Deaf College Students' Reading Comprehension and Strategy Use

By Kelly, Ronald R.; Albertini, John A. et al. | American Annals of the Deaf, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Deaf College Students' Reading Comprehension and Strategy Use


Kelly, Ronald R., Albertini, John A., Shannon, Nora B., American Annals of the Deaf


Two comprehension studies were conducted with 46 deaf college students. In the first, 20 deaf college students representing higher and lower reading-ability levels were tested for correctly stating the main idea of a passage, answering content questions, indicating their understanding of the words and phrases, and recognizing a topically incongruent sentence embedded in the passage. The results suggest that deaf students profess a better understanding of what they read than they are able to demonstrate. The students' inability to identify a topically incongruent sentence in the passage further suggests a need for them to more carefully and accurately evaluate their understanding of what they are reading. A second study investigated the effect of strategy review instruction on deaf college students' comprehension of short reading passages. Students reading at a higher level showed improved comprehension on the posttraining passage, but students reading at a lower level did not. Similarly, the control group of deaf students comparable to the higher-level readers did not show improved comprehension.

Traditionally, research on reading and deaf students1 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia has focused on reading levels and weaknesses in English syntax (Power & Leigh, 2000). Approximately 3% of 18-year-old deaf people in the United States read at the same level as an average hearing reader of the same age (Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, 1991). Regardless, it is projected that approximately 25,000 deaf college students are now enrolled in more than 2,500 postsecondary institutions across the country (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994; Rodriguez, 2000). Allen (1994) estimates that of all these deaf students enrolled in college, only 8% read at the eighth-grade level or higher. Given this estimate, it appears that college educators will need viable instructional strategies to help deaf students read and adequately comprehend college-level texts. Here, we report on two investigations of the reading comprehension of deaf college students and their use of metacognitive strategies.

Recent research has focused on the strategies deaf readers use to comprehend text. Investigations of coding processes have indicated that deaf students use a variety of coding strategies: phonological, graphemic, and sign-language based (Conrad, 1979; Hanson, 1982; Lichtenstein, 1998). Researchers now argue that deaf readers need broad experience in a base language, such as American Sign Language (ASL), and specific knowledge of the target language, English, in order to become proficient readers (Musselman, 2000; Perfetti & Sandak, 2000; Wilbur, 2000). Proficient deaf readers, it seems, develop a "functional phonology" which allows them to decode print and hold the phonological representations in working memory (Perfetti & Sandak, 2000). For deaf people, access to phonological representations may be an outcome of learning to read rather than its prerequisite (Musselman, 2000). Detailed morphological knowledge may afford deaf readers another type of strategy. Knowledge of word families and word structure also facilitates the identification and decoding of words (Gaustad, 1999). However, reading is more than word recognition. Oakhill and Cain (2000) have shown that knowledge of story structure and the ability to form accurate inferences also contribute to good comprehension. Furthermore, there is considerable research indicating that good readers use metacognitive strategies, including comprehension monitoring.

Metacognition

The notion of metacognition was proposed by Flavell (1976) to explain why children of different ages deal with learning tasks in different ways. The term metacognition refers to the knowledge one has about how one learns; metacognition is a key component of how people regulate their learning processes (Snowman & Biehler 2000).

Metacognitive strategies require active involvement on the part of the student, by means of processes such as self-questioning, generative learning, and self-monitoring (Pearson & Fielding, 1991). …

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