Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Achievement and Educational Outcomes

I am looking for research based articles on Evidence Based Practices to teach literacy to children who are deaf. We are currently using multiple interventions one of which is Visual Phonics. I cannot find any research to support this as an evidence-based practice. Do you have any resources or suggestions?

Question from A.C., Vermont. Posted November 5, 2016.
Response from Jessica Trussell - NTID

Depending on the age of your students and their hearing abilities, Visual Phonics may be an effective strategy to improve your students’ phonological awareness skills and ability to sound out words. However, the long-term relationship between Visual Phonics instruction and decoding is unclear. Narr (2008) discovered that the number of years Visual Phonics had been part of instruction did not correlate with the decoding abilities of these readers.

Two other instructional strategies that you may consider if you have older readers or those with little functional hearing are: lexicalized fingerspelling and morphological instruction. Lexicalized fingerspelling is rendering the fingerspelled word smoothly. The fingerspelled word looks more like a fingerspelled loan sign. During instruction, the sign, lexicalized fingerspelling and the printed word should be presented simultaneously to the students. Later, the students can link the lexicalized fingerspelled word to the printed word (Haptonstall-Nykaza & Schick, 2007) more reliably.

Morphological instruction includes teaching affixes and root word meanings and the rules for combining morphemes as part of daily literacy instruction. Morphemes are the smallest part of the language that retains meaning (uni + cycle = unicycle). Morphemes tend to be spelled the same across words even when they are pronounced differently (magic vs. magician). Teaching DHH students morphemes and their meanings allow them to read using patterns that are accessible through the printed word. The students can break down the word into its morphemes, determine the meanings of the morphemes, and reconstruct the word to determine the word’s meaning (Trussell & Easterbrooks, 2015). Morphology instruction gives the students the tools to decode the words for meaning and improves their reading comprehension through vocabulary (Nunes, Burman, Evans, & Bell, 2010).

Evidence-base

Visual Phonics for young students:

Bergeron, J., Lederberg, A., Easterbrooks, S., Miller, E., & Connor, C. (2009). Building the alphabetic principle for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Volta Review, 109(2–3), 87–119.

Lederberg, A. R., Miller, E. M., Easterbrooks, S. R., & Connor, C. M. D. (2014). Foundations for literacy: An early literacy intervention for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(4), 438–455. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enu022

Miller, E. M., Lederberg, A. R., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2013). Phonological Awareness: Explicit Instruction for Young Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/ens067

Beal-Alvarez, J., Lederberg, A., & Easterbrooks, S. (2011). Grapheme-phoneme acquisition of deaf preschoolers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17(1), 39–60. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enr030

Tucci, S. L., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2013). A syllable segmentation, letter-sound, and initial sound intervention with students who are deaf or hard of hearing and use sign language. The Journal of Special Education. http://doi.org/10.1177/0022466913504462

Trezek, B., Wang, Y., Woods, D., Gampp, T., & Paul, P. (2007). Using visual phonics to supplement beginning reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(3), 373–84. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enm014

Visual Phonics for Middle School Students:
Trezek, B., & Malmgren, K. W. (2005). The efficacy of utilizing a phonics treatment package with middle school deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(3), 256–71. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/eni028
Fingerspelling:

Haptonstall-Nykaza, T. S., & Schick, B. (2007). The transition from fingerspelling to English print: Facilitating English decoding. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(2), 172–83. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enm003

Morphology instruction:

Trussell, J. W., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2015). Effects of morphographic instruction on the morphographic analysis skills of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 20(3), 229–241. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/env019

I am looking for research that states that standardized testing is not the best measure for D/deaf and hard of hearing students and why. Can you point me in the right direction?

Question from A.W., Ohio. Posted April 7, 2016.

In a word, “no.” You might find someone who states that, but whether or not the research supports that claim is a different issue, and it is far more complicated than it might appear. The questions one should be asking are “To what extent are standardized tests (achievement? psychological? driver’s license?) valid for DHH learners? Which DHH learners? In what content areas? What accommodations are provided, if appropriate, and how effective are they?

You can find answers to some of those questions, as they pertain to academic achievement, in these two articles:

Cawthon, S. (2010). Science and evidence of success: Two emerging issues in assessment accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 15 (2), 185-203.

Qi, S., & Mitchell, R. E. (2012). Large-scale academic achievement testing of deaf and hard-of-hearing students: Past, present, and future. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 1-18.

My son got a cochlear implant at the age of 2 years; now he is 6 years old and he talks well. Will he be capable to learn the ISCE syllabus in school?

Question from P.R., Bangalore. Posted January 24, 2016.

The ICSE (Indian Certificate for Secondary Education) is a national entrance examination in India administered by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations. Neither the cochlear implant nor your son’s speech will be the determining factor in your son’s studying for and performance on the ICSE. How well he does depends on his mastery of the content in the subjects covered by the syllabus and his academic/cognitive abilities. Your son may need additional support for this effort, just as he might for his regular school subjects. But, his hearing loss should be no more of a barrier in preparing for secondary school examinations.

I have a 6 year old daughter who has a severe loss, and who identifies as Deaf. She is being declassified as deaf for being at grade level. That is, she currently has an interpreter during the school day except at lunch and has been getting 80 minutes a day instruction (pull out) from a teacher of the deaf and speech therapy 2 days a week speech individually and 1 day a week in a group. The school now wants her to receive only 40 minutes a day from the teacher of the deaf and speech therapy in a group once a week. My daughter works very hard to be at grade level, and the school won’t take in account that this is why she is doing so well. How do we make them understand that she still needs services. Perhaps some kind of assessments can help with this? We’ve already had speech, learning and psychological assessments.

Question from G.R. – Somewhere USA. Posted October 8, 2015.

It sounds like the school is not declassifying the your daughter but decreasing services. Yes, they can do that if they have data that indicates that she is currently successful in learning. It sounds like they what to see if she can be successful with 40 hours instead of 80 hours of ToD services. Unfortunately, IDEA is not in place to ensure that all children excel. Instead, IDEA’s role is to ensure a free and appropriate education, which means to ensure that the student has the opportunity passes and does not fail. At this point the school will need to monitor your daughter’s progress carefully. Her services may nor may not increase based on the progress she makes. Perhaps an outside evaluator who specializes in deaf and hard-of-hearing issues can build a case for additional services.

Although you do not indicate anything about the results of the assessments that already have been conducted, the implication is that they have not supported the case you are trying to make. That may give the school support for a “trial” with reduced services. However, the test or assessment is only as good as the person who is administering and interpreting the results. If this was not the case previously, perhaps it would help to find a person in the area who specializes in deaf and hard-of-hearing issues – the School for the Deaf in your state likely offers such services or can provide recommendations. The point is that a specialist in the field of deaf and hard-of-hearing issues will be able to place the findings in context and build a rationale for the services that are necessary. For example, memory is an important component of any assessment with regards to reading. The other piece that is important as mentioned is progress monitoring. Does the school have a Response to Intervention system set-up? Do they use Dibels or AimsWeb to track the child’s progress. It may turn out that these changes do not affect your daughter’s performance, but if you can’t prevent the change, you need to ensure that the school is carefully monitoring progress.

Curriculum Officers in my school are saying that phonemic awareness is not critical in learning to read and write because Deaf children don’t hear sounds and cannot be phonemically aware before learning to read and write. How critical is phonemic awareness in the scheme of deaf students learning to read?

Question from P.R., Australia. Posted May 29, 2015.

It is well documented that developing phonological sensitivity is a necessary aspect of learning to read and write for all hearing learners. Phonological sensitivity is an umbrella term that encompasses both phonological and phonemic awareness; that is the broad array of abilities and skills associated with manipulating the sound structures of a spoken language (e.g., alliteration, rhyming, blending, segmenting). These are critical in order to make sense of the systematic relationship underlying the mapping of sound onto print in the processes of both decoding (word reading) and encoding (spelling), especially in an alphabetic language such as English. The essential role that phonological sensitivity plays in reading and writing development does not change because the learner has a hearing loss.

Some deaf children develop these phonological skills via an auditory route in a similar fashion to their hearing peers through the use of hearing technologies such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. For those children for whom the auditory route is not possible or needs to be supplemented, visual strategies such as Visual Phonics or Cued Speech Language can be used. Research has shown that these approaches are effective in developing phonological sensitivity even in profoundly deaf students.

It should be emphasized that phonology alone (i.e., decoding and encoding in the absence of language) is not sufficient for becoming a fluent reader and writer. However, if deaf learners do not develop phonological sensitivity and the ability to decode and encode with ease and automaticity, they will face challenges in learning to read and write, and in developing age-appropriate literacy outcomes.

For further information on the importance of phonological sensitivity in the literacy learning process, you could visit the Reading Rockets website.

For information specific to teaching phonology to deaf learners, you could look at this information from the Clerc Center in the U.S. and the National Deaf Children’s Society in the UK.

I am a TOD on the high school level. I have been for 18 years. I had four years in the preschool. I am a self-contained teacher and an Inclusion teacher. I was wondering if you had a suggested materials for me to use in the classroom. I currently teach World History. My students have very low Lexile levels. My biggest struggle is reading comprehension and my boss constantly telling me I need to ask higher order questions to my students. My students struggle with basic questions: who, what, where, when, …. My vice principal has a special education degree. I have tried to explain that my deaf students think and process information differently than the special needs and regular education students. Also can you suggest any books that I should read to help me in the classroom with my students? My students’ parents do not sign and two out of three students come from Spanish-speaking homes.

