Slow Reading Speed: A Reading Problem, Not a Braille Problem

17 Apr
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Sheena works as the Outreach Specialist for the Institute on Blindness, teaching braille and cane travel as a contractor for several school systems in Northern Louisiana.

My second grade student knows the braille code and loves sharing it with her classmates, but her reading fluency did not match that of her sighted peers. She would try to guess at words after looking at the first couple of letters and didn’t enjoy reading. We knew she had the cognitive ability to be at the same reading level as her sighted peers, but she wasn't getting there.

Her reading speed and fluency just sort of stayed at the same place. We gave her easy books to read and opportunities to read outside of school. She read in her free time, at the library and her mom even sent videos of her reading braille at home.

But her reading wasn't picking up like you would expect, even though she was practicing and using the two-handed technique to read.

She was reading and reading and reading. What else was there to look at?

We discovered something profoundly simple: this was not a braille problem; it was a reading problem. (Tweet this!)

I went to the 2015 Council for Exceptional Children Super Conference in Lafayette, La. looking for ideas for my student. Sandra Strong, ann educational consultant and retired teacher, presented on the Read Naturally Strategy. This program was originally intended to improve the reading fluency of sighted children through the combination of teacher modeling, repeated reading and progress monitoring; however, I saw that it could easily be adapted for blind children.

I happened to win the door prize, and had the opportunity to get the full Read Naturally program for any grade level. Winning this door prize and knowing that this new strategy was what we needed made it even more exciting!

The kit came with all the books and materials, CDs, and a guide about determining the correct instructional level. After determining her placement in the program, we easily transcribed the materials into braille for her to read. The CDs also had the audio files of key words and reading passages, which are accessible for blind or children with low vision. She used the CDs to study the passages and key words independently as she read along in braille.

The repetition of reading the passages along with a teacher followed by her reading alone improved her reading comprehension and speed…but she needed more work with spelling and phonics.

Dr. Manning’s literacy course at Louisiana Tech University uses the Words Their Way Series. This program determines the student's spelling level and includes many games and activities to address the identified problem areas. i realized that my student was missing basic literacy skills, like knowing short and long vowel sounds.

After using the Words Their Way Series evaluation to determine her spelling stage, the student sorts words that are similar to one another by sound or pattern. The student then reflects on what is similar about the words, allowing her to discover the spelling pattern or rule herself. This reminds me of the structured-discovery strategies that I use with my students in cane travel; they discover the characteristics and similarities on their own without me having to explain it to them.

The series has lots of activities and games to reinforce skills. My student might search for words in her braille book with the same vowel sound or pattern, write sentences using certain words, or she could even create her own game. She completes a daily "word study contract" to earn points; she normally earns 40 points per reading session (4 days a week) and needs 300 points for a prize.

Prizes have been a big motivator for my student, as with any child. You can give her a whistle, a pair of princess wings or even a dollar for concession, and she is on top of the world!

We began using the Words Their Way Series along with the Read Naturally Strategy, and her overall reading skills have noticeably improved!

After using the Read Naturally Strategy for four weeks and working on phonics with the Words Their Way Series for about three weeks, my student is beginning to love reading like never before. Her regular education teachers can see a difference in how hard she is working to read accurately and participate in class.

I didn't come up with all of this myself, I had the eyes and ears of my co-teacher and other colleagues to help identify my student’s struggles and to reinforce these literacy skills.

I wish that we had caught this problem earlier, but I am so glad we didn't go another year wondering what the problem was. We are pretty certain that we found the solution to this student’s slow braille speed: her reading speed.

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Sheena works as the Outreach Specialist for the Institute on Blindness, teaching braille and cane travel as a contractor for several school systems in Northern Louisiana.

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