Sunday, February 7, 2010

Literacy skills in children with hearing loss

Julia and I are one month into our 100 easy lessons that will ultimately teach her to read. As we worked through the tasks in the very well planned lessons, I found a weakness in Julia's understanding of rhyming and wondered if this was in any way attributed to her hearing loss. She is really insistent on matching the beginnings of words rather than the end.

Over the past weeks we've made progress. She now remembers some rhyming words, but I don't think she's really getting it yet. A listing of skills that develop during kindergarten indicates rhyming is an emergent skill for the 5 to 6 year old set.

Even if that is the case, some skills take more time for my daughter to master. She has some difficulty with what I would term her auditory memory. Learning a new word or the name of a playmate she's just met takes a lot of practice and repetition. If she mishears a word and pronounces it improperly there can be a whole extra level added to the process. Last summer, Julia was insistent her new friend was Kayton. The name was Peyton. We ended up writing it on a note card so we could point to it when we tried to say the name. Peyton with a popper sound.

It was because of this concern and the debate over its cause that I picked up an old copy of The Volta Review published in the fall of 2008. I'd been saving it to read sometime and given its title: Emergent Literacy Skills During Early Childhood in Children With Hearing Loss: Strengths and Weaknesses; there's no time like the present.

The study involved 44 children age 4 to 6, all with more hearing loss than my daughter. Some of the children used cochlear implants and some had hearing aids. All had access to sound and had "some speech perception skills".

Various tests were used over the course of one school year to measure different literacy skills. In the rhyming test, the children had to pick the picture of the word that rhymed with the target word. The findings revealed that the hard of hearing kids "progressed on some phonological awareness skills (alliteration, blending, and elision) but not on others (rhyming, syllable segmentation)." This was over the course of the year long study.

The good news is that hard of hearing kids were on par with typically hearing children when it came to recognizing the letters of the alphabet and common written words.

The bad news is that vocabulary developed more slowly. This was attributed to typical children acquiring vocabulary incidentally. Hard of hearing children must have more direct instruction to remember new words.

The hard of hearing children "performed poorly, particularly on recognition of rhyming words." It goes on to say this task was the toughest for their study participants.

Their speculative conclusion as to why this might be so is that "in speech therapy, children are taught that 'sounding the same' refers to minimal pairs that share the same phonemes. This might result in confusion if children are told by adults that two words rhyme because they 'sound the same at the end'." They continued to hypothesis that often teachers (and parents) assume that a child is learning rhyming because nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss are regularly being read.

The recommendation: more repetition and slower instruction.

This study supported my conclusion that rhyming is tougher for a hard of hearing child. We've been grouping words for years because they start with the bitey sound or the popcorn sound. Now I'm asking her to make this leap to listen to the end of the word. She can see that C-A-T and H-A-T rhyme on paper, but she doesn't yet hear it. Her ears need a bit more training.

The literacy skills presented in this study have renewed my campaign to build Julia's vocabulary. Now that she's saying words correctly we can learn off-the-wall things like "silo" and "turret". Also, our reading lessons are going really well! In just seventy more days, she'll be reading!

Above quotes are from:
Emergent Literacy Skills During Early Childhood in Children With Hearing Loss: Strengths and Weaknesses
Susan R. Easterbrooks; Ed.D.;
Amy R. Lederberg, Ph.D.;
Elizabeth M. Miller, M.Ed.:
Jessica P. Bergeron, M.Ed.;
and Carol McDonald Connor, Ph.D.

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