Question from K.W., New Jersey. Posted March 20, 2015.

My favorite high-interest, low-reading level materials are published by Steck-Vaughn. The World History book is “World History and You” by Vivian Bernstein which is a 2nd-3rd grade reading level. They also have similar books for other Social Studies courses (America’s Story, World Geography and You). They are short reading selections and include activities and assessments. AGS also publishes social studies books, which are written at a 4th grade level. Reading A-Z is another program that has leveled readers about various topics that may include some information that you are covering. Unfortunately, there are not many other options that I have found that work well with students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing who are reading significantly below grade level. If those texts don’t match up with my student’s needs, I tend to rely on teacher made materials and websites such as edhelper.com and enchantedlearning.com.

If your students are having difficulty reading the material, perhaps you could have the students put the reading portion on hold at first. I’ve had success by pre-teaching new vocabulary with pictures, then story telling and having the students do a non-reading/writing activity (role-playing, make a picture book together, create a time-line with titles/pictures only, etc.) Once they understand the concepts “through the air”, the students can then apply that to the text.

As far as books that you can read, there is a lot of information out there about embedding formative assessment, which has helped me recently in my classroom with struggling learners. Try publications by Dylan Wiliam.

Strategies that I feel are necessary for student success are:
• Visuals – Use as many visuals as you can find.
• Repetition – After the initial instruction, take some time each day to warm up by touching on previous information and do this often.
• Vocabulary – So many students have difficulty reading simply because they don’t recognize the words. This happens even with simple words that they actually DO know the meaning of, but just don’t recognize the written word. Step up your vocabulary study with vocabulary notebooks, word walls, etc. Use pictures along with simple definitions and even pictures of the signs when able. Avoid definitions from the dictionary, which can be confusing for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Quizlet.com (there is also an app available) is a fantastic way for students to practice vocabulary. It gives the option to add a definition and/or picture for each vocabulary word, as well as games and assessments.
• Real Life Connections – Find a way to connect the information to the students’ real life. This could be by paralleling English to Spanish (written, spoken or signed) or events that have occurred in their everyday life.

I agree that it IS extremely difficult for students to be able to answer higher level questions if they are struggling with basic WH- questions. To improve your students reading comprehension, critical thinking skills, and ability to answer questions, consider trying readtheory.org. It is a tool that offers reading exercises for all ages and reading ability levels. The students start off by answering lower level questions, and as they become more skilled in doing this, they move on to higher level questions. This may be ideal for your students because it gives you the freedom to individualize for each student. In addition, it also gives you analytical statistics for each student about their ability to answer higher order questions, so you can have data to show your boss to back up the way that you question your students.

Is there evidenced based research available relative to the Expanded Core Curriculum for DHH students?

Question from J.E., Georgia. Posted March 12, 2015.

Several states, including Iowa (this link provided by the Georgia DoE and several others) and Wisconsin, have provided guidance on the Expanded Core Curriculum with regard to DHH learners. However,we cannot find any indication that the recommendations are evidence-based beyond what is generally recommended in educating DHH students (some it, also, without an evidence base). The reference list at the end of the Georgia DoE document are a good starting place for the more general literature, although be aware that a number of the references are incorrect.

It may just be too soon for such research to have emerged, but it is clearly needed. Perhaps investigators working on the issue will see this and offer some references that can be posted.

With the number of children getting cochlear implants and their parents not using sign language with them, what are their outcomes in mainstream schools…are they still affected like deaf signing children (missing out on full access)? What percentage of the deaf student population in mainstream today, use sign language verses oral?

Question from T.H., Florida. Posted February 23, 2015.

Several studies have found deaf children with cochlear implants to be reading at or near grade level during the elementary school years, a great improvement over what typically has been seen among deaf children without implants. By high school and college, however, implants are no longer associated with better reading achievement (although use of spoken language is). Interestingly, the same is true of deaf children who are native users of sign language by virtue of having deaf parents. That is, studies have found those children also to be reading at or near grade level during elementary school, but neither parental hearing status nor sign language ability is longer associated with better reading achievement by high school. These findings might suggest that full access is an issue for both groups, but they also may be related to the greater difficulty and complexity of to-be-learned material in the higher grades.

