Thursday, March 17, 2005

Literacy, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Reading Power

The "article" I read, and I use the word "article" loosely here because I found this write-up online, but it does not state the author or where it is located other than on the Internet, can be found in:

pdf format at


html format at

I was initially drawn to this article because it was mentioned in the abstract that a partner in the program for implementing the technology, Reading Power, was the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Having completed my internship there one year ago, I was interested to see what this article had to say about the use of this program. Furthermore, I am now curious as to which departments it was used in and believe I am going to inquire with my connections at the school to find out more detailed information regarding the programs use.

The article began by listing four reasons deaf and hard of hearing students have a difficult time learning to read. I have addressed some of these reasons in previous posts, but for a quick summary, the article states that these students often have a difficult time developing literacy because English is a second language they learn without access to the spoken aspects, ASL has a grammar very different from English, English is a phonetic language and most deaf and hard of hearing students do not have worthwhile access to this mode of learning, and the majority of deaf and hard of hearing students are born to hearing parents which often results in a significant language delay for these children. I have first hand experience with this last factor from my internship and interaction with deaf and hard of hearing students outside of school. It is sad to say that many of these students live in households where they have little to no communication with their hearing family members. They often experience isolation linquistically and socially and this creates enormous problems when it comes to learning to read and write (language is usually learned initially in a social atmosphere).

Furthermore, the article addressed the advantages of using computer-based learning in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students. Although I agree with most of their reasons, I would like to know where they gathered their information from and how they came about these conclusions. The other articles, website, and information on software I have read thus far agrees that their is a positive influence on students when they use given technologies, but only one article, the one pertaining to ENFI, even remotely presented valid evidence of where their data was collected. Nonetheless, the authors of this article (whoever they may be) stated that e-learning environments provide deaf and hard of hearing students with a repetitive and safe learning environment, individualized instruction, the opportunity to learn computer skills as a by product, and the opportunity to free teacher time for more one-on-one instruction. I would like to address these advantages by stating that I believe all of these factors have the potential to occur, but only if the software used is designed for deaf and hard of hearing children, or at least is modifiable. I have had previous experience with a program designed to improve literacy development of students, specifically hearing students (or at least students that read on grade level), and this program did not meet the needs of freeing up teacher time or allowing students to learn in a worthwhile manner. SuccessMaker is a wonderful program for students who can hear, or deaf and hard of hearing students who read on grade level, but not for those deaf and hard of hearing students who lack the primary skills necessary for learning to read. I have been in a classroom of deaf and hard of hearing students before where specific amounts of time on this program was required by the school, and although I saw it work in a classroom where students were reading on grade level, I also saw its disadvantages for those students who were not. For example, the beginning lessons within the program require the student to hear a computer voice asking them questions and explaining reading concepts to them (i.e. phonics); well, this is not beneficial for a student who cannot hear and it requires the teacher, or a volunteer, to interpret the program in order for the student to complete the lessons. Was there repetition? Yes, so much of it that the students would just memorize right answers without learning the concepts.

However, here is the difference between the program discussed in this article and the one I mentioned above. Vcom3D's Reading Power and Signing Avatar is specifically designed for use with deaf and hard of hearing students. Students are "matched" with computer graphic tutors that are able to sign. Each character has its own story to tell and the students can share information about themselves with the Signing Avatar tutor. Student engagement and attention span drastically increased when using the program, and students were provided with wonderful "role models" through the computer based tutors. The computer characters read stories to the children in sign language and worked on vocabulary and comprehension. It was reported that at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind students' comprehension increased from 17% to 67% when changing from text-only to text accompanied by sign using the technology. On the outskirts, I think "wow!" this is great, but if it was this successfull when implemented why did I not know about it during my internship a year ago? This is something to look into...perhaps I will have further information on this in posts to come.


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