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Reading to deaf children – A look at the research

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The research behind Reading to deaf children: Learning from Deaf adults

  • Akamatsu, C.T., & Andrews, J.F. (1993). It takes two to be literate: Literacy interactions between parent and child. Sign Language Studies, 81, 333-360.

    As part of a larger study on dialogues between parent and child, Akamatsu and Andrews taped interactions between culturally Deaf parents and their Deaf son at six month intervals over four years. The boy was read to almost from birth, and he was raised in a literate environment, with parents who read regularly, used a TTY, decoder, and captioned videotapes, and wrote often in front of their child. One aspect of the study examined book-sharing between the parents and child. The parents translated the stories into ASL, used eye gaze and pointing to keep the boy’s attention, connected the pictures and events in the stories to the child’s experiences, signed directly on the book, and used fingerspelling to draw attention to the printed text.
  • Andrews, J.F., & Taylor, N.E. (1987). From sign to print: A case study of picture book “reading” between mother and child. Sign Language Studies, 56, 261-274.

    Andrews and Taylor examined the strategies used by a Deaf mother when reading a book to her three and one half year old son. The mother was observed giving her son necessary support to respond correctly to questions and discussions about ideas in the book. She rarely responded to her son in a critical or negative manner, using touching and eye contact to maintain attention. The mother involved the child in the reading by relating the book to his experiences, elaborating on the text, requesting some responses, and checking comprehension.
  • Bishop, J. , and Gregory, S. (1985). Mothers and teachers looking at books with deaf children. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 1, 149-161.

    As part of a larger study which examined the difference in linguistic demands from home to school, Bishop and Gregory looked at interactions between deaf children and adults during book-sharing. Twenty-four children were videotaped in one-to-one situations while looking at books with mothers and teachers. The researchers found that teachers’ dialogues with the children were longer than with the mothers. However, the children took less initiative and frequently responded more passively with the teachers than with their mothers. The results suggest that the children experience longer and more elaborate dialogues in book-reading with teachers, but with their mothers are able to exert more control in initiating and sustaining conversations.
  • Ewoldt, Caroline (1994). Booksharing: Teachers and parents reading to deaf children. In Under the Whole Language Umbrella: Many Cultures, Many Voices, Alan D. Flurkey and Richard J.Meyer, eds., Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 331-342.

    As part of a longitudinal study of young Deaf children engaging in literacy, parents and teachers were videotaped annually as they shared books with 30 Deaf children. The children were approximately 3 years old at the beginning of the study and 7 years old at the end. During the reading sessions, the researchers observed messages that were inadvertently being conveyed by teachers and parents. These included the idea that adults are authorities about reading, and that reading should be verbatim and error-free. In spite of this, the children created their own views of literacy. The children showed that they could interact directly with a text (e.g. signing directly to characters in the story), and they challenged the authority of the text, conveying the message that the text is not infallible.
  • Lartz, Maribeth N., Lestina, L. Jill (1995). Strategies deaf mothers use when reading to their young deaf or hard of hearing children. American Annals of the Deaf, 140(4), 358-362.

    This study identified strategies three Deaf mothers use while reading to their children aged 3 to 5 years old. The reading sessions were videotaped and transcribed by a native Deaf signer. The six categories/strategies that all mothers used include: sign placement (signing phrases on the book or with a book);
    1. text paired with sign demonstration (pointing to text, elaborating with ASL explanations, then to text);
    2. real world connection between text and child’s experience;
    3. attention maintenance (tapping shoulder or lap, elbow nudging, and moving book;
    4. facial tone and body posture demonstrate character changes;
    5. non-manual signals as questions (nose-twitch, lowered and raised eyebrows, and mouth movement).

    The authors contend that these strategies may promote higher reading abilities in Deaf children.
  • Lartz, Maribeth Nelson, and McCollum, Jeanette (1990). Maternal questions while reading to deaf and hearing twins: A case study. American Annals of the Deaf, 135, 235-240.

    This study examined the frequency and types of questions that a hearing mother used during story book reading sessions with her 3-year-old twin daughters. One was hearing and one was deaf. Results indicated that the mother asked almost twice as many questions of the hearing twin as she did of the deaf twin. The types of questions also varied. With the deaf twin, the mother asked simple questions such as “What’s that?” and “What colour?” In contrast, the questions asked of the hearing twin were more complex, such as requesting opinions (“Is that kitty very happy?”), picture matching (“Where’s the picture of the kitty playing with the mouse?”), and inferences (“Which one is the mama cat?’).
  • Mather, Susan A. (1989) .Visually oriented teaching strategies with deaf preschool children.. In Lucas, Ceil (ed.) The Sociolinguistics of the Deaf Community. NY: Academic Press, 165-187.

