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First download the VI Reference Grid and a blank grid for your own use:
VI Reference Grid (PDF)
Blank grid (Word)


You will see that the Reference Grid contains four columns. Look carefully at the headings.

The first column contains general information about learners with visual impairment. It describes learning difficulties which visually impaired learners commonly experience to some degree. Of course, all learners are different, so this Reference Grid deals only in generalities. A better grid would be one which described the characteristics of the particular learner who is causing you concern, but this will come later.

Without information of the sort contained in Column 1, the class or subject teacher cannot differentiate set tasks effectively, yet it seems to be rare for this information to be readily available to subject teachers in mainstream schools. In this example, Column 1 was compiled with the help a teacher with specialised knowledge of learners with visual impairment. In every school there should be someone who is familiar with the learner concerned and whose knowledge and expertise can be called upon. These workshops assume that, at least in schools that are seriously trying to be inclusive, this type of collaboration is encouraged.

The second column takes each of the points covered in the first column and suggests what impact that particular characteristic is likely to have on the VI learner's efforts to manage in the foreign language classroom. In order to compile Column 2 the specialist teacher and the language teacher need to work closely together. Through this process the language teacher, who may have been unaware of the nature of the difficulty the learner faces, can acquire a better understanding of what may be needed in the way of teaching strategies to enable the visually impaired student to be a successful language learner.

The third column also needs professional collaboration, but now it is likely to be the language teacher who takes the lead, with the specialist suggesting additions and adaptations as required. Effective differentiation can be anything which allows a learner who was at risk of failing, to be successful at a given task; however, from a practical point of view, it is worth experimenting with strategies which can be used with all the learners in the class, so as to minimise the need for 'special measures' for an individual student. The preparation of highly customised material can be very time-consuming. Often, strategies which make learning easier for one learner can benefit the rest as well.

The last column has several functions. It can indicate further ways of supporting the VI learner and/or list additional resources (human, electronic, other) that may be required. This is also the place to note what additional support/resources the language teacher will require in order to carry out the proposed plan of action.



The Reference Grid does not, of course, describe the situation in respect of any individual learner with a visual impairment, it deals in generalities and contains too much information to be applied at any one time. To aid the modern language teacher's response to particular learners, the Reference Grid can be used in three ways.

As a reference
Simply use the grid to find ideas to support the VI learner in your own class.

As a starter
Select from the grid the characteristics which seem most closely to match the learner you are concerned about and concentrate on those. You should, of course, feel free to change and adapt as necessary even those selected details - every learner is different.

As an exemplar
Using the blank grid, and with a specific learner in mind, use the modern languages and support professionals available to you in your school to determine a few main points to enter into column 1. Continue your collaboration, combining your growing skills, knowledge and expertise to fill in the other columns. What you should end up with is a plan of action which has potential to support both you and the learner and to facilitate review at a later stage.

NOTE that the reference grid as it stands is not definitive; there are many more details that could be added (on the use of IT, for example, or it could include the learner's strengths as well as problems. Whether you come from a modern languages background or a special needs/support for learning background, you should be able to use your own experience to improve and extend this document for use in your department or your school.

The next stage is to implement the ideas! Don't try and introduce everything all at once. Try one item at a time, and give it time to bed in before moving on to the next one. Use the grid to keep track of progress and to note any changes that you make in practice. Eventually you can use the grid again as an evaluation tool, to see which of the strategies have been successful and which may need to be adjusted.


The grids are an example of a problem solving reponse to the specific needs of a learner or group of learners. The process is as follows:

1. What’s the problem for this learner/group of learners?

2. What are the implications for their language learning?

3. What strategies could I employ which might help the learner(s) to be successful?

4. What help will I need myself?

5. How will we know if the strategy has been successful?



For more about teaching foreign languages to learners with visual impairment, see the VI page on this site.

If you found this Workshop useful you might like to know that it has been further developed and now forms the basis for Unit 2 of the Maximising Potential programme on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website. Go to:



With many thanks to Martha Rees for her work on the VI Reference grid. Martha says:

Compiling the grid clarified for me all the potential barriers to language learning for VI pupils, and I found it really useful. I discussed the contents with colleagues to ensure I hadn't left anything out.  However, I do think that this should be a working document and altered as needed.  My VI colleagues thought it was was a useful stand alone document for MFL teachers.



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