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Reading recovery for deaf

[ The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 6, No. 5  3 May - 13 June 2010 ]

Deaf children tend to have lower levels of literacy than hearing children, despite a wide range of learning interventions in place in specialist schools and early learning centres, a disparity which tends to carry through to adulthood. Two initiatives from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education are now tackling the problem. Catriona May reports.

Dr Ann Charlesworth, a former PhD student and currently a sessional lecturer, has been working with teachers of deaf children since 1996. She uses the well-respected Reading Recovery intervention to support deaf children with literacy learning difficulties.

Reading Recovery was originally designed for hearing children in the second year of schooling who need extra literacy support. Thanks to Ann’s work and research, Victoria has the first Reading Recovery implementation specifically for deaf children. Her work was supported and championed by the founder of Reading Recovery, the late Dame Professor Marie Clay, and much of it has been funded by the Victorian Government.

After working in Melbourne’s Western suburbs for many years, first as a Reading Recovery teacher, and then as a Reading Recovery tutor (teacher trainer), Ann decided to investigate whether the intervention could improve literacy learning of deaf children. She had seen how Reading Recovery could help children who spoke English as a second language and reasoned that it might be able to help deaf children too; another group for whom English might not be the first language.

Her resulting PhD showed resoundingly that it does. “Reading Recovery is a very individualised intervention,” Dr Charlesworth says. “It is a skilful teaching method, where the teacher interaction matches the child’s needs moment-by-moment as the lesson progresses. Teachers of the deaf use whatever modality a child uses to communicate. The teaching interactions that occur during lessons facilitate the child’s reading and writing processing of text, thereby helping them learn English at the same time as they are learning to read and write.”

Dr Charlesworth’s work shows that deaf children participating in Reading Recovery improve their literacy learning significantly. When each child’s series of Reading Recovery lessons is completed, their learning continues by participating in classroom literacy activities with the assistance of the class teacher.

She is currently in the process of writing a book containing teaching procedures specifically for use in Reading Recovery for children with hearing loss. The procedures have been developed and trialled with teachers of the deaf in Victoria, New York and Tasmania. When published, the book will be a companion to Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery teacher guidebooks used internationally. She continues to work with teachers of the deaf in schools and in Reading Recovery professional learning sessions.

If Dr Charlesworth’s work focuses on the detail of literacy learning in deaf children, Dr Linda Watson, Senior Lecturer in Deaf Education at the University of Birmingham and Associate Professor Margaret Brown from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education are working on the “big picture”.

They are about to begin working on a new project partially funded by the Hearing Cooperative Research Centre, which will investigate what can be done at the early intervention stage to improve later literacy in deaf children. Its findings will inform advice provided to parents and teachers.

This new project is an extension of the Young Learners’ Project, a six-year research project led by Associate Professor Brown, investigating what factors influence literacy learning in pre-schoolers. The study is funded by the Australian Research Council and run in partnership with the Australian Scholarships Group.

Using what they know about effective home literacy environments for hearing children, the new project will now investigate whether these environments should be altered for deaf children and, if so, how.

Dr Watson started working with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education last year, when she visited on a Universitas 21 scholarship to work on the Young Learner’s Project. She says deaf children may need a different kind of home literacy environment from hearing children.

Research shows that hearing children benefit from engagement with a broad range of literacy activities at home, including being involved in early reading activities around books, environmental literacy such as writing shopping lists and following recipes, and literacy opportunities offered by computers.

Deaf children are likely to benefit from the same activities, but they may need more explanation and practice to understand them. “When hearing children are learning to read and write, they already have knowledge of the spoken language and a degree of phonological awareness. Often this isn’t the case for deaf children, who are developing these at the same time as learning to read and write,” Dr Watson explains.


Three-year-old Georgia attends an inclusive kindergarten program at Taralye, an early intervention centre for children with hearing loss. Researchers from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education are currently working on a literacy research project with Taralye staff. [ Click to enlarge ]

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