The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Friday, October 2, 2009]

Developing Comprehension Strategies in Deaf Children

Cerra, K., Watts-Taffe, S., & Rose, S. (1997). Fostering reader response and developing comprehension strategies in deaf and hard of hearing children. American Annals of the Deaf, 142, 379-386.

How can you help deaf and hard of hearing children understand and enjoy what they read? This requires a combination of two teaching strategies: reading comprehension instruction and encouraging response to literature.

Prior knowledge is very important. (This goes back to the importance of language development, regardless of the language--kids need to have concepts, they need to be able to describe their experiences. The specific words don't matter. That's why hearing ESL students become better English readers when they have a strong grounding in their first language, whether it's Spanish, Korean, or any other language.)

Enjoyment of children's literature is based on the reader response theory. The reader response theory says that the relationship between the reader and the text is one where the reader "creates" the literature. The literature really only exists while the child is reading. (Weird concept, but it makes sense. Think about poetry. What I read and what you read might be two different things. For example, there is a popular song right now, "Viva la Vida," by Coldplay. People argue about what the words mean. When I read/hear those words, I think of a person who was a failure at their life. Some people say it's about the French Revolution. Some say it's about Christ or a Christian Church. Some say it's about a person who lost their lover. Some say it's about a Roman emperor. The meaning depends on the person listening. Reader response theory says that the meaning of a text depends on the person reading. We construct the meaning for ourselves.)

Related to the reader response theory, the reader is viewed as a builder of meaning. The reader is part of a community of builders of meaning. The builder is also a fixer, who is able to identify and fix breakdowns in meaning. This is so important. Metacognition, right? You have to know when you don't understand, and you have to know what to do about it.

This article also reviews the two ways of reading: efferent and aesthetic. Aesthetic reading is where you read for enjoyment. The main focus is on what the child experiences, thinks, and feels during reading. An example is when I read a book about autism just because I think autism is interesting and I enjoy reading about it. Efferent reading is where you read to learn information that you will use after reading. An example is when I read a book about autism to look for ways to work with my students more effectively. I could read the same book for two different reasons: aesthetic or efferent. You can see this as a continuum with aesthetic on one end and efferent on the other end. It's possible to read for a purpose in the middle: maybe you really enjoy the topic but also will be looking for information that you need. A teacher can and should establish the attitude toward a text. The purpose for reading a text in school should be clear.

Fiction books are best read with an aesthetic stance/perspective. However, it can be a challenge for teachers to take an aesthetic stance and make that stance clear to children. It's easy to ask efferent, factual questions. But in order to develop reader response, it is important for children to read both efferently and aesthetically. For aesthetic reading, teachers can ask questions like "How did the text make you feel?" or "What does this text remind you of?" Aesthetic reading is all about feelings, perceptions, and connections to prior experience.

Now let's talk about comprehension. There are two ways to do this: 1. help the students comprehend a specific text (set a purpose for reading, build background knowledge, do postreading activities, etc.), 2. teach students comprehension strategies. Which do you think will help the children more in the long run? You guessed it: the second one.

When they have comprehension strategies, children can pick up a new book and apply the strategies they need. Teachers must help the children learn to use strategies deliberately and independently. The children need to think about how to understand the text.

One strategy is to ask questions while reading. They ask themselves questions about the text, and they answer their own questions while they read. For example, while reading Catching Fire, I was asking myself, "Will Katniss end up with Gale or Peeta?" I hope it's Peeta!

So that is a strategy. There are other strategies, which the article will get into. But first, there are three ways to teach comprehension strategies. Whew.

First is the direct explanation approach. You tell the students what strategy is being learned, why it is important to know, when it can be used, how to use it, and how to figure out if it is working.

Second is explicit modeling. You do a reading behavior in front of students while talking about that behavior. A think-aloud is an example. You talk about the process you are using for comprehension.

Third is called leading activities. You set up activities that will give the children experience in using comprehension strategies. K-W-L (What I know, What I want to know, What I've learned) is an example. Another example is having students write what they felt after reading a book.

So know you know how to teach reading comprehension strategies. Let's learn what the strategies are. What will you teach the children? This is where we are combining reader response theory and comprehension strategies. When readers use comprehension strategies, they read more efficiently and have more time and energy to respond to the text. When readers interact with and respond to text, their comprehension improves.

Here are four common strategies that you should teach. You can teach any of these using direct explanation, explicit modeling, or leading activities.
-Using prior knowledge. They think about what they already know that could be related to what they are reading.
-Making inferences. They make conclusions about what is implied, but not directly stated, in a text.
-Asking and answering questions. We already went over this. But it is where a reader asks herself questions about what she is reading, what she plans to read, or what she has read. This easily applies to efferent reading, but it's also important for aesthetic reading.
-Dealing with graphic information. It's important for young readers to look at the pictures. Pictures provide clues to the text's meaning. Older readers may not have pictures in their texts, but they need to pay attention to tables, charts, diagrams, and maps.

Funny, these are not specific to deaf children. I have used these strategies with hearing children. I guess as long as a child has a solid foundation in a native language, they can make use of normal reading comprehension strategies. It's when you're playing catch-up with language or the child cannot access instruction adequately that you need special education methodology. Or, obviously, if the child has a language/learning disability. But there is no reason to think that deaf children will automatically have language/learning disabilities.


jelly | October 2, 2009 at 9:14 PM

what an interesting and insightful post.
i'm thinking pictures and putting the words together is the best way to teach a deaf child to read.

have a good weekend.

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