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DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support) Volume 17, Number 3, Summer 2012

DOTS (Development of Teacher Support) for Braille Literacy is published three times a year and is available online at In this issue...

From the Editor

Didn't summer used to be a time for relaxation? As a child, summer seemed to stretch out before me endlessly and I spent hours reading. I recall the many books I read in those lazy days, and the many authors I discovered for the first time: Vonnegut, Austen, Bradbury, and so many others. These days I have much less time for leisure, but luckily I find myself on many long airline flights where I have uninterrupted time to dive into a good book. As I have done in other summer issues of DOTS over the years, I'll share some recent favorite books—and ask you to share your own.

As far as books related to education, I would like to mention two that have made an impression on me recently. The first is The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravich (2010, Basic Books). Ravich, who served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, describes her gradual evolution from enthusiastic supporter of education reform legislation (such as No Child Left Behind) to skeptic of the efficacy of these efforts as implemented in the past decade. No matter what your own views of education reform, the book is a fascinating discourse on important topics; I found myself wanting to invite the author over to dinner so we could continue the discussion—and perhaps argue a bit over a few points!

The second book, Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Thomas Newkirk (2009, Heinemann) has stayed with me for different reasons. The subtitle of this book, "Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For," reminds us why we choose to teach reading and writing to begin with. I found this book both enlightening and reassuring. While pundits argue, teachers continue to find pleasure in sharing their love of books and the writing process with their students.

What have you been reading lately?

—Frances Mary D'Andrea, Editor, DOTS for Braille Literacy

DOTS Goes Digital

The DOTS for Braille Literacy newsletter has been published three times per year since 1995. Starting with the next issue, Volume 18, Number 1, DOTS will only be available electronically. This change will improve turnaround time to produce your newsletter more quickly, and will allow us to get DOTS to more people around the world. If you have been receiving a paper copy of DOTS and wish to continue to receive it in the new format, please send an email to Shirley Landrum at Many thanks to Dick Cannon who has assisted AFB for many years in providing accurate and high-quality braille newsletters.

Take Action!

The American Foundation for the Blind's Public Policy Center collaborates with policy makers in Congress and the Executive Branch to ensure Americans with vision loss have equal rights and opportunities to fully participate in society. AFB's advocacy strategy is backed by a team of experts who conduct and analyze research related to vision loss. Our current priority is the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, dedicated to helping children with visual impairments thrive in school. Named in honor of Helen Keller's extraordinary teacher, this legislation will require schools to:

  • Provide braille texts and teach braille to students who need it.
  • Offer accessible classroom technology.
  • Include orientation and mobility training as part of regular instruction.
  • Increase the number of special educators trained to teach visually impaired students.

AFB staff is working day and night on Capitol Hill to identify co-sponsors for the bill, but we can't do it alone. We need as many voices as possible to be heard loud and clear. Please take one minute to complete a simple petition that we'll forward to your congressional representative.

Celebrate Science with NBP

Want to make your own volcano? How about a geyser? Do you know how to make an ordinary bottle burp? The new book from National Braille Press Out-of-Sight Science Experiments by Rankel and Winograd will show you how.

Designed especially for students in grades 2 through 5, but enjoyable for children (and adults!) of all ages, the book describes 32 experiments that can be done at home or school as part of a science fair. Each activity is explained step-by-step and uses safe, household materials. Encourage the budding scientist you know! The book is available in large print and braille for $20 from National Braille Press; 1-800-548-7323 ext. 520;

News & Opportunities

Website Supports Literacy

The Perkins School for the Blind and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired have joined forces to provide a robust literacy resource for teachers and families. The information on this site ranges from a basic overview of literacy to various stages of development and special challenges, as well as an exploration of different media (print, braille, auditory strategies). Visitors are encouraged to add ideas, suggestions and questions, so that the site serves as an interactive hub of resources. For more information, visit their website:

Don't Throw It Away!

How many times have you looked at a stack of braille books that your children have outgrown? Or upgraded to a new piece of technology while the old one was perfectly useful? Don't let it gather dust or end up in a landfill! The Sight Exchange group has been formed to provide a way to share usable items for people who are blind or visually impaired. Whether it's braille books and manuals, braille or talking watches, or assistive technology, join the Sight Exchange and share—and find—usable materials.

Things to remember:

  • Everything posted must be free, legal and appropriate.
  • Everyone must begin by offering an item before requesting an item.
  • Mail items via "Free Matter for the Blind or Visually Impaired" whenever possible.

For more information, visit:

Apple Resources

Apple computer products such as the iPhone and iPad are increasingly used in schools and in the workplace. A new web site, AppleVis, assists users of Apple products to get the most out of the built-in accessibility features in these devices. The online community reviews apps, shares tips and tutorials, and shares information about what's new and what works best. For more information, visit

Blindness Blogs

Two new blogs serve as valuable resources for families and professionals who work with children who are visually impaired or blind.

