Getting In Touch With Literacy Conference Round-Up

Photo shows a set of 3D printed tactile communication cues with print and braille labels
3D printed tactile cues shared in a presentation on literacy development for students with multiple exceptionalities

The PRCVI outreach team attended the Getting in Touch with Literacy Conference in Seattle, WA from November 14-16, 2019. We've prepared an overview of the sessions we attended along with links to presentation notes and resources.

Turning on Touch Thinking: From Tactile Discrimination to Braille Letter Identification

This presentation by Donna McNear focused on teaching tactile discrimination skills to students with expressive language delays. The presentation provided a tool for taking students from basic tactile discrimination of everyday objects to braille symbol discrimination. These instructional strategies use routines, predictability, and structured learning opportunities, as well as high expectations to guide students towards the goal of braille literacy. Donna emphasized the importance of focusing on touch and tactile discrimination rather than verbal instructions or language processing.

Handout for “Turning on Touch Thinking” presentation.

Access to the General Education ELA Curriculum for Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments

Tammy Reisman shared the results of a qualitative study that used interviews and case studies to examine students' access to ELA curriculum. Preliminary results of the research illustrate the importance of high expectations and the benefits to students with visual impairments and their peers when there is access to the ELA curriculum. Case studies and examples of adapted student material were shared and attendees had the opportunity to see some hands-on examples of adapted materials.

Access to the General Education ELA for Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments Handouts.

TMAP as a Tool for Tactile Graphicacy

This presentation by BJ Dietz Epstein, Caiti O’Malior, and Frank Welte focused on the importance of understanding tactile graphicacy—the ability to read and understand tactile graphics—and introduced lesson ideas and tools to assist teachers. It’s important that students learn to read tactile graphics before they are needed in a test or the real world. TMAP is a tool that allows anyone to provide a GPS location and have computer-generated tactile map files available immediately.

TMAP as a Tool for Tactile Graphicacy slides.
Tactile Map Reading – Sample Lesson Plan.

When Your Student’s Learning Media is Symbols

 This presentation by Jasamyn Nichols DeGrant and Gerald Abner provided a set of resources for assessing learning media for students who use symbols. The presentation included information on how to plan and conduct an assessment for a student using symbols, how to create an assessment kit, information about working with other professionals, plenty of examples, and resources for apps and other helpful products.

When Your Student’s Learning Media is Symbols handout.

Supporting the Literacy Needs of Elementary Students Through Professional Development for Their General Education Teachers

This session by Tina S. Herzberg and L. Penny Rosenblum focused on a new resource developed for classroom teachers working with visually impaired students. The resource consists of 11 short videos, along with an optional quiz and project, to help classroom teachers better understand visual impairments and how they can support students in their class. Information about the types of people who had used these resources and how they had found them helpful were included in the presentation.

Supporting the Literacy Needs of Elementary Students Through Professional Development for Their General Education Teachers handout.

Braille, Print, Speech: Teaching Strategies for Dual Media Learners in Inclusive Settings

This presentation by Annette Hallenberger shared results of a study that outline challenges in braille reading fluency, comprehension, and listening skills for students who learn both print and braille (dual media) in school. The session had quite an international attendance, so many of the differences between countries’ educational systems was shared. There was lots of opportunity for group discussion and sharing of strategies and ideas for literacy skills instruction.

Braille, Print, Speech: Teaching Strategies for Dual Media Learners in Inclusive Settings handout.

Gamification of Education for BVI Students Based On Core and Expanded Core and Student's IEP

This presentation by Marty Shultz highlighted ObjectiveEd's suite of games for the iPad. These games, designed for K-12 students, support braille literacy, orientation and mobility, and assistive technology skills to students with visual impairments. The games are also linked to an online portal where teachers can monitor their students' progress and create new activities. Examples of the apps in use was provided in the presentation.

Grading for Growth

This presentation from Windee Cottle and Cheryl Kamei-Hannan focused on the writing skills students with visual impairments will need when entering post-secondary writing courses. The presenters shared examples of student readings and assignments, and strategies for helping to foster strong writing skills while in high school. The session also included time where attendees could discuss the role they may play in fostering their students' writing skills and strategies they might use to help students acquire the high level of writing skills needed for post-secondary assignments.

