Infusion of Print Literacy Methodology into Braille Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments

By Michael P. Munro and Heather R. Munro

Michael P. Munro is a member of the faculty at Stephen F. Austin State University in the Visual Impairment Preparation Program, Department of Human Services. He is also a certified TVI.

Heather R. Munro is certified as both a TVI and a COMS. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Stephen F. Austin State University in the Visual Impairment Preparation Program, Department of Human Services.

Abstract

Instructional areas that have been shown to be necessary for the development of print literacy skills include decoding, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This discussion explores the applicability of identified strategies and methodologies designed to improve literacy outcomes for print readers to students who are visually impaired and who use Braille as their primary learning medium. Strategies for adapting and infusing literacy research into Braille instruction are examined. This discussion also explores the backgrounds and training of teachers who work with students with visual impairments (TVI) and calls for expanded collaboration between teachers with expertise in reading instruction and the TVI.

Keywords

Literacy, Visual Impairment, Braille, Collaboration, Reading

 

Introduction

Who is responsible for teaching students with visual impairments to read? Teachers of students with visual impairments come from varied instructional backgrounds. In some universities, these teachers become specialists in working with students with visual impairments after adding an endorsement to an existing valid teaching certificate. These personnel preparation programs uniformly provide training in basic Orientation and Mobility, eye anatomy, practicum/student teaching, and psychosocial needs of individuals within the heterogeneous population of students with visual impairments (for a discussion of standards see Erin, Holbrook, Sanspree & Swallow, 2006). The centerpiece of the training programs is instruction in Braille and what is known as the literary Braille code.

These teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI) most likely will be considered experts in vision-related matters for their students, and much of their energy is focused on facilitating their students’ access to the general curriculum. Ideally, these teachers are not called upon to be experts in the myriad of content-specific subjects in which their students are receiving instruction. The TVI works with the general education teacher to insure effective delivery of instruction to the student who is blind or visually impaired. The established paradigm is that the student builds and constructs knowledge in various instructional areas through the skilled teaching and content knowledge demonstrated by the general education teacher, and the TVI facilitates the learning of the student who is blind or visually impaired through adaptation and modification of material (Family Connect, n.d.; Olmstead, 2005).

This paradigm is less clear in the areas of literacy, Braille, and Braille literacy. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires an assessment to be completed by a certified TVI, which addresses whether Braille is the primary literacy medium for a child with a visual impairment. In the process of developing an individual education plan (IEP) for a student with a visual impairment, the IEP or Admission Review Dismissal (ARD) committee must either develop a plan to provide Braille services or make a formal determination that Braille is not appropriate (IDEA, 1997).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, it is essential that a child receive consistent and regularly scheduled instruction from a professional trained in visual impairment if he or she is going to be able to become proficient in Braille reading and writing (Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Policy Guidance, 2000). Clearly, the TVI who has received training in the Braille code is required to deliver instruction to the student so that he or she can become proficient in Braille, in the event that Braille is found to be the child’s best learning medium. But does instruction in the Braille code directly correspond to literacy? And do TVIs have, or should they be expected to have, the expertise to be the facilitators of their students’ development of literacy? We contend that mastery of the Braille code alone will not ensure the level of literacy necessary for students to achieve in school. This is not a reflection of the ability associated with the TVI. Additional specialized reading instruction to improve literacy will often be needed, since reading and literacy are often not areas of expertise for the TVI. Expecting the TVI to be the sole deliverer of literacy instruction would seem to go against the earlier stated paradigm of the TVI serving to facilitate the expertise of the general education teacher.

Using Content Expertise

In the area of literacy, as in other subject/content areas, the student (and the TVI) would benefit from support from teachers who have developed mastery in reading and literacy instruction (e.g. Reading Specialists, Literacy Coaches). Such specialists are highly trained, and typically lead the efforts of campuses and districts to improve the reading outcomes of students. Training standards of these specialists include a master’s degree with a concentration in reading and writing, leadership experience coaching instructors and support personnel from all instructional areas, and an extensive practicum period working with both students and teachers to improve literacy (International Reading Association, n.d.) This collaborative effort in literacy for students who use Braille is not without support. All students in special education are expected to have meaningful involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (IDEA, 2004). Any and all resources in special and general education programs should be made available to help students who use Braille as their primary tool for reading, literacy, and learning.

