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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Students and the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis: Understanding Language and Literacy Development
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On one level, the construct of reading difficulty is different from that of reading disability. A number of children who are struggling readers/writers can be placed in both categories—assuming that there is some consensus on the salient features of each label. Perhaps, defining or describing reading difficulty, like that of struggling readers, is as challenging as trying to nail gelatin to the wall. It might be that all terms are dependent on a definition and assessment of reading comprehension, which is also an extremely complex and slippery construct (e.g., Alvermann & Mallozzi, 2011; see also the various perspectives in Israel & Duffy, 2009).

Relation to d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals     The application of the constructs of reading disability and reading difficulties to d/Dhh individuals has not been discussed intensively or even explicitly. From one perspective, it seems to fall under the umbrella of the debate between the clinical versus cultural views of deafness or the medical versus social views of disability (e.g., for deafness, see Paul, 2009; Paul & Moore, 2012a; for research on disability, see various perspectives in Thomas & Vaughn, 2004). That is, individuals who favor the clinical or medical view might be placed, rightly or wrongly, in the camp of promoting reading disability whereas those who adhere to cultural or social views might propose that the challenges are mostly, if not predominately, reading difficulties.

In our view, this either/or syndrome or dichotomy is not only unproductive but also masks the complexity of developing proficiency in both English language and English literacy. Although we appreciate the differing worldviews or epistemologies emanating from these positions (e.g., Paul & Moore, 2012a, 2012b), the fact that some, perhaps many, d/Dhh children have difficulty with phonological processes because of the input and development of phonology needs to be considered as well as the nature of the sociocultural factors that impede both English language and English literacy development. In short, the attempt to decide on whether a reading issue is a disability or a difficulty for d/Dhh children is not as beneficial as deciding the specific issues that need to be addressed for each child. These issues may indeed be both inside and outside the child. That some d/Dhh children may also have dyslexia (and other specific reading disabilities) also needs to be considered. Obviously, d/Dhh children with cognitive or intellectual disabilities present additional challenges for the development of language and literacy.

Dissensions: A Few Summative Remarks

The QSH maintains that the English language and literacy development of all children—whether placed in the category of reading (or language) disability or reading (or language) difficulty—is qualitatively (developmentally) similar albeit it might be quantitatively delayed when compared to those who are typical readers/writers (or native English language learners). It is important to address the language and literacy challenges of these children as early as possible to minimize the quantitative gaps, especially prior to puberty, although these challenges can still be addressed throughout the school years. The focus on qualitative similarities indicates the need for differentiated treatment of various language and literacy components according to the child’s needs. These components are the same for everyone attempting to learn English; however, it should be emphasized that treatment or intervention needs to be differentiated with respect to intensity and time frame.

As mentioned previously in this introductory chapter, a few of the major criticisms of the QSH (e.g., Allen et al., 2009; Miller & Clark, 2011) focus mostly on the role of phonology in the development of reading, particularly in the learning to read period. As discussed later in this book and elsewhere (Paul, 2011, 2012; Paul & Wang, 2012), this predominant focus on the role of phonology is shortsighted with respect to the construct of the QSH. Other divergent views on the validity of the QSH seem to flow from misunderstandings of the overall framework as it pertains to the development of either English language or English literacy. Still other contrarian views seem to emerge from research that falls under the rubric of multiple epistemologies or within the purview of strong forms of social and contextual frameworks that reject a salient or even a critical position being consigned to cognitivism or to the use of the standard epistemology within a scientific framework (Hayes, 2004; Paul & Moores, 2012b).

A wave of attacks against cognitivism, particularly information processing, has come from positions such as embodied cognition (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) or situated cognition (e.g., Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Greeno, 1998; see also Duffy et al., 2009). These views highlight the prominence of the broader context or social world and the inseparability of learning and teaching or even cognition and the affective or motor domain. Nevertheless, it is also possible to find arguments to refute these broad attacks (e.g., Anderson, Greeno, Reder, & Simon, 2000; Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996).

As we have mentioned repeatedly, we do agree strongly that social and contextual factors should be considered in the discussion of developing or teaching English. We argue that such considerations serve to refine the basic assumptions of the QSH rather than to undermine our convictions. A more fruitful approach to these dichotomies, which is still relevant, has been proffered by Anderson et al. (1996):

What is needed to improve learning and teaching is to continue to deepen our research into the circumstances that determine when narrower or broader contexts are required and when attention to narrower or broader skills are optimal for effective and efficient learning. (p. 10)
It is not possible to address adequately all of the challenges that emerge from a few social and contextual models or from the multiple epistemologies because several of these perspectives reflect radically different world views that do not involve the use of the scientific method, especially one that adheres to the principles of an objective methodology (Paul & Moores, 2012a, 2012b; Moores & Paul, 2012). The same can be said for challenges from radical interpretations of situated or embodied cognition, which seem to reject objectivism or, specifically, the use of a scientific method, to understand human behavior and action. Although we acknowledge that the use of the scientific method—especially an objective methodology—may not be sufficient to comprehend all of reality, we do believe that this approach is necessary for making progress. We also acknowledge and value the variations of the scientific method such as the use of qualitative or ethnographic research as long as the findings can be verified and validated.
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