Googling “Literacy and Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children” can bring up dismal results. Outdated studies and statistics continue to live on and don’t take into account the realities of today’s kids and their experiences. That being said there are still some areas that need to be aware of when working with kids who are DHH. 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.
Fluent speech is a big goal for the majority of our kids with hearing loss. We want them to be successful communicators so we spend hours making sure they can reproduce the sounds they can’t hear so others will understand their speech.
But, did you know that reading fluency is also just as important of a goal for our kids, and one that is often overlooked in the classroom.
What is Fluency?
According to the National Reading Panel’s report (2000) “Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension.”
One way to think about reading fluency is that it works as a bridge between decoding (successfully sounding out a word) and understanding what has been read (comprehension).
But, many of us become focused on our kids being fast readers, thinking that this must automatically mean they are fluent.
In fact, fluency instruction is much more than an attempt to hit fast forward on a student’s reading rate. “What we’re seeing is those of us who are skilled readers, we slow down, we vary our rate, we think about our reading as we’re going,” said Melanie R. Kuhn, an associate professor of language and literacy education at Boston University. By focusing on rate, “we’re teaching kids to be quick readers but not to comprehend (Heitin, 2015).”
Reading fluency plays a big part in becoming a strong reader. Students are expected to read accurately and understand the information they are reading on the page. The demand to read fluently increases throughout the school years as students are expected to read greater amounts of content as they move through the elementary grades (Easterbrooks & Beal-Alvarez,2013).
What Impacts Fluency?
For kids who have hearing loss, fluency can be weak simply because they might not know what reading is supposed to sound like.
In noisy environments, such as classrooms, your child might not be hearing fluently. Hearing aids or cochlear implants allow most students to perceive speech occurring within a distance of 3 -6 feet. If a teacher or other student is speaking from any farther away your child will hear what is being said, but might not understand everything that is being said. It will be like trying to do a puzzle and realizing there are missing pieces.
Additionally, struggling readers might not understand the rhythm of successful reading simply because they have always struggled. Reading for them has always sounded choppy, with stops and starts
If your daughter is too focused on decoding words then she is taking too much time to be fluent. Reading through punctuation, and not using periods and commas to help her understand and control what she is reading, then it becomes too difficult to retain what she is reading when she goes from word to word.
Building Reading Fluency
Fortunately there are some easy ways you can help strengthen reading fluency at home.
- Reading with your Child: Parents do this routinely in the preschool years, but read-alouds often cease when a child begins to read for themselves. Children’s listening comprehension is often higher than their reading comprehension. Reading aloud to older children is a great way to help them with concepts and background knowledge they will eventually need to know. The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a great resource for parents.
- Shared Reading: Another variation in reading to your child, especially older children, can be when you share reading a book together. One way to do this is to take turns reading paragraphs or pages (one for you, one for your child). Poetry and short scripts are another great choice to read with your child. The amount of text is not overwhelming so they can be read relatively quickly and they offer plenty of strong word choices and can be read with lots of expression. For a great list of Readers Theater Scripts, go here.
- Following along: This is another great way to work on fluency with older kids. We have borrowed both the audio and print version of a book from our local library (this can take a bit of organization), but it has been worth it when my son wants to read a book that is a little beyond his reading level. He listens to the audio, while he reads along with the book. It can be a great way to get through long car rides, or as a way to chill out after school.
- Reading “just right” books: When I was a teacher I took the Goldilocks approach to what my students needed to have in their reading bag at any one time – “a book that was too hard, a book that was too easy, and a book that was just right.” Contrary to what you might think it’s the “just right” books that help your child move along with their fluency. Those are the books that they need to begin to be more confident readers and also to get that fluency tape playing in their mind.
Remember, fluency is much more than simply reading for speed. Having the skills to engage with the text go towards being a strong reader.
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Easterbrooks, S. & Beal-Alvarez, J (2013). Literacy Instruction for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Oxford University Press.
Heitin, L. (2015). “Reading Fluency Viewed as Neglected Skill.” Education Week. May 11, 2015.
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar