Thursday, May 27, 2010

BW Summary

Clark, J. Elizabeth and Marisa A. Klages. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.1 (2009): 32-49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 April 2010.

In “New Worlds…” Clark and Klages examine the new challenges and opportunities associated with teaching basic writing in the digital age. By first describing basic writers’ literacy and the evolving notion of literacy in the digital age, the writers set the stage to present examples of the incorporation of multi-modal instruction into the basic writing classroom, especially with the use of e-portfolio. The article is a record of the current teaching practices in basic writing at LaGuardia Community College, in the City University of New York system. Three central questions are explored throughout the work: What factors contribute to a failure to acknowledge or practice writing as a process by basic writers who are also “digital natives?” What are the best practices for teaching basic writing in the digital age? What are the effects of multimodal instruction for basic writers?
Klages and Clark begin by examining expectations and truths about literacy of basic writers in the digital age. While these students are often active users of many tools of Web 2.0, they often lack the critical consciousness necessary to engage in sustained evaluation of the uses and products of digital technology. Facility with technology should not be mistaken for fluency in language use, according to the authors. Basic writers may be fluent in the mechanics of the Internet and computers, but they often fail to “dig deeper,” to inquire into the purposes and possibilities of the technological tools they use everyday. A similar disconnect has historically prevailed among basic writers: they are partly marked as “basic writers” because they lack the critical thinking apparatus and stylistic tools needed to compose post-secondary appropriate writing. Basic writing students in the digital age need exposure to ideas and questions about rhetoric of the digital age to become more proficient writers.
Further, the “instant publishing” capabilities of the digital age present basic writers with two seemingly opposed opportunities: they can post writing for the public to view without participating in the process of revision. While basic writers have historically labored in the intellectual back waters of the university or community college, today their work is easily recognizable on many popular web sites and social networking communities. The web presents forums for users to share their ideas, and users of Web 2.0 technology are constantly exchanging small pieces of text with one another. Every piece of writing from social network messages to comments in a discussion forum is an act of composing, be it eloquent or not. In effect, basic writers who compose messages on the web are being published without being vetted: they are participating in a public act of written communication. Because they lack the critical tools and stylistic proficiency of writers with more practice, basic writers may fail to reproduce the messages they intend when publishing on the web, or they may fail to consider the writing they are doing as “real” writing. The authors find these acts of literacy encouraging, but no tutor, peer or instructor reviews a basic writer’s posting before it is published on the web, and the idea of a process for writing is seemingly incongruent with the instantaneous “real time” presentation of text on the screen. Basic writers traditionally lack an understanding of or fail to acknowledge the idea that writing is a process, and the digital age presents more opportunities for students to ignore that idea.
After establishing what they perceive to be the contemporary situation and problems of basic writers studying in the digital age, Klages and Clark suggest some strategies for effective use of multimodal tools in the classroom. They suggest the use of the e-portfolio as the primary digital tool for increasing effectiveness of basic writing instruction today. The e-portfolio builds on the successes of the portfolio model of instruction in writing courses, but incorporates investigation of digital rhetoric and opportunities for multi-modal composing into the critical appreciation for writing that students develop as they build their collections of essays and reflections. The authors believe that use of the e-portfolio is one way to engage students’ technological knowledge while building their writing skills, especially among the specific demographic they serve at LaGuardia Community College.
The demographic of LAGCC students is incredibly diverse and multilingual, and most students are active participants in the social and community networks available via Web 2.0 technologies. The basic writer at LaGuardia Community College is nearly in the majority of the student population: 44% of admitted students are placed in a basic writing course. While these basic writers are active composers in the digital realm, they often view themselves as “non-writers” in a society that prizes literacy, and view the writing courses they are assigned to as an “academic ghetto,” according to the authors. Basic writers fail to understand a connection between the writing they do outside of class with the perceived demands of “college writing.”
E-Portfolio, then, is a means for students to connect and strengthen the writing and technology skills they already possess and gain exposure to the process involved with academic writing that will help ensure their success in college. Three key practices inform the authors’ pedagogy for e-portfolio: revision, reflection, and exploration of possibilities for expression in the digital realm. While revision and reflection are not new elements of writing as a process, with the course built around e-portfolio, the modes of composing, revising and reflecting are broadened. Students have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of technological applications while practicing the critical reading and analytical skills required of good writing.
What traditionally happens within the walls of the basic writing classroom is connected to the world outside by e-portfolio, thereby validating basic writers’ position as writers participating in society. Students writing in different courses have access to each other’s work, and faculty and other campus community members can view work in student e-portfolios when provided access. Further, students can choose to share their work with family members and friends outside of school. The authors suggest that e-portfolios empower basic writers to take control of their education, and ultimately, their future lives.
The authors present anecdotal evidence of the learning about writing and the college community that results from the use of e-portfolios in the basic writing classroom. Several examples note students’ development of an awareness of the arena they have entered in college and present the possibility of preserving individual identity within the morass of the institution. One student’s e-portfolio pictures allowed her to show the various roles she plays as a student, a Nepalese woman, and an immigrant New Yorker, and other images she used helped to demonstrate ideas she conveyed in writing. Reflections and comments posted by students and professors on the e-portfolio pages are a running record of the student writing processes and help to document learning. Blogs allowed students to connect course content with current events, creating opportunities for inter-textual synthesis. Evidently, the e-portfolio provides students with a public forum to document their learning and “try on” the voice of academic writing, even while they increase their digital proficiency and retain a strong sense of self. The digital divide of the eighties and nineties has been largely resolved, but the authors point to a new, emergent digital divide, where basic writers and other underprepared adults are unable to critically navigate the complex mass of information and possibilities for communication available via Web 2.0 technology. Clark and Klages suggest that increasing digital literacy and writing skills together for basic writers will lead to their further engagement with and success in society. The use of the e-portfolio in the writing classrooms of LAGCC is one technique to manifest this transformation of basic writers into what the authors call “literate cyber citizens.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blog Posts for C0831

