Magazine article Volta Voices

The Right Answer for Reading Comprehension

Magazine article Volta Voices

The Right Answer for Reading Comprehension

Article excerpt

"How many people got all 10 answers right?" No hands went up. "Nine?" One solitary person across the room raised her hand.

As Susan Lenihan, Ph.D., counted backward, a number of hands shot up on the other side of the room. People sitting at the table around me looked quizzically at each other. It wasn't until Lenihan asked who had three right answers that people on my side of the room began raising their hands.

In a group of approximately 40 speech-language pathologists, audiologists and teachers of the deaf, half of them had difficulty answering questions about sentences the presenter had just read to them. Were they not paying attention?

Lenihan, director of the deaf education program at Fontbonne University, quickly jumped in with an explanation. Everyone in the room had been asked to listen to a series of sentences, but the written instructions given to the people on the other side of the room directed them to imagine a vivid picture of what was happening in each sentence.

The people at my table looked down and reread the instructions we had received: "Please rate the sentences I will read aloud on how easily you can pronounce them. Repeat the sentences silently to yourself."

The exercise, part of the Talk for a Lifetime Summer Conference learning lab "Classroom Techniques to Enhance Language for Literacy," was designed to demonstrate what happens when children - and adults - are required to spend more brain power thinking about the sounds in a sentence rather than understanding what those words actually mean.

Lenihan outlined four components of text comprehension as described by Estabrooks and Estes (2007):

1 . the ability to rapidly decode and attach meaning to new words,

2. the syntactic and morphologic competence to gain collective meaning from the decoded words,

3. the ability to hold the meaning in working memory while processing new words, and

4. the ability to apply text processing strategies for the purpose of figuring out unfamiliar words and passages.

She then asked what gets in the way when children who are deaf engage in reading. The answers that followed seemed like basic common sense, but they served as good reminders of why children with hearing loss receive early amplification and intensive support for spoken language development.

Put simply, children with typical hearing listen to the people around them and automatically begin to imitate the sounds they hear. Children who cannot hear sounds have little or no phonemic awareness, so they have difficulty understanding how words break down into syllables. For those children, the words "good night" might be heard only as vowels. What does "oo ai" mean to you? The missing sounds affect the development of an accurate auditory memory.

Another common problem encountered by children with hearing loss is difficulty attaching meaning to words. This circumstance can be caused by a mismatch between spoken language and reading levels and education level. …

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