By: Carmen Willings
Updated October 28, 2017
If a student cannot attain a functional reading speed using large print or low vision devices to read regular size print, then braille should be considered as a complimentary tool for literacy. Keep in mind, however, that not all students are good candidates for braille instruction. It is not only essential to have the cognitive abilities and foundational concepts, but it is important to have finger sensitivity and fine motor coordination to maintain sustained touch and systematically track across paper.
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
Just as it is important to learn early how to properly hold a pencil or to use the correct fingers when typing, it is important to learn proper finger and and position when reading braille. Although it is acceptable to go between your right or left index finger, it is ideal to have a primary reading finger. Stabilizing the worksheet or book with shelf liner will keep the page from sliding around and promote proper form. The following are skills to encourage:
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.
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)!
Braille Instruction Books
The Braille Connection: A Braille Reading and Writing Program, available from APH, is designed for former adult and teenage print readers how to read braille. This is a great program that I have used with teenage academic students who are learning braille as a secondary mode of learning.
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.
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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.
Anne McComiskey, former Director of Project BEGIN, an early childhood program at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, Georgia, has developed this Braille Readiness Grid that is an excellent resource tool listing skills future braille learners will need to develop.
Motor Activities to Develop Pre-Braille Skills
You are welcome to print and use this list of motor activities that can help develop tactual skills and pre-braille skills.
I created this literary braille checklist as a "cheat sheet", located on the Printables page, and also as a means to document student progress in learning the braille code. You can locate this form in the Printables section and print it for your reference.
The Unified English Braille (UEB) was implemented on January 4, 2015. APH has announced that they will start UEB braille transcriptions for the 2015-16 school year. Aroga Technologies put together this helpful reference sheet with all the new UEB symbols and the contractions that disappeared in UEB. You may want to print it out and carry a copy with you. Although it can be printed on standard size paper, it is best when printed on 11" X 17" paper.
If you would like to produce ink print braille to create worksheets for students who are beginning to lose their vision or for parents, peers or others who want to learn braille, there is an easy solution! You will first need to download a braille font such as Duxbury. Once you have downloaded the font, use this ASCII keyboard handout to create worksheets!
Braille Assessment & Challenges
Assessment of Braille Literacy Skills (ABLS) Provides educators with a meaningful assessment of Braille literacy skills.
The Braille Challenge® is the only national reading and writing contest in braille for blind and visually impaired students. Contests include reading comprehension, braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs.
Maryland's College and Career Ready Standards for Unified English Braille Checklist is a great checklist by grade and includes braille, formatting and tactile graphics. This is a great age specific and sequential resource that can help write goals and objectives!
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!