Braille Monitor                                                                                 May 2006

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Carol Castellano's Making It Work Works

Reviewed by Missy Garber

Dr. Missy Garber

From the Editor: Missy Garber, Ph.D., TVI, is project coordinator for the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment and assistant professor in the department of graduate studies in vision impairment at Pennsylvania College of Optometry. She is also the parent of a blind child.

The author of Making It Work is Carol Castellano, first vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and president of New Jersey Parents of Blind Children.

As a parent of a child who is blind and who attends our neighborhood elementary school, I have sometimes worried over the years that I might be giving my childís teachers and specialists too many articles, handouts, and other sources of information. I want to share so many things with my childís team about her educational needs--so many lessons learned by others who have been there--but this information is in many different places: Web sites, consumer publications, chapters in academic texts, articles in peer-reviewed journals, catalogs, conference presentations, and listserv discussions. Many times only one or two points or tips are worth sharing, and the rest of the resource may not be relevant or necessary.

Although they are always receptive to learning, I do not want to overwhelm teachers with information nor give them the impression that educating my child is a lot of extra work. The information I wish to share with team members may be as broad as having expectations of independence for my daughter, or it may be as specific as the way her work station could be set up. Fortunately a comprehensive resource is now available to educational teams that includes much of this important and useful information: Carol Castellanoís Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School.

Co-author of The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child and author of Because Books Matter: Reading Braille Books with Young Blind Children, Castellano focuses in this new publication on what educational teams can do to make a blind/visually impaired childís education in regular school successful. She explains why children who are blind/visually impaired attend regular school, and she presents the realistic (i.e., high) expectations that educational teams should have for them. She frames blindness as the use of ďalternative skills and tools in place of, or in addition to, eyesight in order to gain information or perform tasksĒ and asks educational teams to consider which methods and materials their student will use to accomplish these tasks.

Castellano includes chapters on IEP goals and objectives, adapting materials, accessing the curriculum, and technology as well as a resource list. Her suggestions are geared towards three categories of students: those who are blind or visually impaired and require only material adaptation and instruction in specialized skills; students who are blind or visually impaired with additional challenges that may warrant modification to the curriculum in addition to adaptations to materials; and students who are blind or visually impaired with more severe additional disabilities and who may need an individualized curriculum.

Castellano offers specific and practical suggestions that are relevant to the realities of regular education today. For example, she alerts teachers to be sure errors on their studentís print interlined work are truly the studentís errors. An instructional assistant at the beginning stages of learning Braille may make mistakes interlining in print, and the Braille student should not be marked down for mistakes that are not his or her own. She instructs teachers not to pull or push a studentís hands when the student is examining a tactile drawing. She provides an illustration of a sample desk layout that facilitates student independence. She points out that Braille-reading students should have the practice materials for an upcoming statewide or standardized test transcribed in Braille and formatted in a way that will be consistent with the actual test. These are just a few of the very specific and important insights Castellano coherently and concisely presents.

In addition to these details, Castellano also addresses the big issues facing our students in regular education. She reminds the regular education teacher that a student who is blind/visually impaired is in school to learn from the classroom teacherís instruction, not to learn through an intermediary such as a paraprofessional or TVI. She repeatedly reminds readers that it is up to the adults in the studentís life to make independence happen. Students who are blind/visually impaired, she points out, can participate fully and independently in regular education if they are given the tools and taught the skills of blindness and visual impairment.

I especially like the detail with which Castellano discusses the role of a paraprofessional in a studentís education. She devotes an entire chapter to this topic, outlining the appropriate functions of a paraprofessional as someone who may provide direct assistance in the early grades if necessary, but who steps back and evolves into more of a technical assistant primarily involved in material adaptation later on. She alerts educational teams to some of the more delicate issues that arise with the presence of a paraprofessional, such as the potential negative effect the paraprofessional-student relationship may have on the studentís peer relationships, the danger of ďa class inside a class,Ē and, of course, learned dependence. She also describes what instructional assistants can do to facilitate the acquisition of important skills in their students and enrich their educational experience. This attention to the pivotal but precarious role of a paraprofessional, along with her directions for developing an explicit independence plan for students, makes Castellanoís resource a much-needed addition to the literature.

With its scope, attention to detail, and skillful presentation of the larger issues involved in the education of students who are blind/visually impaired in regular school, Making It Work is a timely and most welcome resource for educational teams.

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