Robert Englebretson, Assoc. Professor of Linguistics, Rice University, USA.

Writing System or Code?
- A potential disconnect between readers and teachers

Much of the professional and pedagogical literature treats braille as a 'code', i.e. a rule-based transliteration system for print. Learning to read braille, then, entails converting between the two systems: learning to 'transcribe' print into braille and to 'backtranslate' braille into print. However, recent research has suggested that, for proficient adult readers at least, braille is better conceived of as a native 'writing system', with its own unique cognitive representations and linguistic structures, and that braille readers are not actively 'backtranslating' into print when they are reading. Therefore a disconnect likely exists between many teachers (most of whom are sighted readers who learn braille professionally as a 'code' through their experiences as print readers), and their students, on the other hand, who approach braille as their native 'writing system', and do not typically have prior experience as proficient print readers.

Robert hypothesize that this disconnect may ultimately lead to choices in how braille is taught, which may affect the facility with which young readers learn it. If teachers treat braille as a 'code', then they will teach their students how to be 'print decoders'; whereas if they view braille as a 'writing system', then they will view their work as to ultimately enable their students to use braille to become readers and writers. This session gives you an overview of the code-based metaphors for braille used in the pedagogical literature, the recent research in cognitive science dealing with braille as a writing system, and outlines the consequences of these views for teachers and braille learners. The speaker conclude by suggesting future research areas (both academic and pedagogical) to address this disconnect and facilitate greater braille literacy.

 

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