How do we define literacy? Cullinan (1993) writes that, in the early days of our nation, the people who could read and write were usually ministers and schoolteachers. In 2005, an exact definition cannot be agreed upon, but it is clear that today's definition of literacy extends far beyond basic reading skills.
Many argue that the 21st century's redefinition includes both language, literacy (i.e., reading, writing, listening and speaking) and the vast array of technological literacy including computers and other advanced forms of communication (Deane, 2004).
We live in a society where both the volume and variety of written texts grow daily. Citizens are expected to be able to read, comprehend and apply these materials in a proficient and functional manner (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, & Kolstad, 1993). Literacy plays an important role in personal fulfillment and participation in society because it acts as a type of currency in exchange for improving the quality of life. Furthermore, individuals with higher levels of literacy are reportedly more likely to be employed, work more weeks in a year and earn higher wages than those who demonstrate lower proficiencies (Kirsch et al., 1993).
How Do Parents Meet the Literacy Challenge?
The challenge to parents and professionals working with children exhibiting hearing loss is obvious. A survey by Project Hope (Blanchfield, Dunbar, Feldman, & Gardner, 1999) conducted on more than half a million individuals with severe-to-profound losses found that approximately 44 percent of those surveyed did not graduate from high school. Additionally, compared to 19 percent of the general population, 42 percent between the ages of 18 and 44 years are not working and most with severe-to-profound hearing loss are poorer than other Americans (i.e., 53% of participants have a family income of less than $25,000 compared to 35% of the general U.S. population).
However, technological advances in amplification devices and cochlear implants now provide more opportunities to improve literacy skills for children with hearing loss. The past 10 years of published research has found that children who learn to listen and speak using auditory-based philosophies can achieve at or near grade-level literacy skills in the areas of language and reading skills (Geers, 2002; Geers, 2003; Robertson & Flexer, 1993; Wray & Flexer, 2002). Skills identified by experts as "emergent literacy" behaviors can prepare children for reading. Moreover, children with hearing loss can be expected to learn the same building blocks that are cited by the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn, 2001) in their publication, "Put Reading First." This document defines five areas of reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension), as well as practical suggestions that parents and professionals can employ in teaching the foundations for learning to read and write.
How Does Literacy Impact Socialization?
As children learn to listen, they also learn to foster relationships with their families, at their schools and in other social settings. They learn appropriate social and cultural responses, and gather the important background knowledge necessary to relate socially. Socializing with others who have already developed mature language capabilities or with peers who are in the process of developing language spurs language development in children with hearing loss. Daily interaction with others is foundational to the language development necessary for literacy growth in areas of content knowledge and knowledge of language structures and uses. Emerging literacy, in turn, is helpful to learning new cultural knowledge and relating with others in a text-rich environment. The child who reads books, knows about the current movies and games and can participate in writing notes and doing schoolwork with other children will be able to facilitate relationships with their peers, as well as learn a great deal. …