Long-time teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) Liz Eagan Satter shares her expertise and creative ideas with colleagues on her blog Traveling VI. Join her on the journey at

Another TVI who is blind herself provides insights into promoting success and independence in young children with visual impairments. Mary Jo Hartle, former director of education for the National Federation of the Blind, writes for parents and teachers about "making it on the playground" of life as a successful blind person. Her blog can be found at

Touch of Genius

National Braille Press would like to invite creative people to apply for a $20,000 award to honor those innovating in the field of Tactile Literacy. The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was developed to inspire an innovator to continue the promotion of braille literacy for blind and deafblind people worldwide.

The Prize will be granted to a group or individual for a new educational method, tactile literacy product, software application or technological advance related to tactile literacy. The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation may be awarded for a completed project or anticipated concept that shows viability and will improve opportunities for blind people — projects such as the 2011 Co-Awardees Christine Short's Feel the Beat: Braille Music Curriculum, which uses the soprano recorder to teach the braille music code to blind students, and Ashok Sapre's Tactile Accu-draw Graphics Set, a low cost, multifunctional, manual device for producing rich graphics and embossing braille notes.

Applications must be received by November 2, 2012. For more information and to download the application please visit

The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation is provided through support from National Braille Press and The Gibney Family Foundation.


BANA is pleased to announce the immediate release of the new Braille Formats: Principles of Print-to-Braille Transcription, 2011. This completely revised publication is available in three accessible electronic versions: enhanced PDF, BRF, and online HTML. These are available at and are offered without charge. Print and braille versions will be available for purchase from the American Printing House for the Blind later this year.

This is an extensive revision of the previous formats publication. Appendix A of the new publication provides a quick reference of changes and additions.

The official implementation date for use of Braille Formats 2011 is January 1, 2013. The principles set forth in Braille Formats 2011 supersede all previous formats documents, including the rules and appendices regarding formatting given in English Braille American Edition (EBAE).

BANA wishes to thank the tireless members of the Braille Formats Technical Committee and their Chair Lynnette Taylor for their decade of work and commitment that made this publication possible.

Dear DOT

Dear DOT,
I have a couple of students who seem to enjoy reading and can read aloud flawlessly. Yet when I ask them about what they've read, they can't answer any comprehension questions. What's going on? What can I do to help them understand better what they are reading?
Signed, Gloria

Dear Gloria,
Comprehension is the reason why we read—we read to understand! Many factors can impact a child's reading comprehension. In the last issue of DOTS, we talked about vocabulary and its relationship to reading comprehension. In this issue, we'll continue that conversation and share additional strategies for readers who struggle with comprehension.

One important aspect is background knowledge; successful readers bring what they know to the reading process. If the child has some familiarity with the topic, he or she can anticipate what might happen in the story, and can monitor understanding while reading. Of course, students must learn from their reading as well, but if you know that the subject is unfamiliar, you can provide additional support and explanation to help the student with new concepts. Since many of our braille readers can't visually appreciate the illustrations and photos that accompany many texts, we can provide rich descriptions, real objects and hands-on activities to accompany our reading instruction.

There are a number of other strategies that teachers can use to increase comprehension. These include:

  • Help children activate prior knowledge before reading by asking about the title, providing a description of illustrations or providing a sentence or two about the main topic.
  • Help set pre-reading purpose with a "K-W-L" chart. On one piece of braille paper have the student write what she Knows about the topic, on another have her write what she Wants to know. After reading, on a third piece of paper, have the student write what she Learned. Did she learn what she expected or wanted to learn?
  • Encourage the student to use context clues to monitor understanding and make predictions.
  • Use "think-alouds:" you can model the thinking process by verbalizing your thoughts as you read.
  • Teach story mapping to help students organize into categories what they know and what they read.
  • Help students identify the structure of the story: is it told in flashback? as a fable?
  • Use queries that focus on higher level information, not just recall of details.
  • Keep good records on your students' reading, noting errors and strengths.
  • Use a variety of reading materials to pique interest. Luckily, high quality braille books for children are more available than ever.

I'd like to hear some of the ideas you use for improving reading comprehension with your students. What strategies can you share?



Cartwright, K. B. (2010). Word callers: Small-group and one-to-one interventions for children who "read" but don't comprehend. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Johns, J. L. & Berglund, R. L. (2010). Fluency: Differentiated interventions and progress-monitoring assessments. 4th Edition. Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Pinnell, G. S. & Fountas, I. C. (2009). When readers struggle: Teaching that works. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

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