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American Annals of the Deaf

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Literacy and Your Deaf Child: What Every Parent Should Know

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As with reading, there is no exact timetable as to when a child starts writing letters, phrases, and sentences. Some children starting kindergarten may be able to print their name and more; others may only be able to produce a few letters or drawings. The parents’ role is to give the child numerous opportunities to use crayons, pencils, washable felts, the computer keyboard, or any other print-generating instrument, such as old typewriters, which are readily available at little expense in this computer age.

Parents who share books and read stories with their children and who, themselves, read a lot generally have children who love reading. In the same vein, parents who enjoy writing and encourage their child to write may not necessarily be preparing him for a literary career as a reporter, author, novelist, or poet, but they will help their deaf child develop a positive attitude toward writing. Perhaps more than anything else, the right attitude is crucial to opening the mind of the child at some later date, so that he will take a greater interest in developing an understanding of how ideas, words, sentences, and narratives interrelate.

Write at Home: When School Begins

Your involvement in your deaf child’s writing does not end with your child getting on the school bus. Teaching writing is a difficult task for teachers, and the more you understand the role of schools in your child’s road to learning to write, the better you will be able to help your child write at home.

In the past, there were two extreme, yet popular, approaches for teaching deaf children how to write. The old “hammer the grammar” style of yesteryear concentrated on teaching parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.) and rules of grammar (subject–verb agreement, infinitive as a noun, etc.). At the other end, there is the “free” writing approach with invented spelling and little or no guidance (a.k.a., interference) from the teacher. In between these extremes, some teachers gave out a topic once a week. A certain amount of time was allocated for students to write a composition (ranging from a single sentence to a full-length essay) that was collected by the teacher, who later made corrections with a red pencil and then gave the composition back to the young authors. Some teachers might ask one or more of the writers to come to the front and read their effort to the class. The results obtained with the two extreme and the in-between approaches were, strangely enough, only marginally different from each other, but none of them was very satisfactory. Today, writing is a much more exciting and meaningful affair, where the mark of a good writing program is one that is tailored to each deaf child.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Now that your child is learning to write at school, what can you, as a parent, do to facilitate writing at home? Later in this chapter, we provide a list of strategies for engaging your child in writing activities in the home; however, at this point, we would like to highlight some basic principles that can help you encourage your deaf child to write.

Characteristics of Early Writing Experiences in the Home

Writing experiences at home can help reinforce the writing instructions that deaf children receive at school. You can begin by providing your child with the tools for writing (pens, paper, computer) and resolving to be positive toward his attempts to write. The next step is to introduce your child to writing activities. These activities should be real ones that have a function in your household, or at the very least, have the appearance of having one. Contrived activities might make your home seem to be too much like school, and you risk turning your child off. Here are some examples of real and contrived writing activities.

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