Is Reading Different for Deaf Individuals? Reexamining the Role of Phonology

By Mayer, Connie; Trezek, Beverly J. | American Annals of the Deaf, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Is Reading Different for Deaf Individuals? Reexamining the Role of Phonology


Mayer, Connie, Trezek, Beverly J., American Annals of the Deaf


In the present article, we revisit a question Hanson (1989) posed a quartercentury years ago: "Is reading different for deaf individuals?" (p. 85). Hanson suggested that the answer to this question appears to be both yes and no, and she indicated that even though deaf1 readers may bring a different set of skills and knowledge to the task of learning to read, the task itself does not change. Appealing to the evidence available at the time, Hanson argued that skilled deaf readers, like their hearing counterparts, relied on their knowledge of English structure, including phonological information.

In terms of the focus of the present issue of the American Annals of the Deaf, we will reframe this question in terms of the qualitative similarity hypothesis (Paul, Wang, & Williams, 2013), concentrating on the role of phonology in learning to read-an issue that continues to be hotly debated in the field (Allen et al., 2009; Paul, Wang, Trezek, & Luckner, 2009; Wang, Trezek, Luckner, & Paul, 2008). Our view is that the knowledge and skills required to become a proficient reader do not differ as a consequence of hearing loss. In other words, learning to read for deaf learners is not different, but developmental^ similar, in terms of what needs to be learned (Mayer & Trezek, 2011, in press; Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2010). These requisites are broadly defined as language-related abilities (e.g., knowledge and use of the structures of English, including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) and code-related skills (e.g., print principles, phonological skills, the alphabetic principle). While there may be qualitative differences with respect to how deaf learners gain control of the requisites, and it may be that instruction needs to be differentiated to support development, we believe that the abilities and skills are not different and cannot be bypassed. In this respect, the situation of the deaf student does not differ substantially from that of other learners who face challenges in learning to read (Adams, 1990; Chali, 1996; McGuinness, 2004; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 1988).

In reexamining the issue of the role that phonology plays in learning to read, we will focus on the following questions:

1. How have the processes of reading and learning to read been conceptualized for deaf children (i.e., theories of language learning, literacy development, bilingualism), and to what extent do these conceptualizations align with what is known about hearing readers?

2. How has the role of phonology been interpreted?

3. What is the available research evidence to support these interpretations, and to what extent does the evidence support them?

We will conclude with a discussion of pedagogical and research implications in the current context of earlier identification of hearing loss and advances in hearing technologies.

The Model of Reading Development

The model of reading development we are appealing to is drawn from the work of Chali (1996) and Mayer and Wells (1996), in which a strong emphasis is placed on the role that language plays in the development of literacy. We further ground our argument in the extensive body of research evidence indicating that a broadly conceived notion of language skills, encompassing vocabulary, syntax, discourse, and phonology, is fundamental to early and long-term literacy success (see Dickinson, McCabe, & Essex, 2006, for an indepth discussion); the interdependent relationships between language and reading that have been well documented for hearing learners (Bishop & Snowling, 2004; Catts, 1997; Catts & Kamhi, 2005; Dickinson, Golnikoff, & Hirsch-Pasek, 2010; Scarborough, 2001); and the evidence suggesting that children with stronger language capabilities tend to be more successful at the onset of formal literacy instruction (see Stanovich, 1986). As such, we propose a model that weds reading development to the development of face-to-face language (spoken, signed, or some combination), and argue that learning to read is dependent on this language foundation (see Mayer, 2007, 2009; Mayer & Trezek, 2011, in press). …

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