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Deaf Students and the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis: Understanding Language and Literacy Development
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If a discipline has a structure, this is interpreted to mean that it has an internal logical conceptual framework that impacts the learner at various difficulty levels due to the demands of acquiring and understanding the contents (Cartwright, 2009; Donovan & Bransford, 2005; C. Shanahan, 2009). Thus, there are certain concepts and skills that are or should be easier to learn prior to others because of their inherent or conceptual difficulty. For example, it is assumed that the concept of addition needs to be mastered prior to encountering the concept of multiplication—which can be conceptualized as repeated addition (Battista, 2001; Bruning et al., 2004; R. Mayer, 1992; Mayer & Hegarty, 1996). Within this purview, there is much discussion on whether the structure of a discipline is highly logical and coherently defined as in, for example, mathematics, or loosely defined but still logical as in, for example, English reading or English writing (e.g., see Spiro, 2006; Spiro, Vispoel, Schmitz, Samarapungavan, & Boerger, 1987; see also the discussions in Cartwright, 2009; Donovan & Bransford, 2005).

We agree that it is important to understand the cognitive and social worlds (or foundations) of individuals as they attempt to learn the concepts in the various academic content areas and as they are acquiring English language and literacy skills. There is ample evidence to support the sociocultural challenges posed by poverty, educational levels, and the language usage and situations in the homes (e.g., Paratore & Dougherty, 2011). In general, there is a mismatch among the artifacts, language usage, and social practices of the home and surrounding cultural worlds of these individuals and the classroom usage, artifacts, and practices relating to the social and academic language of schools. This mismatch requires culturally relevant instructional techniques to deliver, in our view, the critical fundamentals of developing language and literacy.

From another perspective, it might be more difficult to convince us that the positing of a strong general model of cognition or even of social cognition or socioculturalism would be sufficient, by itself, for understanding the acquisition of the specific aspects of a conceptual framework of a particular discipline (e.g., see Phillips, 1983; Phillips & Soltis, 2004, 2009). There is simply no strong evidence—as of yet—that a general mental/cognitive or a general social/sociocultural model is representative or reflective of understanding a conceptual model as reflective of disciplinary structures (e.g., see related discussions in Bruning et al., 2004; Vosgerau, 2006).

This does not mean that general cognitive or social models are not necessary per se; it does mean that the development of these models needs to consider specifically the components associated with the structure of the discipline that is being acquired or learned. Understanding disciplinary structure is especially critical in educational or classroom settings, involving the use of effective instructional strategies and techniques by teachers and the use of efficient cognitive skills and strategies by students.

To exemplify this issue, it has been remarked (Paul, 2012) that

it might be that discipline structures . . . are contingent on an external psychological or developmental framework on how individuals learn considering specifically the rate and manner of acquisition and optimal periods for development. . . . That is, in the process of learning mathematics or science or in learning to read or write, there are skills that are easier or more difficult because of the complicated—often unpredictable—intertwinement of factors associated with the broad domains of cognitive (e.g., the structure of individuals’ minds), sociocultural (e.g., interactions, home environment, social artifacts, or institutions), and affective behaviors (e.g., motivation, interest, demeanor). (p. 180)
In essence, we assert that understanding the structure of the discipline is critical to minimize the mismatch between the cognitive capability of the individual and their learning via the instruction of the discipline. Whether a discipline has a logically coherent or loosely defined structure might determine the rigor of fundamentals that undergird a particular discipline as well as the manner in which a discipline can be investigated or even to teach the contents of the discipline (e.g., see various perspectives in Norris, 1992; Willingham, 2007). Thus, this might be one reason for the difficulty in ascertaining what it means to think like a mathematician, a scientist, or an individual who is an expert in the use of English literacy (McBurney, 2002; Schoenfeld, 2002; Willingham, 2007). [Note: We avoid the complexities associated with subcomponents of a major discipline (e.g., algebra, geometry).]

Regardless of the nature of disciplinary structure, there are certain fundamentals that underlie the acquisition and development of English language and literacy skills. For example, individuals need a working knowledge of the specialized vocabulary (i.e., technical vocabulary) associated with the discipline, especially during classroom discourses (Birch, 2007; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Willingham, 2007). With respect to English literacy, research has shown the importance of children understanding print concepts in the early literacy period (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000) as well as overall vocabulary knowledge of words in print throughout the entire literacy process (National Reading Panel, 2000; see reviews in Paul, 2009; Paul & Wang, 2012).

The Notion of Fundamentals     The notion of fundamentals with respect to the acquisition of English as a first or second language and the development of English literacy is discussed in detail in Chapters 2 English language), 3 (English as second language), and 4 (English literacy). The discussion here is a brief overview. The basic premise is that there are certain fundamentals that apply to all individuals in the learning of English, including the development of English literacy skills.

There is ample research demonstrating that neither the English language nor English literacy is a unitary construct (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Israel & Duffy, 2009; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; Ruddell & Unrau, 2004). There is no one specific or all-encompassing fundamental that can account for or explain the entire process of development from the beginning to the mature period. Although there are a number of literacy models and theories, it is possible to delineate a group of fundamentals, especially for early and later acquisition as proffered, for example, by the National Early Literacy Panel (2008) and the National Reading Panel (2000). It is even possible to argue for certain fundamentals in the development of the English language as a first or second language, despite the various renditions of different frameworks and approaches (e.g., Birch, 2007; Cummins, 2007; Lund, 2003; Paul, 2009; Paul & Wang, 2012; Pence & Justice, 2008).

The proffering of a group of fundamental attributes should not be viewed as static or even as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. As is discussed throughout this book, the nature of the contributions of the fundamental attributes varies with intensity and age (e.g., early versus later development). In addition, these attributes are subjected to the influences of a number of interactions involving the combinations of language, cognitive, social, and affective (e.g., motivation, etc.) domains (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; McGuinness, 2004, 2005; McIntyre, 2011; Valencia, 2011). From a strong sociocultural viewpoint, these attributes are affected pervasively by the home and surrounding cultural world experiences, especially the nature of language and literacy artifacts, practices, and communicative interactions (e.g., McIntyre, 2011; Paratore & Dougherty, 2011).


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