November is National Family Literacy Month and in order to celebrate I will be posting articles information, and activities that discuss literacy and deaf and hard of hearing children (DHH). Every child and every family’s experience of hearing loss is unique – so I do not presume to speak for all. However, I will draw upon my experience as both an educator and the parent of a child with hearing loss in discussing the importance of literacy.
Googling “Literacy and Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children” can bring up dismal results. While literacy outcomes for children who are DHH have been improving somewhat over recent years there is still too large of a gap with the reading and writing skills of these youth and their typically hearing peers.
But what is literacy and how does it impact our lives? Literacy is often reduced to the ability to read and write, but literacy is a lot more complex than simply teaching our children to decode and encode words.
Wikipedia defines literacy as “the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word.” It’s about how we use print in order to carry out various functions in our lives, and in order to maximize literacy development in our children reading and writing needs to be taught in context to help them become “competent communicators” (Stewart and Clarke, 2003).
The National Institute for Literacy has identified three different strands of literacy that people engage in on a daily basis.
Prose literacy is the ability to read, comprehend, and use information that can be found in various documents and texts, such as newspaper articles, instruction manuals, poems, and stories.
Document literacy is the ability to read, locate, and understand information that is printed in various formats, such as job applications, maps, tables, graphs, and transportation schedules.
Quantitative literacy is the ability to perform computations, such as reviewing a bill or balancing a checkbook.
It’s important to keep these distinctions in mind as we work with children who are DHH as parents and as educators. Knowledge comes in different forms and in today’s information based society the emphasis is on knowing how to find and apply information, rather than to simply recall it.
The next post will talk about the literacy gap between children who are DHH and their typically hearing peers; and what we need to be aware of as parents.