Braille Reading – Speed and Fluency

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About Reading Speed and Fluency

Students’ braille reading speed and efficiency often comes up as a point of discussion for teachers of the vision impaired. Teachers may note that their brailling student reads more slowly than his/her sighted peers.

Perhaps it is perceived that slow reading rates are the result of the mechanics of braille as a reading medium. However many believe that reading speed and efficiency can be developed to match the speed of sighted peers.

Oral reading rate in words per minute (O) and silent reading rate in words per minute (S) for students without vision impairments are well-documented, an example appearing below:

  • Grade 1: 60 (O) and less than 81 (S)
  • Grade 3: 90 (O) and 109-130 (S)
  • Grade 6: 150 (O) and 175-185 (S)
  • Grade 10: 150 (O) and 210-224 (S)
  • Grade 12: 150 (O) and 241-255+ (S)

Many braille literacy experts, including Dr Denise Robinson, Washington Teacher of the Vision Impaired, believe that braille-reading students can read as fast and efficiently as their sighted peers, and makes the following argument:

I use (the standards for sighted students) for my blind and low vision students. If you set high standards then children will meet those standards. I have taken on beginner students and told them how fast they would be reading braille in a couple months, even in middle and high school. At the end of the 2 months, as their fingers would fly across the page reading braille, as I timed them, at the end I would ask, “So did you really think you would be able to read that fast?” They would reply, “Of course, you told me I would be able to.” So tell them, they can, and they will.

So, as an educator or parent of a young blind child:

  • believe that the blind child can read as fast in braille as their sighted peers can read in print
  • instill this belief in your blind child – and others in their educational sphere
  • encourage positive book experiences, through reading with joy to your child, and supporting their literacy through concept development and tactile experiences
  • surround your child with braille e.g. braille labels, braille books, braille shopping lists, braille recipes and so on; with the aim of providing the same braille experience for your blind child as the sighted child has with print
  • ensure that your blind child is surrounded with people who love the braille code and can confidently read and write in braille; or at least spends time with blind peers and mentors who can demonstrate excellent braille reading and writing

Improving Speed and Fluency

It is important for students to be able to read text quickly and fluently with accuracy, expression and comprehension. Fluency requires automaticity – accurate and quick word recognition, along with efficient processing of the text at the sentence, conceptual and topic level. Fluency promotes reading comprehension and reading expression.

The key to learning to read with speed, fluency and comprehension … is READING!

Beginning with a light touch and a fluid movement is important for early braille readers. Begin with simple sentences and topics of interest. Include techniques such as:

  • building a bank of “sight” words
  • reading strategies commonly used for sighted students including:
    • re-reading (where the student reads the same passage a number of times)
    • paired reading (with a classmate at a similar reading level)
    • choral reading (with a group)
    • echo reading (teacher and group read together)
    • turn-taking (teacher reads a sentence while the student follows along, then student reads a sentence – allows the teacher to model speed, verbal expression etc)
    • and even reading with a funny voice – always a winner!
  • reading a play together – the opportunity to model good reading
  • do-braille – read braille to a simple tune
  • avoiding “scrubbing” – use a light touch, fluid movement and many fingers
  • and reading every day

Building a bank of “sight” words

One of the ways to improve reading speed and fluency is to build up the bank of words that the student can efficiently recognise. For brailling students, being able to recognise words quickly by touch will reduce the need to decode words, allowing the student to more efficiently process the text at the sentence, conceptual and topic levels.

Have fun learning “the first hundred words” (or similar lists) by playing Memory, Snap, Bingo etc.

Re-reading

It may seem mysterious, but oral re-reading generally improves the speed and fluency of braille reading – in a similar manner to oral re-reading print for sighted readers. After one or two readings of the same passage, the student will often be relying on their memory to “read” the passage – this is ok because their fingers are moving smoothly and quickly across the braille – which is at least part of the aim of the exercise! Time each reading and demonstrate to the student their increased reading rate and fluency!

You will need: stop watch, short passage of braille (with the words pre-counted), graphing equipment (eg a tactile drawing kit or braille paper and Perkins)

What to do: Using a short passage of brailled text which is within the student’s independent reading level, time the student and calculate the reading rate (e.g. words per minute). After each reading of the same text, the student graphs their results. Reviewing the graph together will provide the student with immediate feedback on their improving speed – many students find this very motivating.

