Literacy Instruction in Real Classrooms: Why We Need Parent Support

The issue


According to recent estimates, there are 32 million children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) worldwide.  The likelihood that one of these children will grow up to be literate decreases as his or her parents’ illiteracy rates increase. While most parents wish to see their children grow up to be successful adults, they often experience some degree of insecurity in deciding how best to prepare their children for that future.  This uncertainty is exemplified when parents must determine how best to foster language and literacy development.

Parents are the first and foremost teachers of early language and early literacy. Parents of DHH children, however, are frequently caught in the cross-hairs of well-meaning professionals who possess multiple, often diametrically opposed, opinions concerning language mode and the role of parents in literacy development.  Fear of making the wrong decision often leads to no decision for extended, critical periods of time.  Additionally, many DHH children often “fall through the cracks” and do not have access to early language and literacy for various reasons, including failure of the system (medical, public health, or educational) and poor parental education, resulting in inability or unwillingness to access appropriate educational resources.   This lack of access is a serious issue for DHH children; hearing children whose parents engage them in literacy prior to formal schooling start the academic process ahead of their peers whose parents are less involved.

What we know

Reading success is dependent upon two critical skill sets: breaking the alphabetic code and an understanding of the language (i.e., vocabulary, grammar, and world knowledge) revealed through decoding. Both skill sets are needed as neither is sufficient without the other.  Reading success is also dependent upon these skills being learned at a young age (well before kindergarten), thus we see the importance of home-life on a child’s long-term literacy outcomes. Evidence in the literature suggests that a parent’s education level has an effect on language acquisition, and thus literacy development in young children.  More importantly, however, is parental interest and involvement in their child’s literacy development.  A literacy-rich home life, regardless of parental level of education or income, seems to be an important indicator of later literacy success.

What we don’t know

We have yet to determine an efficient, effective, reliable, and affordable way to get all parents reading to their children.  There are approaches, though, such as interactive storybook reading that seem to be effective for encouraging parent-child conversation surrounding books.  Furthermore, in the classroom, various strategies have proven to be beneficial for language acquisition in DHH students, but translation of these successes into the home environment has proven difficult.

The research is insufficient to reveal what is taking place in classrooms during the literacy instruction of DHH students, though it is obvious that these experiences differ depending on the type of pre-K involvement.  It is vital, therefore, to ensure that students are not lost in transition from early intervention (EI) to pre-K. Moreover, there is a need for literacy-related caution when mainstreaming DHH children, particularly young children.  In most cases, placement of a young DHH child into a regular education classroom, with only an interpreter, is not sufficient educational support. Administrators must carefully consider whether or not the child is old enough or mature enough to benefit from an interpreter.


The internet, which abounds with stories of the life experiences of poorly educated and illiterate individuals, provides a clear glimpse at the implications of our lack of understanding of how to provide all parents with appropriate support for raising literate, DHH children. Policies must be employed to ensure “cradle to graduation” support for our most vulnerable populations. Careful attention should be given to the policies of countries with high literacy rates (see the CIA World Factbook). For example, New Zealand, whose population of 4.5 million has three different official languages (English, Maoira, and NZ Sign Language), also has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.  Perhaps this is a result of their social stance that, according to Every Child Counts Commission (2011), “the first 1000 days of a child’s life are critical in determining whether or not that child will be a healthy, mature and productive adult.” This should be the mantra for every nation serious about the educational and social well-being of its children, especially those vulnerable populations such as children who are DHH.

Posted on October 1, 2014 by
Susan R. Easterbrooks and Tanya L. Parker
Center on Literacy and Deafness
Georgia State University

Further reading

Hardonk, S., Desnerck, G., Loots, G., Van Hove, G., Van Kerschaver, E., Sigurjónsdóttir, H. B.,Louckx, F. (2011). Congenitally deaf children’s care trajectories in the context of universal neonatal hearing screening: a qualitative study of the parental experiences. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16(3), 305–24. view details