Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Brown Bear Part II: Reflective Teaching

alisonIn Brown Bear Part I, posted earlier on Paths to Literacy, I used a short video of a teaching segment to demonstrate what the concepts in my iBook, “Introducing Braille,” might look like for a struggling reader with multiple impairments.  How might, “Make It Fun,” “Make it Developmental,” and “Make It Meaningful” translate to these young braille readers?  I explored this as I taught Alison, an 8-year-old girl with total blindness, a hearing loss in one ear, low tone, a heart defect, slowed physical growth, and a significant developmental delay.  She understands some spoken words and phrases; she does not talk or use a communication device but she uses five or six signs upon request.

Focus of My Reflection

“Good teaching is not about sticking to the script,” says Professor Andrew Pollard. “It’s about continually reflecting on your pupils’ changing needs and the ways in which you meet them...” At the end of Brown Bear Part I, I commented on how my repeated study of my 57 second video lesson segment allowed me to reflect on my own teaching. This brings me to Brown Bear Part II, a discussion of this reflective teaching.
Watch (or rewatch) the video below:

19 ways to step back

My specific focus in this reflective teaching is how much independence I allowed Alison.  I’ve given prompting/cueing a great deal of thought over the years, even publishing “19 Ways to Step Back” in “Classroom Collaboration” through Perkins and later as a poster through the American Foundation for the Blind.  Especially as the author of “19 Ways to Step Back,” was I minimizing my cues and prompts with my student Alison as much as possible?   (Prompts provide general encouragement.  A teacher’s hand on a student’s shoulder might be a prompt to keep attending; the phrase,“ do another one” might serve as a verbal prompt.  Cues are specific guidance of how to do the task.  A physical cue might be hand-under-wrist touch guiding the student to press brailler keys; a verbal cue might be saying, “Press the keys to write another letter.”)

How Alison Learns

At the time of this filming, I had taught Alison as both her TVI and her O&M instructor for three years.  I had a clear sense of how she learned.  
  • She liked candy, music, standing up, spinning and swinging, sucking her thumb, pressing her eye, hugs, flapping paper, and alone time.  
  • Her only preference on the above list that had served as a powerful positive motivator was candy; that is, we (her IEP team) saw increases in her behavior when it was followed by candy, but not by her other known preferences.   Not surprisingly, candy was not a viable option for her because it was unhealthy (especially related to Alison’s slowed physical growth,) it was extrinsic, it was not sustainable, and it was against school policy and home policy ….. and my own professional policy.  
  • We had not yet seen Alison respond to a token economy.  
  • Waiting for Alison to respond had not been successful, since alone time was one of her preferences.  Beyond that, Alison seemed to forget what was asked of her after 5 or 10 seconds of wait time.
  • We had been successful in shaping Alison’s behavior through routine.  She tended to participate most when she was engaged in a familiar activity.  For example, after she had learned a chain of step 1, to step 2, to step 3, she tended to maintain momentum throughout it.  
  • Once Alison was engaged in a chain of steps, she sometimes showed curiosity in what she was doing.

My Cues and Prompts in this Lesson Segment

In viewing and reviewing the videotape, I identified the prompts and cues I included.  My physical prompts were: hand-under-hand, hand-under-wrist, hand-over-hand and hand-under-arm.  Verbal prompts were instructions to turn each page,  tapping into Alison’s prior knowledge (“You know ‘p,’ that’s one of your letters,”) and asking Alison to continue a behavior (“Write some more.”)

Ways I Stepped Back in this Lesson Segment

I identified seven ways in which I encouraged Alison to work independently.  (1) I included wait times of a few seconds before repeating prompts, and (2) I used physical guidance so slight that Alison could (and did) easily withdraw her hand.  (In fact, there were 4 or 5 aborted videotaped segments in this same session where Alison unequivocally refused to read or write.)  (3) I started with verbal cues, adding physical cues only as they seemed necessary for Alison to maintain momentum.  My physical cues were proximal (closer to the center of her body) rather than distal (closer to her fingertips) where possible.  (4) I specifically and enthusiastically praised Alison when she showed initiative in pressing brailler keys. “You’re writing some more letters while you’re at it.”  (5) I asked Alison to continue the desired behavior of pressing keys after she already started this.   “Write some more letters. (6) I used shaping/accepting approximations (such as accepting Alison’s turning 2 pages at a time instead of one, and allowing her to read and sometimes write with just one hand.)  (7) I allowed short breaks after a non-preferred activity, then returning to it.


I’m happy that I was able to provide meaning by teaching at Alison’s home with her mother present, and by using text that Alison had been enjoying both at home and school.  Self-reflecting through videos keeps us honest, though.  I stepped back in a range of ways, but I wonder if I could have stepped back even more in this instance.  I wonder, if I had provided fewer or less restrictive prompts/cues, what other strategies I could have used to establish and maintain Alison’s focus. 


Yes …… but.  I had four rationals for my prompting/cueing.  (1) Alison’s mother did so much to help her to love reading, including making her a costume for the story book character “Madeline” at Halloween.  But she had become discouraged about Alison’s writing at home, and I was eager to show her how she is writing with me at school.  But was I too eager, resulting in my hurrying Alison? (2) My physical guidance was so slight that Alison could … and did …. withdraw her hands at any time.  But was she ready for less guidance?  (3) I had long since found that maintaining pacing/momentum in lessons was key for this student, but did I allow too little wait time?  (4) Sometimes Alison’s curiosity seemed to overcome her protests if I could just get her initial involvement. But was there another way to accomplish this?
We have such a wealth of knowledge and experience in our Paths community.  I feel vulnerable in posting this reflection, but your comments and suggestions around it would be very helpful to me, and I hopefully to each other.  Have you used videotaped lessons in your own reflective teaching?  What did you notice in this posted video with Alison?  What’s your take on this?  What might I have done next in terms of establishing and maintaining Alison’s time on task?  How else might I have engaged her?  Thanks much.

brown bear 2 collage



Stepping back

Posted by Penny Rosenblum

Laurie, first I’d like to

Posted by Liz Eagan

Makes me wonder….

Posted by Megan Mogan

Reflective Teaching

Posted by Dhanya

Loved this post!

Posted by Liamsmom

Reflective Teaching

Posted by Wendy Whitwell

Hi Laurie, Thank you for

Posted by Jaime Brown

Reading Feedback is Unique Learning Experience!

Posted by Anna Swenson

Reflective practice, a new level

Posted by Lisa

Posted on December 1, 2015
Updated on: February 21, 2018

Previous comments for Brown Bear Part II: Reflective Teaching

Laurie Hudson commented on December 2, 2015

Wendy, I couldn't agree with you more about organized work spaces with everything squared off with the table/desk.  Unfortunately, this was a home visit so I improvised as best I could.  Thank you, in turn, for your vulnerability with your little "P" song.  It's a great example of how we improvise in making up little songs to communicate the start, the finish, the in-between steps, and the content of our lessons.  

Jaime, yes, videotaping allows us to analyze our students' body language, behavior, and communication, and also our own.   Thank you for the reminder to sit behind and a little to the side of students, so we can have shared movement but also protect ourselves a little bit.  Good idea.

My friend Anna, I appreciate the suggestion both you and Jaime made about adding meaningful textures in Alison's book. She strongly resists reaching out to touch almost everything - one of her IEP objectives at the time was to remove 10 shapes on the Wheatley Maker velcro board, and she rarely reached for more than 5.  But I regularly gave her the opportunity to touch, just the same.  In fact, Alison is the student pictured on the cover page of "Make It Meaningful" in my iBook, "Introducing Braille."  In this example, after she climbed a ladder to pick apples from a tree, a page of her experience book included a small, popsicle stick model of a ladder with the braille and print words, "First I climbed up the ladder, step up, step up...."  Thank you for the sample of phrases I might use during the sequence on this videotape post. For some students, consistent language is so very important in their learning routines.

And Lisa, I appreciate your support of my risk taking in posting this video and self-reflection.  Our one-to-one time with our students can result in such closeness in our relationships with them; for me, that's one of the great rewards of my 44 years of teaching.  In posting our "moment," it feels like thousands of people on the Paths Website, Pinterest, and Facebook are sitting right next to Alison and me in our little work room.  (Yikes!)  But what a wonderful thing that you are sitting next to us with such affirmation and with such sound, specific suggestions!  A thousand thank you's!