With regard to language use in the mainstream, you would think this would be a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. Unfortunately, it’s not. According to data drawn from the Gallaudet University Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth, 19.5% of DHH students under age 13 are taught through spoken language only and 22% through sign language only. For students aged 13 and older, 6.7% are taught through spoken language only and 37.2% through sign language only. Data from the Annual Survey, however, are known to be weighted toward special schools and programs for DHH students, and it does not appear that the data are broken down by school type. According to data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTSES 2), a study of a nationally representative sample of DHH high school students, 51.6% of students in regular schools use sign language (compared to 98.1% in special schools) and 94.5% of them use spoken language (compared to 59% in special schools). What all of this tells you is that most DHH students use both forms of communication, although knowing their fluencies in each and the contexts in which they use them (including school) would require further investigation.

Further Reading:
Allen, T. E., & Anderson, M. L. (2010). Deaf students and their classroom communication: An evaluation of higher order categorical interactions among school and background characteristics. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 15, 334–347.

Marschark, M., Shaver, D.M., Nagel, K., & Newman, L. (in press). Predicting the academic achievement of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from individual, household, communication, and educational factors. Exceptional Children.

Marschark, M., Tang, G. & Knoors, H., Editors (2014). Bilingualism and bilingual deaf education. New York: Oxford University Press.

I am an educational interpreter for a deaf student in high school. She has been taught by a teacher if the deaf all her schooling life in a pull-out English/reading class. This year she was mainstreamed into an English/literature class. She reads at just below grade level. During class, when the (hearing) teacher has the whole class independently read from a book, should I use my finger to guide the student’s reading, or should I sign the whole thing? If the teacher has other children read out loud or uses a audio recording to help read out loud for the hearing students, should I encourage the student to look at the text and guide with my finger, or should I sign the whole thing? The goal I presume is to help enhance reading skills, and my gut tells me to have the deaf student read the visual. But my teacher of the deaf tells me to sign everything. I find that counter intuitive. If the student was learning to read, I would sign and attach the visual word to it at an elementary or preschool level. But this student knows how to read; this is now a high school level reading class. We are talking novels, short stories, etc.

Question from W.D., Maine. Posted February 19, 2015.

While we have little information about the effectiveness of interpreted education for school age students (e.g., Schick, Williams, & Kupermintz, 2006), researchers have found that college-age deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) students may gain equally as much or more knowledge from reading as they do from seeing someone sign a lecture (Borgna et al.,2011; Marschark et al., 2009). This information might be something to consider when you begin having important conversations with the English teacher, the teacher of the deaf, and the student.

First, you should talk with the classroom teacher and teacher of the deaf to gather what their goals are for this activity. If the classroom teacher is listening to the hearing students read to gauge their decoding skills, then helping the DHH student follow along by tracing your finger above the words would be appropriate. This way the DHH student would be ready to read when her turn came. Asking the teachers about their goals will clear up any assumptions on your part and you can work with them to be ensure these goals are met.

Second, you should talk with the student and find out her preferences during English class. The student might prefer to read while you aid in tracking or the student may feel uncomfortable having someone that physically close during class. These preferences should be taken into consideration when deciding how to interpret in the classroom but may not be paramount to the teacher’s goal during the lesson. Your combined knowledge and ability to communicate as an educational team will resolve this issue as well as many in the future.

Further Reading
Borgna, G., Convertino, C., Marschark, M., Morrison, C., & Rizzolo, K. (2011). Enhancing deaf students’ learning from sign language and text: metacognition, modality, and the effectiveness of content scaffolding. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16(1), 79–100.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C. M., Mayer, C., Wauters, L., & Sarchet, T. (2009). Are deaf students’ reading challenges really about reading? American Annals of the Deaf, 154(4), 357–70.

Schick, B., Williams, K., & Kupermintz, H. (2006). Look who’s being left behind: Educational interpreters and access to education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3–20.

I am needing help with explaining how an 11th grade student who is deaf with ASL as his first language and English as his second language and uses an ASL interpreter in class is struggling with learning Latin IV. He uses a CI and hearing aid.

Question from A.D., Ohio. Posted October 30, 2014.

Research on deaf signers who have ASL as their first/preferred language has clearly shown that their skills in using spoken/written English vary enormously. Those who acquire ASL earliest tend to be better at English overall than those who learn ASL later, but many do struggle with English as it is for them a second language (just as learning say French would be for a native English speaker). Learning then additional spoken/written languages beyond English is even more challenging for the deaf student, particularly when they are being taught alongside hearing students via interpreters. This would be like a native English speaker who can read and write French as a foreign language trying to learn Latin as an additional language in a class full of monolingual French speakers where the class was taught exclusively in spoken French and interpreted (just for that one student) into spoken English. There has been very little research on acquisition of additional/foreign languages by deaf signers in these kinds of situations, but it is clear that such a student must be given proper support in order to achieve the same level of success as his hearing peers.