Children's perceptions of learning braille: qualitative and quantitative findings of the ABC Braille Study.
Vision disorders (Risk factors)
Vision disorders (Research)
Sacks, Sharon Z.
Hannan, Cheryl K.
Erin, Jane N.
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X|
|Issue:||Date: May, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 5|
|Topic:||Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 310 Science & research|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Abstract: Children's perceptions of learning to read and write
braille were measured using an open-ended 10-item questionnaire. The
data were evaluated by amount of time, level of contractedness, and
level of achievement. No differences were found with respect to time or
the introduction of contractions. Differences were apparent between the
high- and low-achievement groups.
Learning to read and write may be complex tasks for students with visual impairments, especially if the students are not exposed to a myriad of early literacy experiences. Providing opportunities for students to explore their environments and be exposed to real experiences sets the stage for developing vocabulary, learning new concepts, and experiencing books and other forms of literature. Families and teachers play a critical role in promoting early literacy and can influence students' attitudes toward reading (Argyropoulos, Sideridis, & Katsoulis, 2008; Brennan, Luze, & Peterson, 2009: Craig, 1996, 1999). Retrospective studies of adults with visual impairments who are successfully employed have pointed to early exposure to books, being read to by family members, and learning to read and write braille as factors that contributed to their high levels of literacy (Brennan et al., 2009; Hatton & Erickson, 2005; Ryles, 1996).
Research has clearly demonstrated that students who are at risk of failing to read tend to be less engaged in reading (Morgan, Fuchs, Compton, Cordray, & Fuchs, 2008). These students exhibit less motivation and interest in reading. Their attitudes toward reading are negative because learning to read is slow and tedious (Hersh, Stone, & Ford, 1996). Sideridis, Morgan, Botsas, Padeliadu, and Fuchs (2006) proposed that poor motivation may be a defining factor in the failure to read. However, no studies have examined the perceptions of children with visual impairments who are learning to read and write braille about the experience of learning to read and write braille. One may suggest that like their sighted peers, motivation plays a role in blind children's success in developing strong literacy skills.
The purpose of the study presented here was to examine young children's perceptions of learning to read and write braille. Initially, students who participated in the Alphabetic Braille and Contracted Braille Study (ABC Braille Study) were evaluated by how braille was introduced: contracted or uncontracted. For the researchers to evaluate students' perceptions, each participant was given a 10-item questionnaire during each year of the study.
Recruitment for the ABC Braille Study took place at conferences and by e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, letters to school districts, and electronic mailing lists of professionals in the United States and Canada. The participants in the study provided oral assent, and their parents or caregivers agreed to the children's participation through an informed consent procedure that was approved by Vanderbilt University's Human Subject Institutional Review Board (HSIRB). In addition, the HSIRBs at the respective institutions of the participating researchers approved the research design and documents.
Students who read only in braille, had no usable vision, and had no additional disabilities participated in the ABC Braille Study from prekindergarten through Grade 4, usually for three, four, or five years. Each participant's teacher of students with visual impairments determined if the participant would be taught either contracted or uncontracted braille. Originally, the research design anticipated that the students would remain in two distinct groups, those who were taught contracted and those who were taught uncontracted braille. However, as time progressed, most students began to learn some of the braille contractions. Thus, the data could not be analyzed by distinguishing two distinct groups of students learning contracted or uncontracted braille. Detailed information on the participants in the ABC Braille Study is presented in Wall Emerson, Holbrook, and D'Andrea (2009).
The researchers of the ABC Braille Study conducted interviews at each school site during the spring of each year. Of the 45 original participants, 39 students had usable interview data. Six students who were identified as having additional disabilities or who withdrew from the study were dropped from the data analyses.
The student questionnaire included 10 open-ended questions related to who taught the students braille, what the students liked and disliked about braille, the students' favorite books, who read to the students and in what medium, and friends' and teachers' interests in and reactions to braille (see Box 1). The same questionnaire was used for each year of the study. The researchers read the interview questions to the students. The students responded orally, and their responses were recorded verbatim.
