Technology for early braille literacy: comparison of traditional braille instruction and instruction with an electronic notetaker.
Early braille literacy plays a critical role for young children who are blind if they are to be able to participate equally in the classroom with their sighted peers (Mangold, 2003; Wormsley, 2004). Historically, braille literacy skills were taught using a brailler and paper, often reinforced through the teaching of the slate and stylus (Hatlen, 2000). Today, many different electronic braille notetakers offer refreshable braille displays and the power to do everything a typical laptop computer can do. Although there is scant data to support the use of these devices in the development of braille literacy skills, teachers of students with visual impairments have begun to instruct children in the use of these devices (Holbrook, Wadsworth, & Bartlett, 2003). Such teachers need research to guide their instructional decisions regarding these devices. The study presented here compared the efficacy of early literacy instruction using a traditional brailler and paper and instruction using an electronic notetaker and refreshable braille display.
A few studies have demonstrated that using technology can enhance early braille learning (Cooper & Nichols, 2007; Holbrook et al., 2003; Mangold, 2003) by increasing students' motivation. Cooper and Nichols recommended that further research be conducted, including comparison studies with more frequent and consistent measurements, to investigate the outcomes of early literacy instruction with electronic technology for students with visual impairments.
The study presented here extended prior research by comparing outcomes of instruction with the Perkins Brailler and paper with instruction using a PAC Mate braille notetaker with a refreshable braille display. The PAC Mate was selected for two primary reasons: its 20-cell braille display replicated the limited line length of the Patterns curriculum and the initial cost of each unit.
The current study used a single-subject, experimental design and systematic curriculum-based measures (Hosp, Hosp, & Howell, 2007) to compare students' progress when using Perkins Braillers and embossed braille with progress when using PAC Mates with refreshable braille displays. It addressed three questions regarding these comparisons:
1. Are there differences in students' learning outcomes?
2. Are there differences in teachers' perceptions of instruction?
3. Are there differences in students' perceptions of instruction?
Teachers of students with visual impairments were recruited nationally through personal and professional contacts. To qualify for participation, they needed to be fully certified teachers of students with visual impairments, have at least three years of teaching experience as specialist teachers, and use Patterns as the primary curriculum for at least two students receiving literacy instruction in braille for a minimum of 45 minutes per day. Patterns was selected to provide consistency of instruction across participating sites and because of the availability of electronic braille files for Patterns.
Four teachers at separate sites in four states were selected to participate. Two teachers worked in residential schools for students who are visually impaired (that is, are blind or have low vision). The other two teachers provided instruction to students in itinerant programs serving students in general education classrooms.
The participating students ranged in age from 6 to 8 years at the beginning of the study. Reviews of their educational files found that their medical records indicated that they were legally blind, with visual acuities ranging from 20/400 to no light perception; all had been identified as having braille as their primary medium for literacy. Evaluations of the students indicated cognitive scores within the normal range, although at least three students had learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder. The students had received from 3 to 36 weeks of instruction in the braille code, using braille embossed on paper and the Perkins Brailler, before the study began, but had not completed learning the code. Twelve students began the study but only 9 completed it because their families moved out of the school district. Of those who completed the study, 3 were male and 6 were female. Three students had a first language other than English, but all were fluent in English, and their language of classroom instruction was English.
All the adult participants and guardians of the participating students gave their informed consent on forms approved by the Portland State University Institutional Review Board. After hearing a simple explanation of the project, each student agreed to participate.
The Minnesota Braille Skills Inventory
The Minnesota Braille Skills Inventory (MBSI) (Goodwin et al., 1995) was administered as a pre- and postassessment. It assessed the students' acquisition of new knowledge of braille letters, symbols, and contractions.
Monitoring students' outcomes
Curriculum-based measures are brief, timed tests that measure fluency in specific skills, such as correctly reading words in passages or writing words accurately from dictation (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Hosp et al., 2007). Evidence indicates their validity for monitoring outcomes of literacy instruction in print (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Hamlett, 2007). No studies were identified that used curriculum-based measures to monitor progress in braille literacy instruction. However, methods have been recommended for developing curriculum-based measures to monitor progress in any specific literacy curriculum (Hosp et al., 2007), and these methods were applied to the Patterns braille curriculum.
