Tom Dinning (Part 2)

PART 2: "It's quite exciting to see a young student who was previously feeling out of the picture now being in control."

"It was some time in May. Or was it June? A Monday, I think. As a dog senses an earthquake or a horse can smell water, I had a feeling about that day. The dust on my desk was about to be disturbed. Was I up to the challenge, I asked myself?"
This is Tom's recollection of the day when he was first asked what he knew about DAISY.

Tom Dinning is an education advisor working for the Northern Territory Education Resource Centre for the Vision Impaired in Darwin, Northern Territory (NT) Australia.

typical sceneryTom Dinning's Story, continued

The next stage in application of DAISY for literacy has just been released to the public. Well, actually, the public is one 9-year-old in a country town, somewhere in the Great Central Desert of Australia. This child is a late starter using braille; he lost his sight adventitiously two years ago. Teaching him braille is a challenge mainly because of the distances involved and no-one locally being there and help, although he has an incredibly supportive family and school.

DAISY to the Rescue

typical roadTo begin, we asked his mother to identify two books he enjoyed reading. His favourites were Boring Bill and Little Red Car in the Snow. These books were then produced in braille and DAISY. There were some discussions around aligning the presentation of the braille and DAISY books. The priorities were to keep the two versions as close to the original print version as possible and to make the navigation process simple. That's not as easy as it might seem with kids' books, especially when the print books didn't have page numbers and there was ballooning over diagrams. Fortunately our transcriber has been doing the job for 20 years and she knows all the tricks. Using the Plextalk PTR-2 to record the human voice for the DAISY book, it was possible to constantly adjust and edit along the way, then do a final check of the audio against the braille before finalising the DAISY book. This was the exciting part. My braille isn't all that good. Probably equivalent to the student for whom the books were intended. I found that the combination of the two worked for me in exactly the way I would hope it would work for the student. I found myself reading the braille (by sight) and verifying with the audio. I would stop the audio when it got ahead of me, replaying phrases to check words, moving through the pages at the touch of a button and realising I was beginning to read braille as I read print. No longer was my braille reading linear. I was scanning. I switched the player off and, to my surprise I found myself reading braille more fluently than I ever had. Sounds a bit far fetched! Well, it didn't last for long. A day later I was back to square one again. Almost!!! And there is the sting. I had retained information from my session with the braille/DAISY combination. Heaps more than I had ever achieved before and I was feeling full of confidence, waiting for the next session.

river crossing to OenpelHow was this going to work with the student? There was no surprise. The results were the same. I watched his fingers dance between the braille and the player as he weaved his way through the story. He was motivated, challenged. His response? "That was great! When do I get the next book? And can you make it a bit harder next time?" He said it was like having a teacher who never got cranky sitting next to him. Smart kid. I'm working on War and Peace for his next book.

We are producing DAISY-formatted audio books to support a Grade 1 student with low vision and a student with dyslexia in Senior High School for his Vocational Education program. The braille/DAISY combination will continue for a number of other young students including a 5-year-old, two 9-year-olds and an 11-year-old, scattered across the far reaches of the NT.

Happy boy with DAISY playerI have never thought of DAISY as a substitute for braille or large print, but in the hands of classroom teachers DAISY has incredible potential. For me, literacy is about finding the story in the words. As we learn to read, we search the funny little squiggles or the pattern of raised dots on the page for their content. Finding the story in those codes is the excitement that literacy brings - new words, new meaning, broader horizons, better understanding, greater pleasure from the life we have. That can happen if the literacy level is emerging in a 2-year-old or in an adult. It can take place if you read the Wall Street Journal or the instructions on a box of rice.

Today I saw how a 9-year-old can gain back something he lost: his ability to find that story for himself. This is why I do this job.


Closing Note from Tom

typical community schoolThings are happening fast here and the reception for DAISY from the kids has been great. The entire class wants DAISY books. This student is currently 'reading' a book with the rest of the class as part of their literacy program. It's quite exciting to see someone who was previously feeling out of the picture now being in control. The rest of the class is also learning braille. Part 1 of the February DAISY Planet 'Your Stories' received some attention. Folks in the department are asking questions about its use for children with a print disability other than a visual disability.



Yes Tom, it certainly seems you were and are up to the challenge! Thanks for sharing your story with us.