Teaching Strategies of the Van Dijk Curricular Approach

Teaching Strategies of the Van Dijk Curricular Approach


Teaching strategies of the van Dijk curricular approach. By: MacFarland, S.Z.C., Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 0145482X, May/Jun95, Vol. 89, Issue 3



  1. Background
  2. The theory
  3. Instructional strategies
  18. Conclusion
  19. References

Abstract: The combined loss of vision and hearing affects the learning areas of communication, socialization, conceptualization, and movement. The van Dijk curricular approach addresses these learning areas within the context of teaching children who are deaf-blind. This article presents the major teaching strategies in implementing the approach.

Teachers who have students who are deaf-blind need educational guidelines regarding how individuals with a combined visual and hearing loss may learn. They need to understand sensory deprivation and its effects on each individual's self-concept, communication, and overall learning and to learn teaching strategies that address alternate and augmentative ways of communicating and learning. The van Dijk curricular approach for individuals who are deaf-blind is an approach that addresses all these factors.

This article presents a brief description of the van Dijk approach, the theory underlying the approach, guidelines for implementing the major instructional strategies, and recommendations for how teachers may get started in using the approach.


The van Dijk approach was developed by Jan van Dijk, a renowned educator of individuals who are deaf-blind, along with fellow staff members of the Instituut voor Doven in Sint Michielsgestel, The Netherlands. The approach was developed after van Dijk had spent many years teaching children who are deaf-blind during which he "became very aware of the unique status of the child who is deprived of hearing and sight from birth" (van Dijk, 1986, p. 374). Although the term deaf-blindness often connotes total visual and hearing loss, van Dijk understood that children who are deaf-blind are an extremely heterogeneous group with different degrees of visual and hearing losses and took this fact into consideration in developing his approach.

Originally, the approach was developed to meet the learning needs of children who became deaf-blind from the rubella epidemic in the mid-1960s and did not address students who are deaf-blind and severely physically or mentally retarded. However, as the deaf-blind population changed and included both individuals who are deaf-blind with no intellectual impairments, as well as many with cognitive delays and/or physical disabilities that interfere with learning (Baldwin, 1993; Downing, 1993), the approach was adapted to meet the needs of a wide range of children who are deaf-blind.

The van Dijk curricular approach is an integrated approach that is intended to be implemented throughout the student's daily program. The approach is theoretically driven and has four child-outcome characteristics that organize the 14 instructional strategies (MacFarland, 1994). The four child-outcome characteristics are the development of 1) initial attachment and security, 2) near (touch, smell, and taste) and distance (hearing and vision) senses in relation to the world, 3) the ability to structure the world, and 4) natural communication systems.

The theory

In his 1967 study, van Dijk explained the assumptions, concepts, and principles that organize his educational theory, which was formulated primarily on the basis of Werner and Kaplan's (1963) conception of the normal child's development of representational and symbolic abilities (see also Stillman & Battle, 1984; Writer, 1987). Furthermore, van Dijk incorporated van Uden's (1977) concepts of the deaf child's development of language (van Dijk, 1967, 1983) and Bowlby's (1973) and Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton's (1974) concepts of the development of attachment and socialization.

Van Dijk rationalized how children with severe dual sensory impairments initially may learn about the world and, ultimately, understand the world through meaningful interactions with people and things in their environment (van Dijk, 1967, 1986; see also Kratz, Tutt, & Black, 1987). The major principles of his theory address sensory deprivation, integration of sensory information, concept formation, attachment and security, progressive distancing from concrete to more symbolic concepts, organizing and structuring the world, anticipatory learning, natural symbol development, pragmatic communication, and symbolic language.

According to van Dijk's educational theory, there is a developmental interrelationship between the neurological state of the child with the dual sensory losses and external influences of the child's environment. This interrelationship can lead the child out of the closed, limited world of self-stimulation into a more open world of meaningful interactions.

Instructional strategies

The 14 instructional strategies are the teacher-applied methods that relate to van Dijk's theoretical principles. In this section, the central focus of each strategy is described, but the presentation is not meant to suggest a hierarchy of implementation, since many of the strategies are taught concurrently with other strategies. The majority of the instructional strategies are based on the work of Jurgens (1977) and supported by the works of van Dijk (1967,1983,1986).


These strategies initially take place at a preconscious level (reflexive reactions to stimuli and a reverberation of physical, vocal, and/or affective behaviors). They involve close physical contact or near proximity between the teacher and the student and are based on what the student communicates through gross and fine body movements (for instance, rocking, clapping, and finger tapping) or through movements involving objects (for example, rolling a ball or a car or bouncing on a trampoline). For the child who is deaf-blind and physically disabled, the movements (such as head turning, body tensing, or respiration) may be fine or subtle.

The teacher follows or joins in the child's behavior and begins to lay the foundation for turn-taking interactions involving communicative starting and stopping cues indicated by the child or teacher, with the goal of developing rapport and trust with the student. For example, a child is banging on a drum with her hands, and the teacher joins in by banging on the drum with her hands in a similar manner. The child stops; the teacher stops. The child begins, even with only a slight lift of a finger or twitch of the arm, and the teacher begins drumming again.


These strategies are similar to and an extension of resonance strategies. The major difference is that the student demonstrates purposeful signals to request continuation of the turntaking act with the teacher (see Box 1). The movements are expanded to chains through the sequencing of two or more movements in a defined functional learning context that have obvious starting and stopping points. Once a motor-patterned sequence is learned, change must be planned to add variety, continued complexity and distancing, and anticipation.

The chain may be a task sequence (such as steps in dressing, cooking, or making a bed) or a physical education activity (such as a motor routine that the student completes in designated rounds). For instance, if the coactive movement chain was brushing teeth and the student had many opportunities to perform this activity, a step in the chain could be educationally changed to arouse a communicative signal from the student (a familiar tube of toothpaste could be replaced with a pump toothpaste container). The student might grasp the new toothpaste and then immediately drop it. The teacher could communicatively acknowledge the student's recognition that this "thing" is different by coactively holding the new toothpaste container and tactiley showing how it is different and how it works. The teacher should be aware that many spontaneous and natural opportunities for change arise during coactive movement sequences that can be "educationally captured" for the student's benefit.


This teaching strategy is frequently used with students who are deaf-blind and is often combined with many other instructional strategies. It involves hand-over-hand or hand-under-hand (teacher's hand is under student's hand) instruction and guidance that may be necessary during the students' daily educational programming and living routines. The hand-under-hand strategy is often less intrusive for students because the student is in more control. Coactive manipulation should be systematically decreased as the student gains more control and understanding of his or her daily activities.


These strategies are an essential part of the development of symbols and often occur with coactive movement sequences and manipulation. The student and partner encounter a common thing (inanimate or animate) without actually having a referent (a name) for it. They find communicative sense in the thing; together, they "look" at it and may touch it or point to it. This act of "reference" is mainly social and is a prerequisite to the formation of symbols.

Activities are developed in structured daily settings, such as during the student's grooming and dressing times, when representational reference strategies are used to help the student understand his or her body image or during a learning task in which specific attributes of the task are referenced. Activities can also be spontaneously developed during play or transition periods, when many opportunities occur to share interesting "things" in the environment. For example, a boy shows interest in the packaging bubbles that are wrapped around a new toy; he feels the bubbles with all his fingers and then pushes a bubble with his index finger. The teacher acknowledges his interest and pushes the bubbles in the same way, emphasizes his finger point to the individual bubbles, and together they begin popping the bubbles.


Distancing is gradually introduced through shaping and fading procedures that ultimately lead to a conceptual level of representation that is understood out of context and in a more symbolic form. It can be accomplished through various mediums, such as the use of natural gestures, mutual drawing, and naming the common referent. With regard to the foregoing example, the teacher notices that the boy shows a natural gesture of squeezing his index finger and thumb together to indicate "popping the bubbles." Consequently, she uses this natural gesture to refer to this fun activity.


These strategies are a higher order of coactive movement strategies. The student is able to follow the actions of the teacher without any physical support (except in the case of a student who is totally deaf-blind and with whom coactive manipulation must be used as an initial imitative model). Temporal distance is gradually introduced. The transition between coactive movement sequences and imitation is important. The teacher must use teaching strategies that assist the student to achieve more independent actions and to build his or her memory of actions and referents.

