According to Rosenblum and Smith (2012), 25 of 26 universities' teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) preparation programs include abacus instruction. Then why TVIs do not instruct their students in the abacus? As a TVI myself, I started teaching abacus to some of my low-vision students in my 6th year of teaching. I did not see the value of instruction of this tool because I was not confident in learning it myself. However, after using the abacus with my students for 4 years now, I feel highly gratified seeing them enjoy learning math computational skills on par with their sighted peers.
Access to Resources
One of the reasons I did not instruct my students with the abacus is the lack of access to instructional resources. When I type “Cranmer abacus” in “Google”, I get links to instructional videos that are random and disconnected. I had to spend a couple of hours looking through specific websites to find instructional videos for “introduction to Cranmer abacus”, “addition”, “subtraction” and “multiplication.” The trick here is to stick to familiar and trustworthy resources such as websites associated with the schools for the blind (Perkins, Texas, Iowa, Hadley, etc.) and then go through their abacus instructional videos.
Inconsistency of Instructional Methods
Amongst the instructional videos found on the internet, how each of the mathematical operations is taught is also very inconsistent. There is the “secrets” method, “counting” method, “Hadley method”, etc. Inconsistency of the various methods and not knowing which method would work best for their students is another reason TVIs do not use this valuable tool. The method chosen is also highly dependent on the cognitive capabilities of students. Personally, I found the “counting” method easy for students who struggle with “number sense” and require additional support in mathematical operations with manipulatives.
The Mindset of Teachers and Paraprofessionals
I have also noticed that the mindset of general education teachers and paraprofessionals who work with students with visual impairments impacts the usage of the abacus by these students. Scheduling an in-service and explaining the value of the abacus always helps break through the resistance TVIs receive from these teachers and paraprofessionals.
For my student who is blind with additional disabilities, the Cranmer abacus turned out to be a “god-sent” tool. She has a learning disability in Math and with the help of the abacus, she can perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division without any assistance. I would highly recommend TVIs to instruct abacus computation and empower their students to think of Math in a positive and engaging way. It is also important to remember that the abacus is NOT the ONLY tool but is ONE of the tools that TVIs should instruct their students to help them understand computational operations in Mathematics.
These are the videos that I found useful in learning and teaching abacus to my students:
Introduction to Teaching the Abacus video:
The Counting Method of Addition and Subtraction video:
Rosenblum, L. P., & Smith, D. (2012). Instruction in specialized braille codes, abacus, and tactile graphics at universities in the United states and Canada. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(6), 339-350. https://doi.org/10.1177/0145482X1210600603