    Mather analysed a native and non-native signer as they read a story to preschool children. The native signer used eight distinct patterns to communicate with the students. She
    1. asked wh-questions instead of yes/no questions;
    2. elicited answers, then probed for more response;
    3. encouraged the students to take risks;
    4. used classifiers to fit actions in the story;
    5. used role playing to expose students to the visual concepts in the pictures;
    6. allowed students to see text and signs at the same time;
    7. adapted signs to fit pictures in the story; and
    8. changed English words that show sound-related concepts to signs that show visual concepts.
  • Maxwell, Madeline (1984). “A deaf child’s natural development of literacy.” Sign Language Studies, 44, 191-224.

    Maxwell’s case study examined the interactions of a Deaf child and her Deaf parents as the child became literate. The child was observed over a five-year period during 22 videotaped sessions of 2 hours or more. Beginning just before age 2, the child progressed through six levels of story knowledge, from labelling/naming pictures, stating propositions, reading pictures, going beyond pictures, projecting into stories, to reading independently for meaning. The development was similar to that observed in hearing children.
  • Mogford, K., Gregory, S., Keay, S. (1979). Picture book reading with mother: A comparison between hearing-impaired and hearing children at 18 and 20 months. The Journal of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, 3(2), 43-45.

    The researchers conducted a study of the interaction that occurs between hearing mothers and their deaf children during picture book reading sessions. A five-minute period of picture book reading was videotaped twice in every three-month period for six children at 18 and 24 months, and compared with groups of hearing children at the same age. The results indicate differences between hearing and deaf groups in the way dialogues are structured, particularly by 24 months of age. The hearing mothers with hearing children tended to move into more complex language and give more feedback, while the hearing mothers of deaf children were more likely just to label the pictures. Both sets of mothers expanded comments with reference to the book, but mothers of deaf children tended to expand within the book context rather than diverting the child’s attention away from the book. Mothers of deaf children also reported that they participate less often in picture book reading and for shorter periods, primarily because they struggled with maintaining attention. These mothers also tried to control and channel their children’s attention, rather than following and elaborating upon the children’s interests.
  • Rogers, Deborah (1989). “Show me bedtime reading.” Perspectives for Teachers of the Hearing Impaired, 8(1), September/October.

    Rogers’ study examined primary-aged children who were read bedtime stories four times a week for one school year. Pre and post tests indicated gains in students’ abilities to follow complex sequences of events, recall details, and comprehend story structure. Students’ videotaped expressive language samples showed much more sophisticated through-the-air language. Observations suggested that the students enjoyed having stories re-read to them and engaged in a process of shared reading where students predicted upcoming events in the stories.
  • Schick, Brenda, and Gale, Elaine (1995). .Preschool deaf and hard of hearing students’ interactions during ASL and English storytelling. American Annals of the Deaf, 140(4), 363-370.

    This study compared the quality and quantity of interaction by deaf and hard of hearing children during stories told in different language conditions. Twelve stories were told to preschool children in three conditions: using pure ASL, using pure SEE II, and using SEE II with ASL features and ASL structures. All interactions of four profoundly deaf and hard of hearing children, ages 4 and 5, were coded. All children had been in a preschool program that used SEE II but had regular storytelling in ASL. The results indicate that children participated more and initiated more interactions during story conditions that were either pure ASL or contained ASL signing. In addition, children referred to the book more often during the ASL condition. In general, the data indicated that children might find stories told using ASL more interesting or engaging.
  • Schleper, David R. (1995). “Reading to deaf children: Learning from deaf adults.” Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 13(4), 4-8.

    Schleper examined the research on deaf parents and deaf teachers when reading to deaf children, coupled with his own observations, and identified 12 strategies commonly used by deaf adults when reading to deaf children. The strategies Schleper identified include: use American Sign Language; keep both English and ASL visible; elaborate on the text; re-read stories on a “storytelling” to “story reading” continuum; follow the child’s lead; adjust sign placement and style to fit story; connect concepts to the real world; use attention maintenance strategies; role play to extend concepts; use eye gaze to elicit participation; provide a positive and reinforcing environment; and expect the child to become literate.
  • Schleper, David R. (1995). “Read it again and again…and again.” Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 14 (2), 16-19, 24.

