Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

National Family Literacy Month

November 11, 2021 American Printing House Episode 41
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
National Family Literacy Month
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Change Makers, we are celebrating National Family Literacy Month. National Family Literacy Month is an opportunity for families to read together. We’re talking about APH products that help plant the seeds for braille literacy, what APH Press books are good for educators teaching braille to children and we’ll talk about Braille Tales, an early program that helps develop braille awareness skills and an enthusiasm for literacy in the hearts of young children through free books that have print and braille.

Participants (In Order of Appearance)

  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Cathy Senft-Graves, APH Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation
  • Greg Stilson, APH Head of Global Innovation
  • Donna McClure Rogers, APH Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation 
  • Christine Genovely, APH Prison Braille Programs Coordinator Government & Community Affairs
  • Heather Spence, APH Press Director


Additional Links

Jack Fox:

Welcome to change makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I'm APH is Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown, and today we're celebrating National Family Literacy Month. National Family Literacy Month is an opportunity for families to read together. So on this podcast, we're talking about APH products that help plant the seeds for braille literacy. What APH Press books are good for educators teaching braille to children. And we're going to talk about Braille Tales, an early program that helps children develop braille awareness skills and an enthusiasm for literacy in the hearts of young children through free books that have print and braille. Up first, we're talking to APH's Product Manager, Education, Product Innovation, Cathy Senft-Graves. Hello, Cathy , and welcome to Change Makers.

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Hi, glad to be here.

Sara Brown:

Can you talk about the importance of braille literacy and why it's so important for children who are blind or visually impaired to learn braille?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Sure. Well, literacy is the ability to read and write. For people who are blind or do not have enough vision to use print, braille is the medium they can use to learn, to read and write. We expect most typically sighted children to learn, to read and write using prints , including spelling and using punctuation correctly. And the same skills should be taught to and expected of children who are blind or visually impaired using braille. Literacy skills are required to get through school and become an independent member of society. I recently did a presentation where we asked the audience who were teachers and others in the field of blind ness and visual impairment; What first comes to mind when they hear the word braille, and some of the responses were literacy, language, empowerment, and self-determination.

Sara Brown:

If you've listened to Change Makers for a while now we do talk about the importance of braille literacy. And earlier this year, we even featured an entire podcast related to the importance of braille. That podcast is episode 21, titled "Is Braille Still Relevant." We posed that question because a lot of younger children are listening to things rather than reading. Here's a snippet from that podcast, where we have APH's Head of Global Innovation, Greg Stilson speaking...

Greg Stilson:

"You know, so I think there's, there's always this debate today because of all the accessibility that's there with, with text-to-speech engines, everywhere that, you know, your phone talks, your TV talks, everything talks, right? And so you always have the question of is braille still relevant and , uh , I'm going to start by saying that absolutely 100% it does. It is important because students and young children and people who learn braille, learn so much more than just the written word, right? They learn sentence structure, they learn layouts of pages. They learn grammar, they learn spelling. All of these things unfortunately cannot be learned by listening to a text-to-speech audio device. Having said that in my opinion, and this is, this is strictly my opinion. And from the time that I've , I'm a blind reader of braille myself, I learned braille in kindergarten, but just speaking to several teachers of the visually impaired, from what I understand and the way that I've, I've heard the most success come from, it is usually starting a student with a full page of braille, right...So a, usually a , a textbook or, you know, a physical piece of paper, right? What that teaches them is that it teaches them the spatial layout of things. So when you're, going through a book when you're reading a story , chapter titles or things like that are centered, and just that understanding that a chapter title is centered in the middle of the page. In today's single line braille displays and things like that, that can't really be represented adequately when you're reading a single line display, everything is done linear in a linear fashion. Um, so the sentence structure, the , um, the , the, the, the layout of the page, things like that are really not represented in the same way that they're represented on a, on a full page of braille or a full multiline , um, experience like that. So to summarize, I would say, starting the student, if you have the capability of , you know, the physical pages of braille or a, full, full page of braille , to teach them those really fundamental concepts, and then as time progresses and incorporating a lot of times, teachers have told me they use the electronic braille devices as sort of a reward for the student , uh, doing well with their, their written braille or they're , they're reading the physical pages of braille to then slowly transition them into electronic braille."

Sara Brown:

We're back with Cathy and we just heard the importance of learning braille and APH has a product called BOP or Building on Patterns. Cathy, what can you tell us about this product that helps set the foundation for braille? And is it quota ?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Um, yes, it is quota eligible my answer, the short question first. So Building on Patterns is a systematic, comprehensive and balanced literacy program designed to teach young children with visual impairments to read and write using braille. In Building on Patterns, learning the dot configurations and rules governing braille are positioned in the larger context of learning to read and write. So Building on Patterns is not just about learning braille. It also includes instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, listening and reading comprehension, high-frequency words, oral vocabulary, writing, including spelling and creative writing, using a braille writer, grammar and reading fluency. There are four levels of Building on Patterns. Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade and second grade. There is a teacher's manual or a teacher's edition for each level available in both print and braille . The student materials for each level are sold separately in a student kit because many of the student materials are consumable, but the teacher's manual can be used for multiple students. The first grade and second grade are each made up of seven units. Each unit is sold separately and has its own teacher's edition and student kit. And all the braille contractions are taught by the end of the second grade level. The reason for that is because of high stakes testing starting in third grade. So it's best if students transitioned to the classroom curriculum in third grade. That's kind of an overview, the whole thing.

Sara Brown:

Talk to me about the team that you worked with on this project?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Oh, it's, it's just very collaborative. I'm. I am privileged to work with a group of teachers of students with visual impairments on this project. And we have been working together for quite some time. Um, the Building on Patterns development team consists of teams of teachers of students with visual impairments, who are the main writers, other consultants and APH personnel. Um, one of the most important strengths of this program is that has been written by qualified, highly experienced teachers of students with visual impairments who embrace the value of reading and writing for students who will use braille. Teachers from four different states make up the current four writing groups. There are two groups out west in Oregon and California, one in the South in Arkansas and one in the East in Virginia. So the teacher input is from a variety of different perspectives, and these teachers are mostly itinerant. So they work with students in different schools, in their area of the country. Most of the consultants also, and most of those consultants that APH's brought in for the different grade levels of the program have also been TSVI's. And the core team of teachers/writers has been working on the program for over 10 years. Some of them have been with us for closer to 15. The experiences of these teachers actively working in the field are invaluable in the development of the curriculum. We meet regularly. We started using Zoom in 2019. So kind of ahead of the curve a little bit on that. And we work closely together to ensure consistency and continuity in the lessons. So they work with students in different schools, in their area of the country. Most of the consultants also, and most of those consultants that APH's brought in for the different grade levels of the program have also been TSVI's. And the core team of teachers/writers has been working on the program for over 10 years. Some of them have been with us for closer to 15. The experience of these teachers actively working in the field are invaluable in the development of the curriculum. We meet regularly. We started using Zoom in 2019. So kind of ahead of the curve a little bit on that. And we work closely together to ensure consistency and continuity in the lessons.

Sara Brown:

Why is BOP important for a student's education? What are some of the skills and areas of focus a child will learn from BOP?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

So in addition to the literacy skills, I listed earlier, Building on Patterns addresses topics uniquely for braille readers, including tactile graphics. So we include a lot of raised line graphics in the curriculum for everything from tactile pictures to go along with the stories in the pre-K level to maps and charts and graphs, and even Venn diagrams in second grade. There's also concept development and background for things that children who are blind and visually impaired don't learn incidentally, the way typically sighted students do from seeing things in their environment or in pictures or on TV. Like for example, children who are blind need to know about colors and what color everyday items are in their surroundings. And of course, braille specific knowledge is incorporated throughout the lessons, including braille contractions, braille indicators, and how to use a braille writer.

Sara Brown:

And what is the age range for BOP?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

So generally students from four years old to seven years old, some of the instructional activities can be used with or adapted for older students, but teachers need to be careful about that because many of the stories and activities are designed for students in this age range, and won't be appropriate for older children.

