The Institute on Blindness sets high expectations for its graduate students to ensure we become competent professionals able to teach the blind non-visual alternative skills. One expectation for Teachers of Blind Students is to master the braille code and be able to read it efficiently. I came into the program knowing very little braille, but my reading speed has steadily increased. As of last Thursday, I am reading 110 words per minute tactilely.
My reading speed and improvement are not unique. In fact, it is expected for students to read at least 90 words per minute in the classes for future teachers of blind students. If you practice reading braille each day and work hard to learn the code, you will find that your speed, naturally, increases.
I learned the full braille code and began reading it regularly when I started taking my braille class this past September. Growing up, I mostly read large print books or read print close up. I got braille instruction every once in a while, but lessons were few and far between. I received more braille training during the Louisiana Center for the Blind’s summer “Buddy” Program, but since none of my school materials were in braille, it was like I was starting all over from the beginning again.
Reading the large print made me tired and caused me to slow down. i could read at an average speed when I began to read, but i was getting fatigued and my back would start hurting from bending over the books. I went into Louisiana Tech’s teacher prep program because I understood first-hand what it is like to grow up relying on partial vision. I want better for my students; I want them to learn braille when they are young and keep it up. I want them to experience true literacy.
I had some braille knowledge when I started the program for teachers of blind students, but I didn’t know the full alphabet or contracted braille. I got a lot of braille reading and writing practice during Braille 1, Braille 2 and especially Strategies of Teaching Braille classes. In Strategies, I transcribed a children’s book into braille, developed and taught a blind child two braille lesson plans, created a tactile braille book and was expected to complete braille reading assignments at least four days per week.
Just as when you learned to read print as a child, you need to keep reading braille to increase your speed and comprehension.
I’ve always heard the phrase “practice makes perfect,” but, actually, perfect practice makes perfect. You want to practice reading braille correctly so you do not have to break bad habits later. If you practice reading braille every day and pay attention to context clues, your reading speed will continue to improve.