    Schleper described the process he used to read and re-read a story to his early elementary class. The shared reading process he used involved reading a book over and over again on successive days, inviting students to join in and read along, having the students role play sections of the story, creating new written versions of the story, and reading the story independently. Observational evidence of students’ written retellings suggested that the students learned the English from the text while signing in ASL.
  • Stewart, D., Bonkowski, N, and Bennett D. (1990). Considerations & implications when reading stories to young deaf children. Occasional Paper No. 13. East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research in Teaching, MSU.

    Stewart and his colleagues examined variables that may influence teachers’ ability to read books to deaf children. They attempted to improve teachers’ ability to read stories to deaf children during a four-year period with teachers in several public school programs in the state of Michigan. The researchers taught the teachers several strategies, including: making liberal use of animated signing; overviewing selected vocabulary prior to reading; reading the same book over and over again; associating signs with print; reading at a comfortable pace; helping children draw upon their own experiences to understand stories better; allowing students opportunities to select the book they want read to them; reading what is written; and translating stories into ASL. The strategy instruction improved the teachers’ ability to read to deaf children.
  • Uzuner, Yildiz (1993). An investigation of a hearing mother’s reading aloud efforts to her preschool-age hearing and hearing-impaired children before bedtime. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH.

    This study examined a hearing mother’s reading aloud behaviours to her preschool- aged hearing and deaf children before bedtime in their home. The primary focus of the study was on a 4-year-old deaf son, and his 3-year-old hearing sister. Videotapes and interviews were gathered and analysed over a five month period. Analysis showed that the mother adjusted her style to fit the type of story to be read. During the read aloud sessions, the mother pointed to pictures in the stories and asked the children to label the objects shown. The mother also asked many questions, and made extensive use of role play to help her children comprehend and relate to the story being read. With stories that had more text, the mother tended to mediate the text during departures from the story, adding, substituting, rearranging, and deleting from the printed story.
  • Van der Lem, Truus, and Timmerman, Debora (1990). “Joint picture book reading in signs: An interaction process between parent and child.” In Prillwitz, Siegmund, and Vollhaber, Tomas (eds.), Sign Language Research and Application: Proceedings on the International Congress, Hamburg, March 23-25, 1990. Amsterdam: Signum Press.

    Van der Lem and Timmerman describe an intervention program of the Dutch Foundation of the Deaf and Hearing for hearing parents of deaf children. The program involved a picture book reading course for parents of children between the ages of 1 and 6. The course is designed to give parents insight on the importance of reading to deaf children, teach parents various strategies for successful picture book reading, and teach parents how to tell stories in native sign language. Three typical parents with 3-year-old children were examined through analysis of pre- and post-videotaping of reading sessions. The analysis showed improvement in the use of attention maintenance strategies by the parents, increased proficiency of the parents in telling stories in signs (such as use of signing space and shifting body position for various characters), and improved interactions between the parent and child (the parents became less controlling and learned to follow their children’s lead).
  • Vignolo, Kathleen Anne (1995). An analysis of the interactions of hearing parent and deaf toddler dyads during story-reading. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1995, Boston, MA.

    The purpose of this study was to observe interactions between hearing parents and deaf children as they occurred within story-reading sessions. Eight dyads, each consisting of a hearing parent and a twenty-four to thirty-six month old deaf child, were videotaped during one story-reading session. Two books were read by the parent, one familiar and one novel. Results of this study indicated that the hearing parents engaged their child’s interest in the story reading event, using physical, verbal, sign and visual/gestural cues. They adapted their language level through their use of short phrases and through labelling and pointing. Some parents adapted the text and/or used repetitive phrases. Among the strategies found to be effective in promoting and maintaining the flow of interactions between parent and child were imitating, repeating, and expanding on the child’s language, and using nonverbal language.
  • Whitesell, K. M. (1991). Reading between the lines: How one deaf teacher demonstrates the reading process. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH.

    Whitesell studied the instructional practices of a Deaf teacher as she read stories with a group of kindergarten children. This teacher had a reputation of producing good readers, children who enjoyed reading and knew reading was a sense-making process. She expected the children to become literate. An examination of this teacher’s efforts showed that she was modelling at least 4 types of literate behaviour:
    1. how to connect events within stories to events in one’s own life and to one’s knowledge of the world;
    2. how to react to and talk about what is read;
    3. how to use all information available in the text to construct meaning; and
    4. how to translate print into its signed equivalent.

About the Author
David R. Schleper received a B.A. degree in Deaf Education and English and a M.A. degree in Deaf Education with a Secondary English Emphasis. Dave is an avid reader and writer, and the author of several articles on using whole language with deaf students. He originated and developed the Shared Reading Project, a program to teach hearing families how to read with their deaf children.

Information provided by Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, Gallaudet University
Adapted from Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults by David R. Schleper
Reproduced with permission.
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