Adaptation of a Reading Program to Meet the Needs of Braille Readers

By Erin, Jane N. | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, March-April 2014 | Go to article overview

Adaptation of a Reading Program to Meet the Needs of Braille Readers


Erin, Jane N., Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


Like styles of dress and music, approaches to reading instruction come into fashion and go out of style. The vocabulary lists and memorized materials of the early 20th century were replaced by Dick and Jane, with their controlled vocabularies, in the 1930s. In the 1950s, we were told that Johnny could not read because he did not know phonics. Then the advocates of phonics were shouldered aside by whole-language proponents in the 1980s; these educators emphasized context and experience in supporting literacy.

Over time, the pendulum swings of reading theory have created the illusion that there are vast differences in methods of reading instruction, with only one right answer. In reality, most children become successful readers because their education and experience include a variety of activities related to literacy. Although phonetic instruction is generally acknowledged as the framework of successful reading, many other elements must be present to support learning (National Reading Panel, 2000).

With regard to reading instruction, many teachers of students with visual impairments slip from one skin into another like chameleons. In one week they may work with a 6-year-old child whose reading instruction emphasizes phonics related to new braille contractions; a 9-year-old student with low vision who needs to increase reading speed and fluency; and an unmotivated middle-school student who needs the opportunity to read articles and books that are related to his own experiences. The role of the teacher varies according to the child's needs, as well as to the nature of other reading experiences and activities a child encounters during his or her day. When a student has difficulty learning to read, teachers of students with visual impairments have a limited repertoire of accessible tools with which to attack the problem.

Conventional remedial approaches may not be appropriate due to use of pictures, asynchronous presentation with braille contractions, and inaccessible formats. In this month's Practice Perspectives, three professionals from Perkins School for the Blind describe their success in adapting a high-quality reading program to meet the needs of braille readers who required an intensive reading approach. Roz Rowley, Mary McCarthy, and Justine Carlone Rines recognized the importance of the Wilson Reading System as a way of providing their students an opportunity to gradually build reading skills. …

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