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Why We Love Using the Wilson Reading System® with Struggling Braille Readers

Introduction to the Wilson Reading System for struggling braille readers

magnet board with wilson letters

Mary McCarthy and Roz Rowley are co-authors of this post.
This is the first of three posts on the Wilson Reading System® and Struggling Braille Readers. See also Implementing the Wilson Reading System with Braille Students and Case Studies Using the Wilson Reading System with Struggling Braille Readers.

As teachers we have all experienced that working with struggling braille students can be challenging. Some of these students present with similar difficulties, such as remembering sounds or an inability to blend sounds.  They may be unable to read even the most familiar, high-frequency word and it may take them an excessively long time to read a short word.  While there is a range of abilities among these students, basically they are all unable to decode efficiently and many of them struggle with spelling. 

sound cards These problems are often in addition to traditional braille reading challenges, such as difficulties with tactile discrimination, spatial and positional concepts, and letter and contraction reversals. After trying different approaches to teaching reading, including both print and braille programs, we found the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) to be extremely effective for struggling readers.  We have observed significant improvement in our students’ ability to read through this instructional approach, and many are highly motivated by their increased success.


Reasons That We Love Using the Wilson Reading System® with Our Struggling Braille Readers

word cards

Below you will find a list of reasons why we love using the WRS with our struggling braille readers. 
  • WRS is not dependent on vision and uses a very limited number of pictures to teach concepts. When pictures are shown, we have found an easy way to modify this. (See our next blog entry for more information.)
  • Braille contractions can be slowly introduced in the beginning, as there are not many in the early steps of the program.  This allows the child to focus on decoding skills. 
  • The program starts with the very basic foundation skills of learning letters and their corresponding sounds, using key words to help children remember these sounds.  We found that other instructional approaches started at a level higher than this.  WRS addresses this gap in our students’ ability to decode. 
  • WRS uses a multi-sensory finger-tapping approach to help children sequence and blend sounds into words.

    short vowel display
  • The lesson plan is divided into 10 short parts with a repetitive and predictable sequence.   This moves the lesson along quickly, which helps to keep children focused and engaged.
  • The highly-structured lessons slowly introduce and explicitly teach each concept, while providing much repetition and practice.  
  • Concept review and repetition are emphasized throughout each lesson, with questioning techniques.  
  • Using WRS children finally experience success with reading. This slowly builds their confidence. The success they feel directly leads to further reading progress. 
  • Improved spelling is another benefit of this approach.
  • One central goal of WRS is to improve reading fluency, which ultimately improves reading comprehension.


What Does the Research Say? 

hands using wilson reading systemFrom Jane Erin:

A training program on the use of the Wilson Reading System® with braille readers was provided to 24 teachers of students with visual impairments in fall, 2010. APH (American Printing House for the Blind) provided the training site and teleconference facilities. Twelve of the participants in this project volunteered to use the Wilson with 14 braille readers over a period of at least 16 weeks, following a protocol designed by Dr. Cheryl Kamei-Hannan and Ms. Rosa Tu. Because of the intensive intervention  and assessments needed, usable data was received for just 8 of the 14 students.
Pre-post assessments were completed with 5 of these students, and progress monitoring was completed with 8. Pre/post scores on the the Assessment of Braille Literacy Skills (ABLS), the Wilson Assessment of Decoding and Encoding (WADE), and the JOHNS Basic Reading Inventory (BRI) demonstrated moderate improvement for most students, especially on subtests related to phonetic and decoding skills. Weekly monitoring scores on subtests of the DIBELS demonstrated modest improvement in three areas related to decoding. 
While the results suggest an influence of the Wilson program on reading skills related to phonetics and decoding, additional research on longer-term intervention with the Wilson may clarify the usefulness of the program with students who read braille.

Where Can I Get More Information on the Wilson Reading System®?

If we have sparked your interest in trying this approach, we suggest that you start by attending the WRS Introductory Workshop.  For more information, go to
WRS materials are available in braille through quota funds for levels One through Three at APH.  
Wilson Reading System BrochureFor more information about the system, see Wilson Reading System Brochure.  
We will be sharing more tips and strategies, as well as some case studies, in future posts.  Look for our next blog post this spring!

wilson reading system collage





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