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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Teaching High Frequent "Dolch" Words from APH

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

“Once you learn to read, you are forever free.” Frederick Douglass

As a teacher for the blind and visually impaired, I felt obligated to argue a point with a future publisher for my novel series, The Adventures of Abby Diamond. Since Abby Diamond is a girl detective who is blind, braille and braille technology is constantly mentioned throughout the series.

The would-be publisher wanted to take braille out of my series and argued strongly that braille would soon be obsolete. My face turned bright red because I was furious. Not only did the new publisher want to change the names of my characters, he also argued what I knew not to be true- that technology would take the place of braille reading.

Needless to say, after talking with my friends who are blind, I refused to believe that anything can take the place of being able to read a book yourself in braille, large or regular print.

I stood my ground and self-published Adventures of Abby Diamond myself. Even though there are mistakes in editing since I am a one woman show with the series, I am proud when my students ask me to write more Abby Diamond novels. “Finally, we have a character who has a disability that is strong, smart and doesn’t take anything off of anyone,” a student told me one day.

I am blessed to teach a student who was new to middle school and to me last school year. Since he had very few braille goals, I asked him if he was fluent in braille and keyboarding. To my horror, he was not fluent in producing or reading braille but had been taught skills and test taking strategies through auditory and verbal responses only. He could and can certainly pass a test while its being read to him, however, if he does not have his Victor Reader or someone reading to him, he is lost.

The vision department did their part in teaching him braille and keyboarding skills, but the classroom teachers for three years in his elementary school, did not pursue or encourage him to produce the work. Time and being a good test taker came before encouraging independence in a child who was blind.

My student is now in the eighth grade, and he is struggling to keep up with his peer group. Since he has been my student, I have been reteaching him braille and keyboarding skills as well as technology with the help of the entire vision department.

The main struggle that he and I are having is obviously with his spelling. The Language Master is fabulous, however, his spelling is so poor because of lack of exposure to print that he cannot type the word close enough to have the Language Master to understand what he is typing.

“How do I help him?” I ask myself this question daily when I finally thought about the box of Dolch Word Cards in Braille (grade one and grade two) from APH. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I also brailled a list of the top twenty-five high frequency words that my student will copy, read and keyboard.

My student asked me one day why he should do braille now when he can just listen and get the skill. I then asked him how he would function in a burning building when no one else may be around to direct him on how to leave the building. “You would not be able to read the signs in the elevator, numbers on the door,” I preached. “How about when you have a child. Will your child be read to by an electronic voice.” “Are you going to trust someone with your ATM card?” I asked. “You have to read braille to operate the machine.”

He sat and said nothing for a while until I told him that reading braille will help him to be more in control of his environment and make him more independent.

“Hmmmm,” he said. “I think I should learn braille and technology.” I hope it meant what he said. He could have or he may have been attempting to get me off my soapbox. Whatever the reason, he is at least beginning to understand the importance of being a fluent braille reader.

The Dolch Words from APH have helped my student with reading and spelling although we have a long way to go. He is beginning to recall the contractions and is able to spell some of the words whether he is keyboarding or using his PacMate.

I promised him and myself that as long as I am his vision teacher, I will not give up on him until he is fluent in braille and technology.

Our department feels responsible for making him literate. He continues to struggle and basically does not have a strong background in producing and being responsible for his work. In other words, he is as of now, illiterate. However, I have promised him, God, and his teachers, that I will not give up on him, and one day he will be a literate and independent young man.

I cannot think of a better way to summarize braille literacy than with the words of Dr. Seuss. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

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