Individual approach and preparing to living on one's own: methods of Residential School No. 1

Audio description: a coloured photo. A bright cloudless day. The two buildings of the school stand at a right angle to one another. One of them is a light-yellow three-storied building with green roof and spacious balconies, and another one is a four-storied pink building. A roofed passage connects the two buildings at the level of the second floor.

This unusual academic year (which the teachers and the pupils had to spend partly at home, in front of their computers and smart phones) has ended. For Residential School No. 1 for Teaching and Rehabilitation of the Blind (State-Funded Educational Institution) it was unusual, too. This school is a place where visually impaired children study not just Geography, Russian language, Mathematics and other standard disciplines, but develop in an all-round and balanced way. Together with teachers and child care workers they go to theatres and museums, get acquainted with sighted kids of the same age, make household appliances in vocational rehabilitation groups.

“Special View” interviewed educators from the residential school and learned what children were doing during their pandemic period lessons, the way the school’s Braille Workshop lives and what principles teachers and care workers base their work upon.

Audio description: a coloured photo in a circle frame against a lilac background. A dignified fair-haired woman is standing half-turned by a tall round desk covered with golden brocade fabric, leaning her right elbow on it. Natalia Alimzhanova is wearing a white dress with pink roses printed on it, a short white jacket, white wristwatch and eyeglasses with thick lenses. The room is filled with light, there are golden candelabra and white flowers in full blossom around.

Natalia Petrovna Alimzhanova

child care worker, homeform teacher of the 10 B class, rehabilitation specialist

Usually, in non-COVID period, Natalia Alimzhanova, visually challenged care worker and rehabilitation specialist, spends all her day at school. Together with the pupils and her colleagues she launches and supports all types of projects, such as recording audio fairy-tales for children in partnership with All Russia Association of the Blind Radio, and a Universal Mobile Helper with Nizhny Novgorod Camerata rehabilitation centre.

“We had an interesting culinary project. This year we were invited by Uryukrestaurant where we were offered to cook a meal. We go there quarterly, do the cooking, help the children develop skills. We also went to Koroli i Kapustaclub restaurant where they gave us a cooking workshop”, says Natalia.

According to her, both the children who learn something new and the staff of the restaurants benefit from such initiative. “Next year we want to go further, find new cafes, new places”.

There is another project Natalia is proud of: collaboration with a regular school No. 1539 which is situated close to the Residential School No. 1. “We held a Lesson of Kindness in the second grade of the neighboring school and then we decided to go further. A big company of kids from there came to us, we gave them a guided tour around our school, watched fragments of a cartoon with visual description commentary, all of this was in a form of a quest. Afterwards, the next lesson took place at their school”, says the rehabilitation specialist. The friendship of the neighbours is actively developing, for example, kids from the residential school’s vocational rehabilitation group at their workshop crafted handmade presents for the sighted children. “The second-graders also came to us, gave our pupils New Year presents. We also organized a sports holiday and each school made up a team for it. The result was quite good. The communication is working smoothly. Sometimes I’m walking down the street and the pupils from school No. 1539 recognize me, say hello”, tells the care worker.

Before the COVID lockdown, kids from the residential school went to a theatre or a movie theatre together with Natalia on a regular basis. “When we go to the movies we use the Typhlomedia app. As for the theatre, I try to take my pupils to all the new plays that come out”.

As the pandemic struck and isolated everyone at their homes, Natalia surely was always in touch with her charges. Under her guidance, the pupils prepared The Children of Peace on Children of Warproject, for which they recorded videos where they recited poems about The Great Patriotic War and its heroes. “We had lessons and homeroom sessions online. We are constantly in touch via WhatsApp or simply by phone”, says Natalia.

Also the residential school set up an online contest of videos about stay-at-home period, and 10 B class (Natalia’s class) took the second place in it.

“I love working with children, seeing them grow, develop, adjust. I’m always telling my pupils: ’Acquiring knowledge is very important, it will come handy in life, in further studies and work, but as people say, first impressions count. What kind of a first impression will you give people? Will you be friendly, sociable? We visit all kinds of places, travel around. For example, we can go to a shop and I do my best so that a child does things on his or her own if possible”, remarks Natalia.

The rehabilitation specialist emphasizes that for her it is essential to bring up people who will be able to live without constant assistance from sighted people around them: “We must bring up an independent person who can be sighted persons’ competitor not just in intellectual sphere, but in a broader sense. Sometimes after graduating from school visually challenged persons enter a university, and other students don’t socialize with them. They often blame the sighted people for that: I am good-looking, I can dance, I can do this and that, but they don’t take me in. But at our school we always tell our pupils that it is not just about sighted students, but about themselves, too”.

Natalia remarks that to her mind, in order to develop inclusion in the society it is crucial to work not only with sighted people (providing them with information about those visually challenged). “Our pupils should also be taught, because once they leave this environment they enter a totally different one, and there they must show what they are capable of, too”, believes Natalia.