Sunday, May 2, 2010
Literacy Democracy Advocacy: CCRC Forum on Basic Writing
At the forum on basic writing last Friday, the presenters (Rebecca Mlynarczyk, George Otte and Deborah Mutnick) shared information about their new book and a summary of a basic writing (bw) survey they have been conducting via survey monkey since 2007.

You can download the entire book at the WAC clearinghouse website. Go here, and then click on the books section in the menu. The book,Basic Writing, appears in the Reference Guides to Rhetoric and Composition section.

It seems like Chapter Five of the book might be a good resource for bw in the future, as it contains many references to innovative models for bw in college, including the Stretch Program at Arizona State University, the Accelerated Learning Program at Baltimore Community College and other models.

The actual presentation included a discussion of the book and some issues that remain unresolved in the field of Basic Writing. As with all parts of higher ed, there is grave concern about funding for the future of basic writing programs. More so, though, there seems to be a lack of consensus about the future of the field in practice. The authors did not suggest a clear path for program administration and development in the future, nor did they suggest that one model of instruction is most effective. Perhaps this is a reflection of the diversity of skill sets, cultural backgrounds and institutional situations where basic writing exists.

Nonetheless, audience members expressed the need for 1)professionalization of the field (with more graduate courses in bw theory and practice), 2)better funding and preparation for adjuncts, 3)an embrace of the possibilities of multimodal instruction, 4) a "rebranding" of the field and the instructional environment, and 5) further articulation of the theoretical split of colleges who choose to or decline to provide basic writing courses. This last project is what Prf. Mlynarcyzk called a decision making process for institutions that traditionally involves a split between access and excellence, where institutions that provide access for BW students are perceived as less "excellent."

As most of the people in attendance were CUNY based, the discussion also turned to the history and current status of BW in this college system. With the history of Open Admissions and the work of M. Shaughnessy and others, CUNY is a leader in the field of BW, but the demise of the classes in the 4 year institutions in the nineties seems to have left a chasm in access and for research. Interestingly, the ability for students to enroll in a senior college vs. a community college at CUNY is determined by a one point difference on admissions test scores. Several speakers at the presentation suggested that BW was absent in name only from the senior colleges, as student ability does not vary significantly across the CUNY schools. I think it is true, however, that community perceptions of the schools themselves do vary significantly and some of that access vs. excellence division is pretty clear, if not really true, among the CUNY institutions. In my opinion, the division between access and excellence is a false dichotomy, but I think the role of the university is equally to educate students and to create new knowledge through research, not one or the other.