Lisa commented on December 2, 2015

Laurie you have given this literacy community a gift by creating new level of reflective practice. For so many of us videotaping lessons have been a way to reflect on your own interactions and strategies with children we are working with but sharing the video and with a professional community that is really ramping reflection to the next level. I came in late to this conversation but so appreciated reading the thoughtful questions, suggestions and ideas everyone had. This conversation encouraged me to reflect on my own practice and interactions. Thank you so much for posting this very important lesson for us all, it is so inspiring!

Anna Swenson commented on December 2, 2015

Hi Laurie,

I am arriving late to this wonderful conversation that you started with the video clip of your lesson with Alison. Your courage in initiating this new "path" on the pathstoliteracy website is an inspiration. Like many of the respondents, I have videotaped myself with students for the purpose of reflection, although I don't think I have ever done as thorough an analysis as you did in your posting.

It is obvious that you understand Alison well and the two of you work comfortably together. I would be interested to know what the literacy goals and objectives are on her IEP and whether she has the concept that spoken words can be written down in braille. Thank you for explaining why Brown Bear is such a special book for Alison. Like Jamie, though, I wondered whether she would be more motivated to touch the page if it had a texture or object on it, in addition to the braille - or perhaps that would be too much stimulation? Does she enjoy teacher-made books with familiar objects on each page (e.g., comb, toothbrush, soap, tissue)?

You also mentioned that Alison responds well to routines. Would it be helpful to have a set series of steps that she follows as she reads and writes - with the same set of verbal cues for each page? For example, after she turns to a new page:

  1. We have a new page! Find the braille (or object, then the braille).  Let's read "purple cat."
  2. Now find the brailler.
  3. Let's write "purple cat."* (Alison scribbles on the brailler.)
  4. Find the book. Turn the page.

*If you are working on the concept that spoken words can be written down in braille, it might simplify this particular activity to have Alison scribble the whole word that she just read, rather than including the additional phonics connection. Of course, that depends on your objective for this particular lesson.

Laurie, thank you again for sharing your lesson with us. Reading the feedback has been a unique learning experience for me.

Jaime Brown commented on December 1, 2015

Hi Laurie, Thank you for sharing a video of your lesson. I have recorded myself teaching also, so I can improve the lesson, and to observe my student's reaction. Although I frequently place a mirror in front of my student, it is difficult to observe them and teach. Watching the video allows me to completely observe my student's body language, behavior, and communication.

I also find that sitting behind a student allows me to do hand under hand easily. The student can then rest her arms on your arms, yet lift them off when she wants. Some of my students have also thrown their head back when I sit behind them so I sit behind them but to their side. That way I can still do hand under hand but I then I am a little more protected.

Have you tried singing the lines of the book before she needed to write her letter? Then after she writes, sing the line again?

Are there textures in the book she is reading or do you have an object she can reference? First she could touch the texture in the book or the object, then you read/sing the sentence, then she types. Or another option may be Velcro textures. For example, she could read the sentence Brown Bear, Brown bear, then touch a textured bear. Next, she could type her letter. After you repeat what she typed, then move the textured bear from the book to the page she has typed. Allison could read her letter again and feel the texture at the end of the line. Not knowing Allison, I don't know if these suggestions would work; it may be too much for her.

Thanks again for sharing your lesson. That takes courage. I appreciated reading everyone's comments. I hope to apply all of the advice to my students.


Wendy Whitwell commented on December 1, 2015

Hello Laurie- I am a new TVI blogger from the UK and I too am in awe at your positive approach to sharing your teaching techniques by recording your sessions. You have got me thinking for a few of the children we support - excellent of course as evidence of progress as well as your own reflective practice.

My thoughts- planning a learning space is tricky as the child has to make sense of what is infront of her. Having both the book and the Brailler together at different angles could lend to a sense of chaos and lack of structure. I am keen on alignment of book/Brailler with edges of desks/trays/tables (not curved) so, whilst I understand Alison needs stimulation it maybe too much in one go. She seemed to like 2 things- turning pages and pressing keys, and you suggest she likes music (I love the later comments that you sing as a motivator). So how about 'Turn the page and find the P, find the P, find the P, turn the page and find the P...(I am singing as I write this...) and the motivator for each P found? a pot of pegs, press the putty, punch the paper (hole punch), paper clip chains, etc. All presented in a small manageable container which is introduced then moved to the side. 'Find the P Alison, now the pot', 'find the P , now the pot'.

