Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Teaching and Learning of Multimeaning Words within a Metacognitively Based Curriculum

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Teaching and Learning of Multimeaning Words within a Metacognitively Based Curriculum

Article excerpt

THE STUDY explored the effects of an 8-week intervention in which a teacher/researcher used direct instruction to show the multiple meanings of 7 words to 4 deaf students ages 11-13 years in a school for the deaf. Applying conclusions from emerging research that links knowledge and strategy with metacognitive skills, the teacher/researcher used specific metacognitive strategies to facilitate both the acquisition of the concept of multimeaning words and the ability to distinguish one meaning from another while reading, and thus improved the students' reading comprehension. The study participants were able to increase their vocabulary of multimeaning words as well as their reading comprehension in general, and, overall, experienced an improvement in their observable understanding and confidence when approaching the task of reading.

Studies show that, on average, deaf students have a lower level of reading comprehension than their hearing peers (e.g., Qi & Mitchell, 2007). Multiple theories have been constructed to explain why (see the review in Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2010). While there is no definitive explanation, many studies point to vocabulary deficiency as one of the answers. It has been proposed by many researchers that much of this vocabulary deficiency is related to the relatively limited access of deaf children to the multiple meanings of many high-frequency words (e.g., Paul &Gustafson, 1991).

Linguist John Taylor (2003) has argued that multimeaning - or polysémie - words pervade most everyday speech to the point where it is amazing that speakers understand the meanings of words at all. He uses the phrases a book on a table and a mirror on a wall to illustrate that the preposition on can be used and understood in a similar way even when what it conceptually describes is, in each instance, something different: The book is horizontally on the table, whereas the mirror is vertically on the wall. From this linguistic point of view, multimeaning words, while potentially perplexing to hearing readers, could pose an even greater predicament for deaf students trying to comprehend text that is written in a language in which they may not be fluent, such as English.

Most of the work on multimeaning words in relation to deaf education has been written by Peter Paul. Paul (1987) found that deaf students do indeed have difficulty with the notion that a word may have more than one meaning. While many studies have encouraged the teaching of context clues to deaf students as a means of enhancing their reading comprehension (e.g., Andrews & Mason, 1991; de Villiers & Pomerantz, 1992), Paul proposed that direct vocabulary instruction is sometimes necessary to ensure a higher level of understanding when one is reading. His approach to the teaching of multimeaning words in particular uses a three-step process to ensure that vocabulary instruction is not merely a rote memorization of words: (a) the activation of prior knowledge and general conceptual development of the words; (b) the implementation of appropriate activities in which the words feature in order to expand and reinforce the knowledge; and (c) the creation of opportunities for students to read old and new concepts in a variety of natural, meaningful contexts. Through the development of a conceptual framework for each meaning of high-frequency, problematic, multimeaning words, and subsequent integration and application of these words in a variety of activities and environments, it is believed that reading comprehension will increase.

Another important source for study of the relationship between multimeaning words and deaf education is research connected to metacognitive thinking in relation to educational practices and academic achievement. Kelly, Albertini, and Shannon (2001) not only provided a discussion of the problem of literacy in deafness, but also of the possibility that it is not just the strategies that are not working, but the approach. …

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