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Teaching Braille Reading & Writing

By Lucia Hasty — Read full transcript

Lucia Hasty, a well-known lecturer and expert on teaching braille, discusses the importance of early literacy, language and concept development for children who are blind and the specific skills needed for braille literacy. Hasty also advises the need to support classroom teachers, including how teachers of the visually impaired can support the regular classroom teacher in making sure that there are braille materials available.

Chapters: 1 — Introduction; 2 — Early Exposure to Books and Reading Experiences; 3 — The Significance of Concept and Oral Language Development; 4 — Additional Skills Necessary for Braille Literacy; 5 — Maintaining Currency with the Braille Code; 6 — Conveying Information with Unique Braille Formats; 7 — Supporting the Classroom Teacher.

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Now Playing: Chapter 1

Webcast Transcript:

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

HASTY: Literacy, for all readers, is pretty much the same. Students who read braille have some additional tasks that they have to learn along the process of managing the actual physical braille as opposed to print. But the literacy that we anticipate for our kids who are sighted learners, we anticipate the same kind of literacy levels for students who are braille readers.

CHAPTER 2: Early Exposure to Books and Reading Experiences

HASTY: I think it's absolutely a requirement. I think it's really important to read to all kids when they're really young, for a whole, long list of reasons. But it's very much so important for a braille reader. Braille readers don't see other kids reading books. They don't get to have those experiences if they're not physically there, and so it's important that they be able to experience it first-hand so that they're in love with books when they hopefully get started reading.

A man wearing a white and red stripped hat is reading to a group of kids.

NARRATOR: In a photograph, a group of kindergarten students sits on a colorful rug in their classroom. In front of them on a small chair, a man wearing a tall, red and white striped hat holds a book open so the children can see the illustrations as he reads to them.

HASTY: When a sighted child reads with a parent or someone else, they are looking at the pictures and they are discussing the story, so that's when language development really begins to happen. In addition to talking about the pictures and the story, you're looking at doing things like comparing. Like, "This is bigger than that," or, "oh, look what color this is," or, "doesn't he look like a scary character?" So language development happens there, and it's really important that braille readers or pre-braille readers have those same kinds of experiences because they're not going to have the pictures to create that stimulus.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young boy with glasses and his teacher are reading a book which contains large, colorful tactile graphics. Together, they explore a raised line illustration of a bright blue worm. The boy then turns to a page with several different textures and graphics.

HASTY: Having discussions and building up language based on those discussions about what the story is. Of course, if they're really lucky, they have some wonderful little stories that also have tactile graphics in them.

CHAPTER 3: The Significance of Concept and Oral Language Development

HASTY: Students who read braille develop in a similar way to students who are sighted, and being able to represent your thoughts and your actions in a written way means that you need to have a concept of the experience of having done that, and the language to express having done that. We see, sometimes, a lag with students who are braille readers and developing those concepts, they don't personally experience like sighted learners do. So we work really hard with young readers to add as many experiences as we can and to make sure they have the language that goes along with those experiences. The ideal thing would be to have what's called a "Twin Vision book;" to have a book that has the print for you but also has braille.

Colorful illustrations of a children book in braille.

NARRATOR: In an open book, the text on a page reads, "Children's braille Book Club." Braille lettering is visible on the pages as well. The page is then turned, revealing colorful illustrations in an Arthur the Aardvark story.

HASTY: It wouldn't be for students able to read the braille to know that there are words on the page and that's where the story comes from; that's how that happens. And for them to have that tactile input that there are words there is important.

NARRATOR: We see a teacher and a young boy who is a pre-braille reader lying side-by-side on the floor. In front of them is an open Twin Vision book which they are reading together.

TEACHER: Do you want to feel and I'll tell you what it says?

HASTY: But in discussing this—the characters that are in the story, the storyline, helping the young child begin to make some comparisons or use descriptive words—those kinds of language development pieces are very, very important.

CHAPTER 4: Additional Skills Necessary for Braille Literacy

HASTY: There are two things that are in addition to the decoding and the phonics and the comprehension and the normal components of reading. The braille reader has the mechanics of actually reading the braille page and finding things on the braille page, and of course, then writing and the mechanics of using the tools to do that.

