Early Braille Literacy Skills Stimulus Equivalent paradigm

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Toussaint, K.A. and Tiger, J.H. (2010). Teaching early Braille literacy skills within a stimulus

equivalence paradigm to children with degenerative visual impairments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 181-194.

Toussaint and Tiger (2010) investigated how the formation of one stimulus equivalence relation contributed to the emergence of other equivalent relations for children with degenerative vision impairment to learn Braille letters. The authors claimed that, although the children still had functional vision, teaching Braille was a pivotal skill given their deteriorating condition. The three tests for equivalence relations are reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity. These tests were incorporated in the training of Braille letter recognition both visually and auditorily in a match-to-sample format.

The authors conducted several pretests to (a) test recognition of a visual letter based on its spoken equivalence or emit the vocal response in the presence of a visual stimulus; (b) assess the students' abilities to identically match letters that are printed or Braille as well as imitate spoken letters; and (c) test any relations between the spoken, printed, and Braille letters that may already be in the students' repertoire. Any letter that was indentified correctly during the session that tested the relation between a Braille letter and its printed counterpart was excluded from the study. The authors also excluded any letter relation that was correctly identified with 100% success during the pretest conditions.

Probe sessions were conducted for all relations to formulate a baseline in which no consequences for correct or incorrect responding were provided. The authors examined the extent to which the students were able to match Braille to printed letters, printed to Braille, Braille to its spoken counterparts, and spoken letters to Braille. The instructor implemented each probe session by presenting the sample letter in one of three methods: Braille, printed, or spoken. Instructional sessions began with teaching the relation between the Braille letter and the printed, or visual, letter match.

The results indicated that the acquisition of learning Braille through the process of matching the Braille letter with its printed counterpart allowed for emergent relations to surface and the students were then able to match printed to Braille, spoken to Braille, and Braille to spoken. Though there are clear fluctuations, the data reflected a near 100% success rate in correctly identifying the comparison stimuli in each set during the post-training phase.

Toussaint and Tiger (2010) acknowledged the fact that throughout the students' learning process, an exclusion effect could have been taking place (p.192). As the authors stated, there was an 80% chance that the students may have eliminated previous answers and selected the newest comparison stimulus. In a classroom or natural learning environment, this effect could be considered beneficial for future learning and retention but for the sake of research and treatment integrity, an exclusion effect would be objectionable. To account for this issue in research, the authors suggested that future studies include stimuli that are equally novel in each condition.

A significant issue when it comes to teaching techniques is how well it can be utilized by the general education staff members. It is pivotal to ask oneself if a teacher, without behavior analytic training or without the resources, could efficiently implement the same techniques. In order for such an accomplishment, the guidelines for execution must be simple enough for the teacher or instructor to perform, but also maintain its effectiveness. The authors mentioned the future use of computerized programming as strength in their technique for teaching Braille letter recognition. As technology advances and subjects are presented with a method of learning such relations from an electronic device, teachers may be able to educate a group of students with degenerative vision failure effectively and resourcefully without exhausting too much manual effort.

Toussaint and Tiger (2010) presented a strong argument for teaching Braille through stimulus equivalence training to children with some vision capabilities still available. Because they, according to their study, are the first to propose such a strategic plan of instruction (p. 183), it is not surprising that there are several opportunities for future research. The problematic issues in this study did not detriment their findings or the fact that this skill is difficult to teach but necessary for the individual with degenerative vision to learn.

With regard to their main objective of assessing and aiding in the development of emergent relations between Braille, printed, and spoken letters, the authors identified a natural future step to expand on their study. Toussaint and Tiger (2010) discussed the progression from simple letter recognition to word and phoneme detection. An interesting step to assist in the students' abilities to read Braille words and expand on their findings would be to utilize the same students as well as novel subjects to compare the rate of learning between the two groups. Doing so could, therefore, determine if the subjects with prior training regarding stimulus equivalence would learn quicker than those without training.

Teaching phonetic sounds opposed to only teaching letter recognition may prove to be more beneficial in the long term. As individuals mature and more is required of their reading skills, teaching the sounds of each letter could assist in the advancement of their reading abilities and help the individual generalize their skills to new environments. On that remark it would also be interesting to observe how the students in this study generalize their newly acquired skills to situations outside of the treatment setting. It would be noteworthy to witness the students identifying letters, since that's what was studied, in a natural setting where limited comparison stimuli are not readily available to them. Instead they are to fully assess and compare the Braille letter with all others in his or her repertoire.

This experiment seemed to outline an effective method of teaching Braille letters to students with moderate experience with the language. A slight drawback in this study was the students' abilities to recognize several letters or their past knowledge of such reading methods. Because the authors' main concern was the effectiveness of teaching stimulus equivalence relations, it would be of interest to see this method be used to teach those individuals with mild to no previous training. It would also be wise for those engaging in teaching those with degenerative vision to research other methods of teaching this skill to analyze which methods are most effective.

Despite the limitations of their study, Toussaint and Tiger (2010) provided reasonable proof that individuals are capable of learning emergent equivalence relations through the instruction of one relation. Their baseline could have been more stable across sets, or in the least, more transparent in how it was graphed, but the authors did show a relatively stable percentage of correct responses once training had been implemented and a clear progression from baseline scores. This data has the potential to lead future researchers, or those currently researching the field, to expand on Toussaint and Tiger's (2010) findings and make the methods utilized more user-friendly for those not familiar with behavior analytic techniques or without the resources to conduct such an experiment in their typical teaching setting. This study could also be expanded to test this method on individuals without previous exposure to Braille as well as observing how their skills generalize to a more natural setting. This article provides multiple opportunities to further explore this topic and assist in the future instructional methods of those individuals with vision impairments.