American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2017       LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

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Teaching to Read in Two Weeks at BELL Academy

by Sheena Manuel

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 59, Number 11, December 2016

Sheena ManuelFrom the Editor: Sheena Manuel is the outreach specialist at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University. She is a teacher of blind students (TBS) and a certified national orientation and mobility instructor (NOMC). She serves students in the public school setting in the north central area of Louisiana. During the summers she travels from state to state, teaching at various NFB BELL Academies.

My love for teaching at BELL Academy stems from Louisiana Tech's Teaching Blind Students program. Participating at the BELL Academy was required and expected from my professor. She understood the value of seeing good blind role models, building relationships with fellow colleagues, and getting hands-on experience before we entered the profession.

I'm always looking for adventure and different places to go, whether for work or pleasure. I decided that every year I would look for another place to visit while doing what I love, teaching kids. This year Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the place to be for BELL Academy. As I began meeting families, I learned that most of these kids did not have teachers of the visually impaired waiting for them once they returned to the school setting. This discovery motivated me to provide as much meaningful instruction as possible for the next two weeks.

Kids are brutally honest. One student revealed that she only knew one letter, a, and she had received only five minutes of Braille instruction during her last year at school. Appalling! I explained to her that we would give her a crash course in Braille, and I would give her as much as she could handle.

This kid was highly motivated and ready to digest Braille. We started with the alphabet. I gave her between five and eight letters a day, teaching letters and whole words. She practiced writing them with my co-teacher every day. I presented the letters similar to the Mangold program, having her read lines of letters, then read lines of words. And guess what—at BELL Academy you go home with homework. Every night this kid was excited to share with her family what she learned. As her love for reading Braille grew, so did her interest in reading other words.

Then I started introducing about three to four contractions and other words commonly found in early readers. The day I decided to introduce a story, she exclaimed that she had been waiting to read a story like the other kids. The look on her face will stay with me forever and continue to remind me of why I do what I do. I want kids to know that with motivation, high expectations, and proper training, their dreams can come true.

As a kid I remember picking up a book my mother read to me every night, Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, and thinking, "I can't wait until I can read this." As a kid in grade school I remember waving my hand and squirming in my seat so I could read a passage aloud to my class. During the summer I enjoyed walking into the library and getting as many books as I could carry to read. As an adult I am excited when I can read a story aloud to my students (in print or Braille). I hope that my love for reading will live on with this kid from the BELL program and with every other kid I meet.

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