The study explored the effects of a phonics-based early intervention package on the early reading skills of three preschool students who were d/Deaf or hard of hearing who differed in regard to degree of hearing loss, use of amplification, and communication mode. The 40-week intervention (50-week in one case) was delivered through individual and group phonics-based instruction supplemented by Visual Phonics in a language-enriched preschool classroom. Standardized assessments were conducted before, during, and after the intervention. Along with some additional assessments, the same assessments were conducted in early elementary school. The results showed that all participants demonstrated at least some use of phonemic awareness and phonics skills when they were explicitly trained, and that these skills were sustained in early elementary school. Furthermore, all participants exhibited overall reading levels at or above age level when measured in early elementary school.
KEYWORDS: deaf, hard of hearing, phonics, phonemic awareness, Visual Phonics, early intervention, reading
In a study of large-scale academic achievement testing of students who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing in the United States, Qi and Mitchell (2012) found that student performance levels on reading comprehension tests over three decades were slightly higher for each age cohort from ages 8 to 17 years, but that median performance never exceeded the fourth-grade equivalent for any cohort. This finding confirms troubling phenomena that have been reported for years: Average students with severe to profound hearing loss leave the educational system reading at the beginning of the fourth-grade level, and more than 90% of these individuals are reading at the sixth-grade level or lower (see reviews in Allen, 1986; Luckner, Sebald, Cooney, Young, & Goodwin Muir, 2005/2006; Moores, 2006; Paul, 2003, 2009; Schirmer & McGough, 2005; Traxler, 2000; Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2010,2011).
Many explanations have been offered-for example, the artifacts associated with the types of assessments used to measure reading achievement; the dramatic increase in the inferential and language demands of reading materials after the third-grade level; the marked difficulty many students with severe to profound hearing loss experience in developing or acquiring the language of written English; and insufficient preparation to teach reading and writing given to teachers of the d/Deaf or hard of hearing in their teacher education programs (Paul, 2003, 2009; Trezek, et al., 2010). Furthermore, Trezek, Wang and Paul (2011) suggest that the proliferation of reading theories provides numerous, sometimes conflicting views, and that there seem to be misinterpretations of these theories.
One of the most controversial areas in reading theory is the identification of the perceptual units in working-memory processes-that is, whether skilled readers use whole words or sub word-level units such as phonemes, syllables, or letters as the units of perception in their working-memory processes. In this vein, the reading challenges of individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing may be closely connected with difficulties in appropriately addressing the phonological components of reading instruction (Leybaert, 1993; Trezek et al., 2010; Wang, Kretschmer, & Hartman, 2008; Wang, Trezek, Luckner, & Paul, 2008), particularly phonemic awareness and phonics skills, which have been widely recognized as the means to enhance decoding skills among hearing readers (Adams, 1990; Chali, 1996; National Reading Panel, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). The National Reading Panel (2000) claimed that "phonemic awareness and letter knowledge [are] the two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first 2 years of instruction" (p. 3). Phonemic awareness and phonics skills are not necessarily speech skills that involve hearing or articulating each phoneme (Adams, 1990; Trezek et al. …