Profs. Mutnick and Mlynarczyk have also been working on a survey of basic writing across the US for the past three or four years. The survey is available to view here. They presented their findings at the 4cs and are beginning to embark on conducting qualitative components of the survey and analyzing their continuing assemblage of outcomes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010
Language and Cognition in Mike Rose
One passage struck me as asking a current and unanswered question in Lives on the Boundary:

Yet what remains is the disturbing tendency to perceive the poor as different in some basic way from the middle and upper classes--the difference now being located in the nature of the way they think and use language. A number of studies and speculations over the last twenty-five years has suggested that the poor are linguistically deficient, or at least different: They lack a logical language or reason in ways that limit intellectual achievement or, somehow, process information dysfunctionally. (Rose 221)

Rose goes on to mention the sociolinguist Labov as one of the first scholars to critique such notions, but I would like to know how Labov's critique can be supported by cognitive science. I wrote down some of the Rose articles we looked at in class last week, but any other titles or names of writers specializing in these questions would be appreciated. It seems to me that the logic of language is probably not only determined inside the mind, but also by environment: isn't that at least partly how dialects develop? Maybe the question of universal human grammar as advanced by Chomsky also figures into this conflict.

This quote reminds me of that beautiful phrase of Shaughnessy's: "the intelligence of the student's mistake," also mentioned in Rose's book. To find and understand the source of mistakes in writing is a difficult task that maybe requires interaction beyond reading and responding to papers, but also active dialogue between instructors and students.
Posted by wynne at 8:06 PM 0 comments

The tutorial center that Mike Rose helped to streamline in "The Politics of Remediation" was a vibrant center for learning where he had a great opportunity to understand more about the process of writing.

I thought the story of Suzette was a particularly apt description of the situation of many writers who are eager to express their knowledge but struggle to meet the perceived standards for writing in college. The following quote described the writers' and writing tutors' conundrum:

Many people respond to sentence fragments of the kind Suzette was making as thought he writer had some little hole in that part of her brain where sentences are generated. They repeat a rule: "A sentence has to have a subject and a verb and express a complete thought." No matter that the rule is problematic, if they can just graft it into the fissures of the writer's gray matter, she'll start writing good sentences. But, Suzette didn't have was a command of some of the stylistic maneuvers that would enable her to produce the sophisticated sentences she was reaching for. The more skilled tutors got at listening and waiting, the better they got at catching the clue that would reveal what Shaughnessy was fond of calling the intelligence of the student's mistake. (Rose 172)

To me, Rose's story illustrates the futility of solely focusing on grammar and sentence-level correction in writing, unless it is combined with an introduction to and analysis of the broader possibilities of expression that come from stringing thoughts and ideas together (using transitions, conjunctions, commas, and active verbs, of course) in paragraphs and pages. When I write, I think about subjects and verbs last, when I am checking for clarity, not while I am building paragraphs out of ideas. Instruction in the logic of grammar can be used to great effect in improving student writing, but I don't think that learning the vocabulary or rules of grammar necessarily makes people better writers. The stylistic maneuvers that Rose is writing about above are acquired most easily from reading widely and practicing writing, but good style is also about a simple awareness of the meaning and uses of words. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the best ways to incorporate grammar instruction into the composition classroom or tutoring session.

The stories of James and Lucia in this chapter also illustrate ongoing problems students face in their transition to college. While professors and lecturers may be well-versed in both the technical demands of university level writing and the nuances of their particular fields' discourses, they should not assume that first-year college students, or third or fourth year, for that matter, have the same knowledge. Instructors may scoff at students who can't write literary analysis, but if literary analysis is never modeled or explained, what else can be expected? How could intro courses in writing or bulk lectures in various fields improve the way they introduce what it means to write or produce other work for the academy? Likewise, what is the relationship between mastering academic discourse and success in the world outside college?

When learners lack the basic functional skills or knowledge necessary to articulate specific goals, the effectiveness of learner-centered instruction is reduced because learners are not self-directed. Instructors need to provide intensive support that will help learners first recognize and describe their needs so that they can then develop specific goals. pg. 18//24 in the copies.