Using Patterns materials, the project staff developed curriculum-based measures at the beginning of the study on the basis of the student's current instructional level in the Patterns curriculum and the teacher's prediction of each student's ending point for the school year (Hosp et al., 2007). These measures included measures of fluency in oral reading (reading words in passages) and in writing words from dictation. Oral reading fluency was measured because it has been shown to be a good predictor of reading outcomes for reading in print. It was measured by counting the number of words a student read correctly within a one-minute period. Word-writing fluency was selected as a measure that demonstrated the student's knowledge and production of braille configurations within the context of meaningful words. It was measured by counting the number of correct letter or braille symbol sequences written correctly within words dictated by the teacher during a two-minute period. Specific passages and words were randomly selected from lists of passages and words sampled from the range of lessons to be covered by each child. The curriculum-based measures were provided to the teachers each week in print and in braille-ready files.
The curriculum-based measures were administered to the students weekly using the randomly assigned medium of instruction (the Perkins Brailler and paper or the PAC Mate). Each measure was a one-minute probe for oral reading fluency and a two-minute probe for word-writing fluency. The teachers received training in the administration and scoring of the curriculum-based measures and were required to demonstrate reliable implementation and scoring before they began the baseline assessments with their students. They submitted weekly data on these measures to the project staff members. The project staff members monitored the fidelity of measurement through three visits to each site during the 18 weeks of instruction. The teachers also submitted video clips of their administration of the curriculum-based measures to the project staff biweekly. These video clips were observed by trained staff members to determine the fidelity of the measurement procedures. The curriculum-based measures were scored by the staff members and compared with scores submitted by the teachers to determine interobserver agreement.
At the conclusion of the study, semistructured interviews (Patton, 2001) were conducted at each site with all the participating teachers and students. The questions addressed advantages, disadvantages, preferences, and other perceptions for each method and device for reading and writing.
The project used a single-subject, alternating-treatments design (Kennedy, 2004) to compare the performance of the students when they received instruction and responded with the Perkins Brailler and braille embossed on paper or with the PAC Mate electronic notetaker with a refreshable braille display. Alternating-treatments designs have been recommended for application in literacy research when the sample size and variability within a group of children compromise the use of group designs to compare intervention methods (Neuman & McCormick, 1995).
Instruction using the Perkins Brailler and paper or the PAC Mate was assigned to each student for each of 18 weeks.
Methods of instruction were randomly assigned in two-week blocks. These blocks either began with one week using the Perkins Brailler and paper followed by one week using the PAC Mate, or the two weeks were in the opposite order. Daily instruction of 45 minutes was provided to all the students on the basis of their randomized schedules.
Each site had one or more Perkins Braillers available for the students. In addition, one PAC Mate notetaker with a 20-cell refreshable display for every two participating students was provided at each site. The 20-cell display was selected because it paralleled the restricted line length found in the Patterns curriculum. One notetaker for every two students was acceptable because each student received individual braille instruction from his or her teacher of students with visual impairments.
When the students were assigned to the Perkins Brailler and paper, all literacy instruction for the week was completed using traditional methods outlined by the Patterns curriculum. When the students used the PAC Mate, instruction followed the Patterns curriculum but was completed on the PAC Mate with its refreshable braille display (American Printing House for the Blind provided electronic files of the Patterns curriculum for the project). These files were then reformatted for PAC Mate in a braille-ready file that was parallel with the embossed edition of the curriculum.
Results of the MBSI
During the study, the students progressed in their knowledge of braille configurations, as is shown in Table 1. All but one showed progress in their ability to recognize and write braille as measured by the MBSI. One student showed a decrease in the number of correct items in the reading section. However, the teacher reported that on the day of the postassessment, the student became obstinate and refused to respond.
Data collection for curriculum-based measures
Video clips of the curriculum-based measures that were collected biweekly showed that all the teachers used curriculum-based measure administration procedures with fidelity. The video clips were rescored to calculate the reliability of the measurement. Interobserver agreement of greater than 95% was achieved and maintained by each teacher.
Results of the curriculum-based measures
After collecting three baseline probes of the students' performance with the Perkins Brailler and paper and with the PAC Mate with refreshable braille display, the teachers conducted curriculum-based measure probes for at least 18 weeks of instruction while implementing the alternating-treatments design. Graphs were constructed for the weekly curriculum-based measure probes. For each student, the graphed data for the curriculum-based measures for each method of reading or writing were examined using visual analysis (Kennedy, 2004). Visual analysis considered the number of data points, the level of performance at the baseline, and, during the first and second halves of the period of alternating instructional methods, the direction and degree of the trend for the data paths and the variability of performance. Comparisons identified any differences in the data paths of the two methods of reading and writing for each curriculum-based measure among the participants.
Curriculum-based measures for oral reading fluency
One student did not participate in the curriculum-based measures for oral reading fluency because his teacher thought that, as a kindergarten student, he was not ready to read words in passages. Figure 1 presents graphs of the curriculum-based measure outcomes for oral reading fluency of the eight remaining students. The graphs illustrate no clear differences in the number of data points or variability across the two methods of reading. The results for the mean levels of oral reading fluency are summarized in Table 2 and show differences across methods for some students. At the baseline, the mean levels of oral reading fluency were higher for seven of eight students when they read embossed braille than when they read from the PAC Mate braille display. One student performed equally well at the baseline on oral reading fluency with the PAC Mate as with embossed braille. During the first half of the instructional period, three students demonstrated mean levels of performance with greater oral reading fluency for embossed braille, one student performed with greater oral reading fluency with the PAC Mate electronic braille display, and four performed at similar levels with both methods.
In the second half of instruction with the alternating methods, five of eight students performed at higher mean levels of oral reading fluency with embossed braille. One student performed at a higher mean oral reading fluency with the PAC Mate and two performed at similar levels with embossed braille and the PAC Mate. An analysis of trend lines for the graphed data and the gains made in the mean level of oral reading fluency from the baseline to the second half of instruction showed differences for some students. These trends and gains were greater for reading embossed braille for two students, greater for reading with the electronic braille display for three students, and were similar for both methods for three other students.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Curriculum-based measures for word-writing fluency
Figure 2 presents the graphed data for the curriculum-based measures for word-writing fluency for all nine students. Again, clear differences in the number of data points and variability were not seen. The data for mean levels of performance on word-writing fluency are summarized in Table 3. At the baseline, the mean level of word-writing fluency was higher for eight of the nine students when using the Perkins Brailler. At the baseline, one student demonstrated a similar performance in word-writing fluency with both methods. During the first half of the instructional period, eight students performed with higher mean levels of word-writing fluency with the Perkins Brailler, and one student demonstrated similar mean levels of word-writing fluency with the Perkins Brailler and the PAC Mate.
In the second half of instruction with the alternating methods, as shown in Table 3, five of the nine students performed at a higher mean level of word-writing fluency with the Perkins Brailler, two students performed with a higher mean level of word-writing fluency with the PAC Mate, and there was little difference in the level for two other students. An analysis of the graphed data showed steeper trend lines and greater gains in the mean word-writing fluency from the baseline to the second half of instruction for use of the PAC Mate for seven of the nine students. Two students demonstrated greater trends and gains in the mean word-writing fluency when using the Perkins Brailler.
Interviews were conducted and video recorded with all the teachers and students in each of the research sites at the end of the alternating treatments. They were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a constant comparative approach (Glaser, 1978; Patton, 2001) by three trained members of the project staff.
The teachers identified specific advantages that led them to favor the Perkins Brailler and paper for initial instruction. They indicated that embossed braille enabled them to teach spatial relationships and orient students to the written page. Access to tactile graphics on paper was also important. The teachers thought that providing a whole page of braille, rather than the single line presented on the PAC Mate, more effectively built fluency in reading braille. They liked the simplicity of the Perkins Brailler and paper.
The teachers also identified disadvantages in using the Perkins Brailler and embossed braille. All commented on the finger coordination and strength required for young children to write with the Perkins Brailler. The teachers identified some advantages of introducing the use of an electronic braille notetaker during early literacy instruction. They preferred braille produced through the refreshable braille display, stating that it was crisp and did not degrade over time. They also found PAC Mate easier for editing mistakes, especially in spelling. In addition, all the teachers indicated that the auditory output of the PAC Mate provided motivation and feedback for the students.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
The teachers also identified disadvantages of the PAC Mate. Some found the keys on the PAC Mate to be too sensitive, contributing to errors. The presentation of braille, one line at a time, was another disadvantage because the teachers thought that it did not provide an adequate orientation to reading an entire page.
All the teachers thought that traditional methods of early literacy instruction with the Perkins Brailler and paper provided the best introduction to braille literacy. However, they also thought that electronic notetakers should be introduced and used at an early age to provide familiarity and motivation for young students who are learning braille.
Seven of the nine students were able to identify their preferences and to indicate specific advantages and disadvantages of reading and writing with the PAC Mate with refreshable braille and with the Perkins Brailler and embossed braille.
Reading. Four students indicated that they preferred the PAC Mate for reading braille. One student said she liked both media equally. Several preferred to read braille on the refreshable braille display of the PAC Mate, rather than embossed braille, because the dots were clearer and easier to figure out. The students also said they enjoyed using the buttons on the PAC Mate to scroll down and to move back and forth in the text, and two said they liked the Pac Mate because they could see the black-and-white electronic display. However, some students also identified frustration with needing to scroll down on the PAC Mate to reach a new line of text. One student described scrolling too far and losing her place in the story.