Re-reading can also be used for a page of braille letters or contractions as a way of encouraging students to decode more quickly and to trust their ability to recognise and identify the letters/contractions.

Example of re-reading success: Year 4 student Jane was a reluctant reader who made frequent braille errors and reversals. Jane’s Visiting Teacher established a work practise, at the beginning of each session together, of re-reading pages of braille letters and later contractions – and timing her reading speed. Initially, Jane was struggling to read 16 words per minute, but after one term of re-reading practise, Jane’s reading speed had improved to 59 words per minute. A term later, she was reading 105 words per minute and had become an avid reader.

Reading a play together

Reading a play in a small group – e.g. 1-2 children and/or an adult – can assist a poor or unmotivated reader to read more quickly, to read with more expression, and to read with more enjoyment. The best thing about reading plays is that each reader must follow along to ensure that they are ready to read their section – this a great way to have the children reading much more than they would usually be able to manage! It also allows the adult to model excellent oral reading skills.

You will need: an interesting or funny play for 2 to 3 characters. If you cannot find one in the school, it can be relatively easy to adapt a story book to include a narrator and a small number of characters.

What to do: Select parts for yourself and the student(s) to enable success. Begin reading with expression and interest and congratulate the student when they do the same. As the student becomes more confident (and as for normal conversation), begin to read your section slightly before the student completes theirs – and hope that they begin to do the same. Have as much fun as possible with this activity!

Watch an example of play reading with a teacher and two students of different reading abilities. Even though the slower reader is reading less aloud, she is following along as the others read.

do-braille

Listen to an example of do-braille

Watch an example of do-braille which focussed on the contractions for do, I, leaf, like, not, this. (Flash video, may not play on iOS devices and some other tablets/phones or browsers).

Developed as part of the Dot Power program at the Statewide Vision Resource Centre, a simple tune is played on the guitar while the students practise reading each of the new contractions featured on the day. There is a bar of do-do-do-do between each line to allow students time to locate their new line. The tune can be sung more quickly as students become more confident with the new contractions.

You will need: a sheet of braille letters or contractions and a guitar, other musical instrument or audio file of the do-braille chant.

What to do: Sing the contractions in time with the music – encouragement, laughter and enjoyment is also required!

Avoiding scrubbing

“Scrubbing” – that is moving the finger up and down or around and around on the dots – interrupts the fluid flow of braille reading and will slow the reading process down considerably. Further, it will squash the braille dots. It is important to create enough speed when reading braille in order to comprehend what is being read; a light touch is a more efficient reading technique.

Reading every day

Daily reading is the key to being a good reader. Encourage the student to read whenever they have a spare moment – on the bus, in the car, in bed, wherever…

Literacy specialists suggest that all children from Prep to Year 12 should sit and read silently every day. Reading for longer periods of time will extend both the volume of material that is read by the child AND their reading stamina or sustained attention – which is required for deep engagement with text.

Take-home readers play an important role in the improvement of reading skills and comprehension. Take-home readers should be read TO the child, WITH the child, and BY the child. There is a correlation between amount of time the child spends reading each day, their reading success and their overall achievement at school.

Calculating Reading Speed

Reading speed can be calculated for oral reading or for silent reading. If calculating a silent reading rate, encourage the student to read at their normal reading speed and not skim over the words. It is also a good idea to follow up the reading by asking a couple of comprehension questions to ensure that the student has actually read the text.

If you are interested in how many words a student can read in one minute, time the student for a minute: wpm = number of words read in a minute

If you are interested in a reading rate over an extended period of time to understand the student’s sustained reading rate, use the following strategy:

  1. Select a piece of text that is within the student’s independent reading/comprehension level
  2. Count the number of words in a passage (A)
  3. Record the number of seconds spent reading the passage (B)
  4. Calculate overall reading rate: wpm = (A ÷ B) x 60

Then:

  • Time your student every week, so they see their progress
  • Have your student re-read the same material to get flow and fluency
  • Have your student braille the material first, using contracted braille, then read what they brailled

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