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Deaf Students and the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis: Understanding Language and Literacy Development
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In general, the QSH has been grounded in cognitive–linguistic theories and variations for both English language (e.g., Chomsky, 2006; Lund, 2003) and English reading (e.g., see a review of cognitive theories in various chapters in Section 3, Part 1 of Ruddell & Unrau, 2004). It is possible to find some support for the QSH via interpretations of research findings within a sociocultural framework or a sociocognitive framework that relies heavily on the social context (Paul, 2012; Paul & Wang, 2012; Williams, 2011, 2012), particularly when these social and contextual frameworks are considered to be a paradigm elaboration of cognitivism, rather than a paradigm shift (Gaffney & Anderson, 2000).

Chomsky’s view of explanatory adequacy (e.g., Chomsky, 1988, 1991, 2006) and Lenneberg’s (1967) notion of a critical period for language development undergirded much of the original theoretical background for developmental and difference hypotheses. To achieve Chomsky’s interpretation of explanatory adequacy, linguists need to describe the language behaviors, processes, and mechanisms used by children throughout the language development period. Explanatory adequacy is a shift from descriptive linguistics to explanatory linguistics. Chomsky’s work, especially his position on syntax, has influenced the extensive line of research on the syntactic development of d/Dhh children and adolescents as exemplified by the work of Quigley and others (e.g., see reviews in Paul, 2001, 2009). This body of research contains some of the seminal empirical and reason-integrative support for the QSH.

With respect to a biological basis and critical acquisition period for language, Lenneberg (1967) provided the impetus for research thrusts on the language development of children with language/learning disabilities as well as on individuals (hearing) learning English as a second language or in bilingual environments. For example, Lenneberg (1967; see also Rymer, 1992) hypothesized that the language development of children with developmental delays (i.e., cognitive or intellectual disabilities) differed quantitatively (i.e., rate of acquisition) from that of typical children but was qualitatively (developmentally or manner of acquisition) similar with respect to mental age. This assertion seems to be applicable to many children with language/learning disabilities as well as those with cognitive/intellectual disabilities (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; Vellutino, 2003; see also Chapters 6 to 8 of Paul & Wang, 2012).

The application of a few of the basic tenets of Lenneberg’s work can also be seen in the research thrusts of Stanovich (1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 2000; Stanovich, Nathan, & Zolman, 1988), who proffered a critical or optimal period for English reading development. Stanovich’s construct, coined the Matthew effects, has been instantiated subsequently, in part, into the developmental lag hypothesis, which is also similar to the basic principles of the QSH, as discussed later.

Additional foundations for the QSH (and for other developmental similarity hypotheses) can be gleaned from theories of reading motivated, in part, by memory research (i.e., working memory; Baddeley, 2006; see also the various perspectives in Pickering, 2006). The research on working memory (e.g., Hanson, 1989) has led to contentious debates on the role of phonological coding in the development of English reading for some d/Dhh children and adolescents (Allen, Clark, del Giudice, Koo, Lieberman, Mayberry, & Miller, 2009; Miller & Clark, 2011; Paul, Wang, Trezek, & Luckner, 2009; Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2011; Wang, Trezek, Luckner, & Paul, 2008) and for other children who are struggling readers (e.g., Bruning, Schraw, Norby, & Ronning, 2004; Pickering, 2006). The importance of phonology as one critical or necessary component—either via the development of English through the air or as a part of the early English literacy period—is buttressed by major syntheses in reading research (Adams, 1990; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; for ELLs, see August & Shanahan, 2006; C. Shanahan, 2009; see also reviews in Paul & Wang, 2012; Trezek et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2008).


To assert that the overall acquisition and development (i.e., manner) of English is qualitatively similar evokes the integration of two broad components: disciplinary structure and a critical or optimal period. The construct of disciplinary structure is couched within arguments about the nature of cognition (and language) and its contact with the contents or structures of particular disciplines (Carruthers, Laurence, & Stich, 2005, 2006; Phillips, 1983; Phillips & Soltis, 2004, 2009). This construct has fueled intense debates in the field of critical thinking (Johnson, 1992; Kuhn, 2005; Martin, 1992; McBurney, 2002; Moore & Parker, 2009; Norris, 1992) and other arenas such as the nature and extent of disciplinary comprehension (e.g., C. Shanahan, 2009). The structure of the discipline refers to certain content aspects on varying difficulty levels, which are necessary to acquire to make progress with one’s understanding of and growth in the discipline.

The critical or optimal period involves the issue of a time frame for maximizing the acquisition and beneficial effects of a bona fide through-the-air language (Lenneberg, 1967) as well as for print literacy (Stanovich, 1986, 1988). For the purposes of this book, this entails the development of English as a first or second language. The timeline of this acquisition, particularly English as a first language, affects the subsequent development of other disciplines such as literacy, mathematics, science, and so on. In addition, there is a timeline associated with the development of mature literacy skills—that is, reading and writing. Again, it is argued that mature literacy skills need to be acquired as early as possible during the beginning school years and subsequently maintained at a proficient level because this affects the development of what is often labeled academic language and knowledge found in content areas expressed in print (e.g., Birch, 2007; for second language, see Cummins, 1979, 1984, 2007; Paul & Wang, 2012). Of course, the acquisition of more complex language and literacy usage continues to occur mainly via the use of academic language and knowledge in academic and social environments.

Both of these components of the QSH—disciplinary structure and critical or optimal period—are discussed in detail in the ensuing paragraphs. These components are pervasively influenced by cognitive and biological models of language and literacy development.

Structure of the Discipline

The construct of disciplinary structure or structure of the discipline has also been known as knowledge structure (Donovan & Bransford, 2005; Phillips, 1983; Phillips & Soltis, 2004, 2009; C. Shanahan, 2009; see also the discussions in Paul, 2012; Paul & Wang, 2012). Research on the nature of the structure of the discipline and the acquisition or learning of the discipline is pervasively influenced by epistemological stances or methodological approaches (McBurney, 2002; Noddings, 2007; Norris, 1992; Pring, 2004; Ritzer, 2001). There are debates on ascertaining whether a discipline can be understood or examined with the use of a scientific methodology or multiple methodologies (Paul & Moore, 2012a, 2012b; Ritzer, 2001; Wang, 2012). From another perspective on the acquisition process, Phillips (1983) remarked: “The learning process has been conceptualized in terms of entities—the “structure of the discipline” that is being learned, and the “cognitive structure” that is built up inside the learner as he or she gradually masters the particular subject (p. 60).

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