More Than Meets the Eye: A Detailed Analysis of Braille Hand Movements

Tessa McCarthy and Rob Wall Emersen presented results from t heir research on the hand movements used by adult braille readers. They described six variations of hand movements, ranging from use of only one hand to the "scissors" two-handed technique. Adults were tested using a variety of reading material, including mathematical material, to analyze differences. Implications for teachers of students with visual impairments were shared with the attendees.

Literacy and Communication for Students with Complex Multiple Disabilities Including Visual Impairments or Deaf-blindness

In this preconference full-day workshop, Karen Erickson and Sofia Benson-Goldberg shared their practical strategies for working with students with complex multiple disabilities and developing literacy and communication skills. The team at University North Carolina – Chapel Hill developed 3D symbols to represent a set of universal core words (e.g. all, go, look, you, help) that can be printed on a 3D printer. This set of 36 universal core vocabulary words were carefully selected to focus on conceptual vocabulary rather than representational vocabulary (e.g. book, snacks, bed). Representational language is limiting in expressive communication as it represents a single thing whereas conceptual language is meaningful as single words but can also be combined meaningfully across different environments, activities and interactions. Karen and Sofie shared strategies for engaging students in meaningful reading and writing tasks that move toward independent reading and writing activities.

Each of the topics covered in the day-long session was anchored by an online resource available on the Project Core website in their professional development modules.

Karen and Sofie created a wiki for the preconference day that provide the handout and additional articles and resources.

Developing Language and Literacy Skills: Outcomes and Best Practices for Preschool/ Elementary School Children with CVI Who Use AAC

In this presentation, Aileen Arai and Sarah Blackstone shared the experiences of students at the Bridge School. The Bridge School is located near San Francisco and is a private transition school placement for students with complex needs. Aileen and Sarah led a discussion about the types of barriers that students with CVI face in their community and schools. The Bridge School worked closely with Christine Roman-Lantzy in 2012 who supported staff in developing interventions for students. They shared examples of the visual and literacy supports that were put into place to support students at different stages of the CVI Resolution Range. The Bridge School started to collect data on their students with CVI and have seen improvements in individual student profiles.

Modified Letter Name Instruction for Students with CVI: A Case Study

Mackenzie Savaiano presented a case study of a 5th grade student named “Alice”. A systematic approach for teaching letter names and letter sounds through adapted instruction of an evidence-based instructional program called Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS). For 30 days, the student worked through learning the name of 9 letters that she didn’t know. Together with a teacher, she worked daily for about an hour every day after school. However, when assessed, the intervention did not work for the student. A discussion about why this approach didn’t work for this student by conference participants.

Exploring Literacy Opportunities for Children with Visual Impairment and Additional Disabilities at a Specialized Preschool

In this presentation, Susan Pope shared the research she conducted at a specialized preschool that was designed for students with visual impairments. This is a private preschool that primarily serves students with visual impairments and complex needs but also has students who are sighted that attend. The preschool has access to a wealth of resources including accessible educational materials, low staff to student ratio, and assistive technology. Susan shared her observations of the daily routine in the preschool, interviews with the educators and results of the parent survey. She found that the teachers were integrating and offering literacy supports throughout the day for all students in the preschool setting.

Literacy for Students with Visual Impairment & Complex Needs, Including Deafblindness: Where Do I Start?

Peggy Sinclair-Morris and Donna Carpenter from the Kentucky Deafblind Project presented strategies for supporting the literacy development of students with visual impairments and complex needs including deafblindness. They shared how to build a foundation for literacy which includes: having trusting relationships, having good communication, exposure to literacy, supporting concept development, and engaging child interests. The presenters shared several examples of students engaged in various literacy activities and their supports. They also highlighted and used the Literacy Skills Checklist from the National Center on Deaf-Blindness and pointed to the emergent literacy resources on that website.

Session handout: Literacy for Students with Visual Impairments & Complex Needs, Including Deafblindhess: Where Do I Start?

Access Solutions for Visually Impaired Students with Significant Additional Impairments

The team from the Washington State School for the Blind shared assistive technology solutions that were used to support students with visual impairments and significant additional impairments. These strategies included adding tactile markers to a Bluetooth keyboard to support the development of keyboarding skills. The trial of using switches with iPad apps to support writing activities in the app Abilipad. There was also a presentation on accessible options for supporting access to Chromebook.

Session handout: Access Solutions for Visually Impaired Students with Significant Additional Impairments

What's New in Reading Research?

In this presentation, Frances Mary D’Andrea shared her summary of current reading research. She covered several important trends that we should pay attention to and a discussion about the impact of reading research on instruction for students with visual impairments. One of the suggestions that came out of the discussion was to refer to braille contractions by the letters they represent rather than their category (e.g., the p-a-r-t contraction rather than the dot-5-p contraction). This technique will help reinforce the spelling of the word.

Being Deliberate: Thinking Through Literacy for Students with Visual Impairments

In this showcase presentation, Kim Zebehazy shared her thoughts on how we can promote and explicitly teach critical thinking skills during literacy activities. She created an acrostic for the word ‘deliberate’ which included these themes: deep dive, engaging environment, linger, inquire, and ask.

Promoting Visual Skills Through Story Experiences: Frozen and Harry Potter!

Gwyneth McCormack from Positive Eye wants teachers to bring back the magic and fun to reading experiences for students. These strategies include wearing black clothes and using black backgrounds when presenting objects for viewing, using ‘finger lights’ or string LED lights to augment the object to be viewed, playing dress-up and becoming the story characters. An example of a strategy that she promotes is called the cupboard-ness of cupboards in which she talks about the character of Harry Potter living in a cupboard under the stairs and how students might better understand Harry’s character if they had the opportunity to get into a cupboard and experience the cupboard-ness of cupboards.

TSVIs Describe Their Learning Media Assessment Practices for Students with Visual Impairments

Tina Herzberg, Gerald Abner, Kitty Estrand, Loana Mason, & L. Penny Rosenblum shared their research findings from their North American survey of TSVIs and their Learning Media Assessments practices and how that impacts the educational supports for students with visual impairments. They received 78 responses and the research found that TSVIs conduct LMAs in tandem with Functional Vision Assessments. TSVIs tended to use standard assessments for students who are academic and they tend to pull from a variety of assessments when assessing younger students or students with complex needs. Their results will be published in JVIB in a future edition.

Bridging the Gap: Braille Literacy for Students with Multiple Disabilities

Tracy Fitch shares a method for teaching a student with multiple disabilities including a cognitive impairment. Tracy shared the progression of pre-literacy activities she used to support the literacy development of a student named Autumn. The components to success consisted on many factors that included: differentiation, creativity, meaningful tasks, consistency, repetition, patience, enthusiasm, praise, collaboration and data collection. The student started out working with 3D shapes and learned the 2D representation. Once that was established the student learned how to differentiate different textures on the 2D shapes such as ‘smooth square’ versus a ‘scratchy square’. The objects were at first large then made smaller and smaller. These smaller shapes were then used in tracking and identification activities that enabled the student to use the Touch and Tell resources and then finally the I-M-Able curriculum. The student is now 21 and about to graduate and has 50 meaningful vocabulary words and can read and write braille functionally.

Session Handout:
• Fitch_Braille Literacy Presentation_Large Print.docx
• Fitch_Resource List.docx
• 1116 Fitch_Weekly Lesson Plan Table.docx
• 1116 Data Sheet Example 1.pdf
• 1116 Data Sheet Example 2.pdf

Promoting Literacy with Adapted Osmo Games for Students with Visual Impairments

Bryan Moles and Samantha Zauner shared some of their work using the Osmo system for the iPad with students with low vision, including those learning braille as an additional literacy medium. The presenters have created special albums for Osmo apps that feature braille letters and contractions for students with low vision learning the code. Their work is featured on the Paths to Literacy website

Culturally Responsive Teaching in Literacy Relevant Instruction with Blind or Visually Impaired Students

Monique Coleman presented on the use of culturally responsive pedagogy in literacy instruction for students with visual impairments, with a focus on selecting and adapting storybooks that feature culturally conscious content

Additional Resources

If you're interested in seeing a summary of most of the presentations at the conference, including sessions PRCVI presented on accessible digital materials and accessible coding, visit the Handouts section of the Getting In Touch with Literacy site.


About the author

Jen Jesso

I have worked in various roles in the field of visual impairment since 2007. In addition to working as a teacher of students with visual impairments, I recently completed coursework to become an orientation and mobility specialist. I have been fortunate to work with the fantastic team at PRCVI since 2014.

I enjoy many aspects of my role at PRCVI, but highlights include working with teachers of students with visual impairments and their students on outreach visits and working on PRCVI initiatives and projects.

Outside of work, my interests include reading, computer programming, swimming, and spending time with friends and family.

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