2010 Conference: A New Instructional Programme for Later Learners of Braille by Raeleen Smith and Kathryn Johns

This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can read the full paper below, download the Word version or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.

Download this presentation

Word version of full paper

Audio file of Raeleen Smith and Kathryn Johns’ presentation (MP3, 40.1 MB)

Presenters’ bios

Raeleen Smith manages the Adaptive Communication Services of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma in Rehabilitation Studies with an endorsement in Visual Impairment, from Massey University. Raeleen has extensive experience in teaching Braille to adult learners. She is a past chair and current member of the Braille Authority of New Zealand. She is a past executive member of the International Council on English Braille and a past member of various Unified English Braille Code Committees

Kathryn Johns is an Adaptive Communications Instructor at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB). As part of her role she provides braille instruction for adult members of RNZFB. Prior to joining RNZFB five years ago, Kathryn was working as an IT professional. Kathryn has an extensive background in education and has taught in NZ secondary schools, tertiary institutes and community based programmes.


Various instructional programmes for New Zealand adult Braille learners have been developed over recent decades by the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. During 2009 a new programme, Simply Touch and Read (STAR), was developed. This initiative was based on local research confirming the need for an updated programme with a style and language usage more fitting to current times. This has allowed for selection of material to encourage enjoyment of learning and learner motivation. It has also fitted with the introduction of Unified English Braille for New Zealand Braille learners and readers. The course aims for simple language and high interest content.

This presentation provides an opportunity for sharing and for hands-on experiences with lesson and practice materials and related resources. It includes a forum discussion on possible strategies for global sharing of local instructional initiatives.

Full paper: Simply Touch and Read (STAR): A New Instructional Programme for Later Learners of Braille

Over recent decades various instructional programmes for New Zealand adult braille learners have been developed by the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB). During 2009 a new programme, Simply Touch and Read (STAR), was developed. This initiative was based on local research confirming the need for an updated programme with a style and language more fitting to current times. This has enabled selection of material to encourage enjoyment of learning and learner motivation. It has also fitted with the introduction of Unified English Braille (UEB) for New Zealand braille learners and readers. The course aims for simple language and high interest content.

This paper gives an overview of the Braille Instructional Programmes provided by the RNZFB. It provides the rationale and guiding principles for the recently developed Simply Touch and Read contracted braille teaching programme. The course content and structure of STAR are outlined and the resource materials for the programme are described.

Overview of Braille Instructional Programmes Provided by the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) for Later Learners of Braille

The first structured Braille Teaching Programme in New Zealand was introduced in the 1960s and taught at the then Adult Rehabilitation Unit in Auckland. This was followed by the Audio Tactual Programme which focused on distance learning and was administered nationally during the mid 1970s. At the end of the 1970s a course catering for both centre based and distance learning saw the introduction of the RNZFB Braille Teaching Scheme. In the 1990s this instructional programme was transferred from thermoform to embossed production using direct translation. However the text remained the same apart from some minor changes to match with format requirements. A series of supplementary readers known as the Adapted Braille Teaching Scheme was introduced in the early 1990s to assist with providing simpler text. In the late 1990s the need for a simplified option for uncontracted braille instruction was identified and the Keeping in Touch (KIT) programme was produced.

KIT remains the uncontracted braille course provided by the RNZFB for adult clients. KIT allows learners to develop a basic tactual recognition of the alphabet, some punctuation signs and numbers. KIT has proved a valuable teaching programme for encouraging tactual reading and the development of good tracking skills.

The STAR course is a programme for teaching and learning contracted braille designed for adult members of the RNZFB. It aims to teach reading by touch and assist learners to develop braille writing skills. Throughout the course learners are encouraged to use newly acquired braille literacy skills in everyday tasks.

Braille instructional programmes are provided to RNZFB clients through individual instruction, in small group settings and through distance learning.

Rationale for and Guiding Principles of the Recently Developed Simply Touch and Read (STAR) Contracted Braille Teaching programme

In 2005, the New Zealand Braille Authority (BANZ) voted to adopt the Unified English Braille Code (UEBC) proposed by the International Council on English Braille (ICEB).

