World’s End Junior School brings maths mastery to visually impaired pupils: a case study

|5 min read

It's just inspirational how the children with vision impairments access the curriculum.

– Gill Chambers

At World’s End Junior School in Birmingham, teaching staff have successfully modified the Maths — No Problem! Programme so that visually impaired pupils can join the maths class.

Visually Impaired children are fully included in the mainstream classroom with 28 or 30 sighted children. The staff work to make sure the children have what they need, whether it’s technology or enhanced or enlarged resources.

“Maths — No Problem! is very visual,” Gill Chambers who is lead Qualified Teacher for the Visually Impaired (QTVI) at the school, said in an interview. “How can we get that across to those children to be able to engage them fully with their sighted peers?”

Gill and her team of specialist teaching assistants spend a lot of time making these modifications so that the VI children can access the lessons. These teaching assistants usually have an interest in working with VI children and they are then ‘upskilled’ to be able to do the specialist work of modifying resources to assist with maths learning.

“It's something that other people wouldn't generally think of. But actually for that child, that's the difference between them getting something right or making an error,” says Gill.

visually impaired children doing maths with visual aides
A visually impaired student learning maths with other primary school children

It takes a lot of forethought to ensure the VI children have the resources they need to understand the lesson. Gill and her team work with classroom teachers to make sure everything is planned ahead of time.

The teachers must be organised and get their lesson planning on the system early. The teaching assistants look through the planning and decide what might be needed. Understanding the principles that underpin Maths — No Problem! enables Gill and her team to think ahead to meet the learning objectives and activities in tactile, modified and inclusive ways.

Examples of modifications for visually impaired children

For a child with low vision or a Braille user, learning by touch is essential for grasping the correct conventions for laying out maths and following the Braille code. The use of haptics to manipulate and explore objects will create an understanding of colour, shape and size — concepts that may be challenging for VI children due to a lack of incidental learning.

Modifications for learning maths for visually impaired primary students

Examples of modifications.

“Any form of working with children with vision impairment is very tactile, it's very object oriented,” says Gill. “They miss out on so much incidental language and incidental information. You know yourself, when you walk into a room, you think, oh, yeah, there's a door to the left, there's a window on the right, there's a round clock on the wall. Well, what is round? What is a clock?”

For VI pupils doing a worksheet, the fonts may need to be adjusted to make sure, for example, the number eight doesn’t look like a number six. Gill’s team knows which fonts are best for helping VI children see the work. It’s also possible that fonts may need to be enlarged to, say, three times the size.

“No two children have the same vision impairment,” she says. “They each see things differently, they have different degrees of visual acuity, so it is very much bespoke to their individual needs.”

There are ways to enhance simple diagrams or drawings by using bold or contrasting colours to improve visibility. Variations on a whole-class resource can involve modifying place value charts and counters.

Braille thermometer created for visually impaired primary maths learners at World's End Junior School

Using a "braille thermometer" in a lesson on measures.

Concrete materials used to explain maths mastery bar model to visually impaired students

Using concrete materials to represent the bar model heuristic in order to visualise a word problem.

The team might need to get creative with modifying resources such as wikki sticks or cardboard pizzas.

“It makes a huge difference,” says Gill. “When I did my placement here, I worked with a lad who's just left. He was in year two at the time. As soon as he heard my voice, he said, ‘I remember you, you taught me fractions using pizzas.’”

Using a screen to magnify the Maths — No Problem! Workbook to help the visually impaired students

Enlarging the individual practice work from the Maths — No Problem! Workbook.

The staff may need to source different objects or blow up the image of a diagram — for which they have specialist equipment in the resource base.

“If you've got a simple drawing of a pie chart or something, we can enlarge that so they can actually feel the different proportions of that particular diagram. It could be just on specially adapted paper that goes through the machine, it kind of blows it up and gives it a bit of a fuzzy texture.”

“They are then able to really distinguish. If it's a graph, we'll add bits of blue tape so they know where to start. That's something that, when they're working towards their SATs, is a perfectly acceptable strategy to use.”

Using coloured liquids to distinguish different bottles for visually impaired students at World's End Junior School

Using colour to help pupils with the measurement of volume and capacity.

“If they're writing anything on a post-it note, there's no point giving them a general square post-it note. Let's give them a bigger one. Let's make it a sheet of paper. Food colouring can be added to water before measuring.”

Passionate about maths

With all the work and preparation that goes into lessons, what do the VI children think about maths as a subject?

“It's pretty much like any child,” says Claire Craddock, Deputy Headteacher and Maths Leader. “It depends what side of the bed they got up on! But when you work with them, they're interested in what they're doing, they're passionate about what they're doing. They're finding different ways — ‘oh, I could use such and such a resource for that.’ I can tell that they're leading their own learning. That to me indicates there's a bit of love there somewhere.”

Visually impaired pupils can master mathematics and visualize concepts with the help of the experts at World's End Junior School in Birmingham. We are proud to have World's End Junior School as part of the Maths — No Problem! accredited schools family. Claire Craddock, the Deputy Headteacher, and her team of devoted educators do amazing work.

In addition to her role as Deputy Headteacher, Claire Craddock is the Teaching for Mastery Lead for the Central Maths Hub and one of the founding Maths — No Problem! Licensed trainers. We are grateful for all the support they give the community.

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