Two of seven students indicated a specific preference for reading embossed braille. The advantages of reading from a whole page of braille and reading from a book were mentioned by several students. Some students described the smaller size and poorer quality of embossed braille in contrast to the distinct braille that they liked in the refreshable braille. One found a whole page of braille on paper overwhelming, and one said she was more likely to skip lines when reading embossed braille.
Writing. Six of seven students stated a preference for the PAC Mate for writing braille. Several liked the PAC Mate's voice output because it gave them feedback when they made errors. The braille display of written material was also mentioned positively. According to the students, some features made the PAC Mate easier to use than the Perkins Brailler, including easier keys to push, no need to load paper, and the ability to correct mistakes more easily. One student enjoyed the ability to create files on the PAC Mate. However, the students stated that errors in brailling were easy to make on the PAC Mate and described the disadvantage of needing a braille embosser to produce material written on the PAC Mate.
Features of the Perkins Brailler that the students perceived as disadvantages included the difficulties of loading paper, erasing, using the fight amount of force in depressing keys, and frustration experienced when the Perkins Brailler became jammed. Several students thought that the Perkins Brailler and paper were preferable for a beginning student, but they all found the PAC Mate to be motivating and enjoyed using it.
The study did not reveal consistent differences across the students between outcomes of instruction with the traditional Perkins Brailler and paper or the PAC Mate with a refreshable braille display. The findings indicated that the students benefitted from early instruction with both technologies, even when they were used together in this alternating-treatments design. Although the students started with instruction in reading only embossed braille and writing only with the Perkins Brailler, when instruction in reading the electronic braille display and writing with the electronic braille notetaker was started, many students were soon performing equally well with both methods and devices.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF EACH TECHNOLOGY
The students' learning outcomes and responses to the interviews indicated the advantages and disadvantages of traditional and electronic methods for students. The perceptions of these advantages and disadvantages differed somewhat across the students.
The findings support the comments of previous researchers that electronic braille notetakers may provide added motivation for students who are learning to read and write braille. Steeper trend lines and greater gains in the same amount of time for fluency with the PAC Mate for many students supported this hypothesis. The themes of the teachers' and students' responses emphasized these motivational benefits.
Ease of physical use for the students The teachers and students commented that the keys of the PAC Mate were easier to press than those of the Perkins Brailler. This was both an advantage and a disadvantage. Although it took less effort to press the keys, it was also easier to make errors or to press a key unintentionally and become confused by the results.
Small sample size
Only four teachers and nine students participated in the study. As with many studies of instruction for students with low-incidence disabilities, it was not feasible to recruit and include a larger number of participants. The outcome data reflect the variability that is often seen in small groups of students with low-incidence disabilities.
Although the alternating-treatments design provided a way to compare the immediate outcomes of the two treatments, the study could not indicate whether outcomes would be different if only one of the technologies was used. All the students were receiving instruction with the Perkins Brailler and embossed braille prior to the baseline curriculum-based measures. The outcomes for fluency with the Perkins Brailler may have been different if the PAC Mate was not introduced. Similarly, if the PAC Mate was the initial device used in instruction prior to instruction with the Perkins Brailler and paper, the outcomes may have been different.
The teachers' familiarity and comfort with the Perkins Brailler in contrast to the difficulties that most of them had using the PAC Mate device may have influenced their instruction or the perceptions they expressed. All the teachers had received training in the use of the Perkins Brailler and embossed braille during their preservice education. Their previous experience using electronic braille devices varied. Although specific training in the use of the PAC Mate by personnel from the Freedom Scientific company was offered, none of the teachers chose to participate. At the beginning of the study, all the teachers indicated that they had adequate experience with technology and local resources to gain the skills needed to use the PAC Mate. However, during the interviews at the end of the study, three of the four teachers described the difficulties they had in managing the electronic files and using the PAC Mate fluently. The outcomes may have been different if all the teachers had been required to demonstrate a specific level of proficiency with the PAC Mate before they participated in the study.
The project staff developed curriculum-based measures specifically for this study following procedures described by Hosp et al., (2007). An expert in early braille literacy, Dr. Cay Holbrook, reviewed the curriculum-based measures for consistency of difficulty across the measures. However, studies of the technical adequacy of these measures were not conducted. Changes in the level or variability of performance week to week could have been related to changes in the content of some of the curriculum-based measures not noted by Dr. Holbrook. Further research is needed to study the development and use of curriculum-based measures to monitor progress in braille literacy instruction.
Type of electronic braille notetaker The results cannot be generalized to electronic braille devices other than the PAC Mate. Other devices may have different advantages, disadvantages, or outcomes. New devices, such as electronic tablets, are rapidly coming into use, and these new devices may produce different outcomes than those seen in the study.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTITIONERS
The study did not provide a clear answer to questions regarding differences in outcomes for traditional early braille literacy instruction with the Perkins Brailler and embossed braille or for the use of electronic braille notetakers and refreshable braille displays. However, the findings suggest that following some instruction with the traditional technology, students can quickly learn to use an electronic braille device, students are motivated to use these devices, and some students may demonstrate enhanced outcomes.
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This research was made possible through funding from Grant H327A070069 from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. We acknowledge the contributions of Elliott Witherspoon, Cheryl Grindol, Cay Holbrook, Twila Nesky, and Owen White to the study and the American Printing House for the Blind for providing electronic files of the Patterns curriculum for use in the study.
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James O. Bickford, Ed. D., associate professor, Department of Special Education, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University, 615 West Harrison Street, P.O. Box 751, Portland, OR 97207; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Ruth A. Falco, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Special Education, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
Table l Minnesota Braille Skills Inventory: Pre- and posttesting. Pretest Posttest Change items correct items correct Student Reading Writing Reading Writing Reading Writing HI 1 31 44 61 66 +30 +22 MD 1 50 63 60 68 +10 +5 MD 2 39 58 58 63 +19 +5 OK 1 172 186 214 212 +42 +26 OK 2 132 155 192 204 +60 +49 OK 3 43 52 116 104 +73 +52 OK 4 62 65 81 82 +19 +17 OR 1 135 124 149 150 +14 +19 OR2 68 46 50 57 -18 +11 Table 2 Mean levels of performance for oral reading fluency at the baseline, the first half of instruction, and the second half of instruction, and gains in words read per minute (WPM) for braille embossed on paper or the PAC Mate electronic braille display. Student Reading method Baseline First Second WPM half half gain Cali Embossed braille 2.33 4.25 5.25 2.92 PAC Mate 1.33 3.50 6.40 5.07 Denise Embossed braille 1.67 3.33 9.20 7.53 PAC Mate 1.67 3.20 6.00 4.33 Madison Embossed braille 6.00 8.00 17.75 11.75 PAC Mate 3.33 9.33 15.20 11.87 Joey Embossed braille 6.00 7.67 8.33 2.33 PAC Mate 5.00 7.75 11.75 6.75 Charles Embossed braille 5.67 5.40 7.33 1.66 PAC Mate 3.33 5.50 5.40 2.07 Amy Embossed braille 5.33 6.50 7.80 2.47 PAC Mate 4.33 6.60 7.75 3.42 Alisa Embossed braille 53.67 48.00 48.00 -5.67 PAC Mate 32.33 33.25 39.60 7.27 Eloni Embossed braille 4.00 5.20 19.50 15.50 PAC Mate 2.33 2.00 8.00 5.67 Table 3 Mean levels of performance for word-writing fluency at the baseline, the first half of instruction, and the second half of instruction, and gains in correct symbol or letter sequences per minute (SPM) for dictated words written during two-minute timings with the Perkins Brailler or with the PAC Mate. Reading Student method Baseline First Second SPM half half gain Cali Perkins Brailler 10.63 18.75 16.50 5.87 PAC Mate 8.33 17.00 19.80 11.47 Denise Perkins Brailler 4.00 17.33 26.00 22.00 PAC Mate 6.00 14.00 17.00 11.00 Madison Perkins Brailler 37.66 43.75 75.25 37.59 PAC Mate 34.33 39.33 64.40 30.07 Joey Perkins Brailler 22.67 39.00 39.67 17.00 PAC Mate 19.00 30.00 47.75 28.75 Charles Perkins Brailler 10.00 10.00 12.33 2.33 PAC Mate 6.00 10.25 11.00 5.00 Amy Perkins Brailler 14.00 15.00 15.80 1.80 PAC Mate 9.33 13.60 15.75 6.42 Alisa Perkins Brailler 44.00 46.20 50.25 6.25 PAC Mate 37.00 36.75 48.00 11.00 Eloni Perkins Brailler 7.33 11.00 18.75 11.42 PAC Mate 2.67 7.50 19.40 16.73 Kai Perkins Brailler 10.00 15.00 23.20 13.20 PAC Mate 1.00 11.40 18.40 17.40
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|Title Annotation:||CEU Article|
|Author:||Bickford, James O.; Falco, Ruth A.|
|Publication:||Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2012|
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