University of Edinburgh

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

Presented on Thursday 29 November 2007

Connie Mayer, EdD
York University, Toronto

What do we understand about teaching writing?

  • Need to focus on meaning and form
  • Without meaning, there is no need for form
  • Without form, you can’t make meaning
  • An interactive, process writing model addresses both
  • This is very consistent with the aims of teaching English to hearing students.

What else do we understand about teaching writing?

  • 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

Meaning-Form Connection

meaning form connection

Strategies for Teaching Writing

Every strategy has ……

Affordances (+)
Constraints (-)

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

comic strip

  • Top down processes
  • In a process writing model
  • How can they be taught?

Strategy #1 Make the Writing Purposeful

(+) Motivates the learner
(+) Provides a reason for writing

(-) Limited by English facility

Functions of Written Language: Narrative, Descriptive, Expository

function of written language

Strategy #2 Start with Narratives

(+) Easiest to learn
(+) Familiar content and simpler structure
(+) Afford a natural transition from oral to written language
(+) Sign language is very effective in the narrative mode

(-) Tend to 'get stuck' here
(-) Narratives are not the form of most texts that students encounter in school

Strategy #3 Introduce Expository Text

(+) Typical of most texts beyond the primary level
(+) Form the bulk of the texts that adults use in work or daily life

(-) Logical-causal arguments are made which are more difficult to construct than narratives
(-) More dependent on prior knowledge
(-) Less familiar synoptic mode

Great Authors

Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote Donkey Hote. The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. They believe the assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

Strategy #4 Use Graphic Organizers

(+) Provide a scaffold for the writer
(+) Offer a visual framework
(+) Supports the organization of ideas

(-) Not as helpful for work at the level of sentence

Tarasoff, M (1993) Reading Instruction that Makes Sense: Black Line Masters. Vancouver, BC: Active Learning Institute.



Expository Texts

expository texts

expository texts

Strategy #5 Encourage Literate Discourse

(+) Introduces language that appears in expository text
(+) Requires students to provide explanations, give descriptions, make comparisons, give rationales etc.

(-) Students may struggle as they have had less opportunity to have these sorts of conversations

Ashes to Ashes: Grade 6

T: Ashes. The burnt stuff left after a fire is called ash.
B: My [something about a pet]
T: What do you mean?
B: …in the fire and it disintegrated
T: Yeah. Kelly told me you brought the body to the vet's office. Yes.
H: My Mom's friend's mom was sick and she went to the funeral. There was a 'fire' room. They 'baked' her – she was put into am oven and there was a fire in a thing and there was like a candle, and she disintegrated.
T: Do you know the word for that? That's called cremated. Some people prefer to be cremated, some people prefer to be buried.
A: So they're dead [mimes], cremated, what does it feel like to be cremated? Do they like to be engulfed by fire?
T: Do you think it would hurt in the fire? No. Why?
T: So you're dead in the box and they set fire, would it hurt that person?
Would that person feel pain?
Th: No.
T: No. Why?
Th: Because their eyes are closed so they don't feel anything.
T: So they're lying in the box, they don't feel anything. Why?
A: Because you're dead and you wouldn't feel anything.
T: Because they're not alive, they don't feel anything, they're dead, so they're not alive.
Th: So you don't feel anything when you're dead?
A: When you're dead you don't feel anything.

Why Kids Bully: A text by a hearing student after a class discussion

Why do kids bully is a difficult question to answer. What's the point of it and what enjoyments do they get out of it. Also, is it really worth taking the risk of discovery and the re-amplifications if you're caught? People have tried to answer those kinds of questions for years. Well, now I'm going to give it a try.

Learning How to use the Tool: A Focus on Form

cartoon strip

  • Bottom-up skills
  • In a process writing model
  • How can they be taught?

Strategy #1 Teaching Rules

(+) Some can be easily taught (eg; Plural 's')
(+) Can be more helpful for older learners

(-) Others are difficult to teach (eg; use of articles)
(-) Can be difficult to remember
(-) Not easy to apply the rule 'in use'

Rules for Punctuation

comic strip

Rules for Plurals


suffixes and prefixes

#2: Use Metalanguage

(+) Allows the writer to talk about the text - using words like paragraph, sentence, noun, adjective etc.
(+) Draw attention to features of the text

(-) Can be difficult to explain
(-) Hard to make sense of metalanguage when you are not a fluent user of the language in the first place

Explaining Pronouns

comic strip

Strategy #3 Cloze Activities

(+) Focus attention specifically on English at the level of the word
(+) Makes the link between oral language and print explicit

(-) Difficult to do when you are not fluent in the oral form of the written language

cloze reading

Additional Cloze Strategies

  • Sign Cloze – 'Read aloud' and student supplies next sign or the missing sign
  • Print Close – filling in missing words
    (i) Supply a line for each letter
    (ii) Relate blank to length of word
    (iii) Supply first letter or other print clue
    (iv) Identify part of speech, function etc.

Strategy #4 Dictation

(+) Writers see their face to face language in terms of the print
(+) Systematically and consciously draws the writer's attention to the connection between the sign and the print

(-) Can be challenging to dictate in one language and have the text written in another

Strategy #5 Resources for Reference

(+) Helps the learner to feel more confident
(+) Provides easy access to English

(-) Can be misleading
(-) Not always used appropriately
(-) Operates at the word level

comic strip


  • Charts
  • Words walls
  • Personal dictionaries
  • Word Lists
  • Dictionaries

Bordman, M & Womeldorf, A (1999). Gallaudet Writer's Handbook. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

word lists

Learning How to Encode in English: An Added Focus for Deaf Writers

What is this additional challenge?

  • To make connections between face to face language and print
  • To make relationships between signs and words

Strategy #1 Fingerspelling

(+) One to one match to English
(+) Useful for vocabulary that does not 'have a sign'
(+) Can be used to mark morphology
(+) Useful for English idioms

(-) Does not operate well at the level of syntax
(-) Can be hard to read
(-) Can be limited by the ability to spell in English

Strategy #2 Speechreading

(+) Can provide a complete model for English
(+) Marks the difference between the sign and the word
(+) Operates at the level of syntax
(+) Useful for English idioms

(-) Range of abilities among D/HH learners to speechread
(-) Need to know English in the first place

Strategy #3 English Mouthing

(+) One to one match to English
(+) Marks the difference between the sign and the word
(+) Can operate at the level of syntax
(+) Useful for English idioms
(+) Can be used with or without voice

(-) Not all students can mouthe English
(-) Need to know English in the first place

Strategy #4 Contact Signing

(+) Closer match to English word order
(+) Capitalizes on the combination of sign, fingerspelling, mouthing and speechreading
(+) Used with or without voice
(+) Can represent text – sign to print matching

(-) Concerns that this is not a natural signed language
(-) Not always executed well – how many good models?