Disability Issues

Teaching method helps deaf children learn to read

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A large number of children with disabilities are reading at a significantly lower level than their peers. But there are ways to increase reading levels, including a method currently being used with deaf and hard of hearing children.

Because deaf and hard of hearing children cannot grasp the phonetics of the English language, memorizing words has been used to teach them how to read.

A new method that is a combination of visual phonics with direct instruction has increased reading levels within a few months.

At Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines, a group of third to fifth grade deaf and hard of hearing children in Ms. Gruen's class are learning to read using the direct instruction visual phonics program.

Beverly Trezek, a professor at DePaul University and a former deaf educator, started teaching this method four years ago.

"In the English language, the vowel sounds are very important in words and distinguishing between short vowels sounds -- like assh, eh, ih, oh, uh -- would be very challenging for the students," said Trezek. "So with visual phonics, we give them a visual cue for learning those sounds, so we have a sound symbol that we use with our hands. The symbol for ah is an index finger held next to your mouth because your mouth is open wide when you say that sound."

Teachers are taught how to use this method.

"For many years in the field of deaf education we haven't tried to teach deaf children to read phonetically," said Trezek. "We assume because they have a hearing loss they can't read phonetically, but this system using visual phonics gives them a way to learn reading in the same way as their hearing peers.

"I happen to really like the direct instruction visual phonics program. It has given most of my children an additional strategy to use when reading, because now they're able to sound out words and make connections to something that is in their word bank, whereas before they couldn't."

And the most important part, as Ms. Gruen points out, is they want to read.

"They want to learn to read very, very, very badly, and for the most part they're very excited about this visual phonics direct instruction program because they're met with success," said Gruen. "It's a very repetitive structured program that gives them access to reading in a way that they never had before."

"Our goal for the school year is to just continue with the programs, and the students are making good progress," Trezek said.

To learn more about the direct instruction visual phonics program e-mail Beverly Trezek at btrezek@depaul.edu.

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