Amongst current educational philosophies, there is an acceptance that there are clear developmental stages of intellectual growth. Piaget identified 4 stages of intellectual development as being
- Sensorimotor – birth to 2 years
- Pre-operational Thought – 2 – 6 years
- Concrete Operations – 6-12 years
- Formal Operations – 12 – adulthood
It is only in the latter part of the Concrete Operations stage that children start to develop the ability to think on the abstract level. If this is the case then it is reasonable to assume that up until this point blind students require the concrete experience of working with hard copy braille on a full page of braille.
Currently many educators are asking why an early braille learner shouldn’t start off using an electronic note-taker with refreshable braille. These are more portable and will be used by the student right through into university and beyond. However, when we give a young student a single line of braille that refreshes we are asking them to think in the abstract, to be able to imagine a full page of braille and extract a single line and make it separate. This places many limitations on their literacy skill development, including;
- the ability to compare information from one part of a page to another
- their understanding of layout and format and why they are important
- separation from general class literacy activities such as spelling lists, find-a-word, writing exercises and the like
- reading skills especially tracking
- maths and music braille which require multiple lines
Clearly it is essential that students first learn braille on a page. The point at which a student can make a transition to a note-taker is highly individual and certainly academically gifted students can do this much earlier than others.
Regardless of their age it is most important that children develop these early literacy skills using a full page of braille prior to moving to the abstraction of a single line, and to do this they need a braille writer.