New Zealand’s adoption of the UEBC provided a timely opportunity to review and evaluate the content of the existing teaching materials. Responses from braille learners and instructors participating in a survey showed strong evidence that the current RNZFB Braille Teaching Scheme was outdated.

It was agreed that a new contracted braille instructional course, Simply Touch and Read (STAR), would be developed. STAR would be a comprehensive instructional programme, approximately 80 hours average instructional time. The anticipated time for completion would be one year, but it might take up to 2 years or more to achieve reading fluency.

Learner outcomes for STAR:

  • To assist the learner to achieve a braille tactual recognition base for the development of reading and writing fluency.
  • To enable the learner to achieve the following literacy tasks:
    • record information in braille
    • read braille for enjoyment
    • write & read a braille e-mail address on hard copy or when using equipment with a braille display
    • read & write a web-site address (URL) and computer file pathway in braille

The design of STAR was guided by the following principles:

  • Readability; the content uses simple language and makes sense to a later learner of Braille who will be reading slowly.
  • Vocabulary is “controlled”, meaning words using contractions that have not yet been introduced are not included.
  • Lesson books are easy to handle and consistent in the number of pages per book.
  • The learning process is enjoyable. Reading practice sentences in the lesson books have hints of humour.
  • The overall content of the course for both lesson and practice books is designed to assist the learner to develop tactual reading fluency. In the lesson books, this is developed through a progression from short phrases, to one line sentences, sentences with a run-over line through to short paragraphs. For the practice books, a progression from short to longer paragraphs and story lengths is used to enhance the development of reading fluency.
  • Braille signs are introduced in logical groupings.
  • There is a consistent page format for the introduction of new braille signs. When a new braille sign is introduced, examples are given of the new sign as part of a word, then sentences with the new sign.
  • The course follows the principle of building on previous learning. As a new braille sign is introduced there is a link to a related sign or a braille usage pattern from previous lesson material.
  • Sentence and paragraph lengths cater for the slower reading speed of new learners.
  • The development of braille writing skills is an important component of learning braille. A writing practice exercise page is included within each lesson. This assists learners to develop writing skills for everyday tasks as well as providing a means for learners to consolidate their learning and understanding of braille usage.
  • Reading practice books are available for use upon completion of lesson 5 and lesson 10 of each lesson book. These practice books are designed to reinforce previous learning and provide reading practice in recognising the new braille signs introduced in the previous five lessons.
  • A variety of reading practice formats is provided – prose, poetry, witty sayings and pithy quotations.
  • The course is suitable for learners receiving instruction individually, in a small group setting or through distance learning.
  • A tutorial in audio format is provided.

Course Content and Structure of STAR

The STAR course consists of 5 lesson books.

Each lesson book is supported by:

  • A tutorial in audio format;
  • Reading practice books;
  • A braille signs book listing the new braille signs plus those from previous lesson book(s).

Each lesson has three pages. Pages are 40 cell & 25 lines. Double line spacing is used.

There is also an optional book, STAR Supplement: Additional Braille Signs. This book has a tutorial in audio format.

Further details are given under the relevant headings below.

Lesson Books

  • There are five lesson books. Each lesson book uses the following format: a contents page; 10 lessons; 3 pages per lesson giving a total of 30 numbered pages. A reference section at the back of each lesson book lists the new signs introduced in that lesson book.
  • Each book introduces a new cluster of braille signs with examples of their usage. STAR introduces symbols in groupings with progression across each Lesson Book.
  • Lesson Book 1: alphabet letter wordsigns, shortforms with alphabetic letters, two mode indicators and seven punctuation signs.
  • Lesson Book 2: Upper cell wordsigns, upper cell groupsigns, shortforms with upper cell contractions and four punctuation signs.
  • Lesson Book 3: Lower cell wordsigns, lower cell groupsigns, shortforms with lower cell contractions, two mode indicators, signs related to measures and currency.
  • Lesson Book 4: Initial wordsigns, initial groupsigns, a shortform with an initial groupsign and four punctuation signs.
  • Lesson Book 5: Final groupsigns, five signs for print symbols and two sets of mode indicators.