Movement sequences continue to be used within the student's daily educational and living routines. Gradually, these routines become more complicated as the student masters the skills needed for the activities. The teacher involves the student's classmates as much as possible, and thus does not always have to be the person whom the student imitates, and plans activities in which the students interact with and imitate each other. For example, a classmate consistently models (parallel imitation) how to hold the flag up in front of the class during the Pledge of Allegiance to the student who is deaf-blind. Over time, the student shows that he or she has remembered the task by anticipating the steps in the task (such as unfurling the flag).


These strategies support the use of residual vision and provide the student with an alternative communicative medium. When the teacher and student draw together, they share a communicative referent, and the student engages in active, rather than passive, learning behavior. Initially, the teacher may do all the drawing while the student watches, but gradually, the student may show interest in participating in coloring or adding certain details or may only point to certain parts of the drawing.

Drawing is used in various ways throughout the student's educational program and is implemented within the context of daily events that are meaningful for the student. The choice and use of colors play a major role in the imitation and memory building of students with residual vision. The teacher is always consistent in how he or she and the child draw the pictures together and gradually changes the complexity of the drawing when the student is ready for the learning challenge. The following are examples of drawing that are incorporated in a student's program:

Coactively tracing objects with the student's finger or with a large marker to develop a more symbolic object of reference for a particular entity.

Drawing familiar objects based on their main attributes (such as color, shape, and size) that are used as a communicative referent for the student's daily schedule.

Drawing reference cards that illustrate a series of steps that the student follows to complete a task. (The teacher and the student draw these reference cards together once they have performed the steps.)

The student who is totally blind may use raised, two-dimensional drawing and/or related parts of objects and forms. This type of drawing is introduced only when the student has learned the foundational meaning of objects as communicative referents and has demonstrated a more abstract understanding of tangible referents. Also, the student who lost vision after learning drawing strategies may transfer his or her visual conceptual understanding to raised, two-dimensional drawings and parts of meaningful objects and forms.


These strategies are designed to encourage auditory conditioning and auditory attentive behaviors in the context of meaningful activities that occur in natural settings and are often combined with coactive movement sequences, coactive manipulation, nonrepresentational reference, and imitation strategies. Vibrational-sound can be integrated into the activity through a variety of ways: the teacher's voice, audiotape recordings with amplifiers, and instruments. For example, the teacher may place the student's hands on his or her throat and lips to feel the vibrations of a song they are singing.


These strategies (including sorting, comparing, ordering, grouping, and choosing) are at two levels: basic discrimination (level 1) and pragmatic and academic discrimination (level 2). The teacher uses either level, depending on the student's experiences and understanding about his or her world.

Level 1 strategies are used when the student is at a presymbolic language level and has few interactive skills. They are designed to teach the student to be aware of objects in his or her environment. In addition, the student learns that the objects have distinct attributes that can be compared, sorted, and chosen within meaningful contexts. For example, during a grooming activity, if the student is presented with a hairbrush and a shoe, he or she should be able to choose the hairbrush on the basis of his or her experience and recognition of its contextual function.

Level 2 strategies are an extension of the basic discrimination strategies, but their structure is more practical and complex. Examples include setting the table, sorting washed clothes, or choosing clothes to be worn. In an academic activity, the student may learn to use discriminatory skills to sort, compare, order, and/or choose letters or words from a language experience story.


These strategies help the student build a repertoire of communicative referents. By choosing characteristic attributes of meaningful entities (for example, people, animals, objects, events, time, or emotions), the teacher assists the student to associate communicative meaning with the attribute. The teacher must recognize the student's preferred learning modality or modalities so as to evaluate the most meaningful characterizing attribute for the student.

Encouraging the student to realize and use a characteristic attribute can be accomplished through 1) a natural gesture; 2) an associative object (object of reference); 3) a smell; 4) a taste 5) a texture; 6) a sound; 7) a picture (drawing); 8) a three-dimensional model; 9) a particular landmark in an environment; or 10) a written, spoken, or fingerspelled word in a meaningful context. For example, characterizing the teacher by a pendant is possible the teacher constantly wears the same one, or characterizing swimming by a blue tote bag is possible if the student takes the bag every swim day.