Future Reflections Summer 1996, Vol. 15 No. 3


Why Parents Should Learn Braille

by Margaret Malinski

Editor's Note: This article, originally titled "Parents and Braille-An Untapped Resource" is reprinted from In Touch, A Newsletter for Personnel Serving Louisiana Blind or Visually Impaired Students, Vol. 3, No. 3, Spring 1996.

Do your Braille readers read as fluently as most print readers their age? Is reading something they clearly like to do? Or do they read with difficulty and determinedly avoid any reading that isn't specifically required?

Assuming that basic reading skills, including the necessary Braille contractions, have been learned, reading speed and fluency develop primarily as a result of reading practice. In my elementary classroom I have noticed that those students who read independently every day do indeed increase their reading speed and fluency. Those who resist reading outside of the classroom remain slow readers with impaired comprehension.

Like many teachers, I have tried various strategies to motivate my "reluctant readers" to read outside of the classroom. Hoping to inspire students to read every day, I have implemented classroom reading contests and various reward systems. The results were never "motivational programs." Those who really didn't want to read-the ones that I had hoped to motivate-did not increase their time spent reading.

I believe that contests and rewards fail to motivate my reluctant readers because these are attempts to apply motivation "from the outside." Real motivation comes from within. It has a great deal to do with attitude. Is there anything we can do to improve a reluctant reader's attitude toward Braille reading in particular, so that he or she will willingly choose reading as an activity? I suggest that one of the most effective, and most under-used ways to develop a positive attitude toward reading in our students is to get their parents to read Braille, too.

--What are the benefits of a parent's learning Braille?

First, blind children whose parents learn Braille benefit affectively. Quite a few children learning Braille have never met another Braille reader. If other members of their family read Braille, this may reduce the child's sense of isolation. Also, no matter how enthusiastically people tell him how wonderful it is that he can read Braille, if absolutely no one else thinks Braille is worth learning the child may conclude that it's really not all that wonderful. However, if Mom and Dad enjoy using Braille, the child receives an important message: Braille really is okay. It's something our family does.

Young children whose parents read Braille consider Braille an ordinary way to read. Imitation is a young child's most natural way to learn. Children learn many things by copying their parents-sometimes to their parents' dismay. A blind child cannot effectively copy her parents' print reading and writing skill, but if her parents routinely use Braille, even for simple tasks such as writing shopping lists and notes to one another, she can learn a lot by imitating the literacy skills they have modeled.

Once a child has begun to learn to read and write Braille, he receives numerous educational benefits if his parents know the code. At the simplest level, parents can help the child when he is "stuck" on a word. They can help him recall a rule or contraction he has forgotten. Imagine how much more confident a child would feel about reading or writing at home if he knew that he had help on hand when he encountered difficulty. Compare such a child's situation to that of the student who must always struggle through every difficulty alone.

Another important educational benefit is that parents who know Braille can easily monitor the quality of the child's homework. They don't have to wait for report cards or a letter from the teacher to know how their child is doing. Like any concerned parent of a print reader, they can look over their child's homework, a process which helps keep quality of homework high! This type of parent participation in a child's education is important in setting achievement standards for children.

Finally, parents who know Braille can help their child use Braille for activities other than schoolwork. Using reading and writing skills outside of the classroom is a highly effective way to increase motivation to read. Together, parents and children can write and follow shopping lists. They can write notes to one another, whether "love notes" in the child's lunch box or a message that says, "Mom, I'm at Jim's." Parents who know Braille can help their child compile a card file of addresses and phone numbers of friends and family. Together they can use a Braille cookbook or put family recipes into Braille and make a cookbook for the child. They can keep a diary of family trips and holiday activities. They can keep a "baby book" for the child in Braille so the child can read about herself as she grows older. There's really no end to this list of possible uses of Braille.

The overall result of a parent's learning Braille is the creation of a Braille-literate environment, one in which the child's natural reading medium is in dynamic use on a daily basis outside of the classroom. In this situation, a child's attitude toward Braille is not likely to be negative, but positive-or at least matter-of-fact. If we then provide interesting reading material, the child should be more accepting of it and more willing to read.

