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Improving Deaf Preschoolers’ Literacy Skills
Amy Lederberg, Susan Easterbrooks, Carol Connor
Elizabeth Miller, Jessica Bergeron, Jennifer Beal (Graduate Student Investigators)
Georgia State University & Florida State University
Three-year Research Project funded by Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education (#R324E060035)

Poor literacy has characterized the deaf population for decades with national data suggesting that overall literacy rates of deaf high school graduates remain consistently around the 4th grade level. In order to improve literacy outcomes for children who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH), this project is developing an early literacy curriculum for young deaf and hard of hearing children based on empirically-validated reading research on hearing children at risk for reading difficulty, as well as the literature and practice on deaf children’s learning. Advances in listening technology are helping children who are deaf or hard of hearing access sound more readily, enabling researchers to use some of the literature on the development of literacy in preschoolers who hear. This is a three year research project funded as a Development Grant from the Institute of Education Sciences. The overall goal of the study is to develop an emergent literacy curriculum for children who have significant hearing loss but who have some spoken language abilities. During the last year of the grant, we also will be piloting an expansion of the curricula to kindergarten and to deaf children who have no spoken language abilities.

In Year 1, the Research Team examined existing curricula, evaluated their appropriateness, determined strengths and weaknesses, developed 20 revised trial lessons, and developed the skeleton of a language-rich, semantically-based phonics program that included print awareness and dialogic reading. We vetted a theoretical basis for individualizing the curriculum based on the literature’s documentation that this is a heterogeneous population and began to individualize instructional lessons. We gathered data on language, phonological awareness, and early literacy skills of D/HH children in seven schools (20 classrooms) in three suburban/urban county school districts as well as a private oral school and a state school for the deaf. This data made clear that DHH children left preschool with insufficient knowledge of alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, and vocabulary. We implemented small-group interventions with 8 children who were students at these schools for 8 weeks. A multiple baseline across content single-case study showed grapheme-phoneme instruction to be extremely effective in teaching alphabetic knowledge to these children.

The second year activities surrounded four goals: 1) Assessments of emergent literacy skills, 2) development of the curriculum, 3) assessment of effectiveness of the currently available aspects of the curriculum, and 4) presentation and publication of results.

We continued assessment of emergent literacy skills. We expanded the pretest and posttest assessments to measure a full range of phonological skills and to obtain multiple measures of targeted skills. Assessments included commercially developed and non-commercially developed measures at pre and post intervention. Commercial measures assess phonological awareness (Phonological Awareness Test 2-PAT, subtests measure blending, segmentation, rhyming, initial phoneme deletion; Test of Preschool Early Literacy –TOPEL; blending and elision subtests, adaptation of Individual Growth and Development Indicators-IGDI) rhyming, alliteration subtests), vocabulary (PPVT, EOWVT, WJ-III Picture Vocabulary) and literacy skills (WJAT-III word identification, passage comprehension). Researcher-developed tests included Letter-sound correspondence and segmentation.

We began to develop and implement a fully developed new curriculum. Foundations for Literacy will consist of 100 60-minute structured lessons that teachers and clinicians can use four days a week across the school year. The curriculum embeds explicit instruction of phonics, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and narrative skills in language-rich, visually-supported activities. Lessons are individualized based on children’s language, speech perception, and emergent literacy skills. Teachers and clinicians introduce grapheme-phoneme correspondences through the use of stories that give DHH children a semantic context by which they can remember the phoneme, provide children with multiple opportunities to produce the phoneme in isolation, and is used as a basis for a picture-based mnemonic (called a concept card) that makes the grapheme-phoneme association meaningful. Vocabulary learned in these language experiences and phoneme-associated picture cards reappear in phonological awareness activities that focus on rhyming, alliteration, and segmentation. Lessons are sequential and cumulative with children practicing grapheme-phoneme associations in fluency activities and reading decodable text as they build their phonics knowledge. Story-book reading based on dialogic reading research further facilitates the development of vocabulary and narrative skills. We implemented 82 lessons with 5 children who had a range of language and literacy skills during the school year. An iterative process was used in developing these lessons using input from implementation, presentations to local and national experts, and results from curriculum-based measures. Single-case studies showed instruction was successful in teaching grapheme-phoneme correspondences to all children and instruction in rhyming was successful for 4 of the 5 children. Pre-post assessments revealed that Intervention children showed significant growth in both curriculum-taught vocabulary and standardized tests of expressive vocabulary, phonological awareness skills (rhyming, initial sound identification, segmentation, blending) and grapheme-phoneme correspondences. Presentations of these results were made at three national conferences (American Educational Research Association; Association of College Educators-Deaf/Hard of Hearing, annual meeting of IES.) The results of year 1 assessments were published in the December issue of Volta Review.

During the third year, continued development of the curriculum is occurring, including implementation with more small-group intervention and more data collection through single-case methodology, curriculum-based and standardized assessments. The curriculum is being implemented with children in both oral and total communication classrooms. We are piloting its use with a child who has not spoken language abilities coupling it with visual phonics.

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