Looking to a better future

Teacher sees professional artists among her visually impaired students

Low-vision and and visually impaired students learn about prehistoric art.

When Jiraporn Panomsuay started teaching at the Bangkok School for the Blind, she was surprised to hear visually impaired students ask what the colours were of items she had prepared for them.

"Low-vision students can see blurry colours or black and white, and some visually impaired students see grey shades. They both have concept of colours, which they compare with their feelings. For instance, red makes them think of other warm tone colours and things like the Sun and blood. Black refers to darkness and death. I was surprised when students asked me about the colours of the items I brought to teach them since they could not see. I later understood that they understand colour concepts," said Jiraporn.

Jiraporn has been interested in teaching visually impaired students for many years. As an undergraduate, she developed art activities for visually impaired kindergarten students. As a graduate student at the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, she worked on a thesis titled Development Of Art Activities To Create Aesthetic Experiences For Visually Impaired Elementary Students.

"As an art student, I wondered how visually impaired people work on art pieces. When I studied for my master's degree, I decided to work on a thesis that focused on visually impaired elementary students. Elementary students are at suitable ages to develop their aesthetic senses. I taught students aged six to 12 at the Bangkok School for the Blind for one year," said Jiraporn.

Art lessons for visually impaired students are based on the core curriculum stipulated by the Ministry of Education. However, art teachers at the Bangkok School for the Blind have to develop lesson plans that are appropriate for visually impaired students.

"Non-disabled students study composition in art by painting, but visually impaired students cannot express themselves through painting. Thus, we let students create their artworks with other techniques such as moulding, printmaking and patching," she said.

Jiraporn Panomsuay. Jiraporn Panomsuay

Jiraporn noted that four main benefits of studying art are muscle, emotional, social and intelligence development.

"When visually impaired students handle, press or tear items that have different textures in an art class, they use their muscles. For emotional development, we sometimes let students listen to music and create their own stories. Students have to present their stories to others and feel happy when they express themselves and other people listen to them. I noticed that they came to the class early and did not want to leave," she said.

"In an art class, students have opportunities to work by themselves and with others. This helps them learn how to work as a team and listen to and accept others. For intelligence development, students learn art composition. They also learn creative techniques from friends and teachers as well as their own techniques," Jiraporn added.

In her thesis, Jiraporn developed four guidelines of art for visually impaired students -- Multiple Sensories, Aesthetical Teaching, Tactile Media and Assessment (MATA) -- in order to create activities for elementary students.

Jiraporn explained that MATA was developed from interviewing teachers who specialised in aesthetics, and creating art activities for visually impaired students in schools and outside the school system.

From the MATA guideline, Jiraporn came up with four fun activities for low-vision and visually impaired students -- cave art, storytelling from leaves, drawing lines to express emotions and creating Picasso-style portraits.

Students create characters by using leaves. Jiraporn Panomsuay

Cave art introduces students to prehistoric art. As part of the class, Jiraporn assembled students' desks as caves, connecting the desks together and instructing students to crawl under the tables. In this experiential setting, Jiraporn explained how prehistoric era art was created.

"I wanted students to have first-hand experiences and have fun, but not at risk to any danger. This method is practical, so other teachers can use it. Students knew that it was a fake cave, but the experience was new for them. During this class, I told them that prehistoric people used blood and ground rocks and tree bark to create colours. Students learned the stencil technique and created images of their own hands," Jiraporn explained.

As part of another lesson plan, students learned storytelling techniques using leaves they collected from outside. Students cut, touched and smelled the leaves, creating original characters and making up stories based on those characters.

"This activity allows students to have an aesthetic experience from nature and learn from materials other than paper," she said.

In another lesson plan, students were taught how to use lines to create shapes. During the class, students listened to instrumental music while creating straight, curved, serrated and slanted lines.

"I chose instrumental music because there are no lyrics to influence their feelings and imaginations. While listening to bossa nova music, some students drew wavy lines and while others drew coconut trees. It showed that they used what they had learned and reflected their knowledge through their artworks," she said.

Creating Picasso-style portraits is not stipulated in the core curriculum, but Jiraporn wanted students to understand Cubism, which is an early 20th-century style of art where a person or object is depicted using geometric shapes. After learning about Picasso's Cubism, students made a character from clay.

"I wanted to let them know that there are many styles of art. Picasso's paintings feature unique thick lines and vivid colours. Students were able to broaden their horizon and realise that eyebrows, lips and noses could look different from the norm. I wanted students to mould new styles of art, creating their own art pieces that expressed emotion," Jiraporn said.

In one lesson plan, students created Picasso-style portraits. Jiraporn Panomsuay

Jiraporn recently quit her job at the Bangkok School for the Blind, but her thesis was published by the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, and is available at bit.ly/3M7MFRW. Jiraporn hopes that art teachers can use activities she created to help visually impaired student to learn art.

She believes that with proper nurturing, visually impaired students have the potential to become professional artists.

"Visually impaired students can become professional artists if they have the opportunity to practise and create art pieces in their own style. If possible, I hope they can learn how to present and sell their works, as well as participate in art competitions that can help them to be known. These strategies can help them to be professional artists," Jiraporn said.

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