From Print to Braille with Heart and Meaning
FRANCES: Hi, I'm Frances Mary d'Andrea. I'm from the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. And my presentation is called, From Print to Braille: With Heart and Meaning. I have a PowerPoint that I'll be speaking from and you'll have a copy of it. And in this presentation, I'll be talking about two students that I worked with recently and both of whom were print readers who for different reasons were acquiring braille skills. So student number one was a sixth grade student in middle school. And student number two was an adult, he is a 28-year-old man. And it was interesting, I had these two students at the same time, in very different settings but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on similarities and differences in instructional methods and learning styles. And to look at challenges and successes in working with print readers acquiring braille... skills. So let me tell you briefly about student one. He was a 12-year-old student, a 12-year-old at the time in sixth grade. He had albinism and nystagmus. He had no other disabilities. He had moved to my state from another state. He had been at a private school and had not really received the kinds of services of a teacher of the visually impaired. So, when he came to our state, his new school system conducted a learning media assessment, an LMA, as well as an educational functional vision evaluation, an EFVE. And those assessments indicated that braille would be very useful to him. At the time he was just using enlarged print, he did have access to electronic magnification, he used audio books. But his print reading was very, very slow and he experienced a lot of visual fatigue, by the end of the day, he would just be very tired, wiped out. So he disliked reading print. He did enjoy audio materials, but he really avoided reading print materials. So the educational team decided using the results of his different evaluations, that braille would be useful to him and his individualized education plan, his IEP, was written based on those needs for him to receive two periods per day, five days a week, focusing on braille instruction. Student number two was a young man, he was 27 at the time that I started working with him and turned 28 years old. He was married. He had finished his bachelor's degree and had planned to apply for graduate school, he wanted to go to law school. And then he was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica and he lost his vision very rapidly, within like a week. And he was very unstable, his condition would change. This particular condition also created other physical and health considerations. He would get really fatigued, he had a lot of muscle pain and other considerations. At the time I met him he was using enlarged print and some electronic magnification. The state rehabilitation agency that was working with him did provide braille instruction but only if he came to the centre based programme and because of his health considerations, that wasn't going to be a good option for him. And as it turned out, he lived in my neighbourhood and they contracted with me to go to his house once or twice a week and provide braille instruction as a private consultant for him. This student loved to read, he didn't enjoy audio books and he really missed being able to read books, physical books. And as it turned out, this slide talks about motivation. Both of these students were highly motivated to learn braille. They both already knew how to read. They were print readers and they were on their level, the 12 year old was reading on his grade level and of course the adult student, student number two was an avid reader. And both of them expressed a lot of excitement to learn braille and they liked learning in general. And they both expressed enjoyment during the braille instructional sessions. Part of my job I felt was to maintain that motivation because, it can be a prolonged process requiring full braille skills and I wanted them to maintain a high level of motivation throughout the process. So I really kept that in mind. So when I was planning their... sessions, I was really informed by research. So there were three things that were kind of upper most in my mind. One has to do with efficient hand movements. And on this slide, I provide a few references, there is a reference list at the end of this presentation and I'll give a copy of this presentation to everyone so you have a written copy of this, so you have these references if you want them. But what we know about hand movements and efficient hand movements, is that efficient braille readers use both hands, they use the pads of the fingers, multiple fingers at a time and we see a lot of smooth forward hand movements with minimal backtracking and scrubbing. So it was important to me that these two young men would learn efficient braille mechanics as they call those hand movements. Another thing that we know about successful braille learners, and successful readers in general, is personal interests. Discovering what personal interests these individuals have and using highly motivating materials to maintain that interest. Another thing I considered is a lot of connected text. So that means instead of just single words on the flashcard or just one word at a time, they both got a lot of practice with phrases and short sentences, rather than just single words. And I feel really strongly about that actually because I think we focus sometimes just on word identification in isolation, but the thing about braille is that the spaces around the braille cells are as important as the dots themselves. The difference between a dot two at the end of a word, with a space after becoming a comma and a dot two in the middle of a word, being EA, can sometimes find differentiations of space and where dots are, can sometimes be missed by newcomers to braille, to new braille students. And so I think there's evidence going all the way back to St. Ashcroft's work in 1960 on practising with phrases and short sentences. And I also wanted to really focus on comprehension and not just being able to move their hands quickly or not fast reading, but really focused on meaning. That was important as well. So when thinking about best practices, I was thinking about building that fluency while maintaining comprehension so, I wanted the students to have that automatic recognition of words. I also wanted them to have some strategies for figuring out words that they weren't so familiar with, especially multi-syllable words. These were both