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A grounded theory of text revision processes used by young adolescents who are deaf.

Learning to write is a cognitively demanding process that requires graphomotor skills, linguistic knowledge, and awareness of text production rhetoric (Mayer, 2010). Revising one's writing requires an even higher level of cognitive function as the process requires recognition of differences in intended and conveyed meanings, identifying and correcting syntactical errors, adding information or details, and linguistic flexibility to modify one's message or tone. Children who are learning to revise frequently remain at surface level revisions, such as changing mechanics, and do not address the more complex task of altering concepts (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1987).

This holds true for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH; Gormley & Sarachan-Deily, 1982; Kelly, 1988). However, research in composing processes, specifically revision, is limited in the field (Mayer, 2010). This is surprising, given the long-term attention of researchers on literacy outcomes for children who are DHH (Albertini & Schley, 2003; Marschark, Lang, & Alberdni, 2002; Mayer, 2010).


Researchers in the field generally accept that the average student who is DHH graduates high school with reading skills significantly behind those of their hearing peers (Allen, 1986; Shaver, Newman, Huang, Yu, & Knokey, 2011). Although writing has been researched less frequently than reading, it is still an area in which researchers agree many students who are DHH lag behind their hearing peers (Easterbrooks & Stoner, 2006; Schirmer, Bailey, & Fitzgerald, 1999). Children who are DHH typically write shorter texts, use simpler sentence structures, and have a greater number of grammatical errors than their hearing peers (Rose, McAnally, & Quigley, 2004). Research has focused primarily on grammatical aspects of writing.

Within the past 30 years there has been a shift to move beyond syntax and examine semantic features of writing (Mayer, 2010). In this, researchers have found that children who are DHH attempt to express similar types of ideas in similar quantities as their hearing peers (Schirmer et al., 1999; Yoshinaga-Itano & Snyder, 1996). However, these analyses continue to be product-oriented and rely on quantitative methods to calculate units of meaning in the form of T-units, clauses, propositions, and units of cohesion. Although useful, this body of research ignores the complexity of the writing process, which is not easily quantifiable. This narrow focus is reflected in the lack of studies on the composing and revising processes employed by students who are DHH. A qualitative study, such as grounded theory, allows the researcher to be open to the data by using an inductive form of reasoning (Charmaz, 2006). The methodology allows for observing different students as they approach writing and exploring opportunities as they arise.


To date, only a handful of studies have examined revision by students who are DHH. As Mayer (2010) observed, research on writing is piecemeal and hardly forms a clear picture, and this is especially true for research on revision. Each of the studies examining revision has had a different focus, and each study offers different insights into the revision processes of students who are DHH. This makes it difficult to review the literature as a body of work; nevertheless, important themes emerge.

One important idea in the literature is that students who are DHH may know the strategies for monitoring and self-checking their writing, but they do not apply them in their own writing. One particularly vivid example is Webster's (1986) "invisible ink" study, which highlighted the differences in monitoring and self-checking between 20 children who were hearing and 20 children who were DHH. The study was conducted in two parts. In the first part, children wrote stories about a picture on a regular sheet of paper; in the second part, the children wrote a second story using expired ballpoint pens on paper that was carbon copied. In the first condition, the children could read and revise as they wrote (a process called rehearsing by Webster). In the second condition, they could not. Webster found that in the first story, where children could rehearse, the data confirmed previous research: Children who are DHH use simpler sentence structures with fewer words, make more errors in syntax, include a greater number of nouns and verbs and fewer prepositions or conjunctions than hearing children.

When the ability to see what they were writing was taken away in the second condition, the writing of the children who were DHH remained very similar to their first text. The hearing children, on the other hand, performed significantly worse; their writing decreased in length and the number of errors more than doubled. The hearing students made mistakes that the children who were DHH made. Webster's (1986) study shows that rehearsing is an important part of the process of creating coherent and fluent texts, provides insight into what happens as students who are DHH write, and highlights the lack of self-correction and revision occurring in the composing process. However, because the intent of Webster's experiment was not to examine revision, it does not provide much insight into how children who are DHH approach the task of revising their work over multiple drafts.

Gormley and Sarachan-Deily (1982) did give students the opportunity to create multiple drafts as they conducted a study of revision practices by 20 high school students who are DHH who were identified as either relatively good or poor writers by their teachers. The students wrote a persuasive essay on a given topic, and 2 days after the initial writing, students were asked to revise their essays to show their "best writing." Students' writing samples were scored for content, linguistic considerations, and surface mechanics. Their scores indicated that students were making minimal changes when they revised. The researchers also found that the content of the good writers' essays was well-developed, cohesive, and appropriate, whereas poor writers' content was not. Both groups of writers had difficulty with surface mechanics. Gormley and Sarachan-Deily concluded that students who are DHH make few changes to their texts and suggested that teachers need to teach students revision skills.

