Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Use of Graphic Representations of Sign Language in Leveled Texts to Support Deaf Readers

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Use of Graphic Representations of Sign Language in Leveled Texts to Support Deaf Readers

Article excerpt

THE STUDY considered whether adding sign language graphics to the books being used for reading instruction in a first-grade classroom would promote the literacy development of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The researchers also sought to discover whether materials existed to put the process of modifying leveled texts within the reach of the typical classroom teacher, in terms of cost and procedure. Students' reading behaviors seemed to indicate that the presence of sign graphics supported their development as readers. The materials needed to create sign support for the English print in the leveled books were commercially available.

The present study was inspired by the challenge of providing students who are deaf or hard of hearing with a way of mediating between the visual language many of them use - American Sign Language - and English-language print. The differences in structure between any English-language learner's native language and English are compounded for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing by the fact that ASL has no written form. Research into the academic achievement of students who are deaf or hard of hearing often finds that the performance of many children in this population falls significantly below that of their typical hearing peers on many different measures and across many domains. It has been repeatedly reported that many deaf high school students read at a third- or fourth-grade level (Karchmer & Mitchell, 2003). Factors such as degree of hearing loss, the extent to which children have access to phonological information about speech, and whether parents share a language with the child all appear to be implicated in determining the degree to which children can access and comprehend text (Wilson & Hyde, 1997).

One line of inquiry in the effort to develop effective approaches to supporting the literacy development of students who are deaf or hard of hearing has explored whether the emergent literacy paradigm for describing how children become competent readers and writers is suitable for this population. The emergent literacy model suggests that even without direct instruction, children in literate environments will begin to engage in literary behaviors: interacting with books in ways modeled by the adults who have read aloud to them and attempting to write strings of letters to which they attach meaning (Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Some research suggests that children who are deaf or hard of hearing exhibit the same emergent literacy behaviors as their hearing peers (Gillespie & Twardosz, 1997; Wilson & Hyde, 1997).

There is also research that documents the effectiveness of providing students who are deaf or hard of hearing with picture books that include graphic representations of sign language for the vocabulary in the text in addition to the English-language print. Wilson and Hyde (1997) examined the performance of 16 deaf students 8-13 years old in a series of reading comprehension and word recognition tasks under two conditions. Under the first condition, the books that the tasks were based on included the sign graphics. Under the second condition, the English text was unmodified. Students performed better under the first condition. The presence of graphic representations of sign language helped the students with word identification during reading. Students also performed significantly better under the first condition on a number of aspects of the story retell tasks that followed the readings: sequencing of events, accuracy, and recall of details. Other studies have found support for using sign graphics to improve the identification and retention of vocabulary words (e.g., Stoefen-Fisher & Lee, 1989).

Rottenberg (2001) described the manner in which one preschool deaf child used the graphic representation of signs that appeared along with the EngUsh print in the picture books available both in his home and at school. The child had a profound bilateral hearing loss. …

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