Wyoming Education Association

Fall 2021

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Middle school art teacher and WEA member Jennifer Hicks is up to the challenge. "Making visual art interesting for any student, not just visually impaired students, requires me to discover what they are interested in," she told WEA News. "Trying to hook students' interest and find ways to use their preferences in the assignment is essential." Recently, Hicks worked with a student with limited vision on a superhero art project—a drawn figure painted with watercolors. It required some innovative thinking and non-traditional materials. "This process involved much trial and error with materials to find a way that my student could draw and then feel her lines," said Hicks. After trying foam plates, laminate film and even tooling metal, Hicks found the InTact drawing tablet and eraser. Using tactile drawing film, this unique tablet allowed Hicks' student to feel her lines and even erase them by using a heated eraser that smooths lines from the film. With the InTact tablet, Hicks' visually impaired student was able to complete her art project successfully with the rest of her class. "When this student finished her assignment," said Hicks, "she was proud of the work she had put in. She was excited to take her work home." For this very special assignment, Hicks worked with CTE Teacher and WEA member Cameron Leaf, who built a custom wooden frame for her student's completed artwork. "This student had never created a drawing and then painted it with watercolor before," said Hicks. "Once she was finished, she was ready for the next challenge. Once she was used to the drawing board, there was not much holding her back from expressing her ideas." Both Hicks and Distler say that—though they do innovate for their visually impaired students— there is a universality about the methods they use to teach all students, and often the skills their students are learning transcend the classroom, building character and life skills. "Confidence comes when any student knows they are growing and figuring out the problem at hand, and my visually impaired students are no different," says Hicks. Distler says her team also strives to teach students skills they can use across all subjects and in their life outside of school. "For example, my students need more organization skills because they can't search for things like someone else could," said Distler. She points out another key difference that sometimes goes overlooked, "Something people don't always realize about blind students is that their knowledge is based on their experience. Sighted people learn so much from observation, and we forget that blind students don't have that opportunity. If my students are excelling or falling behind on something, I know it's about their level of experience—not necessarily their cognitive ability." One of Distler's students is exploring a career in computer science after graduation, and another is aspiring to study medicine. "Confidence comes when any student knows they are growing and figuring out the problem at hand, and my visually impaired students are no different." - Jennifer Hicks Learn more about resources for students and training opportunities for educators through WDE's Vision Outreach Services department. bit.ly/wdevisionservices 27 Jennifer Hicks poses with her visually impaired student and this student's framed art. 2020.

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