We are delighted to speak with Ginger Brown. In this interview, Ginger shares great ideas for inclusive classrooms.
Ginger Brown was a pre-school Teacher of the Visually Impaired for Santa Clara County Office of Education for over 30 years. She facilitated inclusion of her students in the Head Start program, served as a mentor teacher for pre-school programs, and was a consultant for the State of California Department of Education in support of Early Childhood Students who are Visually Impaired. She was named as a California Teacher of the Year in 1998.
You have taught both preschool and graduate programs for the visually impaired. What are the pressing accessibility needs in education today?
Ginger: For preschool, accessibility means equity vs equality. Preschoolers with visual impairments need to have a range of opportunities for inclusion. Too many inclusive programs are more of a bandaid rather than a general approach that benefits all preschoolers with or without disabilities. Teaching strategies that make the curriculum accessible also makes the learning accessible to the entire class, and there needs to be an integrated approach that benefits both groups.
By the time they reach the university level, students with visual impairments have hopefully learned the techniques that will make accessibility apply to their individual needs, and can then advocate for adaptations and modifications for themselves.
When I taught teachers, I tried to emphasize the need for a wide approach to inclusion, and not to overly emphasize one group from another.
What types of activities and learning did you have in your dually enrolled preschool classroom?
Ginger: My public preschool classroom was dually enrolled. As a public preschool, we had 18 students 4 days a week and development of social skills was a high priority. On the fifth day when the preschool was not in session, our students developed technical skills such as Braille. We also did activities not ordinarily offered in the inclusion classroom such as cooking activities and field trips.
What tools and resources did you use in your classroom?
Ginger: I used the state standardized preschool curriculum to prepare the kids to be successful in kindergarten. My class was focused on any and all modifications necessary for each individual student. We had Braille and tactile books, our technology had visual, auditory, and tactile aspects. Our art materials were all high contrast multicolored and textured. At circle time I used all sorts of objects to make the lessons meaningful. For example, in October I used real pumpkins that we picked on a field trip when we sang about them.
We hear the terms inclusive learning and universal design for learning used frequently. Can you give us some examples that you have seen in your career?
Ginger: At snack time, my low vision students were given contrasting placemats and cups to help them distinguish among different utensils. The program decided to give contrasting objects to all of the students, impaired or not, with the objective of not making individual students stand out.
We kept a box of stickers in the classroom that we used for art projects and special occasions. We added raised happy face stickers to the box to make them widely accessible.
Every student in our classroom had their names printed in both Braille and regular print on their name tags. We added Braille labels to anything that had print, including keyboards, cubbies, or classroom signs.
We put adaptive scissors into our scissor container. They’re easy to use when leaning to cut, and many students chose to use them.
At recess, we had several double bikes that were a major hit with all the students. Even a student with visual impairments could take a turn being the leader on a double bike with verbal shouts from their partner. We had to limit the minutes on these bikes so everyone got a turn.
Once a week we provided an obstacle course that included a balance beam, a crawl through tunnel, stepping stones and balance boards. All our students benefited from the activities and loved the physical challenges they presented.
What topics did you cover in your training workshops for teachers? What resources are available for teachers to improve their knowledge in their field?
Ginger: The federal and state government requires standardized testing for all preschoolers. I actually loved the testing because I could see where I needed to focus my teaching so students would be ready for kindergarten. So when I presented teacher training, I was one of the state representatives for training teachers on DRDP, the Desired Results Developmental Profile.
Also, I trained teachers on how to construct and manage inclusive classrooms.
There are so many resources and blogs now available on websites for teachers to stay current on best practices. This year, the CTEBVI, California Transcribers Educators for Blind and Visually Impaired Conference is free and virtual, April 15-17th. Registration is at Ctevh.org.
You were recognized as California State Teacher of the Year. Tell us more about the award and your work.
Ginger: I was honored to be selected as a California Teacher of the Year in 1998. My district and school were very supportive, giving me time off to do speeches throughout the state. The highlight was meeting other State Teachers of the year, sharing strategies and networking for support and new ideas. It was humbling and inspiring to meet a large group of outstanding teachers. The highlight was being invited with all the State teachers to meet the President and our congressional representative. I didn’t know I could be that nervous.
Later on, I was invited with 5 other preschool teachers to participate in a federal grant to support states to develop high quality preschool programs. I also am very proud that I influenced general Ed staff that I met over the years to return to school and graduate with a special education or visually impairment credential.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview!
About the interviewer: SPEL Technologies, Inc. (Smart Products for Everyday Living) is a technical company. The interactive book for learning Python has an adventure story and tutorials for introducing students to Python programming. The book has been designed and developed for use in dually enrolled classrooms to level the playing field for students with blindness and visual impairments.