Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

An Investigation of the Spelling Skills of Braille Readers

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

An Investigation of the Spelling Skills of Braille Readers

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study compared the spelling skills of students who are braille readers to a normative sample. The Test of Written Spelling was administered to 23 students who are blind at various grade levels to ascertain their spelling ability. A one-sample t-test indicated no significant difference in spelling ability. Implications are discussed.


Literacy development is one of the primary goals of education for all students, including those with disabilities, such as visual impairment (blindness or low vision). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2004 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 clearly stipulate that instruction and assessment must address the reading and literacy needs of children with disabilities. There have been numerous calls in the literature and in the profession to focus on and increase braille literacy (see, for example, Rex, Koenig, Wormsley, & Baker, 1994; Spungin, 1996). The literacy development of children who are blind and read braille appears to be similar to that of sighted children (Gillon & Young, 2002; McCall, 1999). Spelling is an important component of literacy, is expected of literate individuals (Larsen, Hammill, & Moats, 1999), and is a process that correlates with students' comprehension of the correspondence between letters and sounds (Argyropoulos & Martos, 2006; Beers, 2003; Frith, 1981; Templeton, 2002). Few studies have focused on the spelling skills of braille readers, and, of those that have, none has compared the spelling skills of sighted students and blind students who are braille readers.

Spelling development in sighted students

What is the relationship among sight, reading, and spelling ability? Numerous researchers have contended that preliteracy skills are dependent on phonological awareness, which includes phonemic awareness and segmentation of words into syllables, the recall and sequencing of what is being read, and comprehension (Frith, 1981; Frith & Frith, 1983; Torgenson, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994). Lombardino, Bedford, Fortier, Carter, and Brandi (1997, p. 335) stated that there is a "consistent relationship between the degree of phonological awareness and beginning stages of reading and spelling." The acquisition of these preliteracy skills is dependent on a child's hearing. Preliteracy skills that involve sight are concepts about print, such as directionality, comprehension of title pages, and page orientation.

Reading and spelling appear to be independent processes that occur during the early stages of the acquisition of literacy (Frith, 1981; Frith & Frith, 1983). As children begin to spell, they typically engage in "invented spelling" (Lombardino et al., 1997, p. 334) and use their knowledge of letter names, sounds, and print conventions to invent spellings. Several researchers have concluded that spelling is a strong predictor of word reading in the beginning stages of literacy acquisition (Ehri & Wilce, 1987; Lombardino etal., 1997; Morris & Perney, 1984; Richgels, 1995).

Two primary factors seem to contribute to spelling errors. One is phonemic awareness skills. An example of poor phonemic awareness skills, which contribute to spelling errors, is a child spelling the word stop as sop. An analysis of the child's spelling-error patterns would give information about the consistency and type of spelling error and evidence of any pattern. Phonemic awareness skills that are related to the "target error pattern" can be taught and should result in a decrease in spelling errors (Apel, 2001).

A second type of spelling error pattern is due to the lack of orthographic knowledge. Orthographic knowledge can be defined as the "ability to convert spoken phonemes to graphemes" (Apel, 2001, p. 182). Some spelling errors occur because this conversion is incorrectly produced, because the child does not know when to double a final consonant preceded by a short vowel when adding a suffix, such as in the word "clapping. …

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