The issues and outcomes faced by individuals who are blind and not proficient in Braille are similar to the outcomes of those who struggle with reading or are unable to demonstrate print literacy. In 2007, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that sighted individuals with lower levels of literacy were 40% more likely to be unemployed than those who demonstrated proficient literacy, and that those individuals at the lower levels of literacy who were employed earned less than others (Kutner et al., 2007). Similarly, several studies have indicated significant links between Braille ability and employment (Rex, 1989; Ryles, 1996). For both Braille and print readers, higher levels of literacy are associated with better employment outcomes (Wolffe & Kelly, 2011; Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins & Kolstad, 2002).

Attaining these higher levels of literacy, for both print readers (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) and Braille readers (National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, 2009), has been identified as a crisis area in schools. However, despite increased focus on improving literacy, systemic problems are still present. Many individuals are dropping out of high school due to their inability to develop the basic and/or proficient literacy skills necessary to pass state exams (Woodruff, Schumaker, & Deshler, 2002), or are graduating without the skills necessary for success at the postsecondary level (Torgesen et al., 2007). The idea of adapting literacy research to different populations of students in an effort to improve reading abilities is not new. Researchers have already begun to examine the impact of literacy intervention on students of various disabilities and populations, including those with severe reading difficulties (Bhat, Griffin, & Sindelar, 2003), older struggling readers (Ebbers & Denton, 2007), linguistically diverse readers (Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010), and those with emotional/behavioral disorders (Strong, Wehby, Falk, & Lane, 2004).

In an effort to increase the literacy of all students with visual impairments, including those who use Braille as their primary tool for learning, TVIs should collaborate with specialists in reading and literacy across educational settings. Such collaboration may help the TVI improve student literacy outcomes through the infusion and adaptation of leading literacy-related research on quality instruction into his or her delivery of Braille reading instruction. The infusion of the knowledge and skills of specialists in reading can enhance learning outcomes for both successful and struggling readers who are visually impaired, regardless of the proficiency of instruction from the TVI. This is especially true in the case of a TVI with little literacy instructional training or background, or with those who have reflectively identified improving literacy instruction as a professional area in need of development.

To make this collaboration successful, the TVI must share content knowledge about the similarities and differences in the reading of Braille and print. The most obvious distinction is the difference in the modality used for learning: tactual versus visual (Wormsley, 1997a). Reading Braille requires movement, and tactual perception for input (Millar, 1997; Wormsley, 1997a) that is decoded in conjunction with language and literacy skills to develop meaning. Though some Braille symbols vary from print, Millar (1997) states, “the fact that Braille is linguistically identical with print means that models and findings on processes in decoding sounds, meaning, and gist from print can be used for testing hypotheses about Braille” (p. 3). Whether they use print or Braille, all beginning readers need to learn the symbols used and the sounds that they represent (Wormsley, 1997b). Rex, Koenig, Wormsley, and Baker (1994) add that there are many similarities in the instruction and learning of literacy skills for students who are blind and for those who are sighted. It is in the areas of similarity that the infusion of print literacy skills, filtered through the knowledge of the TVI, can assist in literacy development for students for whom Braille is the primary learning medium.  

What is Known about Literacy Instruction

The National Institute for Literacy (2007), the Florida Center for Reading Research (2007), and the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) have each compiled resource documents to assist teachers in improving literacy instruction. Much of this research calls for a continued focus on literacy instruction beyond the lower elementary years. Strategies designed for adolescents may be of particular importance to a TVI for several reasons. In some cases, Braille instruction may continue into adolescence due to the specialized nature of the Braille code, a functional loss of vision due to accident or progression of a condition, or a later determination or acceptance of Braille as the primary learning medium for the student. For this reason, the established recommendations for delivery of literacy training to adolescents will be used as a guideline for the remainder of this discussion. These methods and strategies will be evaluated and/or transmuted so that they may be effectively used with students who are developing literacy through the use of Braille.

These and other reports indicate the need to set high standards, provide direct instruction in improving reading, increase opportunities for reading, increase motivation and engagement with reading, and infuse reading training across curriculum and content areas (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007; NICHD, 2000; National Institute for Literacy, 2007; Torgesen et al, 2007). These concepts not only support the collaboration of the TVI and the reading specialist, but also suggest that both of these professionals work with other content area teachers to develop opportunities for reading across classes and across topics.

