Monday, April 25, 2011

(2009) Building the Alphabetic Principle in Young Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Jessica Page Bergeron, M.E.D.; Amy R. Lederberg, Ph.D.; Susan R. Easterbrooks, Ed.D.; Elizabeth Malone Miller, M.S.; and  Carol McDonald Connor. Ph.D. (2009) Volta Review, 109(2-3), 87-119.

Two studies used small groups of young children, ages 3-7.5 for study one and 3-4.5 for study two.  The children, who were deaf or hard of hearing (5 subjects per study), were assigned to two different treatments to learn phoneme-grapheme correspondences. Both single subject design interventions yielded evidence that "children who are DHH and who have some speech perception abilities can learn critical phoneme-grapheme correspondences through explicit auditory skill instruction with language and visual support."

Purpose of the Studies

Investigators wanted to assess the effectiveness of a semantic association strategy for teaching phoneme-grapheme correspondences to children with DHH. Children without hearing difficulties have shown gains when provided meaningful associations between letters and sounds. Picture mnemonics provide links between a letter shape and a word beginning with the letter (Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984), and a gesture associated with the phoneme (LiPS picture cards; Lindamood & Lindamood, 2005).

The semantic association instructional strategy to teach phoneme-grapheme correspondences used in this study was derived from materials in the Children's Early Intervention (CEl) program (Tade & Vitali, 1994), a curriculum developed exclusively for children with communication disorders. P-g correspondences were taught using stories and pictures that provides visual associations between the phonemes and graphemes.  This approach provided semantic cues to remember the phonemes. The original strategy was expanded in two ways: after the story was read, the children enacted it, then picture (concept) cards provided semantic cues to the phonemes. Concept cards were later used in activities where the children decoded words.

Theoretical Support for this study

Dual Coding Theory (DCT) proposed by Pavio in 1971, applied to literacy (Sadoski & Paivio, 2004) provides an explanation of the relationships among decoding, comprehension, and reader's response (p. 1329). DCT proposes a coding system of logogens (language codes) and imagens (nonverbal codes). All  experiences can be identified with one or both coding systems. Haptic representations referring to kinesthetic experiences also contribute to the mental models people develop to understand experiences.

The authors explain how theory supports model: "The mental model the child develops will be a combination of phoneme, imagen, and grapheme. Some children will take longer than others to link graphemes to
phonemes. Some will quickly grasp the link between grapheme and phoneme and will drop the imagen earlier than others. Still others will need the "glue" for a longer period before associations between graphemes and phonemes become automatic" (p. 91).

This article covers two independent studies. Analysis for the studies was "a multiple-baseline probe design across content (i.e., correspondences)  to determine if a functional relationship existed between the intervention and the acquisition of phoneme-grapheme correspondences for individual children who are DHH" (p. 92)


Study 1. ( PreK-1st grade) All children acquired Phoneme-grapheme correspondence knowledge. Childen's age seemed to affect the rate of learning with the oldest child needing minimal instruction while the 3 yr old needed an additional week.

Study 2.  (PreK only) All children were preschool aged with no prior schooling to influence outcomes; 4 of the 5 didn't even know the target letter names. None knew the correspondences. Average instructional period for first correspondences taught required 8 sessions, however the last two correspondences were mastered in 2 sessions.

Additional findings based on long-term instruction and assessment: "As a component of the larger grant project's assessment battery, assessors tested the children on alphabetic knowledge and decoding at the end of the school year, after a year in the Foundations curriculum. Of those phonemegrapheme correspondences tested, the results of these assessments indicated that students maintained the alphabetic knowledge they gained at the beginning of the year from this 6-week study. By the end of the year, children went from an average of four correspondences to 16 correspondences. More important, students were able to use those correspondences in a functional manner by decoding them in real words. Children from this study were able to decode 60% of words directly taught in the curriculum and 30% of the novel words."


"Alphabetic knowledge provides an early foundation for later literacy success. Research shows that explicit instruction in building early skills that enhance development of phonological awareness, such as phoneme-grapheme correspondences, in the general education population is an essential foundation for decoding written text (Snider, 1995). Research, such as the recent study by Spencer and Tomblin (2008), supports development of these skills in children who are DHH; however. Spencer and Tomblin found that elementary school children who are DHH with cochlear implants develop phonological awareness skills at a delayed rate. The children in the current study demonstrated that, despite their young ages and language delays, they could still acquire phoneme-grapheme correspondences. These results have strong positive implications for a future practice of targeting explicit phoneme-grapheme instruction with prekindergarten children who are DHH in order to prevent future delays in phonological awareness development."

"While traditionally alphabetic knowledge is not taught until kindergarten, even for children with typical hearing, recent research suggests such instruction in prekindergarten can have long-term positive effects on later reading skills, including reading achievement and spelling (Kirk & Gillon, 2007; Korkman & Peltomaa, 1993). The current study suggests that children who are DHH, even those who have delays in language, are able to learn the foundation for the alphabetic principle during prekindergarten. Although the longterm
consequences of early instruction on the alphabetic principle need to be explored, such a finding holds promise for improving literacy skills of children who are DHH."

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