Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Success with Academic English: Reflections of Deaf College Students

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Success with Academic English: Reflections of Deaf College Students

Article excerpt

The study identified social, educational, and demographic characteristics of deaf postsecondary students who demonstrated strong reading and writing skills. Questionnaire information, information from institutional databases, and in-depth personal interviews were used to identify factors and characteristics that positively influenced the attainment of strong academic literacy skills. Among the areas investigated were school experiences, reading and writing experiences, study habits and attitudes, communication preferences, personality traits, and home and family background. Results of the study generally support previous work conducted with talented hearing youth. Several primary themes emerged from the study: heavy parental involvement in early education and educational decisions, differing modes of communication but extensive family communication, early exposure to and intensive experiences with reading and writing, an enjoyment of reading, a relatively limited social life, high parental and secondary school expectations, the importance of television, and positive self-image.

Much has been written about the minimal literacy skills of deaf students and the difficulties these students frequently experience in reading and writing standard English (see, e.g., King & Quigley, 1985, or Moores & Meadow-Orlans, 1990). In the preface to their classic text, King and Quigley wrote:

By the school-leaving age of 18 years, the typical deaf student scores at only about the fourth or fifth grade level on standard reading achievement tests, or about the same level as a typical 9 or 10 year old hearing student; and the written language of that deaf student will vary greatly from the written language of the typical hearing student. (p. xi)

Such language difficulties make the aca- demic requirements of college a major challenge for many, if not most, deaf students, and the barriers these students must overcome to attain college-level reading and writing skills are formidable. Foster and Walter (1992) have noted:

If we continue to increase the number of opportunities for deaf people to attain a postsecondary education without increasing their academic preparedness, what can we expect to accomplish? After all, availability does not ensure access. Overall, the basic academic skills of young deaf adults have not improved significantly during the last quarter of a century. (p. 199)

But clearly, some students do overcome these barriers. Since 1968, when large numbers of deaf students began attending the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a small percentage of deaf students have defied the traditional negative norms for language skills of deaf postsecondary students. RIT enrolls more than 13,000 students and includes NTID as one of its seven colleges. Established in 1965, NTID currently serves more than 1,000 deaf students in programs leading to diplomas, certificates, and associate's degrees in a variety of applied disciplines. Faculty members within the college of NTID teach deaf students using a variety of communication strategies, including American Sign Language (ASL), natural sign English, and simultaneous communication. Approximately 400 deaf students are also matriculated as bachelor's-level students in the other colleges of RIT. These students are considered students in their home college and are provided interpreting, tutoring, and note-taking services through NTID. The instructors in these other colleges rarely sign for themselves.

Over the past few years, faculty responsible for providing support services to deaf students working toward baccalaureate or graduate degrees within RIT have observed an increase in the number of deaf students who enter college with above-average academic literacy skills. Language and literature faculty, in particular, have begun to speculate about the reasons for these students' success with reading and writing. …

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