Promoting Vocabulary Learning in Young Children Who Are D/deaf and Hard of Hearing: Translating Research into Practice

Article excerpt

VOCABULARY KNOWLEDGE is strongly associated with reading achievement and becomes increasingly predictive of overall reading proficiency as children progress through the elementary grades. Children who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing often begin schooling with small meaning vocabularies, a disadvantage that puts them at risk of struggling to learn to read. Recent research on vocabulary intervention with young children who have typical hearing demonstrates the effectiveness of targeted, contextualized instruction on children's word learning and provides insights for early childhood educators of young d/Deaf and hard of hearing children. In the present essay, which is grounded in the qualitative similarity hypothesis (Paul, 2010, in press; Paul & Lee, 2010) and sociocultural theories of learning, the author argues for evidence-based vocabulary interventions for young d/Deaf and hard of hearing children that are rooted in the contemporary research literature.

Since the mid- 1940s, research has demonstrated an intimate relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading achievement (Beck & McKeown, 2007; Davis, 1944; McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Perfetti, 1983; Rummelhart & Ortony, 1977; Singer, 1965; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Thurstone, 1946). The size of children's meaning vocabularies - that is, the number of words children have meanings for in their speaking and listening vocabularies - is strongly related to how well they will understand what they read (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). In fact, vocabulary knowledge becomes increasingly predictive of general reading proficiency as students progress through the elementary grades (Scarborough, 2005; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). A large and rich vocabulary is essential if children are to understand the variety of books they will read in school, especially given the vocabulary demands of content-area texts. Indeed, studies have demonstrated a substantial relationship between vocabulary size in first grade and later reading comprehension (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Scarborough, 2001). Fortunately, vocabulary instruction can have a large and educationally significant impact on young children's language development (Marculis & Neuman, 2010), and so it behooves early childhood educators to enhance children's vocabulary learning early on, particularly that of children at risk (Neuman, 2009).

And now is the time to do so. The last decade has brought significant progress in the implementation of universal newborn hearing screening and noteworthy advances in amplification technologies. Universal newborn hearing screening paves the way for earlier identification, and thus earlier intervention. More children are enrolled in birth-to-three programs at earlier ages (Sass-Lehrer, 2011). Improvements in digital hearing aids and cochlear implants provide enhanced access to spoken language, and increasing numbers of young children are receiving cochlear implants at younger ages, as early as 12 months. While the educational outcomes of this technology are variable (E Spencer, Marschark, & L. Spencer, 2011), children who benefit from cochlear implants are finding the task of acquiring spoken language less onerous. Vocabulary growth in particular can be quite rapid for what appears to be a critical period following cochlear implantation (Connor, Hieber, Arts, & Zwolan, 2000).

Given these advances in the field, and the significant implications of vocabulary knowledge to subsequent achievement, in this essay I argue that parents and educators of young children who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing should reconsider the importance of promoting vocabulary learning in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. My argument is grounded in sociocultural theories of learning, as well as the qualitative similarity hypothesis (Paul, 2010, in press; Paul & Lee, 2010) - conceptualizations I explicate in the first section of this essay. In the second section, I review current research on vocabulary instruction in early childhood for children who have typical hearing. …