WBU-NAC(Senior group) Fine Work
An Annie Sullivan Moment
U.S.A Ann K. Parsons (63, Female)
I have been tutoring students in Braille for the past four years. I tutor adults who have lost their sight in learning to read and to write Braille. I love my work because I meet so many interesting people, and I can see, in a real way, how important using Braille is. My Students range in age between fifteen and eighty. Most fall somewhere in the middle.
The students I tutor have lost their sight due to a number of reasons, ranging from diabetes to glaucoma. Some have children. Some do not. Some live with family. Others do not. However all of them want to learn Braille because they know how important it is for their future to do so. This is especially true for those of my students who are DeafBlind. If they do not read Braille when their sight goes completely, they will not be able to communicate with others at all except face to face.
One of my most profound and exciting experiences is The Annie Sullivan Moment. This is a moment in a student's learning when dots move from being individual letters to being whole words. I have worked with students for months, and when they read aloud to me I hear "T h e c a t r a n u p t h e t r e e." After each recitation of letters, it takes the student a minute or two to connect what has just been read into full words. At some point in the course, the day comes when a student will not recite each individual letter but will immediately say, "The Cat ran up the tree."
The first time this happened, I was floored! I had never taught reading to children, having received my training in English Education, so I had no idea how profound this moment is! My student was excited and amazed. "They really do make whole words don't they?" she said.
This meant that my student had gone beyond mere reciting of decoded letters to the next step which is to actually move fast enough in order to combine letters into words mentally, transforming them into the building blocks for sentences and paragraphs. It meant that my student was regaining part of what had been lost; the ability to recognize words among the dots and to make sense out of them.
As I listened to my student reading aloud with fluency, in the back of my mind, I could hear the splashing of water onto a cobbled yard and the soft recitation of, "Water, w a t e r, w a t e r!"
Perhaps it is not as profound as the moment when a seven-year-old girl who was both deaf and blind realized that the game she'd been playing wasn't a game at all but the door to knowledge and understanding. It is, however, significant enough to call it an Annie Sullivan Moment. Though my name is Ann, I am no real Annie Sullivan. My students have made this miraculous transition themselves. I am merely the instrument. However, the privilege of watching and aiding in the transformation is a joy and a miraculous occurrence.
For one of my students, a young man who is both mute and alexic, this Annie Sullivan Moment meant a lot. His brain had been damaged by a severe illness when he was about ten years old and for a while, teachers, parents and medical personnel wondered if he'd ever be able to read and write. Then someone thought of Braille. I was the teacher they chose to teach this young man Braille. The Annie Sullivan Moment came early for this student because he is brilliant, but for him it meant more. Because he was able to make the connection between dots and words, he was then able to begin to rebuild the damaged pathways of his brain to the point where, now, he can use a laptop successfully to both read and to write. He can now type on the laptop accurately and reread what is typed. Connections are being re-forged, and he is able to communicate with the world again.
For my other students, the moment, though significant, is not the Earth Shaker it was for the young man, but it is significant enough. For someone who has been bombarded with information in the form of printed letters since childhood, this is an important moment. It heralds a new day, a day when the printed word is more than just the sound of someone reading aloud or the tones of the synthetic speech of a computer. Words are her own again, not someone else's. The pictures in her mind are hers and not cast there by someone else's interpretation. She is reading on her own again! To be able to regain at least some of the ground lost by losing the sense of sight is a huge victory.
I cannot remember my own Annie Sullivan Moment. I learned to read and write Braille in first grade. However having experienced these moments, I look forward to the future when paperless Braille will become the norm for all those who are visually impaired or blind who wish to take advantage of it. The advent of the inexpensive Braille reader is, I think, the dawn of a resurgence in the interest in Braille. I applaud this because it means that others can experience their own Annie Sullivan Moments and progress toward making Braille their own method of reading and writing.
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