Reading Practice Books

  • Each lesson book is supported by a number of reading practice books.
  • The earlier practice books contain a variety of shorter reading material covering a range of topics.
  • Reading practice books are generally limited in length to 20-25 pages.
  • As practice books also use the principle of controlled vocabulary (a learner is not exposed to a word that will later require a contraction), the range of topics and complexity of language structure is somewhat restricted. This is particularly so for the Lesson Book 1 practice books.

Audio Tutorials

An audio tutorial is available for each lesson book. Learners are encouraged to use the tutorial in conjunction with the lesson book during practice sessions.

  • Although lesson book contents can be accessed and understood without the audio tutorial, it is strongly recommended that the tutorial be used for clarification and reinforcement of new learning.
  • At the start of each lesson new material is explained. It is suggested that learners turn the audio off to read the content of a number of lines, a paragraph or a page. This is designed to encourage learners to concentrate on and rely upon tactual information as opposed to memory. The tutorial then encourages learners to check their reading accuracy by re-reading whilst listening to the new material being read.
  • As the lessons are limited to three pages each, the tutorial provides additional explanatory or expanded information about the newly introduced signs including the rules of usage. Explanations draw learners’ attention to the word or sentence examples on a lesson page which learners may require a reminder about or may have been puzzled by.
  • The audio tutorial reads the “Practice” page of each lesson as a writing exercise. Learners are asked to read the page without listening to the audio prior to the writing exercise. The exercise is dictated slowly and in a way that enables learners to write as they listen to short phrases.
  • The tutorial is designed to encourage and enhance the development of good tactual reading skills; correct hand and finger placement, two-handed reading skill and scanning technique.
  • In addition, the tutorial provides suggestions on ways to integrate new reading and writing skills into every day activities as a means of enhancing the learning process.
  • The audio tutorial is available on cassette or in DAISY format.

Braille Signs Books

  • A Braille Signs book for each of the five lesson books is provided.
  • These books may be used for reference while new signs are being learnt. Some learners may wish to create their own personal reference lists in a range of formats.
  • These books are designed to be given to the learner upon completion of a lesson book.
  • Braille Signs Book 5 includes all signs introduced in the five STAR lesson books.

STAR Supplement: Additional Braille Signs

  • Upon completion of the five lesson books of STAR, learners will receive a certificate acknowledging that they have completed the RNZFB contracted braille course STAR.
  • For learners wishing to learn additional UEB signs a supplementary book is provided – STAR Supplement: Additional Braille Signs.
  • The STAR Supplement is divided into six sections:
  • Braille signs used before UEB, Additional UEB punctuation signs, More braille mode indicators, Common maths print symbols, Accents in English text, Non-UEB signs. These sections are structured so that a learner can review any one or more of them.
  • The script of this book is available in audio format.

Resource Materials Available for STAR

Lesson Books

Reading Practice books

Braille Signs Books

Star Supplement: Additional Braille Signs

Audio Tutorials (DAISY, Audio cassette)

Transcripts of Lesson Books, Reading Practice Books and the STAR Supplement (Microsoft Word format)

Touch It! (A basic tactual assessment tool)

A Touching Experience (A tactual development tool)

Teaching Aids (Swing cell, Pop a cell, Braillette boards, peg boards, Alphabet Teacher)

Teachers Guide (Braille and Microsoft Word format)

Local Initiative to Global Sharing

Based on evidence confirming the need for an updated contracted braille instructional programme, the RNZFB has provided resources to develop this local New Zealand initiative. A course writer was contracted to this project, working 15 hours per week from July 2008 to December 2009. A subgroup of RNZFB Adaptive Communications Instructors supported the course writer by reviewing and advising on course materials. Two evaluation phases ensured feedback from braille learners, readers and instructors. Several amendments were made to the content and the style of production as a result of these evaluations. Plans are being made for an internal launch of STAR at the RNZFB in Wellington on 19 May 2010. This will be followed by various promotions at key RNZFB locations throughout 2010.

The RNZFB is pleased to share information about this resource and welcomes inquiries regarding its potential for global sharing. For further information about STAR please contact star@rnzfb.org.nz.


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