Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Development of Phonological Awareness by Braille Users: A Review of the Research

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Development of Phonological Awareness by Braille Users: A Review of the Research

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article presents a review of research on the development of phonological awareness by braille readers. The review determined that the relationship between phonological awareness and braille is uncertain because of the lack of commonality among the studies, the extent of contradictory findings, and the small number of studies involving beginning braille readers.


Much has been written about the relationship between phonological awareness and reading (Laing & Hulme, 1999; Sodoro, Allinder, & Rankin-Erickson, 2002; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Phonological awareness, as defined by Anthony and Francis (2005, p. 255), is an individual's ability to determine the sound structure of oral language and is "strongly related to literacy." Furthermore, the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) reported that instruction in phoneme awareness, a component of phonological awareness, had a significant, causal effect on students' development of reading and spelling. Anthony and Francis stated that phonological awareness and its relation to literacy exists in all alphabetic languages that have been examined. In contrast, Li Hal, Spinks, Eden, Perfetti, and Wai Ting (2005) found that Chinese, a logographic system, exhibits a weak relationship between phonological awareness and reading. The logographic nature of contracted braille may pose a dilemma for students who are blind or have low vision and use braille as their reading medium because braille is a combination of both an alphabetic and logographic system (Millar, 1997). Given the findings of NRP and the potential effects they may have on instruction for all readers, beginning braille readers included, this article examines the relationship between braille and phonological awareness skills by reviewing the current research on the topic. We attempt to answer the questions of the causality of phonological awareness to the development of braille reading skills and whether children who read braille have better or worse phonological awareness skills than do children who read print.

Since the publication of NRP's (2000) report, there has been widespread interest in phonemic awareness and phonological awareness. Although an overview of NRP and its findings is outside the scope of this article, a few explanations related to these terms are necessary to clarify the intent of our study. NRP stated that phonemic awareness "refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken words" (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 28). Phonemic awareness is different from phonological awareness in that it "is a more encompassing term referring to various types of awareness, not only phonological awareness [phonemic awareness] but also awareness of larger spoken units such as syllables and rhyming words" (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, p. 28). To be included in the review presented here, studies must have examined at least one area of phonological awareness, but may have also isolated other components of reading, including phonemic awareness.

The topics of phonological awareness and braille are both extensive, and an exhaustive review of the literature on them is beyond the scope of this article. However, a brief explanation of each is necessary to ensure a shared understanding of the findings.

Blachman (2000, p. 483) stated that phonological awareness "is an awareness of ... the segments in speech ... that are more or less represented by an alphabetic orthography." Goswami (2000) noted that phonological awareness comprises three levels, the syllable, onset and rime, and phoneme, and that they develop in the order listed. Many studies (Blaiklock, 2004; Bus & Van Ijzendoorn, 1999; Schatschneider, Francis, Carlson, Fletcher, & Foorman, 2004) have determined that phonological awareness is a predictor of and necessary for later success in reading. Some of the identified phonological awareness tasks involve tapping the number of syllables or phonemes found in a word; finding the odd word out on the basis of the beginning, middle, or ending sounds of a list of words; or identifying words as the same or different by asking participants to determine if spoken words have a shared sound at the beginning or end of the words (Goswami, 2000). …

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