Effective Teaching Strategies: Case Studies from the Alphabetic Braille and Contracted Braille Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article discusses some of the qualitative data that were documented during the Alphabetic Braille and Contracted Braille Study. Two case studies of students are described, highlighting many effective teaching strategies used by their teachers of students with visual impairments that resulted in the students' successful academic progress.

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During the five years of the Alphabetic Braille and Contracted Braille Study (ABC Braille Study), researchers observed the participants as they received literacy instruction from teachers of students with visual impairments, classroom teachers, and paraeducators. The researchers noted that the participants encountered an array of teaching styles and strategies as they worked with their various teachers. The results of the study have been documented in other articles and presentations (Emerson, Holbrook, & D'Andrea, 2009); this article describes some of the effective teaching strategies that were successfully used in two specific case studies. The teacher-student dyads were chosen because the students demonstrated progress in their literacy skills throughout the study. An analysis of the observational protocols revealed that the teachers of students with visual impairments used many effective teaching strategies. When viewed within the context of research that identifies highquality literacy instruction through a "balanced" approach, many of the documented strategies reflected the teachers' competence and resulted in the students' progress.

Effective strategies for teaching reading

What makes a teaching strategy effective? Within the realm of literacy, the goal of an effective teaching strategy is to implement high-quality literacy instruction that teaches students to read and write. Teacher training and skills are essential ingredients of this effort, as is an understanding of what comprises such literacy instruction. High-quality literacy instruction has been described by educators and researchers in the fields of both general and braille literacy instruction. A position statement from the International Reading Association (2000) stated that excellent reading teachers understand the definition of reading as a complex system of deriving the meaning from print that requires all the following:

* development and maintenance of a motivation to read,

* development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print,

* sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension,

* ability to read fluently,

* ability to decode unfamiliar words, and

* skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes or speech sounds are connected to print (International Reading Association, 2000, p. 2).

This description emphasizes motivation and comprehension in addition to learning the code of reading. It embraces a balanced approach to literacy instruction that includes both the teaching of specific skills (such as phonics) and providing experiences in holistic reading and writing (Pressley, 2002). Studies on effective classrooms in which all students learn to read and write have concluded that exceptional teachers provide balance by teaching skills and strategies and by giving children ample time each day to read and write (see, for example, Cunningham & Allington, 2007). When children read, they become better readers. As Routman (2003, p. 187) noted, "Readers who enjoy reading and are motivated to read do read more .... Interest plays an important role in engaging readers."

Effective strategies for teaching reading to students with visual impairments

The balanced approach to literacy instruction has also been described by educators in the field of visual impairment. Braille literacy instruction includes specific and deliberate individual instruction in the braille code, combined with the components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, placing special emphasis on the development of comprehension (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000). …