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Deaf Literacy:
Literacy Articles: (1)|(2)|(3)|(4)|(5)|(6)

Molly Phillips

November 11, 2006


  Deaf Literacy

     American Sign Language (ASL), the native language of many deaf persons, is the third most widely used language in the United States.  Many states recognize ASL as an official foreign language that is now offered at many high schools and universities (Reynolds).

     Preschool age children often learn many basic skills that  prepare them to learn how to read.  One of my daughter's (and mine) favorite memories of preschool was "circle time" when all of the children sat down on the rug and listened to the teacher read stories.  The stories told had wonderful illustrations that accompanied the text and the kids would often make comments about them.  Every so often, the teacher would engage the children by asking a question or requiring a comment.  Inevitably, a showing of hands would eagerly shoot up, "Oh, I know, I know !"  These children were able to relate a concept from the book to their own life experiences or were simply thrilled by a new thought. 

     There has been a great deal of research done on hearing children and how storybook learning promotes their literacy, but limited research has been done on Deaf children.  What has been discovered, however, is that both hearing and Deaf children benefit greatly by either a parent or teacher reading stories to them on a daily basis (Gallaudet).

     Storybook sharing in preschool age Deaf children, specifically in ASL, has been found to be a key component in this practice.  It is very important to keep the kids engaged by keeping the activity enjoyable.  Children who are still developing their ASL competency are provided with a language model.  For those who are somewhat competent at ASL because it is reinforced in the home, storybook learning in ASL, is comfortable for them because they do not have to struggle with any language differences between themselves and the teacher (Gallaudet). 

     There are many strategies that I read about when applying storybook learning, but there were key strategies that seemed to be used by many teachers and parents.  One strategy used by many teachers for successful storybook sharing was to hold the child's attention.   One way to do this is by using small signs near the book (Gallaudet). In one study, "Booksharing Between Parents and Children", parents often signed directly on the book as a way to keep a child's attention on the text (Gallaudet). 

     In another study (Andrews and Taylor 1987),  a deaf mother was observed with her 3-year-old son while storybook sharing with him.  Her strategy used to keep her son's attention, was to stop often and relate the story to his experiences by requesting a response from him and, also, checking his comprehension by asking questions (Gallaudet).

     This idea of connecting life experiences with the text is also reinforced by a study (Whitesell 1991).  He observed a teacher who was highly successful at teaching reading to Deaf children.  She also connected stories with events in the lives of the children (Gallaudet).

     Translating stories into ASL is another technique that studies have found to be very important when using storybook learning.  According to Stewart, Benkoworski, and Bennett (1990), translating stories into ASL is the most effective way to increase literacy for Deaf children (Gallaudet).

     In another study (Schick and Gale 1995), it was found that children who participated more and initiated more interactions during storybook sharing did so most often when ASL signing was used.  The results showed that children might find storied told using ASL more interesting and engaging (Gallaudet).

     One graphic study of Deaf preschool children revealed that booksharing events were highly visually accessible, interactive, supportive, and constructive in nature.  The end result found was that booksharing improved the quality of education for Deaf students.  This particular study involved teachers who were highly fluent in ASL and written English and two groups of diverse preschool children who varied widely in their ASL fluency (Erting).

     One common technique I found while reading about this subject of storybook learning is the concept of time.  Reading stories takes time. Many teachers feel pressure to move along very quickly in order to keep pace with the curriculum.  Teachers of Deaf children need to spend time looking at and reading books as well as to make connections for the children.  Children need time to respond to stories and questions and absorb the material given to them.  These moments spent can be viewed as probably the most valuable moments of the day (Gallaudet). 

     One article describes the advice given from one preschool teacher who currently teaches Deaf children.  Her advice is to provide Deaf children with Deaf role models in the classroom everyday, have deaf adults from the community come and share a storybook with the children, and individualize language instruction to the needs of the children, so one-on-one time is included ( 

     From the research I have read on the subject of storybook learning in preschool age Deaf children, it seems like it is a very effective practice, but in need of more research.  Many of the articles I found stated that there is an abundance of research on the literacy rate of hearing children, but very little on Deaf children.  I think it is very important to continue to examine techniques that contribute to Deaf children's literacy. 

     Preschool is a very important time in a person's life because it lays the foundation for all future learning.  Learning to enjoy books and stories is a lifelong pleasure for all children and should be highly valued.  Storybook learning should be regarded, by all,  as an extremely important tool for promoting literacy in Deaf children.        



WORKS CITED "Using Bilingual -Bicultural Practices in an Integrated Preschool Setting. 2006. <>


Gallaudet University Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. "Becoming       Bilingual:  Facilitating English Literacy Development Using ASL in Preschool. Shared Storybook Experiences. 2006. <


Reynolds, Kate E. "Sign Language and Hearing Preschoolers: An Ideal Match." Childhood Education. LookSmart Articles. Fall 1995. <


Schleper, David R. "Reading to Deaf Children: A Look at the Research." Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center -- Gallaudet University. 2006. <        


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