As discussed in previous chapters, the approach to literacy advocated in this book is not whether a student should read print or Braille, but that for students with limited vision to achieve true literacy they must use both. As Doris Willoughby (1989), a TBS for more than thirty years, explains “Learning Braille does not rule out all use of print. But not learning Braille does rule out, absolutely, the option of using this effective and efficient medium.” (p. 134)
Now that we have defined literacy, examined elements that must be considered in making the reading media decision, and described basic ingredients necessary to implement the decision, it is time to create a specific integration plan. This plan must integrate Braille along with print into the student’s academic life at school and at home. The goals of the plan are for the student to develop full literacy—including the ability to do grade-appropriate sustained reading at a competitive rate—and for the student to develop the ability to decide which medium would be the most effective for various tasks.
The success of a dual media literacy plan depends upon several factors:
In the creation of a dual media plan, the team will make a number of decisions regarding instruction, will plan ways in which to incorporate the use of Braille into the curriculum and the student’s environment, will set goals for Braille reading time so that the student will gain proficiency, and will make a plan for the development of the student’s decision-making skills regarding use of media. The 2009 Consortium of Teachers of Blind Students provides the following strategies for developing a plan for both primary level learners and older learners.
How much instruction time do students in a print and Braille literacy program need? Although the individual needs of each student must be ascertained and met, guidelines exist for determining service hours. In their landmark Delphi surveys, Koenig and Holbrook found a consensus among practitioners that “young children who are starting Braille literacy instruction in kindergarten through third grade need one to two hours of instruction each day. The student must continue to develop Braille literacy skills throughout the middle school and high school years (2000, p. 686).
Should the student be taught Nemeth Code, the Braille code for mathematics? This decision is usually based on the student’s speed, efficiency, and accuracy in using the print medium for reading and writing math. For dual media students who do use Braille for math, some read it in print and write it in Braille, and others use Braille to read the math and print to write their answers. The appropriate solution is the one that provides speed, accuracy, and efficiency.
Following are the general instruction considerations the team must plan for. Ways in which these can be accomplished appear below.
Following are some typical ways dual media readers might use Braille and print once they have gained speed and fluency in Braille reading:
The following strategies can make providing Braille instruction successful for younger learners.
Provide a Braille-rich environment:
Incorporate Braille into the school day:
Familiarize the classroom teacher with the basics of Braille reading and writing so that the teacher can feel comfortable in encouraging the student’s progress:
Make sure the student practices Braille reading every day at school and at home:
The TBS, classroom teachers, and parents must encourage students to read Braille with their fingers and not their eyes:
Begin guiding the student toward good decision-making regarding which medium to use:
Older students who have learned to read in print and are now adding Braille to their toolkit present a different set of advantages and challenges than their younger counterparts:
Full literacy can be reached even if the student is beginning Braille at an older age:
The TBS classroom teachers and parents must encourage students to read Braille with their fingers and not their eyes:
At the beginning of Braille instruction these strategies can be used:
At the beginning of Braille learning, before the student has gained speed and fluency, assignments can be temporarily modified:
Begin to integrate Braille into the school day:
Make sure the student practices Braille reading every day at school and at home:
Guide the student toward making appropriate decisions regarding which medium to use for various tasks:
Sleepshades help this low vision student concentrate on developing his Braille reading skills.
Jordan was diagnosed with legal blindness and a slowly degenerative eye condition at age five, just before kindergarten. His acuity measured 20/400 in both eyes, with nystagmus and a nasal field loss with other blind spots. He preferred very bright light. Jordan could easily see the fonts in kindergarten through second grade without any magnification. He was able to write easily with a standard pencil and read back his own work. However, Braille was started alongside print in kindergarten as his eye condition was degenerative and he did have trouble seeing standard-size print with standard spacing, which would come soon for him, in fourth grade.
Although Jordan used print more often than Braille in the first three years of school, preferring print picture books and handwriting in print, his print reading speed remained at 25-30 words per minute (wpm). Until fourth grade, Jordan only used Braille during instruction time. He achieved a working knowledge of Braille and easily learned all the contractions. In fourth grade, his Braille reading speed was 15 wpm, and his print 30-40 wpm depending on level of difficulty. Print was twice as fast so he preferred it.
Jordan had fallen way behind his classmates by fourth grade and had never finished a grade level book in a time commensurate with fully sighted peers. He would forget the beginning or precursory information of a book and became uninterested in finishing it because it took him so long to read it. He was constantly picking out a new book, reading the first chapter and then dropping it for a new book. Meanwhile his classmates had read two or three whole books. The decision was finally made to fully immerse Jordan in Braille for all texts, coursework, and worksheets. The TBS began instruction in Nemeth code. He was given a BrailleNote for completing his coursework. Within two months his Braille speed increased to 45 wpm, and print speed remained unchanged. Suddenly he began to prefer Braille.
Throughout middle school Jordan stayed at a plateau in his Braille reading speed of 50 wpm. He began to complain of fatigue with print after reading a paragraph of grade level material. During middle school he maintained a 4.0 grade point, but required extra time for tests and assignments. Although he turned in his coursework on time, he took three or four times longer than his peers to complete homework. Consequently he had no time for leisure reading.
As high school approached Jordan expressed interest in the honors level curriculum classes for which his grade point average qualified him. However, his reading speed and fluency, which was at a first-grade level, was far behind his peers. Because of this Jordan was evaluated for Extended School Year services (ESY). The TBS discovered that Jordan had poor Braille reading habits, such as scrubbing, reading with one hand, and constantly rechecking words and phrases as he read. He received intensive Braille instruction in the summer after eighth grade. He was encouraged to use a light touch when reading Braille by keeping up with an audio reader. He was taught to read using the two-handed technique. In six weeks Jordan’s Braille speed was measured at 73 wpm with ninety-five percent comprehension with grade level material. He reported finishing a grade level leisure book for the first time.
After ninth grade Jordan received ESY intensive instruction in Braille again. He set a goal for himself to read leisure material for two hours a day. He broke the 100 wpm barrier.
Today Jordan is a senior in high school maintaining a 3.8 GPA. He has been accepted at the college of his choice. His print speed remains at 30-40 wpm and his silent Braille reading is about 125 wpm. He prefers the BrailleNote and computer with JAWS for long writing assignments. Jordan prefers to read his calculus book in Braille with his left hand, and write his answers in print using a standard pencil with his right hand. He is able to fully access pictures and graphs visually using 8X magnifying eyeglasses.
Jordan wants to study constitutional law, which will involve a lot of reading. With his intellect and his use of Braille, Jordan will be able to make this dream a reality. His parents lament that Jordan could be an even faster reader if Braille had been integrated equally with print right from the start of his early education.
Food for Thought: How could teachers have improved the outcome in the above case study? Jordan’s TBS began Braille instruction in Kindergarten. This was a step in the right direction because Braille instruction should begin as early as possible. Unfortunately, Braille was treated as an isolated skill and was not integrated into the school day. Jordan should have been using Braille from the beginning for specific tasks and academic subjects. Also, he should have received extended school year (ESY) service instruction in Braille reading and writing beginning in Kindergarten.
Because it can be difficult for a low vision student to read math expressions visually—for example, fractions and exponents may be too small to see and it is easy to confuse an addition sign and a division sign—Jordan’s decision to read his math textbook in Braille and write his answers in print was a sound one. Jordan’s use of both print and Braille for math is a good example of how a student can use the two media to be successful in school.
These sample IEP goals and objectives are guidelines that you can tailor to the needs of the student and to the requirements of your local school system.
Goal: The student will use both Braille and print to complete assignments.
Goal: The student will improve Braille writing accuracy.
Goal: The student will demonstrate an understanding of efficiency in deciding whether to use visual or tactual skills.
The student will be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of using visual skills or tactile skills for various class and home assignments.
By Jessica Bartenbach, Joshua Boudreau, and Eric Guillory
Jessica, Joshua, and Eric have had limited vision throughout their entire lives. Jessica’s recent diagnosis is Leber's amaurosis but, when she was a child, a doctor thought she had rod and cone dystrophy. She has tunnel vision, night blindness, and a visual acuity of 20/400 in the better eye. Joshua has Leber's amaurosis with a visual acuity of 20/800. Eric has congenital bilateral optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) with 20/400 acuity in a narrow field toward his nose. All three are successfully employed adults.
Q: How did you learn to read and write Braille?
