University of Edinburgh

Developing Writing Programmes for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Learners: What Really Matters?

Presented on Thursday 29 November 2007

How do all children develop language and literacy?

To acquire language a learner must have:

1. Exposure in quality and quantity
2. To an accessible language
3. While engaged in meaningful activity
4. With others who are already capable users of the language


Hearing/ HH/ Oral Deaf


1. Learning the First Language

Spoken English


2. Social to Inner Speech

Egocentric Spoken English

Egocentric BSL or ASL

3. Inner to Written Speech

Spoken English


4. Learning the Synoptic Genre

Spoken English


Early Literacy: How do children develop the ability to write?

In the early stages of learning to write children do not distinguish between writing and drawing. They need to come to see the difference between drawing letters/pictures and using writing to represent oral language. They accomplish this by making the connection between their face to face language and text - by talking their way into text.

Children must come to see their face to face language in terms of the print - the print shapes their understanding of their speech and/or sign.

Level One

  • Initially no difference between representations in drawing and text
  • Begin to draw a 'picture of the text' - making it look like writing
  • Will match story to the 'text'
  • The representation is non-standard and the meaning is unknown to the reader

Level Two

  • Representations begin to incorporate the standard alphabet in random or memorized patterns (eg; own name)
  • Differentiation between words
  • Sense of quantitative and qualitative principles for creating words
  • Still non-standard except for a few words
  • Meanings not clear to the reader without an explanation by the writer

Level Three

  • Written representations bear a relationship to the spoken mode of the language
  • The 'phonetization of the written representation' (Ferriero, 1990)
  • Bringing together two sets of understandings – their knowledge of spoken language and their knowledge of how print works
  • Application of alphabetic principles
  • Learn that letters represent words not objects
  • Use of invented spellings
  • A reader familiar with the language in its spoken form may be able to construct meaning
  • Representations begin to approach standard

What does this mean for designing early literacy programs?
We can agree that:

  • Early literacy experiences should be meaningful and authentic
  • They should be language and print rich
  • They should be numerous
  • They should happen at home and at school

We need less focus on:

  • Differentiating between drawing and print
  • Teaching concepts about print (eg; directionality, identifying letters)
  • Recognizing high frequency words

We need to more emphasis on:

  • How phonological awareness develops in D/HH children? In children with CIs? In children who sign?
  • Making the connections between oral/signed language and print
  • Providing the base in spoken/signed language that allows the child to make sense of the text it represents

What are the challenges facing the older D/HH writer?
The challenge for the deaf writer is two-fold - to know what they want to say (meaning) and how to say it in English (form).

In Order to Make Meaning:

  • Need to have a face-to-face language in place
  • Need to have a range of experiences mediated through the L1
  • Need opportunities to engage in literate discourse about a range of topics

In Order to Use Standard English Form:

  • Need to be able to use English grammar and syntax
  • Need to have an extensive English vocabulary
  • Need to use a range of written genre
  • Need to be able to read

What are some basic understandings we share about teaching writing?

  • Need a focus on both meaning and form. Without meaning, there is no need for form. Without form, you can't effectively make meaning.
  • An interactive process writing model addresses both. This is consistent with practice in the teaching of hearing students.
  • There is an intricate relationship between conversational language and the language of print.
  • Written English builds on the knowledge and grammatical base of spoken English.
  • The sign-print connection is not always commensurate with the speech-print connection

What are some strategies for teaching writing?
Every strategy has its affordances (+) and constraints (-).

Learning How Writing Works as a Tool: A Focus on Meaning

Strategy #1: Make the Writing Purposeful

Strategy #2: Start with Narratives

Strategy #3: Introduce Expository Text

Strategy #4: Use Graphic Organizers

Strategy #5: Encourage Literate Discourse

Learning How to Use the Tool: A Focus on Form

Strategy #1: Teach Rules

Strategy #2: Use Metalanguage

Strategy #3: Introduce Cloze Activities

Strategy #4: Use Dictation

Strategy #5: Use References and Resources

Making the connections between Face to Face Language and Print: A Focus on English

Strategy #1: Systematically and consciously draw the child's attention to the connections between their face to face language and the text

Strategy #2: Use fingerspelling

Strategy #3: Emphasize speechreading

Strategy #4: Draw attention to mouthing (with or without sign)

Strategy #5: Use of contact language (sign) to make the link between sign and print



Dickinson, D & Neuman, S (eds) (2006). Handbook of early literacy research: Volume Two. New York: The Guilford Press.

Ferriero, E (1990). Literacy development: Psychogenesis. In Y Goodman (ed), How children construct literacy (pp.12-25). Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.

Mayer, C (2007). What Really Matters in the Early Literacy Development of Deaf Children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 413-431.

Mayer, C (1999). Shaping at the Point of Utterance: Investigating the Composing Processes of the Deaf Student Writer. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 37-49.

Mayer, C (1999). Deaf Children Learning to Spell. Research in the Teaching of English, 33, 158-180.

Mayer, C & Akamatsu, C (1999). Deaf Children Creating Written Texts. American Annals of the Deaf, 145, 394-404.
Mayer, C, Akamatsu, C & Stewart, D (2002). A Model for Effective Practice: Dialogic Inquiry with Students who are Deaf. Exceptional Children, 68, 485-501.

Mayer, C & Wells, G (1996). Can the linguistic interdependence theory support a bilingual-bicultural model of literacy education for deaf students? Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 1, 93-107.

Olson, D (1994). The world on paper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singleton, J et al (2004). Vocabulary Use by Low, Moderate, and High ASL-Proficient Writers Compared to Hearing ESL and Monolingual Speakers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9, 86-103.

Waston, R (2001). Literacy and oral language: Implications for early literacy
acquisition. In S Neuman & D Dickinson (eds), Handbook of Early Literacy Research (pp. 43-53). New York: The Guilford Press.


Bordman, M & Womeldorf, A (1999). Gallaudet writer’s handbook. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Great reference for older students and teachers.

Murphy, R (1997). Basic Grammar in Use. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Accessible grammar text for older learners.

Ontario Ministry of Education and Training (2000). The Ontario curriculum: Reading exemplars - grades 1-8 (Samples of student work: A resource for teachers). Toronto, Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education and Training (1999). The Ontario curriculum: Writing exemplars - grades 1-8 (Samples of student work: A resource for teachers). Toronto, Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Rhodes, L (1993). Literacy assessment: A handbook of instruments. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Include good examples of dictation activities.

Tarasoff, M (1994). Word recognition: Activity pages and portfolio record sheets (black line masters). Victoria, BC: Active Learning Institute.

Tarasoff, M (1993). Reading instruction that makes sense. Victoria, BC: Active Learning Institute (with companion black line masters)
(i) Specific teaching and planning strategies that can be used in reading and writing.
(ii) Comprehensive word lists and tracking sheets.
(iii) Excellent graphic organizers.