This will take time but would establish the repetitive cause and effect rhythm of the session you are yearning for. 5 minutes only at first. Next, the Brailler, 'Braille a P, read the P' - sing a song and combine with the key haptic/tactual P activities. Every time you touch the back of her hand use a verbal prompt- 'let me show you' let me take your hand', and allow Alison to explore your hands while you press, punch or put pegs around the pot.

I suggest a quiet short session with a definite start to the reading, then an end then the start of the writing session with a definite end - indicated by a click of a lid on the pot and the end of the song. then build on this. only ideas - you have probably tried these and i know they are not associated with the story necessarily but maybe more meaningful as active sounds associated with movement (which you say she enjoys) Good Luck!

Laurie Hudson commented on December 1, 2015

Wow, what great input!  Thank you so very much for commenting....both affirming what I'm doing and providing fresh insight. Our Paths community rocks!!

I'd like to give you some background related to some of your questions and comments:

Penny, I agree that our sitting behind or beside our students can afford wonderful, co-active movement, while sitting across from them can result in a negative, push-pull interaction.  Unfortunately, the last time I sat behind one of my students, he threw his head back so abruptly and forcefully that I ended up in a dental chair for treatment of loose teeth.  I'm skiddish about it now, but of course all our students are unique and I wouldn't need to worry about that with Alison.  Good suggestion.    And I'm so pleased that my video and anaylsis of it may be of some help in your pre-service work.  Thank you.   

Liz, I entirely agree that videotapes of our lessons can be hard to watch. (I was cringing when I noticed that my thumbnails were a even little bit white during some of this footage.  I didn't intend for my grip to be that firm!)  Thanks so much for your questions. These are issues we all need to ask ourselves over and over again.   (1) Yes, I ask my students' permission to  touch them at least once every lesson. That's a high priority for me. (2) I've experimented with longer wait time with Alison, but one of preferences is just that, to be left alone, and with too long a wait she tends to forget her tasks. But what's the ideal wait time with her?  I need to keep re-visiting this. (3) Alison still mostly "scribbles" on her brailler.  When I commented "nice writing" to her, her initial letter was correct but the others were scribbling.  (4) Time of day is key.  We needed to tape this lesson at 10:00 a.m., and this girl is NOT a morning person! Thanks again for your careful thought about this teaching segment!

Megan, what a great track you set me on, to think about what Alison likes about brailling.  It may just be the pressure on the keys .... she clearly benefits from deep tactile pressure.  Working with her Occupational Therapist, some joint compression activities may put her in a better place to press the brailler keys, and she may respond really well to some interactive turn-taking at the brailler. I haven't noticed that Alison is a student who can't listen and move/touch at the same time, but I know exactly what you mean.  With some students, immediate verbal praise can put a sure stop to their movement activities.  Thanks, Megan.

Dhanya, welcome to the profession! Thanks for your thought about adding sounds. Like many children, Alison is familiar with a lovely little song that accompanies "Brown Bear." I often introduce this part of the lesson by humming the song, and I prompt her to respond to specific lines of the book by pausing my singing at those points.

And Liamsmom, I'm really pleased that some of my strategies might be helpful to you.  In response to your question, yes, Alison's Mom had been reading Brown Bear to her since she was a toddler, her inclusion class had been focusing on it for a few weeks, and I had worked with Alison throughout these weeks in understanding the book layout, listening to the song as she turned the pages, finding the bralle on pages and tracking the letters, and writing the initial letters that she knows.  Like your son, there's no way Alison could have focused on the book without a thorough, very positive preview of it.

Again, thank you for your comments and questions around this post.  You've significantly broadened and deepened the ideas I wrote about both self-reflection and stepping back, and you're serving as a living example of how we are each others' best resources!!

Liamsmom commented on December 1, 2015

Loved this post, thanks for sharing!   A great reminder at the importance of self-reflection!  I have taught in elementary general education classrooms and used videos for the purpose of self-reflection...I have also used them with my son's team (my son is deafblind an in first grade).  Videos have shown to be very helpful in determining next steps, what's working, what's not working, etc...

