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Technology Enhanced Shared Reading with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children: The Role of a Fluent Signing Narrator


Drs. Richard Hurtig/ The University of Iowa and Vanessa Mueller/ University of Texas El Paso were available from 2/1/10 to 2/21/10 to answer questions and share ideas concerning their research and its implications for parents of children who are deaf/hard of hearing, their teachers and other professionals who work with them.

You are encouraged to read the research summary below and review the attached discussion.


Early shared reading experiences have been shown to benefit normally hearing children. It has been hypothesized that hearing parents of deaf or hard of hearing children may be uncomfortable or may lack adequate skills to engage in shared reading activities. A factor which may contribute to the widely cited reading difficulties seen in the majority of deaf children is a lack of early linguistic and literacy exposure that come from early shared reading experiences with an adult who is competent in the language of the child. A single-subject-design research study with four child-parent dyads is described which uses technology along with parent training in an attempt to enhance the shared reading experiences in this population of children. The Iowa E-book tool was used to construct a series of age appropriate books that provided an embedded signing narrator to provide the children and their parents a skilled language model. The results indicate that our technology enhanced shared reading led to a greater time spent in shared reading activities and sign vocabulary acquisition.

Research Questions & Findings:

1) Is there a difference in the amount of time or frequency of E-Book shared reading sessions when the E-Books contain a signing narrator compared to when there is no narrator present?

While there were individual differences in the reading time across the four dyads across the phases of the study, the presence of a signing narrator appears to influence time spent in shared reading. The result showing longer E-Book readings and longer shared reading sessions is not a trivial one. Longer exposure to text, stories and interactions with parents is a positive result that the literature has suggested can have a significant impact on language and literacy development.

2) Is there a difference in the amount of time or frequency of parent training use when the EBooks contain a signing narrator compared to when there is no narrator present?

We observed a mixed pattern of results regarding the time mother’s spent with the parent training E-Books. Wayne’s mother and Nancy’s mother both spent more time using the parent training E-Books during weeks when the child’s E-Book did not contain sign support than when the E-Books did contain sign support. The reasons this occurred are clear and were supplied by the mothers themselves. First, both mothers enjoyed learning sign language. Nancy’s mother stated matter-of-factly that the E-Books would be a way for her to learn sign language. Wayne’s mother expressed her preference for the child E-Books that did not contain sign support because it allowed her the opportunity to practice signing with her son.

The reasons the other mothers did not show similar patterns of use may be inferred. Ivan’s mother did not accept his hearing loss and so perhaps did not feel as though learning sign was a necessity. Therefore, she may have viewed using of the parent training E-Books as a waste of time. Charlie’s mother’s use of the parent training E-Books stayed fairly constant over the course of the study. Charlie’s mother was an educator who stated that the parent training E-Books were not necessary for her, but she understood how they might be helpful for other mothers who did not have experience reading stories to their children. Charlie’s mother was also a proficient signer who knew the signs targeted in the E-books we provided. This would account for the lack of variation in her use of the parent training use-Books. Charlie’s mother only used them to comply with our instructions.

3) Are there parts of the E-Books or parent training modules that are used either most often or least often by the majority of the children and parents?

A great deal of effort was put into producing the parent training E-Books. Based on the results of this study, some of that effort could have been avoided. Specifically, the mothers in the study did not make much use of the explanations and demonstrations of the Shared Reading Project principles. This is surprising given the apparent success of training sessions with the Deaf tutors who are involved with the Shared Reading Project (Delk & Weidekamp, 2001). The SRP training suggests focusing on only a few principles at each visit with the parents due to the complexity of the principles and the time needed to perfect their use. We cannot rule out either that the mothers in our study did not need the repeated explanations and demonstrations or that the mothers felt that the principles were not helpful to them and their children.

4) Do children and parents learn sign vocabulary from the Signing E-Books or from the parent training modules?

The use of the E-books to enhance parent-child shared reading does lead to growth in sign vocabulary in children and parents. The presence of sign support in either the children’s books or in the parent training linked to each book appears to influence vocabulary acquisition. Thus the availability of the signing model seems to increase knowledge of signs in children and their parents.


The signing E-Books we developed appear to have been a useful addition to the shared reading experiences of young hearing impaired children in this study. Based on the mothers’reports, the E-Books were used at least as long as and at times longer than the conventional paper
books that their children had prior experience with. Additionally, the signing E-Books were also used as long as and sometimes longer than the non-signing E-Books. The signing narrator in the signing E-Books and in the embedded E-Books in the parent training E-Books provided sign support to parents during shared reading situations, possibly alleviating feelings of incompetence in story sharing in sign language. It remains to be seen how effective giving parents tips regarding conversational starters helps hearing parents converse with their children about the story in a way similar to the way Deaf parents attempt conversations about stories with their children. In the end, it is essential that we explore all approaches to ensure that hearing impaired children begin experiencing shared reading as early as possible before starting grade school in order to be competitive with hearing children who have received possibly hundreds of hours of shared reading before entering first grade. Our findings suggest that, to varying degrees, a program that includes signing E-Books can facilitate hearing parent’s ability to provide their hearing impaired children those invaluable shared reading experiences.

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JDSDE Reference:

J. Deaf Stud. Deaf Educ. (2010) 15 (1): 72-101. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enp023
First published online: September 4, 2009