Future Reflections       Winter 2015      BRAILLE

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From No Access to Full Access!

by Sheena Manuel and Leesa Wallace

Allonah reads a Braille page.From the Editor: Sheena Manuel and Leesa Wallace are teachers of blind students (TBSs) trained at Louisiana Tech University. In this article they describe how they taught Braille to one of their students in a year, allowing her to participate as an equal with her sighted classmates in her second-grade classroom.

Allonah--smart, funny, and charismatic--is a second grader who loves reading Braille to her sighted classmates. Allonah started to learn Braille in August of 2013. Up to that point she spent most of her time in the regular education setting bent over her desk. She needed to get closer and closer to her paper to complete her assignments. After assessing Allonah, using the National Reading Media Assessment among other assessment tools, it was determined that Braille would be her primary reading medium.

All children experience uncertainties during their education, and Allonah was no exception. She was concerned when we told her that she needed to learn Braille. After all, no one else in her class had to learn it. As we developed ways to motivate her, however, she began to see the benefit of learning this new way of reading. With incentives and interactive bulletin boards, Allonah learned the entire Braille code in only a year.

As teachers of blind students and graduates of Louisiana Tech's Teaching Blind Students master's program, we learned about a new method of teaching Braille from Dr. Ruby Ryles. Dr. Ryles introduced us to the Natural Order of Contractions method, which was later revised by Casey Robertson West. We agreed that Allonah, and all blind children, should be taught the code as they experience it through reading.

We taught Allonah by using the Mangold Developmental Program of Tactile Perception and Braille Letter Recognition, Dolch words, and leveled readers from the Reading A-Z online leveled reading program. (Dolch words are frequently used words that are divided into lists based on grade level. These are words that children generally learn by sight.)

After completing the Mangold program by the end of October, we moved on to the Natural Order of Contractions. Taking the Dolch words and leveled readers, we created activities and assignments in a format similar to that of the Mangold program. Before Allonah began reading a story, we introduced contractions and words she would encounter. For example, if we knew that the word the or the ea sign and the ed sign were in the story, we prepared sheets focusing on one word or contraction per page. The sheet would have the word or contraction at the top and a helper line below. Sentences or words containing the contraction would follow under the helper line. Allonah read these sheets before reading the story. As she read the story, we simply gave her any word that she did not know.

The interactive bulletin board played a major part in motivating and reinforcing Allonah's skills. The interactive board had a word wall with words and contractions that were introduced and seen in the story. As she learned new words and contractions, she earned rewards.  This interaction created snow princesses, queens of Braille, and smarty girls. This practice aided Allonah in learning the literary Braille code in a year while having fun at the same time.

Now in the second grade, Allonah experiences life in the fast lane. She receives all of her materials in Braille and is able to participate fully with her class. She does whatever her classmates are doing. From the beginning, she has learned that she is expected to do whatever her sighted classmates are expected to do.

This approach is beneficial in teaching blind children skills, independence, and a strong philosophy about blindness. As we hold our high expectations and have a positive outlook for all blind children, Allonah's teachers and sighted peers understand that it is okay to be blind. Allonah reminds us and shares with others that learning Braille is easy.

REFERENCES

Dolch Words: <http://www.dolchword.net>

Mangold Developmental Program: <http://exceptionalteaching.net/rk8.html>

Reading A-Z Online Program: <http://www.readinga-z.com>

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