In response to your video and questions:

  • I was curious...did your student have an opportunity to browse the book and read it together with you for 'fun' before the "work" came with it?  Time to explore the pages, here the story, perhaps feel objects that go with the story?  My son can NOT focus on a story until he has 'seen'  and touched the entire book, talked with me about it, had it signed to him a few times, etc... THEN he can focus:)
  • I really enjoyed seeing you work with this young girl and see the great strategies you were using.
Dhanya commented on December 1, 2015

Hello Laurie, I am a graduate TVI student. which means that I am still learning all of the nuances of teaching. Reflective teaching seems to be a wonderful, efficient way of refining one's own teaching technique. I thoroughly enjoyed the video, and felt that the student was engaged in the lesson. One aspect of your description of Alison caught my attention though. You repeatedly said that she is very curious. What if a series of sounds were created to play periodically, which related to the braille project. Those sounds might spark and maintain her attention in the lesson.


Megan Mogan commented on December 1, 2015

I appreciate you posting this Laurie.  Mostly I appreciate your admitted vulnerability.  This is something we all feel and your sharing it on Paths puts us in a position to observe, reflect, and collaborate. I watched the video a couple times thinking, “I have students just like this!  Lessons just like this!  What works? What could I improve?”  In other words…self-reflection!

First off, toward the end of the video I saw Allison initiated actions on the brailler.  You noticed this too, waited, confirmed, and followed-up on this wonderful action. When you said, “Write letters.  Write more letters,” Allison's actions stopped.   So here I asked myself, “What does Allison like about that action on the keys?” Is it the movement, the deep tactile pressure? The auditory cause-and-effect?  I also wondered what would have happened if instead of verbal follow-up, you provided tactile confirmation in the form of copying her actions on the brailler.  This would in fact be a way of saying, “You just wrote more letters!”  I would be interested in seeing what Allison does with this kind of confirmation in movement/tactile form.  Does she initiate again? Does she imitate you? Does she smile? Does she keep her hands on the keys? Does she act and then turn slightly to anticipate if you will copy her again? I guess that would be another video! 

I chuckled when you mentioned this was "Take 6!" of the video attempts. When it comes to all the videos I have had to abort when students are refusing or reluctant (and trust me, there are many), I have to ask myself whether information is being presented in a form my student really understands and prefers? What does Allison like about the story Brown Bear? What does she like about braille?  This goes back to my first comment. I find that when I drop the words and directives to a minimum (in a way, this is the equivalent of sitting on your hands) and go straight to movement, rhythm, pattern, actions on objects and people, I see an uptick in engagement - especially for new information and the scaffolding can begin. I appreciate you, Allison, and her family allowing us to all learn from the video lesson.  What a gift.  As always Laurie, thank you for your insights. MM

Liz Eagan commented on December 1, 2015

Laurie, first I’d like to commend you for sharing the post and the video! I also frequently video myself as I work with students. I use it for several purposes. One to observe the student doing the task assigned to them. It’s hard to teach and observe at the same time. I’ve found the video helps me pick up on what I missed. I use it to critique my teaching. How will I improve if I don’t have the opportunity to see what I’m doing and change it? Recently in a video of myself, I noticed I over praised a child frequently…was hard to watch. I also use the videos to help parents know how to work with the child at home. If the child has usable vision, I will use the videos to show them body posture/behavior/etc. as well.

I do have a couple of questions. Keep in mind I do not know Alison or what the precursor was to the activity and if there were any odors or other distractors in the room. Do you ever alert her to touch prior to touching her? Have you tried a longer waiting period? Was she ever allowed to ‘scribble’ on the brailler prior to more formal lessons on it? Does time of day affect her desire to work with braille?


Penny Rosenblum commented on December 1, 2015

Laurie, thank you for being such a reflective thinker. You modeled for me strategies I can use with my university pre-service teachers to help them be more reflective in their work with children. One issue that came to mind for me as I watched the video is where you were sitting. I encourage our pre-service teachers to sit behind or next to the child so that the adult's hands can more naturally model for the child. Why did you sit across from her?