Audio description: a coloured photo in a circle frame against a lilac background. A man with a short beard and a fair-haired woman, both middle-aged, are standing in front of a banner. They are holding hands and smiling. Natalya Belova is wearing a long-sleeved grey dress with a silvery belt of unusual shape, and an elegant necklace around her neck. A small dark-red purse is hanging from her shoulder on a long strap. Mikhail Fefyolov is wearing a cream-coloured turtleneck, a long brown jacket and black trousers.

Natalya Nikolayevna Belova

music educator and teacher at Svetlanov Art School For Children, gives lessons of vocal, solfeggio and pianoforte, and together with her husband, Mikhail Fefyolov heads the school’s ensemble Prazdnik

A music group has always functioned at the residential school No. 1. There pupils learned to play the piano, sang in a choir or solo, performed in a musical ensemble. Two years ago Svetlanov Art School For Children started renting a room at the residential school and set up an affiliate there, the Equal Opportunities faculty. From there children graduate with a standard art school diploma. Natalya Nikolayevna Belova, sightless music educator, remarks that general musical development group will admit all the children that wish to study, including those with developmental challenges. After a 5-years’course, most talented pupils will continue their musical education. Under the guidance of Mrs. Belova and her partially sighted husband, Mikhail Alexeyevich, gifted children also play in the Prazdnik musical ensemble that was established more than 12 years ago and regularly participates in various festivals.

As well as other lessons, music classes were not interrupted by the lockdown. What is more, Natalya Belova, Mikhail Fefyolov and their pupils recorded 2 online concerts in a While Everyone’s At Homeseries: I Wish that War Never Happens Again dedicated to the Victory Day, and Good Mood.

“The necessity to stay at home taught us more about our smartphone functions, we installed Zoom and other apps, started working with YouTube. Our lessons went on as always, according to schedule. Then we collected the results of the work, children sent us their videos. We even had a test. Two pupils that intend to apply to the Art Academy, graduated from the school online”, says Natalya Belova. She adds that those kids that had no piano or another instrument at home were graded according to their current marks. But in any case, children sang and sent their videos to their teachers.

“We made up a choir and called it The Victory Day. I sent the pupils accompaniment recordings, they sang in headhpones, I mixed their recordings myself using my computer. We have 15 children performing in the resulting track”, Natalya Belova says. Her pupils also took part in online concerts organized by a sightless popular singer Diana Gurtskaya and Musorgsky Music School For Children.

The music teacher recommends a young sighted colleague who is just starting working with visually challenged children, first and foremost, not to be afraid and get over inner barriers if there are any. “It is important, for example, to let children, especially vocalists, to touch you. Not to be afraid of tactile contact. It is crucial to go by ear. The first impression may be that a child cannot distinguish between different notes, doesn’t get some things that seem so simple. But the same child may surprise you in some other aspects, by his or her sense of rhythm, by something else that one doesn’t notice at first glance. Some pupils, on the contrary, catch everything very quickly, some have perfect ear, some play perfectly, but it is most important to let them show what they are capable of, because all of them are unique. One can always expect the unexpected from them. Be prepared to be surprised”.

Audio description: a coloured photo in a circle frame against a lilac background. A portrait of a dark-haired woman with a short asymmetrical hairstyle. This is Inna Demidova. She has massive regular features, big brown eyes and thin eyebrows. She is wearing bright-red lipstick; long rhombus-shaped earrings are dangling from her ears.

Inna Yevgenyevna Demidova

teacher of Geography, creates geographical maps in collaboration with Logos publishing house.

Geography is an important discipline for any pupil, but it is especially important for visually challenged children: studying geography helps them better imagine their surroundings. To help the pupils read a map, teachers mark seas, peninsulas on them. “Thanks to these reference points pupils are able to find other objects on a map, usually rivers. To do this quickly and successfully, children need to understand and visualize the configuration of rivers, that is why we devote certain hours to studying their shapes that are represented on individual cards. Afterwards, following the rivers we find cities and so on. Working with maps requires quite some time and needs thoughtful preparation, says Inna Demidova, geography teacher.

It is not enough to put a map in front of a visually challenged pupil when he or she is just starting to study it, even if it is a relief map. A sighted person often has a map handy, but a sightless person hasn’t. That is why a sightless person needs simply to memorize it while studying it at school”, she notes. Inna Demidova not just teaches geography, but works on creating tactile training aids for children. She has been collaborating with Logos publishing house for more than 15 years. Together with colleagues she designs physical, political and thematic maps (for example, those defining certain biomes). Logos distributes the maps among all Russian schools for visually impaired and sightless children.

“A map for sightless pupils is a relief film with relief lines depicting rivers, mountains. The relief film is rolled upon a flat printed map so that the rivers and mountains on both layers coincide. As a result, the map can be studied both by blind children (by touch) and by partially sighted ones, because all the objects are depicted in large scale”, says Inna Demidova.

She adds that one comes to understand the way to teach geography to sightless children only with experience. “What is the best way to present a lesson? One needs to think through so much. One needs to craft, cut out, glue together or model so many things. I share my knowledge on the pages of many journals about teaching children, including sightless ones. At the school’s website I’ve got a blog, I wrote articles for it as well.I try to share the materials where I tell about my methodological know-how”, says Inna Demidova.

