Active Learning

Visual Experience, Experience, Experience

For science nerds like me!

“Neuroscientists Reveal How the Brain Learns to Recognize Objects”

This article comes from work being conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They are studying how humans process visual information for recognition so they can design artificial visual systems. It seems vision is such a complex process! I think parents and teacher have understood this for years!

This great article that drives home the brain’s need for repeated experience to build visual understanding. The brain must have repeated experiences with objects in different kinds of positions, perspectives, lighting, size and distance. It reminds me to provide my students with real objects in repeated, predictable routines to build familiarity. It reminds me not it only present iPad visual targets that can’t be manipulated. The child builds visual recognition from the presentation of objects in multiple positions to view multiple perspectives. If the child is not able to manipulate material themselves, we must provide that varying visual perspective.

This is a reaffirmation of the characteristic of Novelty that Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy discusses (Roman-Lantzy CVI Range 2007)



Toys for the Holidays

As we think about gifts for our children with CVI, we want to pick toys and materials for fun and learning. First and foremost, children with CVI are children. All children benefit from play as the basis of their learning. It is essential that our children have those opportunities carefully created and frequently available. Think about a child with typical vision. They have access all the time. Wouldn’t it be great to have teams look across the child’s day and make sure our children with CVI have visual and play access all the time?
These play opportunities need to be matched to children’s assessment results from the CVI Range (Roman-Lantzy).
Certainly for children in Phase I and Phase II, as measured on the CVI Range (Christine Roman-Lantzy 2007), toys and materials that would be best would include:
• A toy that includes the child’s favorite color as a component in a less complex toy surface.
• Lighted toys
• Movement that is predictable, not too frantic.
For the play environment:
• We want fewer toys to look at matched to their assessed tolerance.
• We want non-complex backgrounds so the toy really stands out.
• We want the toy to be in the child’s best visual field at eye level.
• We want toys close matched to their visual abilities for distance.
• We want an activation method for the toy. This might be a switch that the child can accidentally hit, learn and then purposefully hit. It might be a toy that makes a visual change or a toy that makes a noise when it is hit. Children in Phase I might not be reaching much yet but we need to present the opportunity to activate to build reaching. Far too many toys for children with CVI rely on passive looking and no expanded access ability for the improving vision and visual motor skills.
• We want toys within the child’s arms’ length and arm movement abilities. If the child has limited arm movement, we must place the activation method near the hand/arm and have another part of the toy within their visual field (“I move my arm and I see this visual event”).

Free Active Learning Series

I can’t recommend this series strongly enough! I believe Active Learning is a core philosophy for providing our students and children ACCESS to materials and concepts for learning. Especially for children with CVI or children with multiple disabilities. The world must be brought to them to explore, wonder and experiment!

This is a free series, all online through Perkins eLearning. I’m signed up! It starts September 22 so don’t delay.

From the site:

“In this series of Active Learning webinars we will share ideas for moving from assessment to IEP development to delivering instruction. Attention will be given to organizing the student’s day and delivering both general curriculum and expanded core curriculum content using an Active Learning approach.”



Teaching Staff About CVI Pays Off!

I complete CVI inservices to the educational teams every fall and throughout the school year as needed. One inservice helps teams understand the overall concepts about CVI and the other inservice helps teams understand the CVI Range (Roman-Lantzy 2007), the functional vision assessment results for each child. With this information, teachers and therapists understand CVI and understand their student’s visual needs. They can adapt toys and learning materials to meet those assessed needs.

Here is an example of a toy adapted by the speech therapist for one child’s assessed visual needs. It provides color support with red duct tape at the activation button. Pushing the button creates a light show!

This is a box of holiday lights but left in the box. It is available from Amazon.

string lights

string lights box

string light amazon


Supporting Reaching for Children with CVI

If a child is not reaching: we want to support reaching by:

  • Always having something within arm’s to touch and look at that are shiny, of their favorite color and slightly moving.
  • Use long things that can be attached up in the best visual field and attached to the wrist. Movements will make visual events. Bells or other sounds attached to the other end will make it even more interesting!
  • Help the child understand that their movements can make changes: balloon tied to the wrist at the best visual distance, something tied to the foot at the best visual distance, red socks on feet and red hair elastics on wrists so their own movements create a moving visual event. This also helps children understand hands and feet are part of their bodies.
  • Teaching the child to reach by stroking from at his elbow to the hand, reaching together in a hand under hand exploration technique. As they get the idea, give less support.
  • Never grab the child’s hand. Use hand under hand to guide them to touch things.