Sara Brown:

Are there any other resources for BOP? I know that there is APH.org. Is there anything else?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Yes, there is a website , um, and there are a couple of other things that everyone might not know about. So first I'd like to mention, there are reference volumes for the pre-K, first grade, and second grade levels. And these include companion material to what's in the teacher's manual, such as background information about the program and its teaching philosophy, some relevant literacy research information on the skills taught and lists of words and contractions taught at each level. The reference volumes do come with the teacher's edition for the first units of first and second grade. Then there are also post tests for kindergarten, first grade and second grade. In addition to assessing what a student has learned in Building on Patterns, the post test can be used to evaluate a new student's braille knowledge. And then as you mentioned, there is a website for Building on Patterns. It's aphbop.org, and it has pages for each level of the program. So each level has a page for themes, features and samples. And this includes example activities that can be downloaded. So teachers can see what some of the instructional activities look like, and they can show them to administrators and parents. There's a teaching components page that includes a downloadable scope and sequence as a PDF and as a BRF or braille ready file. There's an ordering information page that lists all the kit information and has links to the APH shopping pages. And then there are, there are teacher resources for each level. For kindergarten, first grade and second grade this includes the UEB teacher supplements. So all the Building on Patterns student materials are in UEB, but because we're focusing our resources on updating the program, we're currently providing free downloadable supplements for the teachers materials for these levels, with information on what changed for UEB in the student materials, rather than updating the hard copy teacher materials. There are also electronic versions of the pre-K parent letters and first and second grade homework letters that are in each lesson. Um, these letters can be sent home and they contain activity suggestions for families that go along with the skills and concepts being taught. And they're included in the student kit in hard copy, but with the electronic versions, teachers can tailor the letters to the child's family. And that I want to especially mention , um, for pre kindergarten , there's a frequently asked questions list. So that's a good resource for people using that level. Um, there are videos about using a braille writer, photos about the hand-under-hand technique for helping students. And there are sample assessments, so teachers can see how those can be utilized.

Sara Brown:

And is there anything else you'd like to add regarding BOP?

Cathy Senft-Graves:

So Building on Patterns can be used along with the general education classroom curriculum materials. Students need to be taught all the skills included in Building on Patterns, but whether they get them in BOP or in their general education classes, or some combination is up to individual teams and teachers. Building on Patterns was written with details to aid, the beginning teacher of students with visual impairments. However, it's not a scripted program. It is designed to be used by qualified teachers of students with visual impairments and teachers need to tailor their instruction to each individual child. Um, also APH is continuously updating this curriculum to keep up with changes in educational standards. The kindergarten level is currently under revision, but it is a time intensive process. It'll be a little while before we send out a request for teachers to field test it, but when that's complete, we will move on to updating the first grade. Um, and anyone's welcome to contact me anytime with questions or input about the program.

Sara Brown:

We'll be sure to put the links in the show notes to the BOP shipping page, APHBop.Org, as well as Cathy's email in the show notes. Be sure to check there for more information. Thank you so much, Kathy , for joining me on Change Makers.

Cathy Senft-Graves:

Very glad to be here. Thanks Sara.

Sara Brown:

Now we have APH Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation, Donna McClure-Rogers. Hello, Donna, and welcome to Change Makers.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Sara Brown:

We're looking at a Lap Time and Lullabies Parent Handbooks and Storybooks. Can you tell us about these products?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

These were a group of products and that was originally supposed to be all in one kit. Um, but it is currently being sold separately. So you can get the 18 parent booklets as the parent handbooks. And then you would also want to purchase the two storybooks that go along with those handbooks. They're mentioned throughout , um , each little leaflet and they help the parents to walk through the program with their children.

Sara Brown:

And are they quota eligible?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

They are. Yes.

Sara Brown:

What is the age range for a Lap Time and Lullabies?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Lap Time and Lullabies is geared for younger children. Um, basically birth through preschool, the beginning of kindergarten. Um, it deals a lot with emergent literacy skills , um, which is the period before formal literacy instruction begins. So you're looking at the background knowledge that children would need to understand basic language , um, how written language is used in their environment and different attitudes that they might develop prior to learning to read.

Sara Brown:

And is there anything else you can tell us about Lap Time and Lullabies?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Well, Lap Time and Lullabies was created so that you would have the 18 parent booklets that work together with the two storybooks, these were broken down into the 18 parts, so that teachers would be able to provide parents with little chunks of information rather than handing them a textbook or a chapter to review in order to understand what their children are going through. The first four booklets are created to explain things that might occur in the parents and child's life between birth and they're the first year. So it'll explain a lot of things about different visual impairments and how those impairments might affect how the child would interact with their environment. And beyond the fourth booklet , uh , the teacher can actually provide those in any order that she needs to, as she's working with the parents in their home, these are great to teach different concepts like hand in her hand, help the parents to understand how to get their children, to explore their environment. And the storybooks are integrated within these booklets, teaching the parents, how to create that loving environment for children to learn the love, the written word, and understand that that's where language comes from, how to incorporate that with the basic images that are on the pages and just to kind of get children into reading and loving stories and understanding what they're hearing along the way. So , um , this is just a wonderful program to help parents and their children. And we're very excited to get this out.

Sara Brown:

Thank you so much Donna, for joining me on Change Makers.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Thank you for having me.

Sara Brown:

We have APH's Prison Braille Coordinator, which oversees Braille Tales, Christine Genovely. Hello, Christine, and welcome to Change Makers.

Christine Genovely:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Sara Brown:

Can you tell me a bit about Braille Tales and how it encourages literacy?

Christine Genovely:

Yes, absolutely. It would be my pleasure. Uh, Braille Tales is a program that we run out of , uh , the American Printing House for the Blind that sends free of charge, print braille books directly to families six times a year. Now these books are children's books that are in print and we make clear labels , printed with braille that we put over each page. So they are accessible for both the sighted and the visually impaired braille readers. Um, and this is an incredibly important program for us. You know, early reading has such a tremendous impact on childhood development and we really want to make that accessible for all children in all families, regardless of their vision level, braille readers. Um, and so that's where this program comes in. Since we all know a home is the first and best place to learn literacy development or to begin that process. It's never too early to start. We'll start sending these books out from birth. And then they graduate at six-years-old. This allows families with either parents that are real readers or children that are visually impaired and likely to be braille readers, to both have the opportunity to experience that time reading together. So parents that are braille readers who enjoy that moment of, you know, curling up in bed , um, before bedtime and reading a story book together, they can read braille, the children can follow along in the print or vice versa, and that allows even children who are not literate yet , um, that are going to be real readers to have that first exposure where they can feel the braille, they can learn what their letters are going to look like. What their future's going to hold in that regard. So the most important thing is just to create this opportunity for all families. And that's another reason why it's free of charge is because we all know braille books can be incredibly expensive and difficult to find, you know, so this allows for families to create their own home library of , uh , print braille books for them to use at any time.

Sara Brown:

And is there anything else you want the public to know about Braille Tales? I know it's a part of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Is there anything else you want people to know?

Christine Genovely:

Yes. Uh , actually, if you go to our website, you can apply directly online and that is , uh , www.Aph.org/BrailleTales and they're applications online. There's further information to contact us if you have any questions. Um, the one sort of sticking point I want to make sure I mentioned is that these books are, are for families. So , um, for children who are ages zero to six and who live in the U.S. Or in any of its outlying territories, you are eligible. So please reach out.

Sara Brown:

We'll be sure to put links to Braille Tales in the Show Notes. So be sure to check there for more information. All right, Christine, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers.

Christine Genovely:

Thank you such a pleasure.

Sara Brown:

We have APH's Press Director, Heather Spence. Heather oversees published educational content. Hello, Heather, and welcome to Change Makers.

Heather Spence:

Hi Sara. Thanks for having me.

Sara Brown:

Can you talk to us about what books are recommended for educators teaching braille to children?

Heather Spence:

Sure. Um, I would say the go-to book would be Beginning with Braille: Firsthand Experiences with a Balanced Approach to Literacy by Anna Swenson . Um, this book really for more than 20 years, I would say, has been , um, really the go-to resource for educators teaching braille to beginning students. The book was first published in 1999, I believe, and then updated again in 2016 with new content that included incorporating technology into literacy instruction , um, how to meet modern curriculum requirements and also how to work with dual media students. So beginning with braille is really a practical teacher-friendly book that emphasizes the importance of recognizing teacher's roles really as co-teachers of reading and not necessarily braille teachers working alone, outside the classroom environment. Um, the book is divided into three parts. So part one is called a context for instruction and offers some basic background information, including trends in general education and braille literacy instruction. It has some guidelines and strategies for beginning braille, and then also an overview of assessment and documentation. Um, part two is called you and your braille student and has really devoted to literacy instruction for a wide range of learners. And then finally, the part three is beyond instruction braille and the inclusive classroom and includes chapters on adapting print, classroom materials and teaching braille decided classmates. So beginning with braille is really , uh , a great resource for teachers working with beginning braille students. Um, and then we also have another great resource , um, from APH Press that's called, I-M-Able Kit by Diane Wormsley and I-M-Able stands for the individualized meaning centered approach to braille literacy education. Um, and it really is an innovated individualized student centered method for teaching braille and making it exciting for children who have difficulties with learning braille. This book also came out in 2016, but the concept really was first introduced in the book , uh , called braille literacy, a functional approach back in 2004. I-M-Able the concept really where the, I guess the premise behind the book was that it was meant it was designed to be an aid for teachers working with children with visual impairments and implementing that approach. Um, the, I-M-Able to approach , um, it could also be used for personnel preparation programs , um, in coursework for pre-service teachers learning how to teach braille reading , um, and in the teaching approach, that's outlined in the book, the instruction is really centered on continuously analyzing the strengths and needs of the students and placing particular emphasis on engaging them using key vocabulary, words, and phrases based on their experience and interests . Um, so the guide provides really detailed direction on how to implement the components of the approach. Um, and I did , I want to mention too , in addition to the book that we have from APH Press APH also has a kit. Um , and I-M-Able Kit that includes the book along with other materials , um, that are designed to motivate and engage and reward students who are candidates for braille reading instruction, but who might be struggling. So the kit includes a copy of the book along with some training videos, APH Word House Kit, and the APH HANDS ON: Sorting Trays that can be used for playing games with work cards. So it's really a kit that teachers can use to make learning fun.

Sara Brown:

Are there any other books you would recommend?

Heather Spence:

Sure. Um, there's another great book. That's not necessarily meant for teaching braille, but reading in general and it's called reading connections strategies for teaching students with visual impairments. Um, breeding connections was released in 2015 and was really written for educators seeking to improve the reading skills of their students , um, who are visually impaired with the aim of offering an in-depth and user-friendly guide for teaching reading. So the book addresses the needs of students who read print braille or both. Um, so it , it provides teachers with a foundation for understanding reading instruction, along with a variety of activities that they can use on a daily basis to help students improve their reading skills. Um, the, in the second part of reading connections, all of the chapters in part two include sample activities. So there are probably , um, at least anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen activities in each of those chapters that can be used to teach the components of reading. Reading connections is really aimed at teachers working in general and special education schools, as well as instructors and pre-service teachers in the teacher preparation programs, but it can also provide school administrators with a better understanding of the rule of the TBI and teaching reading. So I think it's a really great resource.

Sara Brown:

And since this is national family literacy month, is there anything else you'd like to add to this conversation about braille and children?

Heather Spence:

Sure. Um, we actually have another great resource that we're working on a new edition for , um, and that is guidelines and games for teaching efficient braille reading. So this book, it's a really fun book, you know , it's , uh , it's small and easy for the teachers to carry along with them. Um, it includes games that provide ideas for adapting, a general reading program to the needs of braille readers and really enriching early instruction in braille. And this, you know, we consider this one of our classic texts. It was first released in 1981, I believe. Um, so we're coming up on a fourth . This is the, I guess the 40 year anniversary. So the book is being updated to reflect current technology and devices , um, any of the new methods and efficiencies that have evolved in the last 40 years and also the updates to braille instruction. So we're really excited about this new edition and we think it's going to be an invaluable resource for classroom teachers and really anyone working with children who are blind or visually impaired and it's expected to be released in spring of 2022.

Sara Brown:

That's that far her way. Okay, Heather, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers. Thank you for having me. It was always a pleasure. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers we'll again, put any links and websites mentioned in this podcast, in the show notes and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker this week.