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Deaf Literacy
Literacy Instruction For Students Who Are Deaf Or Hard Of Hearing

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Research Highlights

Students who are deaf experience special challenges in learning to read and write.

  • Learning to read and write is part of the language acquisition process, and many of the difficulties deaf students experience are related to their lack of a strong language base (either English or ASL).
  • Deaf students may lack some of the background knowledge that hearing students bring to reading.
  • Deaf students' lack of exposure to spoken language makes teaching traditional sound-letter correspondence difficult, if not impossible.
  • For those deaf students whose first language is signing, learning to read and write in English constitutes learning a second language with a different grammar, lexicon, and syntax.

Teachers need special methods to teach literacy to students who are deaf.

  • Instructors should provide students with background knowledge regarding culture and content, as well as language aspects such as grammar, use of idioms and vocabulary development.
  • In spite of the difficulties mentioned above, there has been some success for the use of cued speech to teach traditional phonemic (sound-letter correspondence) methods of reading to this population, and this is not necessarily dependent on usable hearing.

Strategies should address basic fluency, development of advanced writing skills and reading comprehension.

  • Basic fluency is acquired within social contexts in which students are motivated to communicate and relate to others.
  • Literacy provides students who are deaf with opportunities to enter the world of literature and enjoy videos, TV with captioning, and other forms of entertainment with their hearing peers. It allows them to access information through all types of media. In addition, strong literacy skills allow Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults to compete in the job market.

Strategies should include:

  • Exposure to a wide range of written materials in "print-rich physical environments".
  • Demonstration of written, finger-spelled, and signed language, and the relationship between the three.
  • Opportunity to experiment with reading and writing in a risk-free and supportive setting.

New Methods for teaching literacy to students who are deaf include:


  • Captioned TV and video at home help expose children to lots of written English, supporting natural literacy development.
  • In the classroom, captioning allows the teacher to focus on broad textual concepts in a more directed instructional environment.

    Computer applications

  • Interactive video, multimedia, and on-screen captioning are all being used increasingly to teach students who are deaf.

Advantages of these methods include:

  • The ability to individualize lessons to the needs and preferences of diverse students
  • The combination of text and video is highly motivational and reinforces the context for literacy learning
  • This technology makes literacy more accessible and more comfortable

The signing in the videos and computer applications is of excellent quality.

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