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William Daugherty, Superintendent, TSBVI

Abstract: The superintendent of TSBVI describes a pilot program to support braille literacy instruction in Texas.

Keywords: early literacy, braille instruction, reading, “Literacy for Little Ones”, concept development, motor skills, Education Service Center, ESC, family

It is widely recognized that many young children who are likely to become braille readers do not have early literacy-developing experiences similar to those of typically sighted children. Typically sighted children are surrounded by the printed word as soon as they can see. They begin to develop literacy through incidental learning and through more direct avenues such as being read to by family members while the child holds and looks at the book. Young children with severe visual impairment often do not have sufficient, similar experiences, and may not begin to develop reading skills until formal instruction begins as they enter school. By the same age, the majority of typically sighted students have achieved a much higher level of literacy independence and are using their reading and writing skills to access the broader curriculum. The child with the visual impairment can easily fall behind.

This issue was a common concern when I entered the field as a COMS and TVI in 1979. Based upon direct observation and discussions with parents and educators, the concern persists to this day. Certainly, there have been improvements in early braille literacy and instruction during the ensuing decades, but far too many children are still not achieving their full potential during those early years where a strong foundation in reading sets the stage for all academic learning in future years.

In the spring of 2018, TSBVI began seeking partners in the Regional Education Service Centers (ESC) who had the interest and capacity to collaborate with TSBVI on a pilot program aimed at developing on-going training and supports for parents and their young children in the area of braille literacy. We selected the 3-5-year-old age range, with flexibility to go up or down in age as needed. The concept behind the pilot was to develop a model that could be used by others around the state who have a similar interest in refining and expanding their early braille literacy efforts. The primary goal of the pilot is to help families understand how to promote early concept development and motor skills that support literacy by doing related activities in the home and community with their children. Additionally, the pilot is intended to have families and their children’s TVI all working together on common learning goals tied to literacy. Because this is a pilot, meaning we wanted a place where we could figure out what works and what doesn’t, TSBVI wanted to partner with an ESC that already had a strong focus on parent supports related to literacy. The Region 14 ESC in Abilene fit this perfectly, and their VI Consultant, Brenda Lee, was an enthusiastic and committed collaborator who was already involved in similar activities with the families in her region.

A team from TSBVI, including Cyral Miller, Debra Sewell, and Renee Ellis, worked with Brenda Lee and ESC 14 to develop a format for a series of workshop-type events that bring families and TVIs together for fun and productive activities designed to promote early learning that forms the foundation of literacy. These activities, such as group cooking of fun foods and the development of parent-developed books for each child, have long been in the toolkit of our field. The pilot development team has many years of experience from which they can pull out the best of such activities, while also striving to ensure that the curriculum reflects family input on the learning needs and style of their child and what interactive learning experiences the family would value.

Based upon our experience with the pilot so far, a primary takeaway is that getting people together on a regular basis to actively engage in promoting literacy around the learning needs of specific children is powerful. The good ideas about what works and things to try are coming from the families as well as the professionals. The mutual support families receive from each other is key, and it builds a sense of community that has the potential to go well beyond the literacy focus.

Where we go from here is to take what we have learned from this pilot and use it as a guide in another ESC region until we have done it enough to no longer call it a pilot.  Along the way, we hope to learn more about some of the great early literacy activities already going on in spots around the state. We want to enlist the skills and modeling that can come from older students and adults who are proficient braille readers. We want to expand and adapt the initiative to include the learning needs of young children with low vision who are likely candidates for the use of magnification. We want to develop our knowledge and skills in helping young children with additional learning challenges become literate in a way that works for them. But overall, we are trying to support whatever is needed at the local level to ensure that children enter into the school system as prepared to learn as they can be.

For additional information on the pilot, contact Cyral Miller (); Debra Sewell (); Renee Ellis () or Brenda Lee ().

Photo 1: Brenda Lee, ESC 14 Consultant for Visually Impaired and DeafBlind, walks with two young children at a Literacy for Little Ones workshop

Photo 3: An example of a book to promote early literacy made by parents in the Literacy for Little Ones pilot project