For a further explanation of the hand under hand and the hand over hand techniques see American Foundation for the Blind:



Comparative Thought Using Active learning and Salient Feature Language

Children with typical visual skills access materials and people in their environment at near and distance. They build understanding of their world by seeing and then comparing similarities and differences in the environment.  This same experience of comparative thought must be available to our children with CVI.  This comparative thought builds understanding of attributes of materials and keeps the brain stimulated and engaged. Children’s brains that compare and are engaged, build neural pathways as they learn but they need access.

If the child with CVI, who has difficulty seeing and understanding objects, is always provided with these comparative materials at near, they have this access.  I always start with materials I know children prefer.  If they prefer certain objects, these are familiar. I place the familiar object against a non-complex background and add another that is similar but slightly different in one way.  If the child is looking at a large red slinky, I might present a smaller blue one.  I am then able to provide salient language: “Here is your favorite red slinky.  Now you will see a smaller blue slinky.  It moves in the same way”. I like to think of this expanded visual access as lateral learning.  Lateral learning is assessing what a child can look at and carefully presenting materials that are slightly different in color, size and then shape. (Note: the stuffed toy has slinky arms and legs.)

active learning 033



Happy Holidays Activity

The classroom teacher picked up this blowup snowman after the holidays last year.  This child, Jim, needs movement and light to draw visual attention to his weaker right visual field.  In this inventive activity, the snowman is connected to a switch using a Powerlink environmental control device interface.  When Jim hits the switch, the snowman slowly inflates and lights up (movement and light).  After 30 seconds, it shuts off and slowly deflates (movement).  Jim needs to visually locate the switch to watch it re-inflate. He increasingly accesses the weaker right visual field in this fun activity!  The Powerlink can be controlled and the individually set for every child in the classroom matched to the assessed latency, visual field, switch color, distance, and complexity need using the CVI Range (Roman-Lantzy. Fantastic visual and visual motor activity!  I love activities like this for home as well.  Children can engage and play in a meaningful way while parents cook dinner, do laundry and all the other household tasks. I can’t think of a child who wouldn’t love this!

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Active Learning Resource: Hold Everything

Here a resource, Hold Everything, that you will find helpful to build Active Learning experiences for children.  You can build any of these with considerations for the child’s favored color, create movement if needed, backlight or use lighted toys if needed, place in the child’s best visual field, and place at optimal distance for visual and visual motor abilities reduce complexity as needed.  Have fun creating these fantastic opportunities!


Active Learning Slantboards Based on Child Preferences

ball slant                          ribbon slant

Two children in our preschool have distinct object preferences and recognition abilities, one for ribbons/strings and one for balls. To provide an active learning experience at near, we created slantboards with some pegboard materials placed in their preferred visual field. We started with one item then increased the array. With building skills, we could more to the child’s other weaker visual field. In the beginning, their own movements created movement in the materials. Now reaching and batting is happening intentionally! It goes to show that using favorites is the way to go!


Strategies for Visual Access in the Car

Riding in a car is something most of us do regularly. We want the child with CVI to have visual opportunities during this time. Here are some strategies to provide this visual access:

  • Light is coming through the window on the side of the child. This light and movement often draws a child’s visual attention. Lightgazing is a primitive, early visual skill. To encourage more purposeful vision use, hang a visual target on the window. That visual target is now backlighted by the light coming from the window. Making sure this target moves (slinky, things hung by elastic, or perhaps beads) capitalizes on the child’s possible need for movement and light. Also remember shiny objects simulates movement because they are reflective so these materials would also be useful here.
  • Most children are seated on the passenger side where the movement and light draw attention to the child’s right visual field. Shake it up and place the child on the left side of the backseat. Now the movement and light (with added interesting visual target) are coming from the left side to challenge that visual field.
  • Create a black background using a black cloth hung on the seat in front of the child. Hang visual targets from this new active visual learning opportunity. The cloth can drape from the seatback to the child’s lap. Attaching a soft hair scrunchie on the child’s wrist will create an opportunity for the child to see movement they  control. I have had great success attaching slinkys or beads to this backdrop and to the child’s wrist. How powerful for the child to see movement they created!

Please remember every strategy is developed after assessment using the Christine Roman CVI Range. The goal is to provide visual opportunities matched to visual need. You will only understand that visual need after assessment.