Helping One Deaf Student Develop Content Literacy Skills: An Action Research Report

By Howell, Jennnifer Johnson; Luckner, John L. | Communication Disorders Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Helping One Deaf Student Develop Content Literacy Skills: An Action Research Report


Howell, Jennnifer Johnson, Luckner, John L., Communication Disorders Quarterly


The development of reading skills is regarded as the highest priority area in contemporary education. Yet for many students who are deaf or hard of hearing, this is the academic area of greatest difficulty. Adding to this problem is the current demand that all students master higher levels of knowledge in content areas. In an effort to support students' needs to become literate and master content, professionals are teaching students content literacy strategies. Explicit teaching and practice of these strategies can help students become more comfortable with reading textbooks, improve their ability to succeed in content classes, increase their comprehension, and build a foundation for lifelong learning. The authors of this article present the case report of an action research study conducted with one deaf student who excelled in a general education setting through the use of content literacy strategies.

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"Literacy is the most important goal of schooling" (Moats, 2000, p. 3). Students who experience difficulty in learning to read and write cannot fully participate in classroom learning, are at high risk for school failure, are at high risk for lifelong problems with employment, and have diminished avenues for pleasure. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the list of potential negative outcomes increases because of the essential role that literacy plays in interacting with deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing peers. For example, simple everyday events, such as watching television, making a phone call to a friend, sending e-mail, or asking a stranger for directions, often require literacy skills.

Learning to read is a complex, multilevel task that involves numerous attention, memory, linguistic, and comprehension skills. For many students who are deaf or hard of hearing, reading is the single most difficult academic hurdle they face. Research has indicated that the average student with a hearing loss graduates from high school with reading comprehension skills at approximately the fourth-grade level (e.g., Allen, 1986; Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, 1991; Traxler, 2000). Several reasons have been suggested for this unsatisfactory progress, including a lack of background knowledge or prior experience, impoverished vocabularies, poor skills in decoding English, and the difficulty of recoding print into sign language (Andrews & Mason, 1991). Marschark and Harris (1996) attributed these poor reading abilities to the fact that more than 90% of students who are deaf or hard of hearing have hearing parents who do not share an effective mode of communication with their children and as a result are unable to read "aloud" to them or explicitly teach literacy skills.

Although research that identifies the causes of reading problems for students who are deaf or hard of hearing is necessary, a pressing need also exists to examine instructional methods that improve literacy skills. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 emphasizes the development of literacy. School personnel are required to demonstrate that (a) all students are reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade and (b) they continue to make adequate yearly progress. Simultaneously, parents and lawmakers have demanded higher standards and greater accountability with regard to the acquisition of content area knowledge. Students with disabilities are expected to participate and show progress in the general education curriculum, participate in extracurricular activities, and in general learn and develop with their nondisabled peers (1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA 97]). As a result, teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing must be skilled in methods of teaching content while simultaneously teaching basic skills such as reading and writing.

In an effort to address this challenge with students with learning disabilities, several researchers (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996; Pressley, Symons, McGoldrick, & Snyder, 1995) developed and evaluated strategies to improve students' reading performance while simultaneously teaching them to access the general education curriculum. …

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