Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hearing Students' Morphological Knowledge Applied to Printed English

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hearing Students' Morphological Knowledge Applied to Printed English

Article excerpt

The study examined the ability of deaf and hearing students at the college and middle school levels to discern and apply knowledge of printed word morphology. There were 70 deaf and 58 hearing participants. A two-part paper-and-pencil test of morphological knowledge examined subjects' ability to (a) perceive segmentation of morphemes within printed words and (b) recognize meanings associated with various printed morphemes. The hearing college students performed best on every dependent measure of the two-part test. The deaf college students scored significantly lower than the hearing college students but similarly to the hearing middle school students. Deaf middle school students consistently scored the lowest on both parts of the test. While all students' performance declined as the difficulty of the morphemic content increased within both tasks, the decline was greatest among middle school deaf students. Although segmentation and semantic analysis skills necessary to morphographic decoding were apparent in the deaf students, their mastery levels fell significantly below those of the hearing subjects.

Researchers have observed that one of the principal reading challenges faced by students who are deaf is the impediment they presumably face in abstracting a phonological form through which to process individual words (Hanson, 1982, 1991). Further, the failure to recognize individual words has been cited as the reason for these students' more generalized comprehension failure at the sentence and discourse levels (Marschark & Harris, 1996). It is this ability to recognize the meaning of individual words-along with other elements, such as context and surrounding graphics-that enables a reader to arrive at an interpretation of connected text. Just and Carpenter (1992) have presented a capacity theory of comprehension, explaining the interdependence of component reading processes in terms of a reader's utilization of constrained cognitive resources. Their research demonstrated that inefficiency in one area of text processing results in inadequate output from that process and seems to degrade the proper functioning of other processes as well. For example, labored word identification and labored lexical access disrupt higher-order processes such as syntactic analysis of text, to the detriment of comprehension.

Relatively little is known about the word recognition processes of readers who are deaf (Merrills, Underwood, & Wood, 1994; Paul, 1998). What is well documented about the deaf population is the existence of persistent, generalized, and severe weakness in reading skills, which for the average 18-year-old have remained below the fourth-grade level for decades (Cooper & Rosenstein, 1966; Gallaudet Research Institute, 1996). Examination of the nature of text beyond the fourth-grade level in relation to both the requirements of the decoding process and the characteristics and abilities of deaf readers reveals significant gaps in the existing research.

The Nature of Advanced Text

Frequently cited explanations for why students who are deaf appear to encounter a reading performance ceiling at the fourth-grade level include a switch in focus from reading acquisition to reading for content. In other words, these students migrate from texts designed to build skills in print analysis and interpretation to texts that require them to have already acquired these skills in order to read successfully. For example, advanced texts place greater demand on readers for metacognitive skills, inferencing, and knowledge of figurative and idiomatic language. Advanced texts also include greater and more conceptually abstract morphemic content and structural complexity within individual words-morphemic content essential for transmitting printed ideas clearly from author to reader. In fact, starting around fourth grade, the texts students encounter contain not only more words but significantly bigger and different words. …

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