Reading, Writing, and Literacy
How well do deaf students read and write?
How do we teach students who cannot hear to read and write English?
Language is an essential component of normal development and a means for discovering the world. As we have seen, however, deaf children frequently do not have full access to communication until they have passed the most important ages for language acquisition. Parents and educators of young deaf students thus often struggle to find a balance between fostering effective early communication skills, which research has shown is usually best achieved through sign language, and the provision of English skills needed for literacy and academic success. 1
Despite decades of concerted effort, most deaf children progress at only a fraction of the rate of hearing peers in learning to read. Current data indicate that, on average, 18-year-old deaf students leaving high school have reached only a fourth to sixth grade level in reading skills. Only about 3 percent of those 18 year olds read at the same level as the average 18year-old hearing reader, and more than 30 percent of deaf students leave school functionally illiterate (Traxler, 2000; Kelly, 1995; Waters & Doehring, 1990). At the same time, there are clearly many deaf adults and children who are excellent readers and excellent writers. How can we account for these differences? What are the implications for educators developing English curricula for deaf students?
To answer these questions, we first need to consider what is meant by literacy—that is, what is it we are asking students to acquire? Then, we have to understand how deaf students read, at both descriptive and procedural levels. In this chap-