If These Students Can Learn Braille in 10 Weeks…

3 Dec
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West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

Casey was named as the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children in 2012 in part for her constant advocacy that blind children learn braille in a positive environment. In addition to serving as an independent contractor with four school districts in Mississippi, Casey is an active researcher and instructor at Louisiana Tech University.

At Louisiana Tech, our master’s degree programs prepare teachers to work with blind and low-vision students. Because our research has shown a strong correlation between employment and braille literacy among the blind, we want our graduates to be fluent in the braille code.

As I have many times before, I taught the first course in our series of braille classes over the past few months. I really didn’t know what it’d be like going in, for this would be the first time that we covered Unified English Braille (UEB). The students’ response and grades definitely surprised me…and I bet they will inspire you.

I am proud to say that Louisiana Tech University is ahead of other teacher preparation programs, for we have already transitioned our curriculum to Unified English Braille. By Jan. 4, 2016, teachers and braille producers need to be ready to bid farewell to English Braille, American Edition (EBAE) and embrace Unified English Braille (UEB). The differences are minute for readers, but for us teachers—who must produce braille quickly and accurately—the changes can be daunting.

As is the case for most of our courses, this quarter’s students were already in the field working with students. They were already encountering braille, and most of it was not (and would not be) available in UEB. The approach taken by some other teacher prep programs—saving the discussion about EBAE until the last day of class—would not set these students up for success during this quarter or in the long run.

So, our approach was simple: learn a chapter in UEB, and then immediately compare it to the braille that these teachers would see in their classrooms tomorrow.

For instance, when we talked about the words “to,” “into,” and “by,” the students first learned and practiced writing it in UEB, and then I demonstrated how those words would look in EBAE braille. The focus, though, was not on the “old;” instead, I merely wanted to show them that if they saw a different pattern of dots in their students’ books, those EBAE symbols weren’t wrong.

All of their exams only tested their knowledge of UEB, and the books they read were only produced in UEB. After all, if you know either version of braille, you can read just fine. The writing is the tough part, and UEB is the future of braille anyway.

Grades are an objective measure

I wondered how the students would respond. While I have not performed a perfect statistical analysis of this small sample, I can report on the grades that I just turned in for this group of students.

In past semesters, I have seen nearly a perfect bell curve of grades: a peak in the C’s with a set of students above and below. This semester, every student earned an A or B…even though the requirements were more strict! I attribute this to the simplicity of UEB. With EBAE before, there were so many exclusions about when you could and could not use contractions (e.g. words with prefixes and contractions that spanned multiple syllables). In UEB, though, most of those rules do not apply.

We’ve never required our first-quarter students to achieve a minimum reading speed, though have always had this expectation of our second-quarter students. This quarter, every student read at least 30 words per minute, and many read even faster.

Covering the entire code in 10 weeks was tough, and many students said our course moved too quickly. But yet again, we set the expectations early and the students worked to meet them. Our online classes meet synchronously, so there’s always a “real, live person” there to talk through questions and scenarios. We all agree that this model is far more likely to result in long-term success than typing braille with a computer keyboard and waiting for a professor to tell you several days later whether you wrote something coherent or not.

So, our group of students, connected together in weekly meetings, didn’t just talk about braille fundamentals…they learned the entire braille code and are now reading third-grade passages in Unified English Braille faster than 30 words per minute. It’s true, even my weakest student learned UEB in 10 weeks.

The following two tabs change content below.
West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

Casey was named as the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children in 2012 in part for her constant advocacy that blind children learn braille in a positive environment. In addition to serving as an independent contractor with four school districts in Mississippi, Casey is an active researcher and instructor at Louisiana Tech University.

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