The data from each of the 10 questions were analyzed separately. The students' responses to many of the questions (Questions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9) were brief and repetitive. These responses were tabulated by the frequency of their occurrence. Some questions yielded lengthier and more varied responses (Questions 3, 7, 8, and 10). These responses were analyzed by identifying commonalities among the responses and categorizing them by themes.
The data were analyzed in three ways. First, to determine if their responses changed as the students matured, the data were analyzed with time as a factor. Each student's responses were tracked and analyzed across the years of the study. Second, since the overall purpose of the study was to examine the impact of learning contracted versus uncontracted braille, the students' responses were examined on the basis of the original groups of students learning contracted and uncontracted braille. However, distinct groups were not identified, as we previously mentioned. Therefore, the students were looked at as a continuum, and their responses were ranked by how quickly they learned the contractions.
Last, to ascertain if level of achievement had an impact on the students' perceptions of braille instruction, the data were analyzed by the high- and low-achievement groups established by Wall Emerson, Sitar, Erin, Wormsley, and Herlich (2009). Wall Emerson and colleagues identified two groups on the basis of the students' performance on all the literacy assessments used throughout the study. The high-achievement group scored higher than 62.5% on all reading assessments (n = 8), whereas the low-achievement group scored lower than 66% on all reading assessments, with no scores at or above grade level (n = 7). For the high achievers, 27 interviews were analyzed, and for the low achievers, 28 interviews were analyzed over the course of the ABC Braille Study.
Initially, all the students' responses were examined by year to determine if they varied over time. No differences were found. In fact, each student's responses were consistent over the five years of the study. The students named the same people who were responsible for teaching them braille, the same titles of books, and the same individuals who read to them. Also, the students' likes and dislikes about braille remained the same over the years. The responses were also examined by the students' rankings of the order in which they learned contractions. Again, conclusions could not be drawn on the basis of the level of contractedness. Generally, students who made favorable remarks about braille remained positive about braille, and those who disliked braille continued to dislike braille.
The responses of the students from the high- and low-achievement groups are described in depth next. A comparative analysis of the responses of students in each group was conducted for all 10 interview questions, and the results are presented by the interview questions.
QUESTION 1. WHO TEACHES YOU TO READ AND WRITE BRAILLE?
Students from both groups viewed the teacher of students with visual impairments as their primary instructor of braille literacy (n = 45, 80%), with the paraeductor named by 20 students (36%) and the classroom teacher named by only 8 children (14%; see Table 1). Three children in the high-achievement group named other people, including their family members, themselves, and their summer camp teacher. Ten questionnaire responses in the high-achievement group and 12 in the low-achievement group named more than one person, which is why the total for each category is more than 100%. No notable differences in responses occurred between the high- and low-achievement groups.
QUESTION 2. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE BRAILLE?
Overall, the students in the high-achievement group provided more positive responses (n = 37 responses) than did the students in the low-achievement group (n = 21 responses). In fact, 4 students in the low-achievement group stated that there was nothing about reading and writing braille that they liked, and 4 students said they did not know what they liked about braille or provided no answer. No questionnaires among the high-achievement group included negative responses. In addition, the students in the high-achievement group said that they liked to read and write more often (n = 22, 81% of the 27 interviews) than did those in the low-achievement group (n = 7, 25% of the 28 interviews). The responses were also categorized into 11 factors and then tabulated by frequency (see Table 2). Students in both groups identified the use of tools and activities as a factor they enjoyed. Students in the low-achievement group mentioned more activities, such as toys, books, and puzzles, than did those in the high-achievement group. Two students in the former group said they liked math (a total of 5 responses over time), which was not named by any students in the high-achievement group. Although 2 students in the low-achievement group mentioned ease of use, they specifically said that they liked braille when it was easy, compared to the students in the high-achievement group, who said that braille was easy. The students in the low-achievement group were more diverse in their attitudes toward braille than were those in the high-achievement group.
QUESTION 3. WHAT DON'T YOU LIKE ABOUT READING AND WRITING BRAILLE?
The groups showed clear differences in their responses to this question. In the high-achievement group, 11 of 27 questionnaires indicated that there was nothing the students disliked about reading and writing braille. Three others in this group indicated that they disliked having to stop reading for some reason: one did not want to go home, another did not like it when other students talked when she was reading, and the third did not like being told to slow down when reading. The responses to this question were categorized into 11 factors, 5 of which were also parallel to the previous question (see Table 3). Additional responses included not liking the loud noise of the braille writer, using a Perkins brailler, doing too much work, and using numbers. Only 3 students said that they did not like reading braille. The responses from the high-achievement group were about time constraints and extraneous factors, not about disliking reading and writing braille.
In contrast, the students in the low-achievement group had many more comments about specific aspects of braille and reading. Eight questionnaires included comments on general difficulties or dislike of the braille code: physical discomfort, fingers hurting, doing too much work, or just not enjoying reading. Seven students specifically commented on aspects of the code that were difficult. Specific features mentioned included contractions; one student mentioned confusion with the letters 'T' and "e", mixing up letters, spelling and sounding out words, and difficulty remembering letters. Another student stated that reading braille is slower than reading print. Two students said that reading was not fun. In general, the students in the low-achievement group described more difficulties with the reading process, reflecting a more negative view of braille literacy, than did the students in the high-achievement group.
QUESTION 4. WHO READS BOOKS TO YOU?
The responses from the two groups were similar in all categories except reading to self. Six of the high achievers stated they read to themselves, compared to only two low achievers. The family was listed most frequently as the group that reads books to the student, followed by the classroom teacher and teacher of students with visual impairments. An interesting finding was that the students named their family members as more likely to read to them (n = 35) and the teacher of students with visual impairments as more likely to teach braille (n = 45; see Table 4).
QUESTION 5. DO YOU READ WITH YOUR FAMILY AT HOME?
The two groups were similar with regard to reading at home. Twenty-two of 26 students in the high-achievement group, and 23 of 27 students in the low-achievement group reported that they read at home, or approximately 85% for both groups.
QUESTION 6. ARE THE BOOKS IN BRAILLE OR PRINT?
When asked whether the books read to them were in braille or print or both, the students in the high-achievement group reported print (11 students, 41%), print and braille (12 students, 44%), and braille (3 students, 11%); 1 student (3%) did not know. Students in the low-achievement group reported print (16 students, 62%), print and braille (7 students, 27%), and braille (3 students, 12%). The students in the low-achievement group more often listened to books read from print rather than braille books.
QUESTION 7. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
Most students in both groups mentioned a favorite book or books. Those in the high-achievement group named 21 books. Two students (a second grader and a fourth grader) responded "I don't know," one student said "nonfiction mysteries," and a kindergartener said that the book he wrote himself was his favorite. Harry Potter books were mentioned three times by this group (twice by the same student in subsequent years), one student mentioned Jack and Annie books in two subsequent interviews, and all other books were mentioned just once. The students' responses to this question did not change over time.
The choices of the students from the low-achievement group were similar. In total, 24 books were mentioned. One student said, "I don't have one. I like all my books," and another said "my reading book." Of the 24 books that were named, Barney was named twice by the same student, and Junie B. Jones was mentioned twice by two different children (and by one child in the high-achieving group). There were no evident differences between the two groups' preferences for books.
QUESTION 8. WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS WANT TO KNOW ABOUT BRAILLE?
The responses of the two groups were similar regarding the types of interest in braille that their friends exhibited. Friends showed more interest in writing than reading, and this was more often reported by the students in the high-achievement group than those in the low-achievement group. Eighteen positive responses in the high-achievement group were about general reading and writing, compared with 12 similar responses from the low-achievement group (see Table 5). Only a few students reported that their friends asked about specific topics; one said a friend wanted to know about the alphabet, another said a friend wanted to know how he did braille and why he liked it, and a third said a friend wanted to know how the dots worked. Ten children who were low achievers said that their friends were not interested or they did not know, compared with 5 children who were high achievers.
QUESTION 9. WHAT DO YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS DO WITH BRAILLE?
Responses to this question were also similar for both groups. Slightly more students in the high-achievement group (n = 19) than in the low-achievement group (n = 17) described some interaction with peers around braille. More students in the low-achievement group (n = 10) than in the high-achievement group (n = 7) described writing with friends, and more students in the high-achievement group (n = 5) than in the low-achievement group (n = 2) said that they played or explored with friends. Eleven responses from the low-achievement group versus 6 from the high-achievement group indicated that the students did not interact with peers with regard to braille (see Table 6).
QUESTION 10. WHAT DO YOUR TEACHERS SAY ABOUT LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE BRAILLE?
Responses in this area were also similar for the two groups. Teachers encouraged students with positive comments ("They say good job; it's cool"). Additional comments included 8 responses that focused on work habits ("Turn in your work; you need to learn"), and 13 general comments about reading and writing (see Table 7).
The students' responses reflected few differences between the high- and low-achieving students, except on questions 2 and 3, which related to what the students liked and disliked about braille. For these two questions, the low achievers were more likely to say that they did not like anything about braille or to give no answer, whereas the high achievers more often said they liked reading. When asked what they disliked, the low achievers named specific features of the braille code or reading process more often, while the high achievers more often said that there was nothing they disliked (11 responses from the high-achieving students compared to 1 response from a low-achieving student). It is not surprising that the students who were having less success in reading had less positive attitudes about the experience of learning to read. One implication of this finding is that students who have negative attitudes toward reading are less likely to engage in reading activities (Hersh et al., 1996). Thus, their overall achievement in literacy may be influenced by a cyclical effect of limited engagement in reading activities, which leads to less progress in achievement of literacy. This idea is supported by the research findings, in that the students who were high achievers read to themselves more often than did the students who were low achievers, indicating differences in the two groups' internal motivation to read.
Another interesting finding related to who reads to the students and who teaches the students braille. For the most part, family members read to both the high- and low-achieving students, and teachers of students with visual impairments had the primary responsibility to teach both groups of students to read and write braille (see recent discussions regarding who is responsible for literacy instruction: Blankenship, 2008; Farrenkopf, 2008; Holbrook, 2008; Swenson, 2008). The findings of this study clearly show that the students did not perceive that the general education teacher is responsible for teaching them to read and write braille. Rather, they unanimously named their teachers of students with visual impairments as the primary persons who teach them to read and write. Current ideology in the field of visual impairments is that the primary person who is responsible for teaching literacy to children who are learning to read and write in braille should understand language and literacy development and know the braille code (Holbrook, 2008). Advocates of braille literacy would state that a teacher of students with visual impairments cannot teach braille in isolation of literacy (Farrenkopf, 2008). The results of this research support the argument that braille literacy skills, teaching students to read and write in braille, should be taught by one who knows the braille code and literacy processes in conjunction with the general education teacher or reading specialist or both. As the field of visual impairments embraces this fundamental shift, university personnel preparation programs must also be willing to adjust their principles to include preparing teachers to acquire knowledge of language and literacy development in addition to skills in braille.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the study was that students' perceptions were obtained through self-reports (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010). When information is obtained from young children, it is not always as accurate or as complete as one may like. It may be that the students' responses to questions were quite literal or concrete. The responses were recorded verbatim. However, the fact that the students' responses remained consistent over time validates the results.
Also, given that some participants entered the study in the second and third years may have influenced the outcomes. Uneven interview data may account for discrepancies in the findings. In subsequent studies, it would be important to examine only data obtained during the years in which all the students participated.
Implications for research and practice
Although the study did not demonstrate empirically that there is a relationship between students' perceptions and success in learning to read and write braille, it provided valuable information from the students' points of view. The students clearly expressed their likes and dislikes about learning to read and write braille. Many of the low-achieving students, for example, said why braille was difficult for them. It is critical for teachers of students with visual impairments and family members to design strategies to motivate students who are struggling to learn the braille code as well as the literacy aspects of learning to read and write braille. Creating games and activities to stimulate students' interests in wanting to read braille may be the first step toward helping students become successful in learning to read and write braille. Also, many students indicated that their families read print books to them rather than braille books. Given this information, it is important to consider expanding the number of books and materials in dual media (print and braille) so that families can become active participants in encouraging their young children to embrace braille, which may enhance the children's perceptions of braille. Finally, it is necessary to expand research efforts that consistently examine the relationship between students' success with literacy and motivation to read and write in braille. As a field, we have minimal data to support how students' attitudes toward learning to read and write braille influence successful literacy outcomes. Perhaps research that evaluates specific interventions to improve braille literacy will provide further insights into the motivational factors that influence successful braille readers.
