2002 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents


A FRAMEWORK FOR BRAILLE LITERACY: INTEGRATING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN THE LITERACY CURRICULUM

Donna McNear
Rum River Special Education Cooperative
315 Seventh Lane NE
Cambridge, Minnesota 55008
Phone: 763-689-3600
Fax: 763-689-3601
dmcnear@ecenet.com 

Larry Lewis & Jim Halliday
HumanWare, Inc.
6245 King Road
Loomis, CA 95650
Phone: 800-722-3393
Fax: 916-652-7296
l.lewis@mindspring.com 
jchalliday@aol.com

A FRAMEWORK FOR BRAILLE LITERACY: INTEGRATING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN THE LITERACY CURRICULUM

The 1990s were a hallmark decade in the field of blindness and visual impairment because of the emphasis on braille literacy skills for students who are blind. The proliferation of literature on promoting and teaching braille literacy skills has been critical in guiding what teachers should know and be able to do.

The professional literature on braille literacy frequently includes information on including assistive technology in braille reading and writing instruction. As we move full speed into the 21st century, assistive technology devices are seen as essential and critical literacy tools for students who read and write in braille. But are teachers using these assistive technology/literacy tools to maximize student learning? Do they have the knowledge and skills to integrate assistive technology into braille literacy tasks and the general education curriculum? Do they know how to cope with the challenges of providing assistive technology to students?

Participants will be introduced to A Framework for Braille Literacy: Including Assistive Technology Tools in the Literacy Curriculum. It is a document designed for teachers to increase their knowledge and skills in integrating assistive technology in a braille literacy curriculum. This is a results-driven framework that considers the new paradigm shift in professional development for teachers that focuses on what students should know and be able to do. A Framework for Braille Literacy is based on a continuum of literacy tasks that students need to perform in school, home, and community environments in emergent, academic, and functional levels of literacy. Teaching strategies include how to complete literacy tasks with tools such as tactile image makers, electronic braillewriters, electronic braille/audible notetakers, refreshable braille displays, translation software, and associated computer applications.

The Framework for Braille Literacy (FBL) focuses on the specialized "high-tech" assistive technology tools for people who are blind. A review of the literature and documents in assistive technology that are available as resources for teachers clearly reveals that the majority of resources provide support for teaching tools that are considered "low-tech" such as the slate and stylus and the Perkins Braillewriter. There are few resources to help teachers instruct with "high-tech" assistive technology tools; therefore, the FBL focuses on this gap in resources for teaching.

As stated above, the purpose of the FBL is to help teachers develop the knowledge and skills to integrate assistive technology tools in a braille literacy curriculum in order to maximize student learning. It is intended to supplement the braille literacy curricula and approaches that are used for teaching and learning braille skills. Effective teachers provide instruction in braille literacy skills based on a comprehensive and eclectic approach that includes many facets of literacy instruction.

FBL is NOT a braille literacy curriculum and should not supplant other approaches, but should be used as a resource to enhance the teaching and learning strategies used in braille literacy instruction. It is designed to help teachers provide instruction so that students are using assistive technology tools in authentic contexts to access the general education curriculum and perform braille literacy tasks to the best of their ability.

The strength of the FBL lies in its emphasis on what students should know and be able to do...a focus on student results. This is a shift in how instruction with assistive technology has traditionally been approached. Typically, instruction has focused on the assistive technology tool and its features and functions...not on the use of the tool for authentic purposes. It is essential for students to understand the features and functions of the tool, but it is critical for students to use the tools for braille literacy tasks in authentic contexts and to access the general education curriculum. It is important to frame instruction around this purpose.

With this purpose in mind, the FBL is organized into three major sections based on the levels of literacy commonly seen in the braille literacy literature: (1) emergent literacy, (2) academic literacy, and (3) functional literacy (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000; Rex, Koenig, Wormsley, & Baker, 1994; Wormsley, 2000). This represents the continuum of skills that students need to achieve from beginning through advanced tasks for braille reading and writing. These levels of literacy are briefly explained below:

Emergent literacy is "the earliest attempts by young children to bring meaning to reading and writing" (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000, p. 265).

Academic literacy is "the basic reading and writing skills taught in a conventional literacy medium (print or braille)..." (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000, p. 265).
Home Environment
Community Environment
Work Environment

Functional literacy is "the application of literacy skills and the use of a variety of literacy tools (such as listening and technology) to accomplish daily tasks in the home, school, community, and work settings" (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000, p. 265, Koenig, 1992).

The teaching and learning activities in the FBL are based on the following guiding principles:

ALL students who are learning braille literacy tasks benefit from braille assistive technology.

Braille assistive technology tools increase the capacity of teachers to provide quality instruction in braille literacy tasks.

Braille reading and writing tasks are viewed as dynamic and integrated literacy tasks.

The Framework for Braille Literacy will guide teachers into the 21st Century using assistive technology with blind students and making a difference with the literacy skills students demonstrate.

References

Algozzine, B., Ysseldyke, J. & Elliot, J. (1997). Strategies and tactics for effective instruction. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Caton, H., Pester, E., & Bradley, E. (1982). Patterns: The primary braille reading program. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). Doing what matters most: Investing in quality teaching. New York, NY: National Commission on Teaching & America's Future.

Kapperman, G., & Sticken, J. (2000). Assistive technology. Chapter in Foundations of education, Second edition, Volume II: Instructional strategies for teaching children and youths with visual impairments. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

Koenig, A. J. & Holbrook, M. C. (2000). Literacy skills. Chapter in Foundations of education, Second edition, Volume II: Instructional strategies for teaching children and youths with visual impairments. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

Koenig, A. J. & Farrenkopf, C. (1994-95). Assessment of braille literacy skills. Houston, TX: Region IV Education Service Center.

Koenig, A. J. & Farrenkopf, C. (1994). Providing quality instruction in braille literacy skills: A companion guide to "Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12." Houston, TX: Region IV Education Service Center.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Rex, E .J., Koenig, A. J., Wormsley, D. P., & Baker, R. L. (1994). Foundations of braille literacy. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

Routman, R. (1994). Invitations: Changing as teachers and learners K-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Sparks, D. & Hirsh, S. (1997). A new vision for staff development. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Swenson, A. M. (1999). Beginning with braille: Firsthand experiences with a balanced approach to literacy. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.

Wormsley, D. P. (2000). Braille literacy curriculum. Philadelphia, PA: Towers Press, Overbrook School for the Blind.

Wormsley, D. P. & D'Andrea, F. M. (1997). Instructional strategies for braille literacy. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind.


Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings


Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.