--How can you motivate a parent to want to read Braille?

Actually, this may not be as difficult as you might think. Many parents have commented to me that they wished they knew Braille. Parents have mentioned that they wish they could understand the work their child brings home from school. They have shared with me their feelings of helplessness when their child needs help reading or writing a word. Some anticipate times in the future when they will want to communicate with their child in writing. Sharing the other benefits described above might prompt more parents to want to learn Braille.

Generally, the biggest obstacle is a parent's conviction that Braille must be awesomely difficult, and that they can't learn it. Your role is to assure the parent that Braille is not awesomely difficult, it's just unfamiliar. They can learn it. Parents may also need assurance that they can proceed at their own rate.

--How can a parent learn Braille?
Depending upon their location within Louisiana, parents may have access to a university Braille class. However, a university class, with its rapid rate of presentation of material, deadlines, and tests is not necessary for the needs of most parents. By using one of the books described below an interested parent can learn Braille at his or her own pace.

Just Enough to Know Better, by Eileen Curran, is a user-friendly text designed specifically for parents learning Braille on their own. Available from National Braille Press, Inc. 88 St. Stephan Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, this book presents most of the Braille Literary Code in a relaxed, rather humorous style. It includes flash cards and a poster-style "cheat-sheet," and would suit the needs of most parents. This book does not address Nemeth Code.

New Programmed Instruction in Braille: Second Edition, by Ashcroft, Henderson, and Koenig, available from Scalars Publishing, P.O. Box 158123, Nashville, Tennessee 37215, is the latest edition of a well-known Braille textbook. Designed as a programmed learning test, this book leads the learner step-by-step through the entire Braille Literary Code and includes a chapter on Nemeth Code. In addition, although it has no wall charts or flash cards, it has an appendix conveniently summarizing the rules of the Braille code and a checklist of problem words.

Braille Codes and Calculations, by Mary Ellen Pesanvento, available from Exceptional Teaching Aids, 20102 Woodbine Avenue, Castro Valley, California 94546, 1-800-549-6999 (9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. PST). This is a college text that teaches the complete Literary Code and enough Nemeth Code to get parents through most of elementary school. This book includes additional lessons on topics such as using a Braille writer, making worksheets for young students, making a card file in Braille, and making Braille playing cards. It also includes a checklist of words. This book may be more of a challenge than some parents want or need.

Most parents would benefit from the support of a mentor while learning Braille. Why not you? It need not be time-consuming. Your role would be to answer the parents' questions as they work through one of the textbooks described above. If you want to use supplemental material, you have on hand some very motivational material for parents-their child's schoolwork. After all, understanding their child's schoolwork is why they wanted to learn Braille in the first place.

By demonstrating their own positive attitude about Braille, by using Braille to communicate with one another and with their child, parents can help to prevent or dispel any negative attitudes toward Braille. They can create that Braille-literate environment that does so much to motivate the child to want to read and write. With a more positive attitude the child is more likely to select reading as an independent activity. His reading speed and fluency will improve as a result.

From the Editor: Here are some additional resources for learning Braille:

Beginning Braille for Adults, by Ramona Walhof and Mable Nading, is available from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314. Phone calls are accepted between 12:30 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This manual was written especially for blind adults who wanted a self-teaching manual which could be used independently. It has a complete Braille manual and an instructional cassette. The complete set is only $4.00.

The McDuffy Reader: Braille Primer for Adults, and The McDuffy Reader: Teacher's Guide, by Sharon Duffy, are available from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314. Phone calls are accepted between 12:30 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. These manuals were designed for blind adult students learning Braille under the guidance of a teacher in an adult training center for the blind. However, a student's cassette is available for $10 for those who want to use the manual for self-study. The Braille Primer is available in Braille and in print, $15 each. The Teacher's Guide is also in Braille or print, $10 each.

Handbook of Braille Contractions (print and Braille combination), $4.00, is available from the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314. Phone calls are accepted between 12:30 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This is not a teaching manual but is an excellent reference guide for looking up Braille contractions. Arranged alphabetically in both print and Braille, it is easy to use for the beginning Braille student, blind or sighted, child or adult.