Global Educators Cohort Program - Teacher Education

Click here for Site Map
Jump to Main Content

The Signed Reading Fluency of Students Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing Directions

  • Dr. Easterbrooks and Ms. Huston were available from 2/14/08 until 2/24/08 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.

Abstract: Reading fluency in deaf children whose primary mode of communication is visual, whether English-like or American Sign Language is difficult to measure since most measures of fluency require a child to read aloud. This article opens the discussion of a new construct, namely, signed reading fluency (i.e. rendering of printed text in a visually fluent manner) in children with hearing loss whose primary means of expressive language includes some form of sign. Further, it describes the development of an assessment rubric to measure signed reading fluency. A comparison of fluency scores on test of vocabulary and text comprehension of 29 middle school students who attended a school for the deaf indicated that signed reading fluency, as defined and measure by this instrument, correlates highly both with word and passage comprehension.

Introduction: A considerable body of literature exists to support the positive relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension. Since fluency assessments have been based solely on the ability of students to read by speaking out loud, there is little to no evidence regarding the relationship of reading fluency and comprehension among those students who do not speak. This is the case for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and depend on sign language for communication. Is it possible to teach students with hearing loss to become “fluent” readers? If so, a definition of signed reading fluency must be presented along with a formal or informal assessment to measure the described signed reading fluency.

Fluency in Hearing Children: The National Reading Panel defines fluency as the ability “to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.” Among hearing children who read orally, speed is typically measured as words per minute or words correct per minute. Accuracy is measured through miscue analysis. The third component, proper expression or prosody, includes pitch, stress and juncture of the spoken word. All three components have been shown to have positive correlations to comprehension of text. Research has documented many benefits to children reading aloud. Chief among these reasons is the ability to view the child’s reading processes.

Reading Fluency in Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: There is a little available empirical research on reading development and instruction in children who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, research has shown that working memory and the ability of the student who is deaf or hard of hearing to process separate bits of information found in each reading passage are important precursors to literacy success. We also know that vocabulary and syntax knowledge have a positive influence on reading comprehension. In addition, it has also been shown that proficiency in American Sign Language contributes to skill development in written English. Reading fluency in signing deaf children has been described as automatic rendering of print into a signed form. This is much like the process of hearing children who see the text, form a mental image, and render it in a spoken form. Both processes require the child to form a mental visualization of the printed English then render it expressively, whether spoken or signed.

Fluent Readers Who Sign and the Need to Measure Fluency: Schleper (1997) was among the first to point out the deaf adults can be good models of reading fluency. Deaf adults negotiate between the English language and ASL while reading “out loud”. Measuring this rendering of English print into fluent signed manner can serve as a guideline for developing a definition for fluency in signing deaf children. Whether rendering text in ASL or in a more English-like mode, conceptual accuracy and grammatical principles are present that lead to a fluent rendering. Metalinguistic awareness of the grammatical structure of ASL has been found to be a useful tool for those students who are learning to negotiate between meaning in their conversational language and in the print form. Thus far, there has been no way to measure this beneficial relationship. Because the use of descriptive rubric scales (for expression, phrasing, and pace) are common among hearing students, it follows that a similar model might be useful for assessing the reading fluency for those students who depend upon sign language to render text. The majority of the components of reading fluency cannot be measured by hearing standards due to the unique components that are added when a student renders a text in a signed form. Therefore, a unique definition is warranted.

Development of a Definition and a Rubric: The authors constructed a definition of signed reading fluency by investigating information from references relating specific communication characteristics that were known to be associated with either signed communication proficiency or proficiency in literacy. After examining consistent use of the aspects among skilled deaf adult readers, the final list of aspects of the fluency envelope included: speed, facial expression, body movement, sign space, sign movement, and fingerspelling. The final list for the visual grammar rubric included: use of space, role taking, eye gaze, negation, directionality, use of classifier, and pronominalization. Interrater reliability on the fluency rubric among 3 raters ranged from .975 to 1.00. These scores demonstrate that the Signed Reading Fluency Rubric for Deaf Children yields highly reliable results when used by skilled, experienced teachers of the deaf who have sufficient knowledge of the specific aspects that the instrument measures.

Participants, Procedures, and Results: Twenty-nine middle school students attending a day school for the deaf/hard of hearing in a major metropolitan city were tested over the period of an academic year using the Signed Reading Fluency Rubric for Deaf Children and the Word Comprehension and Passage Comprehension subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised (WRMT-R) (Woodcock, 1987). Results indicated that within this group of participants whose reading comprehension was typically lower than that of their same-age peers, there is a positive correlation between scores on the Signed Reading Fluency Rubric For Deaf Children and scores on reading and word comprehension of the WRMT-R, with the strongest relationship between fluency envelope and passage comprehension and total fluency and passage comprehension. As signed reading fluency scores increased, so did reading comprehension scores.

Summary: To this date, there has been little to no research related to reading fluency among students who are deaf and hard of hearing and who use sign language. Many people believe that fluency is only an auditory process. However, research has shown that skilled deaf adult readers who sign use visual tools in order to convey the meaning of printed text.

In this article, the authors propose a definition for signed reading fluency. This definition consists of three components: conceptual accuracy, fluency envelope, and visual grammar. These components parallel the definition of reading fluency in hearing children. After examining the fluent rendering of text by skilled deaf adult readers, the authors have developed and proposed a rubric format to be used along with an informal reading inventory to provide a more complete picture of a signing student’s fluent rendering of text. Scores on The Signed Reading Fluency Rubric for Signing Deaf Children correlate with scores of reading comprehension for the 29 participants studied. This suggests that developing readers who are deaf would benefit from instruction in the application of the aspects identified in the fluency envelop and visual grammar rubrics. Further investigation of this application is warranted.

Susan R. Easterbrooks and Sandra G. Huston
The Signed Reading Fluency of Students Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing Directions
J. Deaf Stud. Deaf Educ., 2008; 13: 37-54