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Spring 2003 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)
By Eva Lavigne and Ann Adkins, TSBVI Outreach
Parents and teachers of students with visual impairments often have questions about how the choice is made regarding a student's literacy medium. They express concerns about whether a student should be primarily a print reader or a Braille reader, and want to know how and when decisions about reading media are made. Dr. Phil Hatlen, Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, addressed this issue in a previous See/Hear article (Winter, 2001), and stressed the importance of the Learning Media Assessment (LMA) and the role of the teacher of the visually impaired. While the definition and purpose of the LMA are clearly defined by State Board of Education (SBOE) rules and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a definition of literacy is not always easily understood, especially for visually impaired students.
A learning media assessment is mandated in the State Board of Education Rules for each student who is referred for an initial evaluation to determine eligibility as visually impaired. It is also required every three years as part of the reevaluation process to maintain eligibility. Best practices indicate that the learning media assessment should be an ongoing process and it should be updated as often as needed, sometimes annually for very young students or those whose needs and abilities change.
All students who are referred for evaluation or reevaluation to determine eligibility as visually impaired must receive a learning media assessment conducted by a certified teacher of students with visual impairments. It must include:
The learning media assessment is "an objective process of systematically selecting learning and literacy media" (Koenig and Holbrook). This includes the total range of instructional media needed to facilitate learning, and is understandably different for each student. It consists of general learning media (instructional materials and methods) and literacy media (the tools for reading and writing). Instructional materials can include a range of options, such as pictures, real objects, tactile symbols, videos, worksheets, tapes, and augmentative communication devices. Methods can involve modeling, demonstrating, prompting, questioning, pointing, and lecturing. The wide range of possible materials and methods provides for students at all ability levels. The scope and definition of literacy media is more complicated, however. The "tools for reading and writing" generate concerns about print and Braille, prompting many questions about literacy for visually impaired students.
Most people acknowledge that literacy has something to do with reading and writing. Many recognize the importance of literacy in order to be "an educated person" and realize that success in school and employment are fundamentally linked to the attainment of literacy skills. Braille literacy is directly addressed in the 1997 amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). In developing the IEP (Individual Education Plan), the ARD committee must:
… in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child. [IDEA Section 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)]
Literacy, however, is more than just legal terminology and involves more than the ability to read and write in Braille. The following definition reveals the role literacy plays in everyday life:
"Literacy is the ability to read and write at a level that would enable an individual to meet daily living needs. Literacy is a continuum from basic reading and writing skills all the way up to various technical literacies. It is different for different people, in distinct times and various places." (Marjorie Troughton, One is Fun, 1992)
This definition indicates the importance of looking at the student individually along a literacy continuum and the value of re-examining literacy needs and skills as the student progresses. Many VI students need an array of literacy tools and perhaps several literacy media to be successful in school. For example, a student might use Braille for note taking, speech output for the computer, audiotapes or a scanner for reading novels, and print for math. Students learn and develop as individuals, not as a group. Their needs may change as they become older and as they approach tasks beyond the school environment. It is important to identify the medium/media which most benefits each student. For example:
The degree to which a given student uses a specific medium will be influenced by many factors: age, general ability, visual and tactual functioning, visual prognosis, motivation, academic/nonacademic demands, environmental conditions, personal and interpersonal factors (such as an acceptance of one's blindness), reaction to societal attitudes about blindness, and/or a lack of exposure to Braille (Caton, APH, 1991). Each student with a visual impairment has a unique personal journey to literacy that should include all the necessary literacy tools and media to meet school and daily living needs. It may take an extended period of time for a visually impaired student to master the multimedia he or she will be required to use. Planning and preparing for a student's literacy needs throughout his life is a challenging yet important task.
It is clear that decisions about literacy media are to be made based on the assessed needs of the student and not on other factors such as the availability of a teacher of the visually impaired, financial considerations, convenience, or any other outside factor. The learning media assessment is a process of gathering objective information to provide a basis for selecting appropriate learning and literacy media for blind and visually impaired students. Objective data is collected from many different observations and is used to make decisions about the student's learning and literacy needs. Parents are key members of the educational team, and parent observations and parent interviews provide valuable information to include in the decision-making process. It is important for teachers and parents to work together to gather information, increasing the accuracy and effectiveness of the LMA. Results of the LMA guide instructional planning and programming to insure that each student gains literacy skills in a medium or media (print and/or Braille) and develops an array of literacy tools to meet school and daily living needs.
A valuable reference to help with making these decisions is a publication entitled Learning Media Assessment of Students with Visual Impairments: A Resource Guide for Teachers, by Alan Koenig and Cay Holbrook (1995). It provides a process and rationale for conducting learning media assessments, and has a variety of forms for gathering objective data. This text also reveals the characteristics of students who might be likely candidates for a print or a Braille reading program (page 43):
Debra Sewell, of TSBVI, lists these considerations:
In the continuing assessment phase of the LMA, the educational team will consider the appropriateness of the initial decisions and examine the student's need to develop new literacy skills. The continuing assessment phase annually collects and examines:
It should be evident that the determination of a student's literacy medium/media is not an "either/or" decision. Nor is it a final one. Students change, as do their needs for different types of information. More and more visually impaired students are realizing the benefits of using both print and Braille, and many supplement their reading with auditory information. Supplementary literacy tools, such as E-books and materials on CD-ROM, are helpful as students approach tasks requiring increased reading and writing skills in higher education. All students need access to a variety of literacy tools. This is no less true for visually impaired students. Future See/Hear articles will not only address the increasing variety of literacy methods and materials available for VI students, but also the use of dual or multiple media and the importance of ongoing, continued assessment.
Caton, Hilda, Ed. (1991). Print and Braille Literacy: Selecting Appropriate Learning Media. American Printing House for the Blind.
Koenig, Alan J. and Holbrook, M. Cay. (1995). Learning Media Assessment of Students with Visual Impairments: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Sewell, Debra. Workshop Presentation, "The Fine Line Between Print and Braille". Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Troughton, Marjorie. (1992). One is Fun: Guidelines for Better Braille Literacy. Ontario: Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
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