younger years. Where would I start? What would I need to do differently? 

Recognition of prior learning

As Olivia (not their real name) was new to school and had limited prior maths teaching, it was essential to establish the right starting point.

Based on my knowledge of the maths progression that we follow, I carried out my own assessments with Olivia.

I found the best place to start would be from the foundations developed in EYFS. First we’d need to focus on building understanding of the number system and the value of numbers.  

Advice from our local council’s Visual Impairment Team identified that repetition is key to securing learning.

A child who has a visual impairment needs more repetition, as they do not have visual aids to refer to around the classroom.  

However, I knew that if I had to teach the same maths lesson every day each week, I would get bored of it (let alone how Olivia might feel!) so we developed a rolling timetable.

We created a carousel of activities that we would repeat each week. It looked a bit like this: 

Monday: Number bonds to 10; regrouping 

Tuesday: Measuring and comparing length (longer, shorter, taller) 

Wednesday: Part-whole addition 

Thursday: Exploring properties of shapes 

Friday: Recording answers on braille note touch 

Every half term, four of these activities changed. However, we felt it was necessary to keep the number and place value activities constant to secure key learning. 

Adaptive teaching

We came across several challenges in supporting Olivia’s understanding of the number system.   

Firstly, when sighted people use their fingers or objects to learn how to count, they can physically see the amount is increasing.

However, for someone who is visually impaired, they do not have the same recognition.

We tried many ways to support counting and found that concrete resources were the most beneficial.

However, every time Olivia placed one down, she would not find it again on the table.

So, rather than acknowledging she had counted to 10, she may still be at one or two as she could not feel the rest of the objects.

To tackle this, we introduced small, lipped bowls, which reduced the area she was working in so every time she counted one, she placed one block into the bowl.  

This way, Olivia had a reduced space to scan to make sure she had not missed any.

We continued to use the bowl method – adding in a second bowl – when learning about addition.

For example, we would give Olivia one bowl with five cubes in it, and ask her to add three more.

So as not to count the same cubes twice, she would move the original five counters over to the second bowl, one by one, which she knew already had three cubes in it.

She could then use her existing counting skills to infer that the total – eight cubes – in the second bowl, was the result of adding her original five to the additional three.

Using this method, it did not take long until she was secure with her numbers up to 10 and adding within 10, with a certain amount of independence.  

Building efficiency

To reduce reliance on counting and to build efficiency, we knew that it was important to support development of fact recall and particularly number bonds to 10. 

To teach this, we used a tactile tens frame. We started off by allowing Olivia time to feel and explore the tens frame so she understood that there were 10 spaces on it.   

We used magnetic counters on the tens frame and would place a few on and ask Olivia how many more we would need to count to ten.

For this, she had to scan to feel the empty spaces. At the start, she needed a lot of guidance to scan systematically across the tens frame, as she was counting the empty spaces twice or missing a few.  

To challenge her, we then began to place the counters on the tens frame in a random pattern so she would have to feel for the magnets and then feel for the spaces.

We did have to make sure the magnets were strong, as Olivia can be very heavy handed and at times ended up moving the magnets as she scanned around.

Again, we repeated this weekly for roughly a term and a half, and she is now secure on the recall of her number bonds to 10.  

Using key questions

One thing I have noticed, is that I’ve had to change the language I use for questioning.

We regularly ask Olivia, “Are you sure?” when she is giving an answer, as a prompt to remind her to check back and see if she has worked it out correctly.

Unlike most of the class who can see their answer in front of them when using concrete resources, Olivia can’t, so needs to be taught to regularly go back and check she has counted everything.  

The learning journey Olivia has been on throughout the year has been lovely to watch and it has been amazing to see her confidence in maths grow.

As well as teaching me a lot of new things about teaching, working with Olivia has also helped the whole class; their use of language while explaining has come along well as they know they need to explain their answer in enough detail so that Olivia understands it.

I’m excited to see how we all continue to progress.  

Sam Hodges is a Year 3&4 teacher and maths subject leader. Siobhan King is primary mathematics teaching and learning adviser for HFL Education.  
Follow Herts for Learning on Twitter @HFL_Education and @hertsmaths

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