According to research, common themes have been identified as crucial aspects of effective literacy instruction. Further investigation will specify how teachers of students with visual impairments either are using or can infuse these established tenets into the delivery of Braille instruction. The National Institute for Literacy (2007) detailed five major instructional areas necessary for literacy: decoding (phonemic awareness/phonics), morphology, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension. The Florida Center for Reading Research (2007), using input from the National Reading Panel, listed five similar instructional areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) also has identified analogous areas of instruction that were grouped into three topics: alphabetic (consisting of phonemic awareness and phonics), fluency, and comprehension (including vocabulary and comprehension instruction). Though these designations may differ slightly in wording and grouping, there appears to be a significant amount of agreement on what it takes to improve student reading. This examination will draw from these reports and look at areas deemed vital in the development of print literacy: decoding, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Using these identified areas, Braille instructional practices will be assessed to determine if and how to incorporate current literacy recommendations.

Decoding

This discussion will combine both phonemic awareness (sounds used in language) and phonics skills (sound linked to media–letters/spelling) as the basis for decoding. Through the development of phonemic and phonological awareness, students establish basic skills for reading, spelling, and literacy. The NICHD (2000) found that students across ages who improved phonemic awareness were able to improve their reading and writing. McCall, McLinden, and Douglas (2011) found that not only did phonological instruction benefit Braille readers, but that there were also similarities in the process underlying reading skill development for students who use print or Braille as their primary medium. Phonemic skills and interdependent phonologic skills assist in the development of text decoding. These skills are often developed through auditory and spoken means, and later linked directly to letters (phonics). Students may use verbal strategies such as songs or rhymes to begin to use and manipulate sounds that they encounter. The use of auditory practices, such as reading aloud and pretend reading, has also been shown to improve language development and emergent literacy abilities (Duursma, Augustyn, & Zuckerman, 2008; Steinman, LeJeune, & Kimbrough, 2006). The immersion of children in a language-rich environment, one filled with verbal descriptions of experiences and exposure to Braille books, helps build the basis for later reading and literacy skills—especially because children with visual impairments often have fewer opportunities to interact with and be exposed to letters and written language (Steinman et al., 2006).

To enhance the development of emergent literacy skills without consistent or dependable visual input, students with visual impairments may require specific intervention and support. Though research has indicated that children with visual impairments have little to no difference in their linguistic or cognitive abilities in comparison to those children without visual impairments (Partnership for Accessible Reading Assessment, 2006), the lack of exposure to letters or print in any medium, may hinder the emergence of basic literary skills. At this stage of development, the use of targeted strategies can be implemented to address phonics, oral language, and literacy skill development. These strategies may include the use of music, chants, rhymes and songs, the infusion of varied experiences that are richly and descriptively described, and exposure to Braille and Braille books (Erickson & Hatton, 2007). As with reading, the more a child with a visual impairment is exposed to wide-ranging opportunities and to equally wide-ranging descriptive language, which is spoken and/or read from texts, the better the chances are that he or she will be able to develop necessary basic literacy skills (Erickson & Hatton, 2007; Steinman et al., 2006).

As early literacy skills are established through the ability to use and manipulate sounds (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007), students who are sighted may develop an understanding of the correlation between these sounds and the different letter combinations associated with them through environmental exposure (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000). While students without visual impairments can develop these skills through explicit instruction or incidental learning, the student who is blind will typically require at least some direct instruction or planned experiences (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Rex, Koenig, Wormsley & Baker, 1994). The connection between letters and sounds is confirmed through planned exposure to tactual representations of letters. Children who are blind will require additional training to be able to effectively and efficiently distinguish letters, groups of letters, and the additional symbols that are associated with the Braille code (Steinman et al., 2006). With intervention, researchers have shown that children with visual impairments of varying ages were able to demonstrate phonological awareness skills commensurate with their sighted peers (Hatton, Erickson, & Lee, 2010; Steinman et al., 2006). Once proficient in Braille, these students can decode as quickly and efficiently as students without visual impairments. What makes literacy using Braille more complicated than print is that phonics and decoding skills have to be applied to more characters than are present in the print alphabet, and because the student who reads Braille has to learn more symbols, he or she will need more time and practice to move toward mastery of the code and to develop decoding skills (Steinman et al., 2006).

Morphemes

Morphemes are whole words or parts of words, and are defined as the smallest units of language that have meaning. These units of meaning are different than words in that they may or may not stand-alone. A stand-alone morpheme is called a free morpheme (ex. “trust”). Bound morphemes bring meaning only when they are attached to other words (ex. the prefix “en-” added to “trust” spells “entrust”). Direct and explicit instruction in word attack skills, syllabication, and vocabulary development all may have morphology at their center. Students are instructed in the determination of meanings of words by breaking the words into parts. Students may draw from previous knowledge for basic meaning, and apply new knowledge of affixes to develop new understandings of longer, multisyllabic words.

The conceptual basis behind morphemes is also a pillar in intermediate and advanced Braille instruction. Braille does not simply involve a letter-for-letter translation of text. Instruction beyond basic Braille introduces numerous combinations of letters, shortened versions of words, and the use of symbols used in Braille composition that do not have a print equivalent (called composition signs). These symbols and combinations are infused into basic Braille to create what is commonly called contracted Braille. In some instances, these contractions are morphemes, representing one or a series of letters and/or dot configurations that hold meaning by representing a whole word or a prefix/suffix.

In other instances, Braille contractions are not morphemes, but rather represent non-morphemic, frequently occurring letter combinations. In such instances, the contraction indicates an array of letter sequences. One challenge is that the contractions will sometimes encompass or cross over boundaries of literary morphemes and combine these units of meaning with other letters. For example, the word “bathed” has two morphemes: “bath” and the suffix “-ed.” When written in Braille, the letters “the” are one symbol—bathed. Additionally, the same configuration of dots may have different meanings depending on where they are present in a word. For example, the prefix “dis-,” a morpheme, is represented by a single Braille cell that is configured with three raised dots. When that identical Braille cell appears in the center of a word, it stands for two repeated letters (“dd”). This same dot configuration, when placed at the end of a word would indicate a period. Finally, when following a composition sign called a number sign, that dot grouping would indicate the numeral four.

The complexity of the Braille code will impact each of the identified literacy areas to some degree. This, along with the manner in which Braille literacy instruction is delivered, further separates Braille instruction from print instruction. Braille readers are required to learn significantly more symbols than print readers, and they continue to learn these symbols over a much more extended period. This learning time may require further lengthening as the students who read Braille learn the large number of rules that govern how this expanded code is used, and develop familiarity with Braille as their reading medium. Often, students who are Braille readers will not be exposed to all its various symbols until third grade or beyond. Conversely, print readers are familiar with almost all of their literary symbols at the end of first grade (Wormsley, 1997a).

The introduction of Braille contractions may require special attention in relation to spelling skills. Teachers must be diligent in assessments to ensure that students are able to write and spell correctly using the proper Braille contractions, but they must also be able to confirm that the student is proficient in the alphabetic spelling of words. Continued practice and attention to phonics skills will help maintain the ability to spell with and without contractions. In spite of the challenges of the code, using Braille in an un-contracted (alphabetic) form may not be the answer. Emerson, Holbrook, and D’Andrea (2009) found that students who were taught using the un-contracted form of Braille performed at a much lower level in reading, vocabulary, and spelling skills than those who had been taught the contractions. The researchers, as a result of their longitudinal study, also found that students who were taught Braille contractions exhibited higher levels of literacy later in their school careers.

Fluency

If a student is fluent in reading, he or she will be able to read with a high degree of accuracy, at a quick pace, and with appropriate intonation. To accomplish these ideals, the student must rely on phonemic awareness, letter recognition, phonics skills, knowledge of morphemes, and have had extensive practice in guided reading (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007). The coalescence of these competencies allows the fluent reader to recognize words or groups of words and immediately assign meaning, rather than having to decode each word letter-by-letter (or in the case of readers who use Braille, symbol-by-symbol). Being able to read fluently renders decoding automatic (a process known as automaticity), and allows the student to engage with the material. In this way, fluency is linked to an improvement in comprehension (NICHD, 2000; Therrien, 2004).

Fluency development requires practice, dedication, and often direct instruction. Repeated reading is a highly effective method that can be used to help students build reading fluency and improve their ability to understand what they have read (Therrien, 2004), and this practice has proven successful for students with low vision (Layton & Koenig, 1998). Re-reading of the passage allows the student to first be exposed to the text, then to increase speed, and finally gain automatic recognition to facilitate deeper understanding and learning. It is suspected that the number of repeated readings may need to be increased to meet the demands related to Braille reading.

Fluency develops gradually through guided practice and as students spend more time engaged with the texts. Instructors (or peers) provide feedback and support while also modeling efficient and expressive oral reading. One way to increase the student’s interaction with the text is to select appropriate materials. These materials should be above the student’s assessed frustration level (the level at which they read below 90% accuracy), be age appropriate, and represent an area of interest for the student (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007). These strategies can be effective with students whose primary reading medium is Braille with some additional focus on the uniqueness of the Braille.