It is not just about children’s memorizing the world map as it is, but about their acquiring knowledge of the images of the world’s territories, the nature of various countries, and the culture of different nations. “I try to give them presentations. If they are dedicated to nature, I include bird songs into it, if our topic is different ethnicities, I use records of ethnic instruments, for example, native Australians playing didgeridoo, or Peruvians playing sampoña flute, and so on. Of course, while creating the image of a territory we tell about its native cultures. While speaking about deserts I let the kids listen to the sounds of simoom, a desert wind, when we are talking about Victoria or Niagara falls I turn on the sounds of a waterfall. That is to say that we try to engage different senses, including residual vision (that’s why I include videos in my presentations and children with residual eyesight watch them enthusiastically)”, explains Inna Demidova.

The geography teacher shows her pupils various models, for example, those of traditional African houses, of Peruvian women’s clothing made of lama wool and so forth. What is more, poetry facilitates creating the image of a territory and notions of its climate conditions. Inna Demidova says she uses poems by Gumilyov, XX century Russian poet, at her lessons.

She points out that one of the most important aspects of her work is individual approach to children. “Sightless pupils may perceive their surroundings in different ways, have different tactile abilities, different spatial notions. And needless to say, it is also important to love children. I wish that after they finish school, they should feel that they have the complete knowledge and be able to say sincerely: ’We know geography’”.

Audio description: a coloured photo in a circle frame against a lilac background. A portrait of Nikita Satanin. He is a young dark-haired man with high forehead and expressive brown eyes. With his right hand he is holding against his forehead a half-finished wooden detail about 20 cm in length that resembles a horn of a unicorn. At the background one can distinguish wood-paneled walls of a workshop with ornately carved wooden shelves.

Nikita Sergeevich Satanin

head of vocational rehabilitation group and of the Braille Workshop media space

A vocational rehabilitation group is functioning at the residential school. It is attended by remedial class graduates (not only teenagers but also adults). In this group, there are no general disciplines, but there are lessons in the Braille Workshop, where students craft wooden appliances, ecobags. The program includes other important events: students go shopping in order to learn to purchase things unaided, they go to theatres and museums.

Nikita Satanin who works in the vocational rehabilitation group tells about their standard schedule. “In the morning we change clothes and go the workshop. We have four lessons there. The guys polish unfinished details made by Vladimir Borisovich, our guru in woodworking. I turn the details over and simultaneously finish weaving shopping bags. Then we go to the class and make handles for the ecobags till lunch. After lunch kids have different classes according to their interests and a whole range of useful disciplines: supplementary education groups, computer studies and radiohost courses, adaptive physical education, social and domestic rehabilitation, wayfinding and orientation, individual classes and much more”.

Nikita Satanin points out that in the Braille Workshop, active dialogue is always going on between teachers and pupils. “Sometimes we argue, but always listen to each other. We are so alive, and that’s cool. As a result, we create real Products of Labour, by the way, that’s what our new product line will be called. Next year we will further develop collaboration with artists and designers. For example, our mesh bags will soon be sent to a Saint Petersburg designer and then will come back to us in a different design. We have made so many arrangements already. That is a plus of the quarantine: I’m learning about interesting people, negotiating, getting inspired by their designs”, tells the specialist.

According to Nikita Satanin, last academic year the main focus was on educational and recreational trips. “We ate ice cream 327 meters above ground in one of Moscow City skyscrapers, rode a sleigh harnessed with husky dogs, cooked gingerbread at a workshop in the Gingerbread Museum, went to various events to the Garage Museum of contemporary art... Almost every week, and sometimes twice a week we had a guided tour to some state-owned museum or watched an inclusive performance. We even created a movie about all of our activities, including guided tours. This year we gave special attention to city-level and international contests, and we took first places in every competition we participated in. Of course, in addition to this, we had recreational activities and guided tours, but most of them were organized online, during the lockdown”.

After the stay-at-home routine was introduced, Nikita Satanin and Marina Sergeyevna who teaches at the vocational rehabilitation group after lunch took to communicating with their pupils via Skype. “For example, we had a lesson of general introduction to philosophy, solely because I was inspired by my professor (at the moment I’m finishing my Pedagogy and Psychology course in Moscow State University) and as a result I taught two lessons based on his lectures”, tells Nikita Satanin.

The vocational rehabilitation group gives its graduates foundation for future independent development. For example, Dasha, one of Nikita Satanin’s students, a sightless girl with mental development peculiarities, together with her mother cooks chocolate at home.

All the care workers and teachers at the Residential School No. 1 are experts in their field. What else do they have in common?

10 major principles of Residential School No. 1 teaching staff

  • Help pupils develop self-sufficiency.

  • Use individual approach towards every child.

  • Constantly talk to the children, discuss various topics with them.

  • Follow main methodological principles of upbringing.

  • While presenting the material during lessons, focus on tactile and audible aspects.

  • Be prepared to be surprised, give the children time to show their talents.

  • Never be afraid of tactile contact.

  • Be gentle but remember the boundaries and never treat the pupils like babies.

  • Be patient.

  • Be kind and sincerely love children.