As with any kind of teaching, there is no single approach that works best for all students. Once a Learning Media Assessment has been done and the educational team has made the decision to use a dual-media approach, the best instructional method will depend on the needs and strengths of each individual student.
Is it better to teach braille and print simultaneously, or one at a time?
There is no single correct answer to this question, and it will depend on the needs and abilities of an individual student. If a student has a progressive vision loss, the need to teach braille will be more pronounced than if the student has a stable vision condition. It will also depend on the availability of a qualified teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) who is able to teach braille, as there is a national shortage of TVIs. Sometimes a decision is made to teach print initially, as a student can be included in a regular classroom with the general education teacher. Finally, some teachers argue that it is preferable for a student to achieve proficiency in a single medium before introducing a second one, whereas others maintain that it is best to teach them at the same time.
How much instructional time will students require?
In the Delphi study Professional Consensus on Instructional Considerations for Students in Braille Literacy Programs, Project SLATE /Framework for Braille, Holbrook and Koenig found that the professional consensus for teaching beginning literacy skills (K-3) in dual media (print and braille) is daily contact for 1-2 hours per day.
Other factors in determining the amount of instructional time required include questions such as:
- Is the student a proficient reader in one medium already?
- Will the student be learning contracted or uncontracted braille?
- Certain concepts can be taught in one medium, and transferred to the other (from print to braille, for example). This would include grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
What type of curriculum should be followed?
Again, this will depend on the specific needs of an individual student. Students who are print readers may be using the standard text or basal reader that other students in the general education program are using. This may not be optimal for braille readers, however, as the introduction of contractions is not controlled. Patterns: The Primary Braille Reading Program and Building on Patterns are available from American Printing House for the Blind and are basal readers that are designed specifically for young braille readers.
There are also specific books designed to teach braille to the adventitiously blind, such as The Braille Connection: A Braille Reading and Writing Program for Former Print Users from APH. It is “designed to teach former adult and teenage print readers how to read braille. Developed by APH and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), this program moves quickly through tactual discrimination, on to Uncontracted Braille, and then through Contracted Braille. “
How will we know when it is time to introduce braille?
There is no one right answer for this, and it will depend on a student’s eye condition, the results of the Learning Media Assessment, and the decision of the educational team. If a student has a stable vision condition, the need to learn braille may not be as pressing as the situation for a student with a progressive loss. Some teachers advocate for learning the fundamentals of reading in a single medium before introducing a second one, while others believe that it is easier to teach the two media simultaneously.
How can a student with low vision be encouraged to read braille tactually?
Many sighted people who learn braille read it visually, for example teachers of the visually impaired and family members of braille readers. Students who are learning braille because of a progressive sight loss, however, need to learn to read braille by touch and not be sight. Some students with low vision may do this naturally, and some may not have sufficient vision to read braille visually. Other students will need to be reminded not to look at the braille, and this can be done by focusing on a fixed point in space or by closing their eyes. Some teachers recommend visually blocking the braille with a tray or paper, and blindfolds are sometimes used as well. Producing the braille on visually-busy backgrounds would also discourage students from attempting to read the braille visually.
What materials are available to teach print and braille together?
As mentioned above, students with low vision may use standard reading text books, while braille readers often use a specially-designed series, such as Patterns from APH. In addition, there are books that have both print and braille, sometimes known as “Twin Vision”. These are available from a number of sources, including: