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Fall 2005 Table of Contents
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Essential Literacy Experiences for Visually Impaired Children

By Eva Lavigne, Education Specialist, TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract: This article suggests a way to individualize literacy experiences for visually impaired students in order to promote meaningful reading and writing.

Key Words:Programming, blind, visual impaired, deafblind, literacy, reading, Braille, essential experiences, concepts, collaboration.

All children require early experiences to provide a foundation for understanding what they read. "For reading to be meaningful, the child must be able to relate what he or she read to previous experiences." (Hall and Rodabaugh, 1979). "Without direct experiences, the child may read and write words correctly, but not truly understand what they are reading and writing about." (Koenig and Farrenkopf, 1997). Fully sighted children have access to visual media, visual materials such as print and pictures within in their environment, and they incidentally observe the common activities of life. Students with visual impairments often times are limited in the ability to gain access to these essential experiences. The visual impairment may impede incidental learning and opportunities to gain access to naturally occurring experiences in the environment. Visually impaired students need direct, hands on practice with basic concepts (such as size, shape, position, time, classification), as well as, direct exposure to common everyday life activities so that they form a foundation of essential experiences that provide meaning to reading and writing.

Research indicates the importance of a rich base of concrete experiences as an essential foundation for the development of literacy for students with visual impairments. Alan Koenig and Carol Farrenkopf (1997) analyzed 254 stories from basal literacy series grades one through three to identify experiences necessary to bring meaning to each story. They identified 22 global areas of experience as essential, listed below. For a complete listing by grade level and number of stories containing the experiences, please refer to the article, "Essential experiences to undergrid the early development of literacy," Koenig, A.J., & Farrenkopf, C. (1997). Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 91, 14-24.

Global Experiences (Koenig & Farrenkopf, 1997)

1. Experiences typically gained through daily activities:

2. Experiences typically gained through instruction:

These global example experiences give a wonderful set of reoccurring types of experiences that are contained within typical first, second, and third grade reading passages. However, in order to meet the individual visually impaired student's literacy experience needs, a more individualized approach is required.

Individualizing literacy experiences for a visually impaired student would help ensure that the student is provided these experiences prior to and during the time that they read stories containing the related theme and concepts.

Who will be responsible for providing these essential experiences? It would make sense for this to be a shared responsibility. Many of these types of experiences lend themselves to being done at home with family. The TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) could provide some of these experiences during direct instructional time with the student. The reading teacher may find that a particular experience would be beneficial for the entire class or a small group of students. A COMS (certified orientation and mobility specialist) might provide an experience during an orientation and mobility lesson. The key to successfully providing these experiences is to have good communication between all team members, and a way to document the experiences needed, the experiences provided, and a way to decide who will provide the experience. Although this is a team and collaborative approach, it will be necessary for one of the team members to take the lead in making sure the experiences are identified and carried out. The team can negotiate who will take the lead and who will provide the experience. The parent should be an integral part of the team and may help provide many of the experiences. Each situation is unique and therefore the lead person may be different from one visually impaired student to another.

In an attempt to provide a structure for collaboration and a way to document essential experiences for an individual visually impaired student, I have developed a one-page form entitled: Essential Literacy Experiences for the Visually Impaired Student. An example of this form is show below:

Essential Literacy Experiences for Visually Impaired Students

Student: Jim Bob Square Pants

Story Title: Little Bear Birthday Soup

Date of Preview: 9-26-05 (TVI)

Date Read in Class: 10-3-05 thru 10-7-05


Bear, cake, soup, cook, smell, eat

High freqency words:says, something

Concepts: surprise birthday party, making soup,birthday cake, inviting friends over.


r-controlled vowels: ur, ir, or

Building fluency: Focus on high frequency words: says, something

Essential Experiences (Concrete experiences selected from the story that provide meaning for the visually impaired student)

"Concept "making soup What goes into making carrots, peas,soup? potatoes, tomatoes, etc. Explore a variety of veggies (whole and cut up).

What happens to veggies when cooked?

Who: Mom

When: Weekend (10-1-05)

Where: Trip to grocery storeand home kitchen

Concept: "surprise party" & "birthday cake"" What is a surprise party? Discussion Birthday cake" comes in" different sizes and shapes (round, square, rectangular). Shape of cake depends on the shape of the pans. How many candles on the cake?

Who: TVI

When: Direct VI time

Where:VI Space

Concept: friends and inviting friends to something

Who are your friends? Plan a surprise party for your teacher and invite friends to a lunch surprise party. (TVI)

Make invitations for friends and one for the teacher. (TVI)

Decorate cupcakes for the lunch party.(Mom at home the night before.)

Have surprise lunch in classroom with invited friends and teacher. (Teacher in classroom.)

Who: shared (see above)

Where: shared

When: shared

Evaluation/ Comments

Sample Essential Literacy Experiences for the Visually Impaired Student Form

Download blank Essential Literacy Experiences form MS Word Document (34k)

How to Use the Essential Literacy Experiences for VI Students:

The form was developed for use with visually impaired students who are receiving their primary reading instruction in the classroom or in a resource classroom, and are receiving direct instruction in compensatory skills from their TVI. This tool can be used by the TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) to gather critical information about reading passages that the student will be reading in the classroom or resource classroom. It was designed to be a collaborative tool, one which the TVI and classroom (reading teacher) would discuss and fill out together. The ideal situation would be for the TVI and classroom reading teacher to meet regularly and on an on-going basis to discuss the story elements such as vocabulary, concepts, TEKS and skills for the reading lessons, and to make a list of any essential experiences that the student would need in order to have a meaningful understanding of the concepts within the story. In this collaborative model, the TVI and reading teacher can make some decisions about how the visually impaired student's instruction will take place. The form lists vocabulary and concepts from the story, skills, TEKS/IEP objectives worked on related to the story, and essential experiences the visually impaired student will need in order to gain meaning from the story.

The form also has a place to indicate the date that the story was previewed. The preview technique is critical for identifying essential experiences the visually impaired student will need for a particular story. The preview involves someone (parent, TVI, reading teacher, etc.) sitting with the visually impaired student and asking questions related to the concepts and experiences found in the story. For example, if the story is about going to the beach and making a sand castle, the preview might involve questions such as:

Drawing from these questions, the previewer can use the Essential Experiences for Visually Impaired Students form to jot down the experiences that appear to need additional real experiences in order for some reading concepts to make more sense. It may be that the student in the above example has had experiences playing in sand, but has never been to the beach and has never built a sand castle. Building upon the experience of playing in sand by providing an experience of building a sand castle could help the visually impaired student have a better understanding of the concept of sand castle as it relates to the story. Additional experiences such as bringing in shells, sand pails, shovels, swimming gear, etc. might also add to the experiences that would bring meaning to the story. A family trip to the beach sometime in the future might be planned.

Research and best practice in educating students with visual impairments supports the importance of learning through experience. These concrete essential experiences are critical in the development of meaningful literacy skills.


Hall, A. & Rodabaugh, B. (1979). Development of a pre-reading concept program for visually handicapped children. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 73, 257-263,

Koenig, A.J., & Farrenkopf, C. (1997). Essential experiences to undergrid the early development of literacy. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 91, 14-24.

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