A boy using his fingers to track a line of braille across a page.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, four students who are blind and their teacher sit at a round table. Each of the students has a page of braille text on the table in front of them. A close-up shows one boy's fingers tracking a line of braille across the page.

HASTY: Some readers have tactile sensitivity in different fingers. There are some methods that are pretty standard in how we teach kids to use both hands and to use all the fingers to do different kinds of jobs. Some students will have more sensitivity in one finger than in other fingers, and so may use different fingers than other kids do. Some kids will use one hand to anticipate the next line and go there before they finish the end of the line, some kids will not do that. So kids are going to develop their own reading styles in braille, just like kids who don't read braille are going to develop their own reading styles.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young boy who is blind sits at a table in a library with a large braille book in front of him. In a close-up, both hands are shown tracking the lines of braille type. The fingers of his left hand track about halfway across the page, then drop down and back to the left to find the start of the next line.

HASTY: Generally, one finger is doing the actual perception of the letter itself, and the other fingers are helping to track across the line, horizontally. One hand may leave that line and go to the next line to be prepared for when that happens. Some fingers are looking for either the end of the line or the space after punctuation or the space after words, so different fingers are doing different jobs in the process. One finger is doing the primary perception of the actual letter itself—the actual reading.

A boy tracks the braille text with both hands.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, two adolescent boys who are blind are sitting at a round table, each with a page of braille text in front of them. The boy on the left uses just his right hand to track and read. The other tracks the line with the fingers of both hands.

HASTY: There have been several studies—one very recent—to look at whether it's better to have students start off using letter-by-letter braille or use the contractions that are a natural part of braille. And they discovered that there really was not a whole lot of significant difference in the long run by the time students are pretty solid readers. In looking at the environment in which students learn to read braille, most of the kids in the country are included in regular classrooms in their own neighborhood schools, so they have teachers of the visually impaired that are the specialists in teaching braille, and they very often are itinerant and come certain days, certain times, to see the student.

So within that environment, you have decide whether the student will learn all of the pieces of reading like decoding and comprehension and phonics in the regular classroom with his or her classmates, or whether that's going to happen in a separate setting with a teacher of the visually impaired. And that very much depends on the environment and philosophies that are there in that particular school. So they end up having sort of a team of reading teachers to help them learn to read.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young boy who is blind is shown working one-on-one with a teacher of the visually impaired.

TEACHER: What's this one right here? It's a contracted word. It's little BF. Are you familiar with that?

STUDENT: Oh, I think so.

TEACHER: Excellent.

NARRATOR: The boy is reading aloud to the teacher from a braille book that is open on his desk.

HASTY: What we look at is what we know is the most efficient way to read; the most efficient, accurate way to read, and we hope we teach kids those skills. But they need to have a choice in how they apply those skills based on their own reading style and what's comfortable for them.

CHAPTER 5: Maintaining Currency with the Braille Code

HASTY: The braille codes change from time to time, and generally, those changes are to include numerous things that we're seeing in print. There is a code for math, which hopefully, students learn right off the bat in the very beginning when they learn to count. There is a code for music. There is a code for chemistry.

A boy works on a geometry problem.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, two boys who are blind are working on a geometry problem in math class. The teacher poses a question about the location of a point on a grid that is represented by a tactile graphic with braille text as well.

STUDENT: This is the rest of them, I see.


HASTY: The ideal time is when the student needs to use that code, and it can vary based on a student's school and what their curriculum looks like, what their additional activities look like. So if third graders are learning to read music, then that's when the music code happens. If a student has decided that he wants to join band and play the flute at seventh grade, then that's when music happens, unless they've had some instruction for some reason before that. But it's the same as with algebra.

NARRATOR: Back in the geometry class, the two boys are now attempting to locate points of a triangle and identify them as locations on an X-Y axis.

HASTY: You don't learn algebra codes until you get algebra. So as the academic tasks increase, an additional set of instructions are important for a braille reader.

CHAPTER 6: Conveying Information with Unique Braille Formats

HASTY: So there are lots of visual clues for visual learners just in how the page is laid out. And for braille readers, there is braille formats to also give them as many of those same clues as we can information that they're reading into groups of things, into task lists, the same as a visual learner has.

