Short Term Memory, Morphology, and Reading

By Moores, Donald F. | American Annals of the Deaf, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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Short Term Memory, Morphology, and Reading


Moores, Donald F., American Annals of the Deaf


The policy of the American Annals of the Deaf is to publish manuscripts in the order of acceptance-there is no attempt to "balance" the mix of research/scientific articles or practical/applied articles. Over time, the content and mix tend to even out and trends in the research-to-application process become clear. On several occasions, I have addressed in editorials and articles what seem to me to be important developments and have tried to integrate implications for research and practice. Typically this is done over a few issues of the Annals or even over several years.

Occasionally, serendipity strikes and relationships can be seen across two or more articles in the same issue. This is the case in the December 2002 issue, which included articles on short-term memory capacity of deaf individuals and its relationship to reading (Miller, 2002), morphological knowledge applied to printed English (Gaustacl, Kelly, Payne, & Lylak 2002), strategies to prevent students from becoming "low-functioning" adults (Bowe, 2002), and perspectives of urban parents of deaf and hard of hearing children (Freeman, Dieterich, & Rak, 2002).

Because of space limits, my discussion of the articles will be brief and just touch the surface. I recommend that readers go back to the original sources for more in-depth discussion and literature reviews. I would also welcome alternate interpretations of the implications of the reports, especially from the authors themselves.

Miller investigated questions of short-term memory and reading in cieaf students, with attention to the possible influence of phonological processing. These of course have been areas of interest and contention for decades and results, to put it mildly, have been mixed. Miller used 39 hearing and 49 deaf Israeli schoolchildren in his study. Israeli Sign Language was the preferred mode of communication for 22 of the deaf students and spoken Hebrew was preferred by the other 27 deaf students. Miller reported no differences between the hearing and deaf students, or between the two deaf groups, in memory for nouns or in recalling the order of nouns, with the exception in one measure where scores of the oral deaf students were inferior to those of the hearing students. In contrast to the findings on short-term memory, Miller reported that the hearing students performed significantly higher than both deaf groups in a measure of reading proficiency. He concluded that phonological coding, per se, did not provide an advantage to deaf students and that the arguments in its support may be too simplistic. Instead, referring to the work of Marschark and Everhart (1997), he argued that deaf students may not have as much access as hearing students to the general and linguistic knowledge (particularly syntactic) that facilitates retention of certain kinds of information.

Gaustad et al investigated the ability of deaf and hearing students to discern and apply knowledge of printed morphology. Subjects were deaf college students (n = 43), hearing college students (n = 33), deaf middle school students (n = 27), and hearing middle school students (n = 25). The authors reported that on measures of ability to discern and apply morphological knowledge of printed English scores of hearing college students were significantly superior to the other three groups, deaf college students and hearing middle school students attained similar scores, and all three groups had significantly higher scores than deaf middle school students. They concluded that deaf students typically have low morphographic knowledge and skills-the ability to extract meaning from the morphemes of printed English, especially bound morphemes. There was a marked decline in scores for deaf students as they moved from more common bound morphemes (e.g., -ed, -s) to more complex morphemes (e.g., multi-, bio-, -itis). They concluded that the processing of whole words is not the problem for deaf students; word parts are.

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