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Due to the nationwide shortage of vision professionals, it can be challenging to locate personnel. Announce a job vacancy on the Job Exchange of Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, an online listing of jobs specific to the visual impairment field.
Determining how to teach braille including the frequency and intensity of instruction depends on a variety of factors. The age of the student needs to be considered and whether they have other options for a literacy medium. The student's intellectual capabilities will determine if the focus should be on functional braille or traditional braille. The student's tactile and perceptual abilities and skills are critical to learning to read braille. Students with a history of strokes may not have the finger sensitivity to discriminate the small differences in braille characters. The students age and additional disabilities will also play a large part in determining the way to instruct the student in braille.
Teaching Tracking Patterns
It is important to teach correct finger and hand use when instructing a student in braille. Different students will use different types of hand movement patterns to read braille. The most efficient pattern is to use a scissor type pattern, moving both hands together. The left hand reads to the middle of the line, then the right hand takes over and reads to the end of the line while the left hand returns to the next line and begin to read independently of the right. The hands meet in the middle of the line of braille and then separate. Light finger touch is also critical for students to acquire.
When teaching a student tracking patterns, encourage the student to:
Material Positioning/ Stabilizing Tip: Keep braille paper from sliding on the table or desk by placing it on shelf liner, Dycem, or slip guard
Discourage Backtracking & Scrubbing
It is important as a student is learning braille to discourage regressive hand movements (vertical or horizontal). Regressive hand movements, or scrubbing are those in which the hands and fingers move back and forth or up and down unnecessarily on the braille line and interfere with efficient tracking skills. In early literacy activities, these movements may indicate that the student needs additional practice in tracking lines while tactually discriminating likeness and differences between characters and words.
Backtracking is when the student returns to previously read characters if the text doesn't make sense. Although some backtracking is good and can be a positive strategy, excessive backtracking can be an indication that the student is reading at the frustration level and the reading level should be reevaluated.
Encourage Light Finger Touch
Another mechanical skill a good braille reader should develop is to use very little pressure when touching the braille dots. A student should touch lightly along the top of the braille as they read it. If a child is observed to place too much pressure on the fingertips, remind the child to use a light finger touch. If a child is pressing more heavily on the braille characters to gain more tactile information, they may be compensating for a lack of discrimination skills.
Encourage Proper Finger & Hand Position
Dot Position in the Braille Cell
Begin instruction by teaching the braille cell. Learning the dot positions in the braille cell is helpful, but not essential, for discriminating letters, numbers, and punctuation. There are many strategies teachers have used to teach the spatial position and dot numbers of specific dots in the braille cell. One of the most widely used methods are using a muffin tin with tennis balls. Half dozen egg cartons can also be used or you can find an egg/shape match game. APH provides several materials for instructing a student in the braille cell including the swing cell, pop-a-cell and the Big Cell. Refer to the Tactual Books page for suggestions on creating a braille alphabet book.
Phonics & Phonemic Awareness
As with any good literacy program, implicit and explicit instruction in phonics is needed. Student's need to be taught to recognize consonant and vowel sounds. By incorporating the explicit instruction of blends, digraphs, suffixes, prefixes, common endings, etc. the student will develop strong phonetic and braille skills simultaneously to build fluency and word recognition skills.
There are a variety of ways to incorporate phonemic awareness and phonics activities. These strategies are the same as those used by sighted peers. The difference will be in providing words in large print and/or braille and pairing the learning experiences with real world objects/materials that are relevant (this is beneficial for sighted peers too!)
Environmental Exposure to Braille
The goal for the braille learner is to recognize braille or other tactile symbols as easily as sighted people read print. Early exposure to print/braille is important. Students should be exposed to a wide variety of print/braille in books and in the environment. Future braille readers or possible braille candidates MUST have daily exposure to braille in a literacy rich environment that is fully accessible. This daily exposure (at school and at home) will help students make the connection between what is written and the spoken word. Provide students with opportunities to read class schedules, daily messages, cassette tape labels, recipes, menus, and notes from teachers. Also provide opportunities to read transcriptions of classmates’ writing, and a wide variety of children’s books transcribed into braille. Incorporate braille on: bulletin boards; braille names on desks, cubbies and lockers; classroom signs, rules and posters; and calendars.
Literacy Rich Environment
Find functional uses for braille, such as labeling personal belongings (lockers, notebooks, CDs, and so forth), recording telephone numbers, and writing homework assignments or shopping lists. For those less familiar with braille, a braille labeler can be used to make braille labels, although it can only produce uncontracted braille. Braille clothing labels can provide daily exposure to braille as well. Model the use of braille (as when reading aloud to the student) and use braille for sending messages and other functional purposes.
Shared reading provides an opportunity for the student to participate in reading with a reader that reads with fluency and expression. When you are reading together with a student who is learning braille, be sure that the student's fingers are in contact with the braille as you read. Encourage the student to use a light touch ("Smooshing" the braille will make it unreadable!) and not to "scrub" the braille. Also, encourage the student to smoothly "track" along the lines with the pads of the fingers on both hands from left to right as you read. In the beginning, it is not necessary for the student's fingers to be on the same words as you are reading - this will come later with more formal instruction. As the student gets older and more experienced with books, you may want to read only when they are tracking. This way the student will begin to understand that to read braille, you must keep your hands moving! After a shared reading experience, the student should be encouraged to re-read the story independently either silently or aloud.
Make It Fun!
Write braille notes to the student and place them in unexpected places to create interest and a sense of excitement in using braille. Later, the student can be encouraged to write notes to the teacher of students with visual impairments and others.
Use braille access technology, such as computers and personal note takers, as a motivating factor as students can be motivated by the voice output. This is also a great way to for a more advanced braille reader who uses a personal note taker to have an opportunity to mentor and feel good about their braille skills!
Give the student directions in braille to follow, such as the steps in a treasure hunt. Provide the student with a note that provides a clue to the first location to look. You can pair this with the theme such as hiding the next clue in an Easter egg (adapt to the current theme)!
The Nemeth Code for math and science notation was developed by Abraham Nemeth in order to transcribe the symbols. The code uses the same braille symbols used in literary braille but with different rules. It is important for Nemeth Code to be written without flaws as the student cannot use contextual clues to determine if there was an error. It is essential for classroom math teachers and the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) to communicate and collaborate in order to prepare for upcoming instructional units to prepare the student for upcoming symbols and formats they will encounter. For this reason, it is important for the TVI to have a good understanding of the Nemeth Code.
Teachers may need to refresh their skills as they can go years without working with a student who needs instruction in or the use of the Nemeth Code. I have recently found myself in this position as I have not previously worked with an academic braille learner who uses braille as their primary mode of communication. I have found the Nemeth Code Reference sheet from APH to be very helpful in re-learning the Nemeth Code. It was also very helpful to obtain a math textbook in order to see how the problems were set up. That allowed me to learn the accurate way to write the problems and therefore follow the pattern when creating additional problems.
Braille Instruction Books
Becker, Roberta. Unified English Braille Practice Sentences. This book of practice sentences, available from ActualTactuals, was created by the co-author of Literary Braille Practice Sentences (with Phil Mangold). It is available in both print and braille and includes all UEB contractions. Sentences progress from simple to complex, making it easy to select appropriate exercises for individual students. The print book includes simulated braille on facing pages. The contractions are introduced one at a time where possible with sufficient repetition for mastery. The book progresses through all of the various types of braille contractions.
Braille Assessment & Challenges
If you're looking for professional development credits and need a refresher in Unified English Braille (UEB), consider taking the UEBOT course. The UEBOT Course will enable individuals familiar with EBAE to gain training with flexibility in scheduling and completion to become proficient in Unified English Braille (UEB). 10 ACVREP Professional Development credits will be issued upon completion of the course at no additional cost. Courses begin on the first and end on the last day of each month.
Remember to store braille books in bookshelves sitting on their end. Do not stack them on top of each other or it will flatten the braille!