Deaf Children's Construction of Writing

Article excerpt

High illiteracy rates among the Argentine deaf population, even after long years of schooling (Massone, Simón, and Gutiérrez 1999; Massone, Simón, and Druetta 2003), point to the need to revise certain approaches to deaf literacy, particularly in school settings. Qualitative change in deaf literacy requires the use of multiple conceptual tools if learners are to be able to tackle its complexity without reductionism or oversimplification. We define illiteracy as the absence of knowledge that involves but is not confined to graphic marks. It has been contended that the term may also apply to the difficulty one experiences in interpreting and using written materials in a variety of contexts, as well as the inability to take part in a literate culture despite having mastered its written symbols (Ferreiro 2000).

Various studies have focused on different aspects of the "conquest of the written language" by deaf children and teenagers.1 Stressing their competence in and need for visual communication, this research therefore calls for the rejection of oralism in favor of the new ways of knowing made possible by today's essentially visual media and multimedia.

In speaking of writing as a language or a mode of language, Ave mean far more than simply communicating. We are also referring to the making of meaning, to the interpretation of cultural practices, and to the reconstruction of the representations that define the family and culture in which every person is subjectively and socially embedded. Thus, literacy should be encouraged as a way to promote integration, and the processes that deaf children engage in to develop it deserve close attention.

In order to account for the specific features of the cognitive and linguistic processes that deaf people utilize when dealing with wr itten language, Ave draw on two perspectives that have revolutionized the traditional understanding of the factors at stake in deaf literacy. These are the socioanthropological view of deafness and the psycholinguistic theory of Avriting, which is based on psychogenetic studies (Ferreiro and Teberosky 1979). Written languages characterize the practices, representations, and discourses of the literate hearing societies in which deaf communities are embedded. Deaf children, to whom written language is a second language, are linguistically, communicatively, and pragmatically competent in their own natural sign language. We explore deaf children's literacy and the role that sign language plays in the reconstruction of Avritten language.

The present study is part of a wider research project that focuses on how these children develop literacy skills. The article concentrates on the cognitive and linguistic processes involved in understanding written Spanish. It also discusses the conceptual schemata of language learners for whom sound does not constitute a source of information. They are already competent, nevertheless, in their own natural language (i.e., sign language), which presupposes a distinctive type of linguistic organization (Massone and Machado 1994).

This article analyzes the interpretation of an illustrated text by deaf children who had had no oral training. The conclusions Ave draw are based on data obtained at the exploratory stage of this ongoing project. Although they are therefore provisional, Ave offer them here to encourage the revision of deaf literacy practices.

Literacy and the Deaf Community

In Latin America and other parts of the world (e.g., Spain and Portugal), the prevailing behaviorist and neocognitivist models regard orality as the gateway to deaf literacy. They oversimplify the relationship between oral and written language, reinforcing ethnocentric and monocultura! representations and ignoring the complexity of the dialectical process that occurs between the knowing subject and the written language as a specific object of knowledge.

Some studies (Massone, Simón, and Gutiérrez 1999; Domínguez Gutiérrez 1999) focus on how best to teach deaf people to read and write by discussing educational experiences and suggesting various approaches and methods. …