not beginning readers. They were bringing their reading skills with them as they just learned this new modality. And so I wanted to give them some tools about thinking about how to figure out longer words. I wanted to build braille vocabulary as far as that automatic recognition and to focus on reading with expression, prosody and comprehension. Another practice I felt would be especially beneficial is pairing the reading with the writing. So they're not only going to decode these tactile symbols, but also how to encode them, how to write them, so that they were reading and writing in this new modality. And then the other practice I focused on was that use of technology. How to use mainstream and specialised products for access and for efficiency. So with that all in mind, thinking about the approaches and materials. I did use some of the Mangold tactile materials and those that have been around for quite a while, Sally Mangold's, The Programme for Tactile Readiness and Letter Recognition. Those very beginning materials from exceptionalteaching.com and because it did reinforce those good hand movements and also the letters of the alphabet. But I did adapt it in some ways and I'll talk about that in a second. I also used a programme called Braille Too, T O O, The Next Generation. And that is the set of materials that was designed for middle and high school students who had been print readers, who are now requiring braille skills and that's available from brl2.com, that's B R L, numeral two, dot com. And I love those materials because they, first of all, they come on a flash drive so that you can, they're easily adaptable. And you can emboss as much - on electronic embosser, as much as you need or you can kind of customise them and I'll talk about how I customised them for these two individuals in a minute. So it's a very thorough programme. And the other thing I like about Braille Too: Next Generation is that, it teaches the letter and alphabetic word signs in the same sequences as the Mangold programme does. So what I did for these two, because they were already readers is I taught that letter recognition at the same time as the alphabetic word signs. I also taught them their names or proper names as soon as possible, including contractions. And I didn't... you know, protect them from contractions. In both cases, both of these students had contractions in their names and I just taught them what their names were. And I said, we'll talk more about what these contractions are later but you should know that this is what your name looks like in braille. And in that way, I started with words as soon as possible, as soon as I could, we started with words and phrases. So there are many words that just didn't happen to have contractions and so of course, you get to use those. I also incorporated the contractions that they had learned from their names into some new words so that I could start with connected text as soon as possible. And that meant, I just taught the capital dot and some ending punctuation, early. So in that way, I did make, since the Mangold programme is really, was originally designed for very young children, I was able to use some of those materials but some of them weren't needed and then I made these individual adaptations. So I did carefully sequenced the contractions that were introduced in that, I didn't use any words that would have contractions, that were uncontracted. In other words, if were to happen to have a contraction unit, we just use those words. I did not use any partially contracted words or any words that have a contraction I would spell out because I wanted them to see the final form of the word. So in general, the sequence that is provided in Braille Too: The Next Generation was what I followed but I did introduce some things much earlier for these two. For example, punctuation and also short forms. So for example, as soon as they learned the letters a and l and were using them in words that didn't happen to have contractions, I would also teach the short form for also because that added another vocabulary word that they could learn and added more language to the stories and sentences and things. So for example, if they had the letter A and they knew the letter L, learning the word also and learning that it's a short form, meant that along with the alphabetic word signs, I could use the name of the student, let's just say it's Fred. It wasn't Fred, but that's, you know, Fred will go also. Just make some, added some additional words that we could use to make the stories and things much more interesting and individualised. So the other thing I did was I used a lot of family and friend names, things that I knew they liked, hobbies that they had. So the young man who, student two as I called him, the 28 year old, his wife happened to have the same contraction in her name that he had in his and so it was easy to add her name as well. So I could write materials that use her name as well as his. I use a lot of things about that had a sense of, both of them had a sense of humour. And so I was able to add some humorous things just to make them laugh, make the things more fun and interesting to read. So for example, on this slide, I have something here about the braille task force. I don't remember how, with the 12 twelve-year-old, we got into this thing about a braille task force but he just thought that was a hilarious idea. And BRL, it was a contraction, a short form he learned early and task and force as the FOR contraction. And so we made up stories about, you know it was like a superhero with the braille taskforce and I would make up stories about them. For the adult learner, he had a neighbour who was particularly cantankerous let's just say and so he thought it was hilarious to write stories about about her. So that sense of humour was really important because it made, it wasn't just dry practice on things, it was more individualised and personalised. I made a lot of materials in fact and one of the things that we did instead of having them practise just single words. Which we did sometimes, we did some activities with words on single word cards which I'll talk about in a second but also phrase cards and so I would buy larger size index cards. And rather than just putting single words, I would put a phrase or a short sentence on it and we kept them in little ring-bound index card books. And it would have a leading line and then a phrase like, 'You Will Go'. Because I wanted them to be able to see those words, what the braille looked like with the spacing in it, so that