It has been said that in the early elementary years (K-3), children are “learning to read”. However, by 4th grade, children begin “reading to learn”. With the Common Core becoming the standard for education, this has changed somewhat. So, reading to learn is being incorporated into the early elementary curriculum. However, it is still during these early years, that the foundation for reading is set.
Working in the public schools with students with hearing loss, I have seen how the auditory, speech, and language skills of children with hearing loss has impacted their reading. Many schools use the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) or Fountas and Pinnell to assess a child’s reading ability. Both of these measures have the child read aloud from a short text (fiction and/or non-fiction) and then retell and answer questions (or respond in writing in the older grades) to demonstrate comprehension of what they have read. Then the child is scored for accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. In the end, an independent reading and instructional reading level is determined for each child.
What is Included in a School Reading Assessment?
Within these assessments, accuracy is a percentage score of words read correctly. In order to achieve a high accuracy score, the child must possess a good sight word vocabulary and good phonemic awareness skills in order to attack unfamiliar words.
Fluency is rated based on phrasing, self-corrections, and at a certain level by words per minute. In order to achieve a high rating on fluency, a child’s read-aloud must demonstrate awareness of punctuation by using good stress and intonation patterns, and he/she must read with adequate speed.
The comprehension score is based upon the child’s ability to retell the story, including character names, all events from the story in sequential order, and vocabulary from the text. Children are also expected to reflect on the text and make connections to reflect a deeper understanding . At a certain level, the response is expected in writing. A high comprehension score requires an excellent vocabulary, story telling skills, and memory for details.
Reading Assessments and the Child with Hearing Loss
For children with hearing loss who have caught up to their peers in terms of speech and language skills, these assessment are likely to be an accurate measure of reading ability. However, for other children with hearing loss who are in the mainstream, but are still working on listening, speech and language, do these tests assess what they set out to do? Probably not!
Let’s look again at the rated categories from the assessments…
Accuracy – For children with hearing loss, sight words are usually not difficult to learn, as they are rote memorization of visual text. However, phonemic awareness skills and the ability to blend sounds may not be as solid as would be expected. Additionally, the child with hearing loss may be omitting or substituting suffixes from his/her verbal speech and this might show up in oral reading, counting as a miscue (incorrect word). For example, the child who omits third person -s (e.g. says “The boy eat his lunch” for “The boy eats his lunch”), plural -s (e.g. says “The bat are flying” for “The bats are flying”), or omits past tense -ed (e.g. says “He walk to the store” for “He walked to the store”) would loose points for accuracy. Other speech errors common with children who have hearing loss that might impact an accuracy score are omission of endings on contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t), substitutions of “a” for “the”, and errors with “has”, “have”.
Fluency – For children with hearing loss, it is sometimes difficult to use appropriate stress and intonation patterns, which will impact their phrasing during reading. The words per minute score will also be impacted by phonemic awareness and work attack skills.
Comprehension – As comprehension is measured by the ability to retell and reflect on the story, it requires age appropriate (or close to age appropriate) language skills, including the ability to organize verbal thoughts clearly. For a child with hearing loss that is still working on these expressive language skills, the retell might not be as clear, but not necessarily mean poor comprehension of what was read.
How You Can Help
1) Read aloud to your child AND have your child read aloud to you.
- Work on phrasing (practice pausing for commas and periods)
- Work on inflection (practice how sentences sound differently when they end with exclamation points and question marks)
- Work on word endings (e.g. plural -s, possessive ‘s, past tense -ed)
- Work on letter/sound skills and sound blending (r-a-t-s is “rats”)
- Work on sight word recognition (point out frequently used words like he, she, is, the, a, this, and higher level sight words at older ages)
- Expect good articulation for sounds the child has worked on and is able to produce
2) Work on retelling stories you have read, including important features
- Beginning, middle, and end to the story
- Sequence terms (first, next, then, last)
- Character names
- Setting (places)
- Making connections to self, life, or other books (“What did this story make you think of?”)
- Reflecting on the story (“What part did you like best? and Why?”)
3) Use speech tracking, great for developing auditory memory and the auditory feedback loop.
- Without letting your child see the words on the page, say a phrase at a time and have your child repeat the phrase verbatim.
- If an error is made, repeat the phrase or part of the phrase acoustically highlighting (emphasizing) the sound, word or words in error.
4) Sometimes read picture books aloud to your child without showing the pictures/pages. This works to develop auditory skills, as it doesn’t allow for comprehension to come from seeing the pictures.
- Throughout the book, stop (either after every page, or after a few pages) to ask questions about what you have read.
- Sometimes, I say to the child, “Tell me what you think the picture on the page looks like,” after I have read a page.
Bonuses to This Type of Reading Practice
Even though this is all about reading, in addition to improving your child’s scores on reading assessments, you are improving skills in the areas of: