Academic journal article The Volta Review

Building the Alphabetic Principle in Young Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Academic journal article The Volta Review

Building the Alphabetic Principle in Young Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Article excerpt

Acquisition of phoneme-grapheme correspondences, a key concept of the alphabetic principle, was examined in young children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) using a semantic association strategy embedded in two interventions, the Children's Early Intervention and Foundations for Literacy. Single-subject design experiments using multiple baselines across content were used to examine the functional relationship between student outcomes and the intervention provided. Only students who were able to identify spoken words were included in the studies. Study One was conducted with 5 children 3.10-7.10 years of age in oral or signing programs. Study Two was conducted with 5 children 3.10-4.5 years of age in an oral program. All children acquired taught phoneme-grapheme correspondences. These findings provide much-needed evidence that children who are DHH and who have some speech perception abilities can learn critical phoneme-grapheme correspondences through explicit auditory skill instruction with language and visual support.


Children and youth who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) frequently fail to attain proficient reading skills by the time they reach high school, a trend that has been well documented over the past three decades (Holt, 1994; Traxler, 2000). At the same time, educators of children who are DHH have endeavored to find appropriate and effective instruction for literacy skill development with limited success. For children with typical hearing, an auditory-based skill, such as the alphabetic principle (the knowledge that letters represent phonemes in spoken language and are blended to make spoken words), is considered an essential component of literacy development (National Reading Panel, 2000). The purpose of the current study is to determine the effectiveness of an intervention focused on the building of phoneme-grapheme correspondences, which is the foundation of the alphabetic principle, when implemented with young children who are DHH.

Traditional reading instruction in the education of children who are DHH has focused on the development of language and vocabulary (Spencer, Tomblin, & Gantz, 1997) rather than on instruction of the alphabetic principle because of the children's lack of spoken word knowledge (Schirmer, 2001). For example, in a 1997 survey, more than 70% of teachers who work with children who are DHH stated that they used special basal readers and language experience approaches to teach reading (LaSasso & Mobely, 1997). Perfetti and Sandak (2000) posited that lack of phonological representation of words was a factor in the lower literacy levels among students with severe to profound hearing losses: "[there is a] fundamental discrepancy between their incomplete spoken language system and the demands of reading a speech-based system" (p. 47).

In the past 10 years, more sophisticated technology, including cochlear implants, has mitigated at least some of the documented barriers to the development of an auditory-based phonological foundation for reading in children who are DHH. Federally mandated Newborn Hearing Screening (1993) has also allowed children who are DHH access to this technology and early intervention services at a much earlier age. Cochlear implants provide substantial auditory information as well as improved speech perception abilities for children who do not benefit from conventional amplification (Cheng, Grant, & Niparko, 1999; Spencer & Oleson, 2008). For children with hearing aids, improved technology has resulted in amplification that more closely matches their hearing loss, which allows for an overall increase in the quality and comprehension of sound (Parker, 2002).

These changes have yielded a new generation of children who are DHH. Easterbrooks, Lederberg, Miller, Bergeron, and Connor (2008) found that more than 70% of children ages 3 to 7 years who attended either signing or oral selfcontained DHH classrooms in a large metropolitan area and who had no additional disabilities were able to identify spoken words. …

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