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Deaf Students and the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis: Understanding Language and Literacy Development
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For a number of d/Deaf and hard of hearing children, there is at least one additional issue—that is, whether it is effective to teach English (or any other spoken language) as a first language if it has not been learned during early childhood (e.g., Paul, 2009). As is discussed later in this book, this issue is so critical and complex that these children are attempting to learn the through-the-air and print forms of English simultaneously—which is truly a challenging, almost insurmountable, task (Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Paul & Wang, 2012; Reed, 2012; Trezek et al., 2011). In fact, this critical situation is either overlooked or not addressed adequately by scholars, who seem to downplay or dismiss the role of English phonology for d/Deaf children (e.g., Allen et al., 2009; Miller & Clark, 2011). It almost seems that the crux for these scholars is that the acquisition of English through the air is not necessary or that the important working knowledge of English can occur via the use of ASL and the engagement with English print. This assertion, in our view and as argued throughout this book, does not have strong theoretical or empirical support (Paul, 2009; Paul & Wang, 2012; Trezek et al., 2010, 2011; Wang et al., 2008; Williams, 2004).

The Acquisition of Fundamentals: English Literacy     Delineating the micro and macro fundamentals for through-the-air English proficiency is a difficult feat. Establishing these two tiers of fundamentals for the development of English literacy is no less complicated. We have argued that English literacy requires more than just knowing and using English through the air, albeit through-the-air competency is critical.

For starters, the fundamentals for English literacy entail competence in, at minimum, through-the-air English plus print access skills (e.g., phonological processing, phonemic awareness, decoding, print conventions, etc.), vocabulary knowledge (meanings, nuances, figurative usage, etc.), comprehension (e.g., prior knowledge, metacognition, making inferences, etc.), fluency (reading accurately and expediently with expression), and adequate social (e.g., home environment, effective teaching, etc.) and affective (e.g., motivation, interest, etc.) factors (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Israel & Duffy, 2009; McGuinness, 2004, 2005; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Ruddell & Unrau, 2004; see further discussions in Chapters 3 and 4). The micro fundamentals involve the aspects within each of the broad domains such as decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension.

During the early literacy period, particularly while learning to read and write, children need to develop metalinguistic awareness of print (pragmatics); sounds (phonemes); letters (graphemes); the relations between letters and sound (phonics), parts of words (morphology or structural analysis), and word order (syntax); and connected text structures (i.e., connected discourse) (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Israel & Duffy, 2009; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; McGuinness, 2004, 2005; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Ruddell & Unrau, 2004). Based on our limited understanding of the reciprocal relations between reading and writing (e.g., T. Shanahan, 1984, 2006; T. Shanahan & Lomax, 1986, 1988), there seems to be a common set of competencies that underpins the development of both reading and writing in the young literacy learner. This becomes operationalized in the facilitative effects of one domain on the other. For example, writing behaviors in kindergarten children are predictive of subsequent reading achievement, and research indicates that the ability to engage in invented spelling is a strong and consistent predictor of success in phonological training and learning to read (Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Pressley, 2006; Richgels, 2001).

As discussed throughout this book, the development of early literacy in d/Dhh children has not been researched extensively, and similar comments can be made about research on other children, including those who are struggling readers and writers (e.g., McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011). Nevertheless, there is some research that highlights the relative contributions of print-access or decoding skills and cognitive/language-related skills in the early literacy period to the later acquisition of conventional or mature literacy (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; McGuinness, 2004, 2005; T. Shanahan, 2006; Snowling & Hulme, 2005; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998, 2002). For example, the relationship between phonological processing (e.g., manipulating sounds, memory, etc.) and word identification (i.e., later decoding skill) is robust. However, this relationship appears to be nonlinear and exhibits a lower predictive power (i.e., effects) for English reading comprehension at the advanced reading levels—often called the reading-to-learn phase. This has led several scholars in the field of deafness to argue that phonology is necessary, but not sufficient, for reading comprehension in the mature conventional literacy phase—at least for reading in English as a first language (e.g., Paul et al., 2009; Trezek et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2008). This differential contribution of phonology represents part of our response to the challenges of the basic assumptions of the QSH (cf. Allen et al., 2009; Miller & Clark, 2011).

The contributions of language and cognitive skills are becoming more prominent in the literature on children who are not d/Dhh (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Reed, 2012; T. Shanahan, 2006; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 2002). Several researchers and scholars (Kamhi & Catts, 2012; McGuinness, 2005; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2011; T. Shanahan, 2006) have argued that the effects of language and cognition on literacy are much more pervasive than have been reported previously. The social and affective domains are also becoming more acknowledged in their roles in both the early and later literacy periods (e.g., McIntyre, 2011; Paratore & Dougherty, 2011; Hall, 2003; see also, the work of Williams, 2004, 2011, 2012).

The skills associated with the use of through-the-air English language might be more pertinent for the advanced reading or reading-to-learn phase, mainly due to the increased demands of the text on both cognition and language of individuals (e.g., McGuinness, 2004, 2005; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 2002). This situation may also apply to the advanced writing period, particularly with the composing of expository texts (e.g., Hayes, 2004; T. Shanahan, 2006). For individuals to use their higher-level language and cognitive skills, they must possess automatic lower-level decoding skills, including alphabet knowledge (knowledge of letters and sounds and the relationships between them) and morphological understanding (word parts). With automatic decoding skills in tow, these individuals can focus most of their attention, energy, and resources on making sense of and understanding the information in the text.

Automatic decoding skills are facilitated by the use of working memory, which is suited for comprehending a written language system on which the alphabetic principle is based (Cain & Oakhill, 2007; Pickering, 2006; Snowling & Hulme, 2005). In particular, the processing and comprehension of English sentences and longer discourse structures requires that specific textual aspects are maintained for a period of time in working memory (for d/Dhh individuals, see reviews in Hanson, 1989; Paul, 1998, 2009; Trezek et al., 2010, 2011; Wang et al., 2008).

In essence, Paul (2012) asserts that the critical fundamentals for the development of English literacy with respect to the QSH are the following:

  • Knowledge of the language of print (i.e., components of English).
  • Metalinguistic awareness of language- and print-related factors (e.g., letters, sounds, letter–sound relationships [phonology, orthography], functions of print [pragmatics], words [semantics], sentences [syntax]).
  • Phonologically based working memory or phonological memory (and processes).
  • Comprehension capabilities (i.e., the development of textual, intertextual, and cultural prior knowledge, metacognitive, and self-regulatory skills). (p. 186)

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