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Sharon Z. Sacks, Ph.D., director of curriculum, assessment, and staff development, California School for the Blind, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, CA 94536; e-mail
Box 1 Ten interview questions 1. Who teaches you to read and write braille? 2. What do you like about learning to read and write braille? 3. What don't you like about reading and writing braille? 4. Who reads books to you? 5. Do you read with your family at home? 6. Are the books in braille or in print? 7. What is your favorite book? 8. What do your friends want to know about braille? 9. What do you and your friends do with braille? 10. What do your teachers say about learning to read and write braille?
Table 1 Parties responsible for teaching braille (number of responses). High- Low Who teaches you achievement achievement braille? group group Teacher of students with visual impairments 22 23 Paraeducator 9 11 Classroom teacher 3 5 Family 1 0 Self 1 0 Other 1 0 Table 2 Factors about braille that the students "liked" (number of students and example in parentheses). Factor High-achievement group Reading 12 (Learning to read) Writing 10 (Writing sentences) Tools 3 (Using my brailler) Activities 2 (Braille Challenge) Enjoyment 2 (It's fun) Uniqueness 2 (Learning to be special) Code 3 (New contractions) Ease of use 1 (It's easy) Speed 1 (Speed) No answer or don't know 1 Does not like anything 0 Factor Low-achievement group Reading 4 (Learning to read) Writing 3 (Writing sentences) Tools 3 (Using my toys, books, and puzzles) Activities 5 (Math) Enjoyment 3 (It's fun, I like it) Uniqueness 0 Code 0 Ease of use 2 (I like it when it's easy) Speed 1 (It's fast) No answer or don't know 4 Does not like anything 4 (Nothing much) Table 3 Factors about braille that the students "disliked" (number of responses; examples in parentheses). Factor High-achievement group Reading 3 (Don't like to read braille) Writing 1 (Writing on the Perkins brailler) Tools 1 (The brailler is loud when I use it) Activities 1 (Numbers) General difficulty 3 (Doing too much work) Stopping or interruptions 3 (When I have to go home) Not fun 0 Code and reading process 1 (One page of print takes two pages of braille) Speed 0 No answer or don't know 1 Does not dislike anything 11 Factor Low-achievement group Reading 3 (Don't like to read braille) Writing 2 (Brailling lots of words) Tools 0 Activities 1 (Writing rainbow) General difficulty 8 (Doing too much work makes my fingers hurt) Stopping or interruptions 0 Not fun 2 (Reading is not fun) Code and reading process 7 (Reading Grade 2; I don't like "i"s and "e"s) Speed 1 (Reading braille is slower than reading print) No answer or don't know 3 Does not dislike anything 1 Table 4 Parties responsible for teaching braille versus those who read to students. Who teaches you Who reads books braille? to you? HA LA HA LA TVI 22 23 TVI 5 6 Paraeducator 9 11 Paraeducator 1 1 Classroom Classroom teacher 3 5 teacher 8 9 Family 1 0 Family 17 18 Self 1 0 Self 6 2 Other 1 0 Other 2 2 Note: HA = high-achievement group; LA = low achievement group; and TVI = teacher of students with visual impairments. Table 5 Peers' interests with regard to braille (number of responses). High- Low achievement achievement Peers' interests group group Reading braille 6 5 Writing braille 12 7 Specific questions about braille 3 2 Nothing or don't know 5 10 Other 1 2 Table 6 Activities shared by the students and their peers (number of responses). High- Low achievement achievement Activities group group Reading 7 5 Writing 7 10 Playing games or exploring 5 2 Nothing or not much 6 11 No response 1 0 Table 7 Teachers' comments about learning to read and write braille (number of responses). High- Low Teachers' achievement achievement comments group group Work habits 5 3 Reading 3 2 Writing 5 3 Positive or encouraging comments 8 9 Nothing 8 6
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