Jessica: I attended a resource room program in California. All of the students learned Braille, so I did too. We started Braille in kindergarten. When I moved to Nebraska in the sixth grade, I went to a mainstream school. Teachers there had higher expectations and this is when I really started to become fluent in Braille. The TBS assigned Braille reading and writing homework. She gave quizzes to see if I actually read the material. I really became hooked on Braille reading when the Harry Potter books came out. I did not start reading for pleasure until that point. The more I read the faster I became. I got to the point where I had to limit myself to a specific time allotment for reading Braille because I would not get my other work completed. Today I can read over 200 words a minute in Braille.
Joshua: I had an itinerant TBS throughout my elementary and high school career. I was always in mainstream education. I had an excellent teacher who started Braille reading with me in kindergarten. I can read 180 words a minute in Braille.
Eric: I always attended regular education classes but had the services of a TBS. I liked reading and books. I took to Braille like a duck takes to water. My parents encouraged me to use Braille because they saw that I was more efficient. They made sure I wrote my list of chores in Braille. They also encouraged me to bring a Braille Bible to Sunday school.
Q: How did you learn to read and write print?
Jessica: I learned to read and write print and Braille at the same time. I like to read in Braille and write in print.
Joshua: The TBS taught me to read print after learning Braille. I also picked up a lot of print reading on my own.
Eric: I learned to read print on my own by looking at objects in my surroundings. I occasionally was confused and had to ask my mother for assistance. I remember getting candy and asking my mother what was spunow. She turned the candy right-side-up and showed me that the word was really Mounds.
Q: Did you use both print and Braille in school?
Jessica: I was a visual learner for math and primarily used print for this subject. For subjects which required lots of reading such as English, I strictly used Braille. Sometimes I made an outline for a paper in print, but when it came time to writing and editing I used Braille. I cannot spell a word unless I picture it in Braille. I took my own notes in Braille in college. In 2010, I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a B.S. degree in Child, Youth, and Family Studies.
Joshua: I always did math in print. I did most other subjects in Braille. In high school I started using audio books and computers. Although computers and audio books are more dominant in my learning today, I still use Braille for taking notes and for subjects that require detailed study. I am very proficient in Braille because throughout elementary school I did all subjects in Braille with the exception of math. In 2000, I graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a B.S. in Computer and Information Systems.
Eric: I used print for visual subjects such as geometry. I also used print to look at maps and pictures when that was required to complete various assignments. I was a Braille reader primarily because I did not want to go through the pain of reading print. I received a B.A in Social Studies Education from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. I also obtained a master’s degree in Education Rehabilitation and School Psychology from the University of Arizona at Tucson.
Q: How do you use print and Braille today?
Jessica: I write notes to my husband in print, pay bills, read directions from a box, and fill out short forms. I cannot read print for more than ten minutes at a time so it is not very efficient for me. My vision is very dependent on the type and amount of lighting, contrast, size, distance, and location of an object. I use Braille to read novels and textbooks, to write lists, and keep track of phone numbers.
Joshua: I read print labels on cans and other items. If the item is something that I plan to keep such as a CD, I will make a Braille label for it. I use print when I am in a situation where Braille is not available. I use Braille for speeches and to study the Bible. I am very versatile in Braille because I learned it at an early age.
Eric: I use Braille extensively for everything. I read print only out of necessity. I look at the mail but cannot read print for any length of time. I can read some signs, but typically only with a monocular or some sort of magnification/zooming device. If the sign is at eye level, I can get close enough to read it—within six inches or so. I would not have literacy skills without Braille.
To ensure literacy throughout life, students with limited vision should learn to read and write both print and Braille.
To obtain sufficient skill in Braille reading and writing, Braille must be integrated into the student’s education rather than being an isolated or “exposure” experience.
The student must have encouragement from parents and must read both at school and at home to achieve literacy.
The low vision student must be encouraged to read Braille with the fingers, not with the eyes.
To maintain skills or to develop emerging skills, students with limited vision should frequently receive ESY services.
To help the student determine when to use print and when to use Braille, the IEP should list specific subjects for Braille use.
The TBS must guide the student to an understanding of efficiency. They must present the student with situations that require him to determine whether print or Braille is the most efficient method for completing a given task.
As the student matures he will be able to identify and explain when it is more efficient for him to use Braille, and when it is more efficient to use print.
[Chapter Three] [Contents] [Chapter Five]