Tactile Modeling And Physical Guidance As Instruction

Research in visual impairments has shown that children who are blind or have low vision generally have lower levels of fitness and less well-developed motor skills than do children who can see (Lieberman and McHugh, 2001). In fact, the more visually impaired a child is, the slower the child develops motor skills (Hatton, 1997). As educators, this is especially important because there have been associations found between motor development and emotional and behavioral deficits in children with visual impairments (Ophir-Cohen, 2005). Therefore, the more that teachers can promote motor development in students, the better they will develop holistically as well.

O'Connell, Lieberman, and Peterson, in their article "The Use of Tactile Modeling and Physical Guidance as Instructional Strategies in Physical Activity for Children Who Are Blind" (2006), give two strategies teachers can use to improve the development of motor skills in students with visual impairments. These two strategies are called Tactile Modeling and Physical Guidance, and both are used to teach specific motor skills.

Tactile Modeling

Tactile modeling makes use of the instructional power of teacher or peer modeling by giving a visually impaired student a sense of how something is done by someone else. Rather than simply watching a teacher perform an action, however, the student actually touches the teacher while the teacher is performing the action, thereby literally getting a feel for how it is done. The authors give an example of a student feeling a teacher rotate his/her hips while swinging a baseball bat — the student places his/her hands on the teacher's hips and gets a sense of what "hip rotation" means.

Tactile modeling should be used when a students is first learning a skill, or is trying to improve performance of a skill already learned. It should be used when verbal instruction has proved insufficient. It is beneficial because it conveys a more comprehensive understanding of a motion than does verbal explanation alone.

Physical Guidance

Physical Guidance is more direct than tactile modeling, in that a teacher is actually helping a student perform an action for him or herself. When using physical guidance, the teacher places the student's body in the correct positions for an action and then directs the student's body through the motions of the action. For example, an instructor can move a student's legs in the appropriate kick while teaching the technique for a certain swimming stroke.

Physical guidance, just as in tactile modeling, should be used when verbal explanation and feedback is not producing any more improvement. When a student reaches a plateau in performance and becomes frustrated by a lack of improvement, physical guidance can provide the extra understanding necessary for further improvement.

Proceed With Caution

Because both of these strategies necessarily involve student-teacher touching (or student-student touching), it is important to discuss the activity with the student and parents beforehand, and also to consistently document when, how, and why the activity was used. This is all to ensure that the intentions of the physical touch are clear at all times to all individuals involved.


Hatton, D. D., Bailey, D. B., Burchinal, M. R., & Ferrell, K. A. (1997). Developmental growth curves of preschool children with vision impairments. Child Development, 68, 788-806.

Lieberman, L. J., & McHugh, B. E. (2001). Health-related fitness of children with visual impairments and blindness.
Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 95, 272-286.

O'Connell, M., Lieberman, L., & Peterson, S. (2006). The Use of Tactile Modeling and Physical Guidance as Instructional Strategies in Physical Activity for Children Who Are Blind." Journal of Visual Impairment & Bllndness, 100.

Ophir-Cohen, M., Ashkenazy, E., Cohen, A., & Tirosh, E. (2005). Emotional status and development in children who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 99, 478-485.

This page was created by Jimmy Sarakatsannis.