NARRATOR: On the open pages of a science textbook, we see an illustration of a cell with a cutaway allowing the reader to see the organelles inside. As the camera tilts up, we see the corresponding page in a braille textbook, which includes tactile graphics of the cell and its structures, and braille labels for each.

A science text book shows printed illustrions of two single-celled in braille.

HASTY: If, for instance, you have a worksheet page where there are instructions for what it is you do with the next five sentences, those instructions are set off in a certain way so that you know where the instructions are and you can find them pretty easily—you can go back to them in a testing situation, for instance, a multiple-choice testing situation. The question is written in a certain place, and then the answers are written in a certain arrangement so that they're easy for the braille reader to go through and read them and make the choice so that they can read it as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

NARRATOR: In a science test book, printed illustrations of two single-celled organisms are shown. A number of multiple choice questions are below the illustrations. On the facing page, there is a raised line drawing of the same organisms, and the questions are printed in braille below the drawings.

HASTY: As in print, if you look at a textbook, we see new words in a pink box over in the margin, or the words that are in the glossary are all written in bold or they're all written in red ink or whatever. There are braille symbols that are written just before the actual word that tell you that there's something about this. And it's another piece of instruction we have to let students who don't color vision understand what that means.

What does red ink symbolize? What is it the symbol for? So that when they see that symbol, they know that that means that those are new words and they're probably going to be on the test Friday morning. Or that that word is in the glossary, because it's in bold. So you can go there and look it up if you're not real sure what it is. And you might have to go there and look it up for your assignment at the end of this chapter.

CHAPTER 7: Supporting the Classroom Teacher

HASTY: The initial job of the teacher of the visually impaired is to provide as much understanding for the regular classroom teacher about what life's going to be like with all of a sudden having a student who's a braille reader in their classroom. So to be able to share the information about how they're going to accomplish certain tasks and what kinds of adaptations are needed, what kinds of adaptations are not needed.

When do you let the student do what they need to do on their own, without any support? And the second thing is to look at the curriculum and how the teacher of the visually impaired can support the regular classroom teacher in making sure that there are braille materials—both the actual textbook and workbook pages—but all kinds of things like flash cards and story cards and that kind of thing.

NARRATOR: In a photograph, a young boy who is blind sits at classroom table with a teacher for the visually impaired. The boy is reading from a braille book. On the table between the teacher and the boy, is a Perkins Brailler. In the background, we see the boy's classmates writing with pencils. We can also see a large pad of paper on an easel with the day's assignments written on it.

HASTY: The technology that the student will be using, and it varies at grade level, is another thing that can be disruptive to other kids. They all want to see what the new cool thing is, so figuring out a way together to share with the whole class, "This is how Meghan does this in our classroom, and this is the tools that she uses." "Meghan, will you share with them about how did you use this piece of equipment and what it does for you?"

Two blind students taking note, the male student types on his laptop and the female student uses her electronic braille notetaker.

NARRATOR: In a science class, two students who are blind take notes. In the foreground, one student types on his laptop. His classmate to his left uses her electronic braille notetaker.

HASTY: The other kids in the classroom, it's important that they accept this student as an equal classmate and learner and don't feel they need to babysit or take of the student who is blind, and that they also need to help support taking care of the technology that's in the classroom as well. And I think creating that kind of environment is another thing that has to happen between the teacher of the visually impaired and the regular classroom teacher, so that the student who is a braille reader is allowed to learn and participate in class like any other kind of student.

For the classroom teacher and the teacher of the visually impaired to work together to meet the needs of the student, the first issue is a teaching philosophy. They have to both be on board with the same methods of teaching reading, and there is a wide range of those and they all have their own unique patterns of how new words are presented and how they're integrated into stories and that kind of thing. So the two teachers need to be able to work together within that philosophy and those materials.

The teacher of the visually impaired may do some pre-teaching of new vocabulary words because of how they're written in braille, and so knowing exactly where they're going to be sharing a teacher's guide, that kind of thing, to be able to anticipate what skills a student's going to need in order to be productive in the next level.