This statement stood out to me because I meet a lot of students who need help articulating their goals before they can start working to achieve them. While it at first seems confusing that instructors might have to create opportunities for self-direction for students, perhaps it can be achieved through careful combination of activities and materials. Practicing reflection about learning may lead to a better sense of purpose for learners, thereby engendering more self-awareness about the direction of lives in general. For example, in the realm of problem solving in math, I often give my students the answers to word problems and ask them to explain how the answer can be found. By focusing on the process to obtain the answer, students are forced to articulate their method, not just to find the correct answer. This simple exercise, repeated in math and other disciplines, might help students to think more about how they learn, and the tools they use to solve problems. Although math might seem far removed from goal articulation, I think that people who engage in reflection of one sort are more apt to be reflective about all their actions...

Adult Learning Bibliography
Here are a few publications related to Adult Learning and Development from the course in the L&L program on that topic last year.

Herman, Lee and Alan Mandell. From Teaching to Mentoring: Principle, Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Knowles, Malcolm. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston: Gulf Publishing, Revised Edition 1990.

Merriam, Sharan, Rosemary S. Caffarella and Lisa M. Baumgartner. Learning In Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide Third Edition. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.

Wlodkowski, Raymond J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults, Revised Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Fenwick, Tara J. Learning Through Experience: Troubling Orthodoxies and Intersecting Questions. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.

Marsick, Victoria and Karen Watkins. "Informal and Incidental Learning." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (2001): 29-34.

I'm a little late to this conversation, but I wanted to add that I learned so much from the readings Megan provided and the discussion she conducted in class.

I also wrote my paper about Braille literacy. One book that I used for research was: Foundations of Braile Literacy by Evelyn Rex, et al. This text included some interesting commentary about the sensory "discrimination and perception" of Braille readers.

Teachers who are fostering Braille literacy have to provide their students with opportunities to become "active explorers" of their environment through touch. I think this effort probably compares to the efforts of teachers to create awareness of print in a sighted learner's environment.

Even though we might at first think that learning by touch and committing information to memory is much different than learning by sight, cognitive science has shown that the actual processes in the brain are similar. The most significant difference is that information or experiences recorded in the tactile memory are more fleeting than those recorded by sight.

I think research into the way the brain processes information can provide a lot of insight into the best ways to affect learning in our students. The findings above indicate that while blind students may use a different mode to acquire literacy, they are participating in exactly the same kind of learning as a sighted person. Showing learning processes associated with Braille literacy might help to reinforce the argument in favor of Braille education.
April 7, 2010 4:20 PM

The graduation rate data may or may not be accurate, depending who you ask. For example, the Comptroller for NYC questioned the validity of about 10% of a research sample of 196 people who earned diplomas in 2008.

That said, the retention issue is perhaps the most popular conversation in public education today. I think that retention and graduation depends as much on positive social/personal support in the school and community as it does on the quality of the content delivered in the classroom. I am not a public school teacher, but in the GED classroom, a majority of drop-outs are due to outside pressures and complications, not lack of skills or access to instruction. Early and ongoing intervention in these students' lives is the only to keep from losing them in class. Based on a workshop I attended about advising last week, the same reasons for attrition apply to credit bearing courses at the community college level in NYC. I would venture that high school students in the urban environment share many of the same personal/social concerns as young GED and community college students. While politicians and administrators want to focus on delivering the content students need to achieve in the workplace or college, I feel like "soft skills" for managing life (and graduating high school) may be ignored. I know that many people would make the argument that these survival techniques are best learned at home, but what if you aren't growing up in a supportive environment? Don't we see that highly supportive, SMALL charter high schools with good counselors improve graduation rates? Besides $, why can't this be a public school model, too?

As for the teachers, could it be possible that the undergraduate and graduate training they received under-prepares them for the workplace, just as they in turn seem to be under-preparing their own students? Besides being current on pedagogies, should teachers equally be masters of their subject matter? Changing the standards for teacher education might help the content mastery of students in the long run...There are some english ed programs housed in English departments, for instance, but maybe post-secondary education for teachers needs to become a collaborative effort of education professors and subject specific academics.

wynne said...
wynne said...

Thanks for all your comments. In response to a few questions above and in the other blog posts, I'm posting some links and possible answers here.

The Community College Research Center published a study of outcomes of I Best programs in Washington state. You can access a pdf of their study at and searching for I-BEst in the search bar. The study is the first search result. The information presented compares student outcomes from IBest and non-IBest adult education and credit courses.

Someone mentioned the discussion around whether people should earn college credit in integrated vocational programs. According to Amy: Some states such as Washington (IBEST) already offer fully "credited" and articulated pathways for vocational and college programs. CUNY does not but I think the idea is increasingly part of discussions about how to create stronger links between workforce development and higher ed.

As for linking with adult literacy programs outside the CUNY system, I'm not aware of any formal linkage between programs. We do maintain lists of CBOs (Community Based Organizations) that we use to recruit potential students. I'd like to hear more about everyone's perspective on the possibility of using the IBEST model for adult learners who are at the most basic levels of literacy.

Thanks again for all of your comments and participation in the presentation.

wynne said...
GED programs are way more expensive to run per student than the cost of metrocards.

wynne said...
Concerns about targeting only advanced students with this program are valid. However, the best part of this program is that students earn college credits that are paid for by DOE. I would guess that the average additional cost of $500 per student that the article mentions is pretty low, if compared to the average per pupil spending citywide.

When I lived in Washington, I taught at a tech high school that was a magnet school for 16 high schools. This was an alternate route for students in their junior and senior years, where they could earn credits while acquiring skills for a specific profession. Culinary arts, vet tech, nursing, and construction trades were among the programs offered. Washington also has a college/high school program called Running Start. Its described on this wikipedia page:

For many of the students I meet, and for myself, too, I think one of the greatest perceived consequences of no college degree is economic. Here is a link to a bureau of labor statistics graph detailing the relation between education and pay circa 2008:

That said, the social/cultural consequences of not earning a college degree are less statistically quantifiable and less universally agreed upon than an education's monetary value, but equally present as a subject for consideration in and outside the academy. People like Arne Duncan, Stanley Fish, the professor who owns the building I live in, and the students I work with in GED classes cannot really dispute the economic value of a college education, but their social positions and cultural backgrounds determine diverse takes on why or if college is of consequence to them beyond the monetary benefit it is supposed to yield.

In my own education, college gave me the practice I needed to write more accurately and academically (although that may not always be reflected here) and become versed in the practice of engaging into inquiry about how knowledge and ideas are constructed. I bet that outcome is a bit different for a student of biology, as opposed to philosophy. The outcomes described above are practical consequences of training in a specific discipline. They are largely impossible to obtain in high school or in the library, because they are dependent on learning between peers and professors, and shaped by the community in which they occur.

Achieving any of the practical outcomes of college training depends on ascribing to, or at least acknowledging, a set of social norms practiced and advanced by whatever college one attends. I would venture that some, if not all, college graduates retain knowledge or practice of these norms as they conduct themselves in social, familial and business interactions. College is not the only venue where certain norms are advanced by a majority, but I would say that it is one with great impact.
February 15, 2010 5:04 PM

wynne said...
the link didn't post in the previous comment; here it is again:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Braille Literacy Encyclopedia Entry Spring 2010

Besides auditory exposure to language, people with normal vision are bombarded with printed words at every turn of their heads. A casual stroll on any block of a city will yield instant exposure to print in various forms, including street signs, advertisements, building names and license plates. People who are blind do not have the same visual experience with language, but they can be equally immersed in words through Braille. Literacy in Braille signifies an individual’s ability to understand and interpret the Braille system and use it as means to read, interpret, create and utilize language. Braille literacy is one significant component of the total measure of the literacy for a person who is blind.

Braille is a system that presents language tactually through a system of raised dots. Louis Braille developed the system as a classroom tool for blind students to acquire literacy, originally in French. “The system Braille developed was based on a six-dot cell, three points high and two points wide. Each dot was assigned a numerical name” (Rex 30). The six-dot cell can only be arranged into 63 possible configurations, but these are sufficient to present both alphabet letters and mathematical marks and numbers. The small number of possible configurations relative to the vast expressive powers of language is a function similar to the complexities wrought by the alphabet system of print. However, that complexity is doubled by the fact that Braille is a system for re-presenting another linguistic system. Braille is not a language unto itself, but a code used to transmit language and mathematical notation to blind people: “it is a portrayal of print, with special rules and multiple uses of each sign (configuration)” (Rex 30). Current research in Braille acknowledges the difficulties with acquiring both a language and a code used to represent it. Rex writes that “more research is necessary to determine which units of the language code, particularly its syntactical or grammatical units, are not compatible with Braille code” (31). The particular difficulty with matching Braille to printed language arises from the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between characters and dots in these systems. Just as language evolves, so too must Braille code alongside it.

Braille instruction departs from mainstream literacy instruction in so far as it requires tactile components to be effective. Students of Braille must become highly dexterous at feeling the words they are reading: “the learner must engage in multiple explorations to gain information comparable to that gained by the sighted learner in a single viewing” (Rex 26). Educational environments that include the Braille code must include material that appeals to all the senses; especially touch and hearing.

To build Braille literacy, instruction follows a developmental arc similar to any literacy education that adopts an integrated approach to teaching language. Just as English instructors in a mainstream classroom pay careful attention to the way writing, reading and oral language usage are incorporated into their curriculum, Rex and other researchers suggest that these considerations play an equally important role in the Braille classroom:

Professionals who work with individuals who are blind have always viewed literacy as an integrated process involving reading, writing, speaking and listening—which have been called “communication skills”—and have realized that all these skills must be developed to their maximum and integrated meaningfully with life skills. (Rex 9)

Students who learn Braille as part of their the language acquisition process should engage in classroom activities that build a path through emergent literacy to basic literacy, to proficiency in Braille and functional literacy.

Emergent literacy for blind students depends on repeated and ongoing exposure to Braille materials to complement standard instructional materials that often include classroom print displays, big picture books and labels. Instructors must be careful to create opportunities for blind children to be exposed to language: “since young children who are blind do not have incidental opportunities to observe the reading and writing activities of those around them, care must be taken to alert them that such activities are taking place” (Rex 26). Becoming aware of language is the first step in a student’s acquisition of Braille literacy.

As students continue to practice literacy skills, they require input and guidance from instructors dedicated to and knowledgeable about Braille instructional methods. Lack of opportunities for ongoing instruction in Braille throughout the school years will prevent learners from the immersion they need to become proficient Braille readers and writers. “Regardless of the service delivery model, students who are blind need access to specialized instruction on a consistent and ongoing basis to develop basic literacy” (Rex 11). Just as mainstream students require books, paper, chalkboards and computers to practice literacy, so too do blind students, with the addition of continuous instruction in and experience with Braille.

As Braille students become proficient in using the code, instructors need to provide continued, meaningful experiences with language for Blind students. Functional literacy is not only a requirement for people whose profession involves teaching or communication: all people need to be proficient users of language to function to their highest potential. Educators must…
provide ample opportunities for persons who are blind to master the functional literacy tasks they need for living fully; to use strategies to gain access to print independently, when necessary; to continue to learn new strategies and skills after they leave an instructional program; and to demonstrate self-advocacy skills for gaining information. (Rex 13)

Fluency in the Braille code is the key to independence for people who are blind.
Many researchers agree that the purpose of Braille education is to provide students with the means to communicate to the best of their abilities in mainstream society, in the same or similar ways as their sighted peers. Rex finds that Braille is the best format for blind people to demonstrate their knowledge and practice literacy: “Children who are blind have as much of a right to attain higher and higher levels of literacy as do children with normal vision…Braille is the primary medium that can help them grow continuously in literacy” (Rex 5). Meanwhile, dramatic declines in Braille literacy rates demonstrate that programs and classroom dedicated to Braille instruction are the exception, rather than the rule in education today.

Braille literacy rates in the United States are currently much lower than in previous decades. According to the American Federation for the Blind, the Braille Institute reports that “nearly 12 percent of the 55,000 legally blind children in the United States can read Braille,” (NLS Fact Sheet) which represents a decline of nearly 30 percent since the late 1960’s. A study conducted by Ruby Ryles in the late 1990’s found strong correlations between Braille literacy and educational attainment and employment rates: “Those who learned to read using Braille had higher employment rates and educational levels, were more financially self-sufficient, and spent more time reading than did those who learned to read using print” (Ryles 1). Instruction in Braille not only enables people to communicate with language in an accessible mode, but also creates a broader spectrum of options for advancement in adulthood. As Braille literacy is the key to the independence for blind people, “the decline of Braille literacy in the past three decades may contribute to increased social and economic malaise for the visually impaired” (Spungin 2). Technological improvements in the field of Braille transcription and printing may help to reverse the declining rates of Braille literacy in the coming years.
 While listening devices and computers once replaced instruction in Braille, these and other tools may be put to use in Braille literacy instruction as technology continues to improve. While the costs may sometimes be prohibitive, the availability of these tools ought to become more widespread as time passes. Samuel notes a few developments that should improve students’ access to and facility with Braille.
Portable devices similar to laptop computers allow blind students to type notes and read them back through a Braille display. Similar devices can render text on a computer screen into Braille, using a refreshable display. And software is cutting down on the time it takes to produce Braille reading materials for students, including textbooks. Just listening to books doesn’t teach a blind child how to read, spell, or write, instructors say. (Samuels 28)

These technological advancements, coupled with increased funding to provide more universal accessibility to Braille literacy materials will positively affect students’ chances for obtaining the instruction they require to become independent. Samues writes that “the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)reauthorization includes provisions that are intended to ensure that Braille textbooks are produced faster” (28). Continued legislative motions and advancement in the computer field may reverse the declining rates of Braille literacy in years to come. According to Blake, “for the blind person [as well as the sighted], literacy involves all methods of acquiring, storing and accessing information and all methods of communicating one’s own ideas, opinions and needs” (1). Braille is the code by which these methods are primarily enacted by people who are blind. Even so, other modes to access and transmit information besides the use of the Braille code exist. Blake also includes the “ability to use print and computers, as well as the ability to use readers and recorded materials to gain access to and acquire the most knowledge from information” (1) as components of literacy for blind people.

Media and technology available to the visually impaired complement the use of the Braille code but fail to replace it as the primary tool of literacy. According to Rex, “basic to each type of literacy is the ability to communicate meaning through written language” (6). For people who are blind, Braille is the primary mode of expression in writing and reading: while the characters are different than the print alphabet, they provide the means to communicate through touch. Ike Presley, a project manager for the Federation of the Blind supports the continued use of and education for Braille: “Braille allows a person to have a reading and writing medium for both information access and for personal use... Technology is not replacing Braille. It increases the availability to Braille, making it easier to produce and less expensive” (Weiss 2). While declines in Braille literacy in the past two decades have been attributed to competing technologies, emerging technology may actually improve people’s ability to manipulate language and meaning with Braille.
Fluency in the Braille code is the cornerstone, but not the singular component, of literacy for blind people. Facility with language is required in most of the daily tasks and transmissions of thought any human engages in. Just as sighted people need to be print literate in order to function to their fullest capacity in contemporary society, so too do blind people need a system for using language to its full potential.

The Braille code is an intrinsic component of literacy for the visually impaired. If “ a person’s level of literacy has a direct impact on both physical and psychological well being… it affects emotional well being by enabling independence and confidence,” (Blake 1) then fluency in the Braille code is of utmost importance to the success and personal satisfaction of blind people. The significance of the Braille code cannot be underestimated for its effect on the literacy of the blind.

Works Cited

About Braille NLS Factsheet. National Library Services. 5 November 2009. Web. 2 April 2010.
Blake, Sarah J. The Importance of Braille Literacy. Blindness Growing Strong. Web. 2 April 2010.
Rex, Evelyn L., Alan J Koening, Diane P. Wormsley and Robert L. Baker. Foundations of Braille Literacy. American Foundation of the Blind, New York: 1994. Print.
Ryles, Ruby. “The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education and Reading Habits. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 90:3 (1996.) Web. 23 March 2010.
Samuels, Christina A. “Braille Makes a Comeback.” Education Week. 27.43 (2008): 27-29: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 3 April 2010.
Spungin, S.J. “Braille and Beyond: Braille Literacy in a Larger Context.” Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 90:3 (1996). Web. 23 March 2010.
Weiss, Ray. “High Tech Advantages Can’t Entirely Replace Braille.” Daytona Beach News Journal. 27 January 2010. Web. 2 April 2010.