Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Effects of Ses on Literacy Development of Deaf Signing Bilinguals

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Effects of Ses on Literacy Development of Deaf Signing Bilinguals

Article excerpt

Research on spoken-language monolinguals and bilinguals has repeatedly shown that socioeconomic status (SES) has a significant impact on literacy outcomes (Droop & Verhoeven, 2003; Ransdell, 2012; White, 1982). Two competing explanations for this relationship involve the direct versus indirect impacts of SES on literacy outcomes. SES may directly affect literacy outcomes through characteristics of the home literacy environment. Because higher-SES parents read more, they are strong role models for their children in regard to acquiring reading skills. They are also more likely to restrict their children's access to media that do not encourage literacy development, such as television and video games (Raag et al., 2011). Children from high-SES homes have more reading opportunities and more books, and their parents are highly skilled at gauging their children's literacy level and mediating literacy events. Thus, the home literacy environment and the amount of time children spend in literacy activities are one explanation for the impact of SES on literacy development (Korat, Arafat, Aram, & Klein, 2013). A second explanation proposes an indirect relationship because SES has been shown to influence first-language (LI) and second-language (L2) oral proficiency, which affects literacy development (Hoff, 2013; Zhang et al., 2013). Specifically, higher-SES parents speak to their children more (Hart & Risley, 1995) and use fewer directives in child-rearing (Murray, Fees, Crowe, Murphy, & Henriksen, 2006). These characteristics are associated with high-SES children's faster rate of spoken-language development, and higher levels of phonological and metalinguistic awareness. This second explanation suggests that SES indirectly affects reading by promoting language skills that mediate reading success.

Because SES and L1/L2 proficiency are confounded in research on spoken-language readers, it is difficult to discern the relationship among SES, L1/L2 proficiency, and reading. Signing bilingual readers can provide an opportunity to look more closely and more deeply at that relationship. American Sign Language-English deaf bilingual children exhibit a unique profile because they achieve L2 literacy without prior development of spoken L2 proficiency. (The term deaf is operationally defined in the present article as referring to a hearing loss of 85 dB or greater in the better ear.) Further, there is no widely used orthography for ASL that would make it possible for LI orthographic experience to have an impact on L2 literacy. In response to this unique configuration of proficiency in a signed language for face-toface communication and in the written form of a spoken language for reading and writing, Morford, Kroll, Pifiar, and Wilkinson (2014) have coined a term to refer to this unique population of individuals who use both ASL and printed English: sign-print bilinguals. Sign-print bilingualism affords the unique opportunity to evaluate the role of SES without the confound of spoken-language proficiency influencing literacy development.

The present study investigated whether family SES influences reading comprehension of ASL-English deaf bilingual children (ASL-English bilinguals) while also considering LI proficiency in ASL. Despite the numerous previous studies on SES, LI proficiency, and literacy skills with both monolingual and bilingual populations, there have been no studies of the effect of SES on literacy skills of ASL-English bilinguals. Several early studies of literacy outcomes of deaf children found both effects and noneffects of parental hearing and communication choices, and pointed out that SES is not equivalent in these groups (Corson, 1973; Vernon & Koh, 1970). Indeed, Vernon and Koh (1970) were among the first investigators to provide solid evidence that "early manual communication produced better overall educational achievement, including superiority in reading skills and written language" (p. 535), compared to early oral communication. …

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