- Literacy, Literate Thought, and Deafness
This article is excerpted from Paul, P. V. (2016). Literacy, literate thought, and deafness. In G. A. M. De Clerck & P. V. Paul (Eds.), Sign language, sustainable development, and equal opportunities (pp. 118–133). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Understanding Print Literacy
Literate thought refers to the ability to access (visually or auditorily) and interpret (comprehend and apply) learned (e.g., serious, scholarly, and academic) information either through the air or in the "captured information mode" (e.g., audiobooks, signed books, print, Braille).
To understand this description of literate thought, it is necessary to deconstruct print literacy. I focus on English reading as my example. This example can serve as an analogy for understanding the print literacy of any other official language, within reasonable limits. My remarks relate to the development of English as a first language and, to some extent, as a second language.
A number of scholars have written on how children in America learn to read English and what it means to read to learn new information (Israel & Duffy, 2009; Paul, Wang, & Williams, 2013; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2005). Substantial attention has been directed toward the foundational skills of English reading—for example, decoding skills. Children need to acquire proficiency in the through-the-air form of standard English (i.e., the standard dialect); this facilitates the acquisition and use of English reading comprehension skills.
English reading comprehension requires much more than proficiency in the through-the-air form of English (speaking or signing). There is a need to develop print decoding and print comprehension skills. Critical factors in the affective domain (e.g., motivation and interest), sociocultural factors (e.g., home environment and language use), and general cognitive abilities (e.g., metacognitive and inferential skills) also play critical roles (see the Componential Model of Reading; Joshi & Aaron, 2012). Finally, there is the condition of individual differences, which tremendously challenge current models and theories.
All these domains need to be considered cohesively because each seems to account for a percentage of the variance in the development of English reading comprehension (Israel & Duffy, 2009; Joshi & Aaron, 2012). It should also be underscored that in the Componential Model of Reading, proficiency in the through-the-air form of a language contributes significantly to the development of print comprehension skills in that same language.
To develop proficiency in the through-the-air form of English, it is argued that children need to be able to access the structure of English—components such as phonology, morphology, and syntax. In any country with a language that has a print component that represents, in part, the sound system of that language, it is important to understand the relationship between the through-the-air form of that language and the representation of the same language in print. I encourage researchers to consider the Componential [End Page 78] Model of Reading or others that are similar, especially if the goal is to improve print literacy comprehension.
Much of the controversy concerning d/Dhh children, particularly those who sign predominately or use a signed language, revolves around the role of phonology (the sound system) in the development of English (see, e.g., Allen et al., 2009; Paul, Wang, Trezek, & Luckner, 2009; Wang, Trezek, Luckner, & Paul, 2008). Some scholars believe that access to phonology is essential for acquiring the through-the-air form of English and, subsequently, developing proficiency in the language of print in English. Some of these scholars proceed further, arguing vehemently for early, intensive amplification involving assistive devices such as digital hearing aids and cochlear implants (see discussion in Paul & Whitelaw, 2011). There is also a danger of equating phonological proficiency with speech and hearing skills. Adequate levels of speech and hearing can facilitate the development of phonology, but these are peripheral means. Phonological processes, in my view, are cognitive processes.
My understanding of the development of English is a working hypothesis that may not apply uniformly to all individuals who are d/Dhh. Specifically, this hypothesis might need to be qualified with respect to sociocultural factors (e.g., home environment) and individual differences—a point made long ago...