A newly developed method in the Netherlands to choose the appropriate form of literacy: A proposal for a decision prosess
ANS: Hello, good afternoon from the Netherlands. I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Ans Withagen, I'm a special educationalist and I worked for 30 years at Royal Dutch Visio. I was working at a school for visually impaired for 30 years. And during this period, I always had to make the choice for literacy for all the individual cases together with my colleagues. Today, I want to share ideas with you. When we have to make this difficult decision, how to choose the appropriate form of literacy. There are several situations in which you're confronted with this choice. Of course, when the child starts to read the preparatory education but also in a later stage. When a child, for instance, is suddenly confronted with vision loss. In discussion with colleagues, we noticed that we sometimes made different decisions when a child had the same visual acuity. We did not include the same arguments in the decision or judged some factors differently. Based on my experience, I think the motivation of the pupil him or herself was often underestimated and as a factor in the decision process. From that point of view, I thought that we sometimes made a wrong decision and that we sometimes also forced the switch to Braille too soon. In our opinion, children should learn it. Of course, when we see that the acuity progressively decreases. But is it always the right decision at the right time? During my first years at Visio, I saw many pupils with a progressive eye disease. For example, as a result of RP. The policy was to teach the student Braille during the periods they were taking special education. We thought it would be better that they learned it before they left school. And typically each student liked to learn the alphabet however became de-motivated during the reading process. The reading rate of Braille remain low. When I met these students later on and sometimes their visual acuity was even lower I asked them, "Are you still using Braille now?" Most of them indicated they didn't. They had bad memories of the last lessons when they were wrestling with the reading speed of the Braille. These kinds of conversations made me wonder if we had taught them Braille too early. After all it was our choice that they had to learn it before they left school. So, that's where the discussion with colleagues started. Many years ago, my colleague (indistinct) and I followed a workshop of Cay Holbrook about making the choice of literacy. We were very inspired and as you can see we used the book a lot. It's full of extra papers. We use this book as a source of inspiration for a decision tree we designed at our school in the Netherlands. We described this process also in a book called "Curriculum Braille" which we wrote in the Netherlands. And my colleague (indistinct) also had a presentation about pre-braille reading difficulties which is also described in this curriculum. When we made the choice for written literacy, you have several options for a dual-check policy. At first, you can do reading prints and extra information through Dutch or you can choose to read braille and can obtain other information through the visual channel. And in the phase that you switched to braille, you can do some subjects in braille and other subjects visually by reading. With all three possibilities, the auditory channel can also be used as means of support in conversation. How to decide which stories is best. Let me introduce you to Laura whose visual acuity is decreasing fast. The font of the letters on the screen increased the last week and sometimes she's complaining about headaches. I suggest you all take a pupil like Laura in your mind when I discuss the following sheets. With the assessment, your first look into the checklist. Use of sentences. Okay? This list was based on several lists of Cay Holbrook and Alan Koenig. And we made an inventory in various areas of which sense the pupil prefers. For example, which sense do you prefer when explaining details of objects? Or, which sense is preferred when you organise your work? Obviously, we also want to know what is the preferred sense when reading and writing. Now we come to the child's characteristics. It's very important to take several characteristics into account when you make the decision. Unfortunately, we don't have time to discuss them all in detail and sometimes I will add some information about my pupil Laura. We don't have time for in-depth case study but think about your own pupil when I discuss these characteristics. First of all, age. Laura is 13 years of age. What is the cause of the eye disease? What could be the prognosis with regard to eyesight? Can it be expected that eyesight will further decrease within a very short period of time? It's important to know whether the child is in pain. Does it suffer for something? Laura has glaucoma and a (indistinct) and regularly she experiences a lot of pain due to high eye pressure. Visual acuity. We need to know something about the visual acuity of the pupil. How is it with both eyes together? How is sight nearby and far away? The visual acuity of Laura is 0.05. Then the vitality. What is the general physical condition of pupil? Is there a broader clinical picture? Is there treatment necessary? Does the pupil take any medication? Does eye disease have influence on the condition of the pupil? Next, you have to take into account the cognitive possibilities of a child. What are the capacities? And also important, does the pupil need the writing system to get a diploma in the future? What is the reading level? Is it in accordance to the general language level? Does the pupil like to read? Has there been a change of it? For Laura it changed recently. She doesn't want to read for fun anymore, it's too exhausting. Then, the reading pace. What is the reading pace of the pupil? Is it about the same level as the reading level? The reading pace is increasing for Laura since the fonts of the letters become bigger. How is the working attitude? What's the attitude of the pupil in general? And is the attitude different for reading lessons than for other subjects? Then we come to the sensory function. You have to fill in those special checklist for this. But in general it's important to know what is the preferred sense of the pupil when they work close by? Does the pupil use touch when the detail cannot be detected visually? And is there some sort of defence or resistance when the child has to use one of these senses? Like Laura, she really does not want to touch anything. Despite the fact that visual exploration takes a lot of effort, she refuses to use her touch. And when she has to make a textural task, she wants to check the choices visually. Sometimes we experience the children seem to fear to become blind when they start to use touch instead of vision. It's important to discuss this matter with the child and show the child the benefits of the other senses. For example, you can say to the children, "Perhaps touch is better to explore details while vision is better to get an overview of the task. Then we have the memory, further some specifics in memory. The spatial orientation of course. Are there specifics in the orientation? Laura is very good in her orientation. She can find her way and as you would expect, she refuses to use the cane. Then social. Does the pupil have a steady group of friends? Laura has four girlfriends at school and they are all visually impaired. However, none of them is using braille and Laura is a very popular girl in the group. Emotion. How is the wellbeing of the pupil? And how does the pupil cope with the visual impairment? Is there fear of becoming blind? Laura is very stubborn and she keeps the adults a distance. Pace. What is the pace of the pupil in general? And can the pupil keep up with the group pace not only in the class but also elsewhere? And then self-reliance. How is the practical and social self-reliance of the pupil? Laura doesn't want to show her uncertainty to a dance. She likes to do the things her own way even if it takes a lot of effort. Then the external factors. How is the family composed? And which position has the pupil amongst the other children? Are there more children or family members who have the same eye disease? The father of Laura has the same eye disease. He never learnt to read braille and he thinks it's not necessary. Then the cultural background. What's the family's background? And is Dutch the main language at home? How is the family related to other people? And how do they think about braille or using special tools? The original background of the family of Laura is Turkish but they lived already for a long time in the Netherlands and speak Dutch. Family, friends and relations. What is the status of the family within the extended family? Until now, there isn't a family of Laura knows support to change the illiteracy. However, they are very worried about her headaches and also the tiredness of Laura. They fear she might have other neurological problems and they go often to the doctor with her. Then at last, the education situation. Is the pupil attending a mainstream school or a special needs school? And are there more pupils who read braille at school? Laura is attending the school of Royal Visio in her group there is one boy who is reading braille. Unfortunately, it's not popular. To make proper and responsible choice regarding writing system, it's important to know what is suitable for this pupil under these circumstances. We suggest the following method. First, you fill in the checklist, use of senses. Secondly, the child characteristics which I discussed before. And third, the external factors. After the checklists have been filled in, you can go through the decision tree with those who decide about a writing system which should be used. Now we come to the decision tree. How is the visual acuity? Is it lower or equal to 0.05? Can be a bit higher of course. But is it going to decline or is it... Is the visual acuity stable? If yes, continue to question two. What is the pupil's reading level? Is there a group decline or severe fatigue when reading? Does the pupil complain when he or she has to read? In all cases, yes and no, we go to question three. Are the tactual skills sufficient to make this switch? If no, you'll have to start with tactual training and then continue to question... Step number four. Is the environment motivated to support the pupil? If no, start with motivating and giving insight to the environment at home and at school. Depending on the outcome back to step one or following to the next question, number five. And that's a very important question. Is the pupil him/herself motivated to start reading braille? If no, begin with motivating and giving insight to the pupil. Start with sensory training and let them experience themselves which sense is best suitable for certain tasks. At this moment, we use this decision tree on all the schools in the Netherlands. We are very enthusiastic about the process and the outcome. In earlier days, we sometimes forced the children too soon to change literacy. For Laura, it's important she experiences herself that some tasks could be easier catered by touch and by vision. For instance, a detailed perception on touch and spatial task or vision. Only if she is motivated herself, we are going to introduce braille and we are going to make agreements about the dual-check policy together with her. Well, we work for Laura then she will be on the same trend and still about a few years or perhaps even sooner. Because Jill came to ask to learn braille herself when she noticed that her eyesight was decreasing. And she wrote for the audience here, in Dutch of course. "I learnt to read braille and it's fun to read braille." Well, unfortunately time is too short to discuss this interesting subject together. It would have been better to be in the workshop and discuss about this. But, we can also have perhaps a Zoom meeting after this conference or perhaps we can find each other during this conference. Any case... (exclaiming) I forget the last slide. Thank you for your attention and if you want to know more or discuss with me you can always send me an email. Thank you very much.