University of Edinburgh

Promoting Literacy in Deaf Children

Presented on Friday, 7 December 2007

Reading Groups : teaching reading in the secondary department at St John's

Catherine Baldwin

Note: St John's

  • a comprehensive school for the deaf
  • caters for deaf children of a range of abilities
  • an oral school - deaf children who have the potential to develop spoken language
  • for children from 3 yrs – 19/20…
  • residential + day pupils

My role – 24 years at school; started teaching English + Textiles; some years as Head of English; now Head of Curriculum Standards

3 areas to cover:

1. Principles and practice of Reading Groups

2. Information – guidance + examples of worksheets

3. Video clips of a lesson

St John's Reading Groups

  • system introduced in 1972
  • to avoid early plateau in reading ability
  • focus – reading skills, language development, enjoyment

Note: Children placed in groups of similar reading ability.
Read together as a group – usually a story / fiction – but can also be non-fiction texts.
Focussing on development of reading skills, language development, and enjoyment of reading.

Three cohorts of secondary curriculum:

  • Mainstream
  • Special needs
  • Special needs plus

Pre-entry assessment:

  • Audiology
  • Speech and Language assessments
  • Literacy (Edinburgh Reading Test + St John's writing assessment)
  • Numeracy

Note: The results from these formal assessments and other informal information determines which cohort a pupil is placed in to best meet their needs.

Annual literacy assessments:

  • Termly teacher assessments, using PIVATS scale
  • Annual reading tests using Edinburgh Reading Test

Note: These assessments, along with other assessments, determine a pupil's placement in the groups year on year.

Reading provision within each cohort

  • I:\Inset\Reading Provision within St John's.doc
  • The Maternal Reflective Method

    conversation - looking back

    • developed in the Instituut voor Doven in St Michielsgestel, Netherlands
    • Fr Anton van Uden

    Note: Throughout the school, the approach we use to language development is the MRM = a methodology for teaching language to the deaf, based on the way a mother teaches her child language

    Hence the term maternal = this conversation is supplemented by reflection – that is, looking back at the language used, by reading it, and reflecting on the technical aspects.

    Basic principles behind Reading Groups:

    • A conversational approach - Enjoyment, to foster a positive attitude towards reading
    • Discovery learning, to encourage active readers
    • Reflective exercises, to develop explicit knowledge about language

    Note: So we use the MRM throughout the school and its principles are a feature of the reading groups
    Conversation , discovery learning, reflection
    Reflective exercises - to describe those tasks that focus on language eg:vocabulary / comprehension / syntax work.

    Essential elements of a Reading Lesson:

    • Ensure there is a shared context
    • Reading aloud – rhythm groups + expression
    • Conversation - commenting, and questioning to encourage personal response
    • Reflection


    1. Whether it's a completely new text that you're reading or the next section in an on-going text, it's important to create some anticipation before reading – with a new text you can discuss the title, the book cover, the blurb on the back of the book, or considering the setting eg: Carrie's war – preparatory work about 2nd world war + particularly evacuation – with an on-going text, just briefly remind about what’s happened previously and maybe share ideas about what will come next.

    2. Paying attention to reading rhythmically – we use the term rhythm groups – and expressively (less confident readers may also need a little time to prepare the passage by reading silently first).

    3. Conversation is essential – only by discussing a text can you ascertain the level of understanding and can the group come to an accurate shared understanding . Open the conversation with a statement (van Uden calls them 'provoking statements') or an open question to encourage a personal response. This really is vital – in a video I'll show you a conversation in which the group are discussing the meaning of one particular phrase

    4. Reflection – this means close consideration of a language feature to develop explicit understanding. It may take place in the lesson – eg; focussing on one new word to work out its meaning from the context; or it may involve homework tasks. Reflection is essential, too, in order to sort out any difficulties revealed by the conversation.

    Examples of reflective exercises:

    • Vocabulary work
    • Sequencing
    • Syntax Punctuation
    • Comprehension
    • Character + themes

    Note: None of this is pre-planned in terms of developmental sequence – the key is to seize the opportunities that arise through the reading text.

    I've listed some examples of reflective exercises for you – by no means exhaustive.

    I've also given you a copy of our guidance for learning spellings.

    A typical group reading lesson – year 9 reading from Chapter 3 of Carrie's War

    • Classic children's fiction
    • Established author
    • A fantastic read!
    • We use the novel, an abridged version + our own study materials

    This group:

    • 5 pupils, all profoundly deaf
    • 3 with cochlear implants
    • Reading ages range from 10 yrs, 4 months to 8 yrs, 1 month (Stage 2 of Edinburgh)

    Reading from Chapter 3 of our abridged version:

    Carrie's mum had gone to live in Glasgow so that she could see their dad when his ship was in port. He was a captain in the navy. She wrote to Carrie and Nick. She said how glad she was they had somewhere nice to stay, and she hoped they were being good and making their beds. She sent them a photograph but they didn’t look at it much. She belonged somewhere far away and long ago, in a dream, in another life.

    Note: We'll just have a look at a video clip now to show you how this works in class.
    At the moment we're reading from an abridged version on the Smartboard.
    We're at the point in the story where Nick and Carrie are settling in to life in Wales.
    We've just read this paragraph and discussed the first part and I’m trying to encourage some conversation about the last sentence…

    Reflective exercises relating to this chapter:
    Syntax – “seemed as if”

    Typical progress for a profoundly deaf child of average intelligence.

    Key features of typical reading progress:

    • Very slow initial progress
    • More rapid progress after about a reading age of 8.5 years
    • Isolated instances of nil/negative progress
    • Continued progress into Post 16 education

    Note: Our experience would indicate that on-going progress is possible.

    Message from these data –

    Do not stop reading tuition + keep on reading!