Some may consider Braille fluency an indication of abstract knowledge of the code itself rather than a demonstration of reading and writing proficiency. This could be compared to being able to read the notes in a musical composition but lacking the ability to play the selection well. It is feared that this view may lead to a lack of instruction needed to develop reading fluency for Braille readers, just as fluency instruction is neglected for print readers (NICHD, 2000). After identifying the fact that fluency was not a focus of instruction for teachers of students with visual impairments in their Braille literacy study, Emerson et al. (2009) highlighted fluency issues and called for teachers to “monitor their students’ reading fluency as one useful benchmark of progress in reading” (p. 621). For this discussion, fluency will refer to the reading task using Braille as a medium, rather than simply mastery of the Braille code.

Emerson et al. (2009) discuss that demands related to the memorization and tactual discernment of so many additional symbols may tend to slow the reading rates of Braille users, yet found the exposure to these symbols may actually play a part in the improvement of vocabulary and spelling skills in some learners. Pring (1994) found that Braille readers read on average about half as fast as comparable print readers (as cited in Partnership for Accessible Reading Assessment, 2006), and this finding was generally supported by Wright, Wormsley, and Kamei-Hannan (2009). If direct training in fluency can increase reading speed, then that increase should, theoretically, improve comprehension.  

One aspect of fluency that is unique to tactual media such as Braille is the physical nature of the experience. The fluent reading of Braille has a verifiable physical component. For example, to develop fluency and speed in the use of hard copy Braille, the student must have good technique, sharply developed tactile sensitivity, proper hand-movement, skills and planning on how to move down lines of text, and the physical and mental stamina to keep all of these activities properly coordinated. As Wormsley (1997b) states, “The smooth sweeps of fluent Braille readers are a visible demonstration of fluency in motion” (p. 81). When students who are Braille readers pause, backtrack, or run their fingers up and down on letters (known as “scrubbing”), they are demonstrating difficulties in decoding or perception, both of which would negatively impact fluency.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary is also intertwined with, and dependent upon, the other identified elements and skills. Each of these is a component of the end goal: comprehension. Vocabulary development involves more than simply the determination of meaning of various words; it also addresses oral aspects of pronunciation and communication. Therefore, vocabulary is divided into two categories: print, which encompasses reading and writing; and oral, which involves speaking and listening (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007). By including instructional strategies that develop both oral and written vocabulary, these categories can support each other. Students who are immersed in environments that have rich vocabulary and are provided with opportunities for repeated encounters with new words in various forms and contexts have been shown to improve their oral and print vocabularies (NICHD, 2000). As stated by Millar (1997), “Blind children do require more assisted learning in acquiring an adequate vocabulary” (p. 11). As a means to address this in young children, Erickson and Hatton (2007) detailed a framework that is designed to facilitate oral language development in children with visual impairments while supporting the improvement of word strategies. The authors also highlight the need for teachers of students with visual impairments to better enhance oral language skills through increased focus and planned instruction.

Vocabulary is also developed through explicit instruction and strategies ranging from use of word knowledge and meanings, morphemes, reference materials and words in context, to word analysis (Kamil et al., 2008). Each of these strategies, along with the development of a language-rich environment, can assist in the enhancement of vocabulary in students who use Braille. Technology may be used to facilitate efficient access to reference materials for independent vocabulary acquisition. Context and word analysis can be explored using oral and written means.

One challenging aspect may involve the exploration of word meaning. This meaning is frequently based on experiences in life and in text. Too often, students who are visually impaired, especially those with additional disabilities, have very limited experiences in life and with Braille texts. To address these issues, Wormsley (2010) adapted a method to provide differentiated instruction in Braille reading by focusing on words that were known and significantly important to the student. Rather than beginning instruction with seemingly arbitrary letters, the instruction was built around the available knowledge and experiences of each individual student. By focusing on students’ knowledge and interests, Wormsley (2010) was able to increase motivation and provide meaning to reading instruction. Several authors (Durando, 2008; Mims, Browder, Baker, Lee & Spooner, 2009; Parker & Pogrund, 2009) have highlighted the need for increased study, innovation, strategy development, and focus on literacy instruction for students who have both visual impairments and additional disabilities, and it is hoped that Wormsley’s work will be the first of several new models. 