they would see also and know that it was not A in like but the word 'also'. We also did a lot of like logic puzzles, scrambled words, trivia questions, they both loved trivia questions. And we did a lot of sorting games, just anything to break up the session into enjoyable activities, especially if you have a 12 year old for two periods a day, you want to necessarily have some activities that will be enjoyable and fun to do. And it would also break up the day between reading and writing, you know, a warmup, some reading, some writing, a game, maybe some more reading. So that it gave a sense of moving forward but also giving them a break and some enjoyable things to do. I wanted them to see braille to be an enjoyable and a useful thing from the very beginning. All right. For writing, I did use the Perkins Brailler. The nice thing about the Perkins Brailler is that you push down the keys and you can read it right away, so it's a good beginning device. I did introduce the slate and stylus, although neither of them liked it. But it is a useful tool, especially, I think what I use most was that single line slate, that is just a single line. It's really nice for labelling. And it's a good thing to learn because it's inexpensive and easy to use. One of the things I did find out about the technology is there's quite a difference between services in the United States between students who are in the kindergarten through 12th grade programme as opposed to adult systems. Students in school are the services are mandated through the federal law, the individuals with disabilities education act. And this particular student, my 12 year old had a lot of access to, in addition to the Perkins, he had a portable video magnifier and a portable braille device and an iPad and an iPhone and a Chromebook. He had a laptop that had NVDA, ZoomText, it had Duxbury Braille Translator, as well embosser. Whereas the adult had much less technology available to him and it took much longer for him to get. He did have a Table-top video magnifier, computer with JAWS but not quite as much. I did a lot of progress monitoring as well. I use this checklist from Literary Braille Skills which is available from www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com, a teacher named Carmen Willings. And it was just a handy little checklist to, that I could put at the beginning of their notebooks to just kind of keep track of what contractions they had learned and which ones they had mastered, I would put a date next to it. I also, as they were reading aloud to me, I would use my own data collection sheets and I would look at how many words per minute they read, what kinds of errors they might make. I used a miscue analysis chart that had been designed by Dr. Mila Truan. It's available in the book, Communication Skills for Visually Impaired Learners, and it's a way of looking at braille errors to see if there are patterns of errors. Another thing that was really important to both of them is that I used a tactile graph paper, braille graph paper so that they could graph their own progress over time. And that was really motivating to them because they could see how many words per minute they were reading or how many new words they knew and being able to track their own progress was really motivating to them. So some of the successes I felt is that quick introduction of contractions was really helpful for them. It allowed immediate access but also allowed them to build skills over time. The variety of materials kept the lessons interesting and enjoyable. They loved, both of them, the jokes and riddles, obviously I had to make them age appropriate. The adult learner really appreciated poetry. And I used poetry a lot with him and he said, it really made him feel like he was reading literature and not just random words or elementary school things. And I was able to find a number of poems that were short and yet had deep meaning for him. And he was someone who he said, "I didn't think I used to like poetry but now I really love it." And as I said, it gave him a feeling of success that he was reading real material and not just kids books or something, that it was actually literature. Both of them had excellent self comprehension skills. They both really enjoy tracking their own progress and maintained that motivation to continue to learn. Challenges. Both of them had difficulty moving from double space to single space materials and I would - I think that would be an area it'd be interesting to do more research in. That was really a struggle for both of them as much as progresses they made. And building fluency just takes a while, it just takes time. Some of them would have - they would feel like their fingers were numbing out and they, we would have to take breaks. Over time, it became better. But at first especially, building that speed and route of fluency just took quite a bit. Finding time to practise, you know, the 12 year old has a lot of other homework and other things and let's just say, homework was not his strength. And with the adult, you know, trying to fit these lessons into a busy life was sometimes an issue, so just the frequency and duration of the lessons. The availability of technology for the adult was - I already mentioned that. The agency was really wonderful and very, very helpful but everything just took a lot longer to get. And then the adult had some health challenges. The sixth grader had the usual school-age adolescent issues that 12 year olds have. And then it was also - I made a lot of materials which was a pleasure to do, but I wanted them to have a lot of practice material and finding a sufficient amount of ready-made practice materials was, you know, it's always an ongoing challenge. So in my last few seconds here, I'll add, some of the questions that I'm still considering and I think about the successes and challenges are, how can we make braille instruction more available to adults who want to learn it? How can we fit that braille instruction into a busy schedule for an adult and also for a student who's learning it after being a print reader? How can we encourage frequent practice in addition to the things that we just talked about? Are there other strategies? And I would like to know a lot more about writing methods that are most useful to people who acquire braille skills after being print readers. The last slide is my references and again, you can have copy of that if you're interested. And I want to thank you for your time and attention. And if you - my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks.