Teaching Braille Reading – Setting the Scene
A Little Background for the Class Teacher
In the Australian state of Victoria, there are around 540 students with vision impairments (low vision and blind) of the approximately 1 million students attending schools. That is, students with vision impairments comprise approximately 0.05% of the school-aged population. Perhaps 60 use braille as their primary learning medium – that is less than 0.01% of the school-aged population.
As a teacher, you are fairly unlikely to ever have a blind child in your class.
However, as one principal recently commented,
A blind child started at our school this year. Her enrolment gave us the opportunity and motivation to look at our teaching practices throughout the school and right across the curriculum. I strongly believe that, as a result, all of our teachers are performing better and as an education provider, we now offer a more inclusive learning environment for all. Staff and students have learned more from this student than she will ever learn from us! We wish more blind children would come to our school!
Blind children can and do participate fully in the educational opportunities provided by their local school. Blind students can and do achieve excellence during their primary and secondary education.
Access to information is vital! Reading is the key!
Immersion in Braille
Like sighted students, blind children learn to read by reading.
Sighted children have the advantage from a very early age, of being constantly immersed in the world of print through their exposure to books, newspapers, television, advertisements, labels, phones/tablets and so on. In the built environment, print can be found almost everywhere, offering early exposure to letters and words and resulting in young sighted children understanding that print has meaning.
Blind students, however, do not have the opportunity to learn to read through incidental exposure. Teachers can help by ensuring that blind students are provided with as much braille as possible. A braille-rich environment will assist the braille-reading student.
Attitudes are Important
Your brailling student may be working at an electronic braille writer using a code that is not entirely familiar to you, however you can support this student’s learning through your attitudes and expectations:
- maintain the attitude that braille is a respected code and that it offers the best pathway to literacy for students who are blind or have very low vision
- understand that braille is simply a representation of print and is therefore more similar to print than it might initially appear
- ensure that worksheets, notes, and other learning materials are available to the brailling student at the same time as for the sighted students in your class
- ensure that the braille being presented to the student is correct
- expect that your brailling student will participate in all aspects of your classroom; that they are just another member of the class
- assist the student as required, but step back as soon as possible to encourage the student’s independence
- believe that the blind child can read as fast in braille as their sighted peers can read in print
- if sighted students are expected to assist the blind child, ensure that the blind child has the opportunity to reciprocate or contribute to the class as well e.g. as note-taker, presenter or to find word-meanings using their electronic note-taker’s dictionary
- learn braille yourself and encourage students to learn as well; have a spare Perkins Brailler in the classroom for everyone to use
- have enlarged braille reference sheets on display for all staff and students to see and encourage all to make use of them
- leave braille notes about the classroom – for the blind child or the sighted children to find; include jokes, riddles, instructions etc – as one Visiting Teacher says, “If it stands still, place braille on it!“. Change the message often to maintain interest.
- if you need assistance to teach something new, ask the Visiting Teacher – or ask the child – for the best way to do it
- keep the Visiting Teacher apprised of upcoming topics to allow for pre-teaching or presentation of new braille contractions
- continue to use vision-related expressions in your classroom e.g. “Have a look at this.” (rather than “Have a feel of this.”) and “Do you see what I mean?”.
Finally, it is the class or subject teacher who is responsible for the child’s learning. The Visiting Teacher is available to teach (e.g. specifics of the braille code) and provide consultancy and support to staff. The teacher’s aide may provide 1:1 assistance during PE, Science, Cooking etc and produce braille worksheets and learning aides, but it is the teacher who is best placed to teach the curriculum to all students in their class, including the student who is blind.
For more information, please see The Tactual Learner page.