Another way in which students may facilitate fluency and comprehension of texts while maintaining motivation is to preview reading passages and identify new or challenging vocabulary (Kamil et al. 2008; Torgesen et al., 2007). This method allows students to utilize various word strategies to build vocabulary. Pre-reading can also provide a vehicle for the teacher of students who are visually impaired to pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary and to introduce new contractions or Braille symbols that may be encountered in the text in a meaningful context (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000).

Comprehension

Comprehension is the ultimate measure of reading literacy. Deficits in any of the aforementioned instructional areas will usually have a negative impact upon comprehension (NICHD, 2000; Torgesen et al., 2007). Problems that have been encountered on the road to literacy may also impact the student’s ability to comprehend. If a student has struggled in any area, he or she may become discouraged, avoid engaging in reading, and lose motivation. In doing so, the student disconnects from the reading task and inhibits reading practice and the development of skills necessary to achieve higher levels of comprehension and literacy. The Florida Center for Reading Research (2007) highlights the connection between using skills and engaging with texts when they define comprehension as “the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language” (p. 16).  

Comprehension can be improved thorough direct instruction in the use of specific strategies and techniques. To effectively improve students’ comprehension, teachers across instructional content areas will need to explicitly train and model the use of these techniques (Kamil et al., 2008). Several strategies have been highlighted as effective interventions in the improvement of comprehension. These include: summarization, questioning, paraphrasing, self-monitoring, and the use of graphic organizers (Florida Center for Reading Research, 2007; Kamil et al., 2008; NICHD, 2000).

Instruction in summarizing or paraphrasing what was read, and developing and answering questions, can and should be easily delivered to students with visual impairments. Questioning strategies may help teachers identify whether the student with a visual impairment has gaps in knowledge, or splintered understanding of certain concepts. These gaps could be the result of common issues associated with persons who are blind, and may include limited exposure to books and other literacy devices, limited experiences exploring their world, and/or limited incidental learning (Erickson & Hatton, 2007). Skills related to self-monitoring should also be readily transferrable, assuming that the individual student with the visual impairment is self-aware and mature enough to monitor his or her own behavior.

Graphic organizers (e.g. Frayer Models, Inquiry Charts, Power Notes, and Story Maps) should be used judiciously, and assessed for effectiveness. These often present challenges for students with visual impairments, particularly for those who use Braille. The visual nature of many graphic organizers requires drastic modification so that the Braille reader can access the needed information. Additionally, most organizers are used in a fill-in-the-blank or spatial type format that is often not accessible, even with the use of a Braille slate and stylus. Even if the student is willing and able to use the slate, being able to locate and fill in the appropriate section of the organizer would be challenging, time consuming, and may in fact take away from the intended learning outcome. Organizers that feature an outline format may be easier for students who use Braille to follow and from which to develop meaning.

Regardless of the method, all students, including those with visual impairments, need direct and explicit instruction in strategies to improve reading comprehension. These strategies are designed to assist them when they need to eliminate or overcome barriers to their comprehension (NICHD, 2000). To further facilitate the development of comprehension skills, students should be provided with materials that are interesting and motivating. Typically, this means drawing on their own experiences. “The data suggest that text comprehension is enhanced when readers actively relate the ideas represented in print to their own knowledge and experiences and construct mental representations in memory” (NICHD, 2000, p. 14). By using high-interest materials, it is hoped that teachers will be able to lengthen the time in which readers, regardless of their chosen medium, stay actively engaged in the text and achieve higher levels of comprehension.

Implications for Practitioners and Families

The desire to improve literacy abilities of emerging Braille readers necessitates that a TVI use all the resources that are at his or her disposal. The skills, knowledge, and expertise of master reading teachers and reading specialists are highly valuable to the TVI. Collaboration between these professionals is vital to facilitate the improvement of reading outcomes for students who are emergent Braille readers. This process will allow the TVI the means to provide literacy interventions that are extensively researched, supported by data, and adapted to meet their unique vision-related needs.

Through this collaboration, and the application of strategies identified and validated by research to improve outcomes, students who use Braille as their primary learning medium can improve their overall literacy. It is necessary for all students to improve reading and writing abilities if these learners are expected to meet the demands of the modern-day workforce and the requirements of higher education. The increased challenges related to mastery of the Braille code, along with the physical nature of tactual reading makes it imperative that teachers of the visually impaired seek help from specialists in reading as well as infuse proven literacy development strategies into their instruction. It is further imperative that all stakeholders, parents and professionals, actively advocate for collaboration and the sharing of expertise between reading specialists and those with specific training in visual impairment.  

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