Kelly (1988) examined the impact of syntactical anomalies on the writing processes of one female college student who was deaf, particularly patterns of pausing and revising. The student wrote two drafts of one composition for this study, the content of which was a narrative of a signed video she was shown. While composing the first draft, the student engaged in rehearsal and revision. For the second draft, the student was asked to check the text and make changes to improve the grammar. Kelly found that the student had 180 syntactic anomalies in her first draft. In her second draft, she altered 83 of those and eliminated the errors in 78 of the altered anomalies. The most common errors were the use of function words (e.g., prepositions, conjunctions, and determiners). This study provides valuable data by showing that a student who was DHH engaged in revision and rehearsal as she composed. Kelly's findings focused on the grammatical errors in the text, but the impact of changes on meaning was not examined.

Livingston (1989) examined the revisions that 22 high school seniors who were DHH made to a text after conferencing with a teacher. The students wrote two drafts each of three stories on topics of their own choosing. Livingston analyzed changes made between each draft of each story and found that there were four categories of changes that students made (in order of frequency): addition, substitution, deletion, and reordering. Revisions were most frequently made at the phrase level, followed by word, sentence, and consecutive sentence levels. This study provides us with an idea of the types of revisions made by students who are DHH. Livingston's study also provides a look into revisions made to narrative texts, a useful starting point for the present study, which examined revisions made to expository texts.

Given the dearth of research on revision processes employed by students who are DHH, this study examined what students who are DHH do as they engage in composing and revising texts written for their English classes. The research question that guided this study was: How do middle school students who are DHH construct meaningful texts? Two sub-questions were also examined: (a) How do the texts that these students write evolve in their intended and conveyed meanings? and (b) How do syntactic features evolve as these students revise their writing?


This study used a grounded theory methodology to examine the process that a group of middle school students who are DHH used to complete writing tasks for their English classes. Grounded theory methodology is useful in explaining a process, such as revision, at a theoretical level (Charmaz, 2006). This methodology consists of a systematic approach to collecting and analyzing data. Grounded theory studies ultimately lead to the development of a theoretical model that serves to explain the process under study.


Upon receiving institutional review board approval, eight students and two teachers from one middle school on the East Coast were recruited to participate in the study. The school was a public school that primarily served hearing children but also housed the DHH program. Although the school was situated in a suburb of a major city, the students who were DHH commuted from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the school system. Five of the students in this study were in Ms. L's eighth grade English class, and three of the students were in Ms. G's seventh grade English class. Both English classes were self-contained, although every student was included with general education students for part of the day.

Ms. G was a hearing, White female who communicated with students using Manually Coded English (MCE), Cued Speech, and spoken English. At the time of the study, Ms. G had been a teacher of the deaf for 22 years; however, it was her first year teaching in the school where this study was conducted. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Communication Disorders and Deaf Education and was credentialed to teach in K-12 Deaf/Hearing Impaired.

Ms. L was a deaf, White female. She communicated with students using American Sign Language (ASL). At the time of the study, it was Ms. L's 11th year teaching, and her second in the school. Ms. L held a Master's degree in Deaf Education and was credentialed to teach in K-12 Deaf/Hearing Impaired.

All of the students in this study had hearing parents, and none of them were identified with any additional disabilities. Students' hearing loss was reported by parents and ranged from moderate (41 to 70 dB) to profound (91+ dB). Students used a range of listening devices, including no aids, two hearing aids, or one cochlear implant. Each student had attended the program for the deaf in the same district for at least 4 years. Students ranged in age from 12 to 15 years old. Five girls and three boys participated in this study, and they encompassed a range of ethnicities: White, Black, Bi-racial, Asian, and Hispanic. Six of their families reported speaking English at home, with two of those households also using the language of their native countries. The remaining two families spoke only Spanish in the home. Student characteristics are summarized in Table 1.

Ms. L's Eighth Grade Class. Abha was 15-years old at the time of the study. She had attended the DHH program for 4 1/2 years. Her family emigrated when she was in the fifth grade, and because of her difficulty with speech, she was retained at the elementary school for 1 year. In sixth grade, Abha's parents requested an oral-only program, but Abha quickly made friends with other students who were DHH and used sign. The year of this study was her second year of signing. She typically signed in English word order and made significant use of initialized signs; thus, her signing is a form of MCE. Abha's parents did not sign.

Corinne was 14-years old at the time of the study and had been receiving services from the program since preschool, about 11 years. She used ASL, and her mother also signed.

Kenny was 13-years old at the time of the study and had been in the program since preschool, about 10 years. He used a mix of MCE and spoken English to communicate. His parents did sign with him, but they mostly communicated with Kenny through spoken English.

Pilar was 15-years old at the time of this study, and her family emigrated when she was in elementary school. She started in the fourth grade in a Total Communication program, and had been receiving services through the DHH program for 5 years. She primarily signed using MCE, and her parents did not sign with her.

Ramona was a 14-year-old female whose family emigrated when she was in third grade. Ramona had attended this DHH program since then, about 6 years. She used MCE to communicate in school, and at home her family used Spanish and a mix of home signs and gestures to communicate. Prior to her arrival in the United States, Ramona attended a school with hearing children where instruction was only in Spanish.

Ms. G's Seventh Grade Class. David was a 13-year-old White male who had lived in the school district for his entire life and had attended the DHH program since preschool. David used Cued Speech and spoken English to communicate in school. His family used spoken English and did not cue.

Joshua was a 13-year-old Black male who started in the preschool DHH program. His family used English at home, and Joshua used Cued Speech and spoken English for his classes and a mix of Cued Speech, MCE, and spoken English with his friends. He began kindergarten in the elementary school that provides communication through MCE, but switched to the school that used Cued Speech. He attended that elementary school until he entered middle school.

Vivian was a 12-year-old White female who used Cued Speech to communicate. Vivian had always lived in the school district, but her parents emigrated from another country. Her parents and siblings used English and their native language at home, but Vivian only used English. She attended the preschool DHH program in the district, and she had always been in the Cued Speech program.


To fully examine the revision process for the students in this study, three types of data were collected for analysis: student writing samples, videotaped classroom observations, and interviews with students and teachers. Using a variety of data sources helped to tell the story of how these students approached the task of revision from multiple perspectives. Data collection occurred over a period of 10 weeks during the second semester of the academic school year.

Student Writing Samples. The texts collected were written by the students as assignments for their English classes. Written works that had more than one draft and works with a single draft that showed student changes were analyzed for this study. A total of 38 writing samples were collected, of which 20 met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis. Two to eight samples were collected from each student, with a range of two to four samples meeting the criteria for inclusion in the study. Analysis included two samples each from five students, three samples each from two students, and four samples from one student.

Interviews. Semistructured interviews of the students and the teachers were conducted to allow for specific questions to be asked of all participants and also to allow the discussion to move in new directions as new ideas were raised. Structured questions centered on how the participants constructed the concept of "revision," what the revision process entailed, and student attitudes about revision. The interviews were videotaped and conducted by the author using the participant's preferred communication modality. The author was fluent in all communication modalities used.

For interviews conducted in ASL or using MCE with no voice, the videos were translated and transcribed by a hearing person who was a native signer and reviewed by the author and the classroom teachers for accuracy. All interviews in English were transcribed verbatim. The student interviews ranged from 14 mins to 28 mins with an average of 21 mins. The teacher interviews were 44 mins and 40 mins. In addition to interviewing the teachers, ongoing dialogues were maintained to address questions that arose during data analysis.

Observations. Observations were conducted to watch students move an essay through the writing process from prewriting to final draft. Specific types of behaviors observed included how students engaged (or disengaged) with tasks, interacted with the teacher during conferences, and interacted with their peers during class time devoted to writing. When the teachers conducted conferences, attention was paid to the feedback provided and how ideas and processes were explained to students. Twenty-one videotaped classroom observations were conducted, 14 in the eighth-grade class and 7 in the seventh-grade class. Observations lasted for the entire period, which varied by class, but each observation was at least 45 min in length.


In grounded theory, sampling, data collection, and data analysis are recursive processes that occur simultaneously throughout the study (Charmaz, 2006). For example, data are simultaneously collected and analyzed while additional data is collected from the participants or the pool of participants is expanded in order to fully flesh out each theme and its properties. In this study, data analysis, which consisted of coding, memo writing, and diagramming, was conducted using the constant comparison method. Constant comparison is essential to a grounded theory study (Charmaz, 2006; Strauss & Corbin, 1998), and it requires data to be compared with all other data at every level of analysis. Initially, individual pieces of datum are compared with each other, and then the data are compared with the emerging themes and the resulting theoretical framework. To implement the constant comparison method in this study, three levels of coding were conducted--open, axial, and selective (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Open coding began with a close analysis of data that was reviewed line by line. Codes were not selected a priori, but rather emerged from the data. Each piece of datum was compared with each other to identify and name patterns in the participants' experiences, understandings, and insights. In addition, named segments that appeared to have similar characteristics were formed into potential categories or themes. At this stage, memo writing was used to connect to the research questions, to ask additional questions, and to explore relationships between codes and question assumptions, and to look for hidden meanings in the language used by participants.

During axial coding, the emerging themes were compared with each other in order to identify relationships, patterns, and connections. The process of constant comparison was applied, and each potential theme was carefully examined in relation to the other emerging themes through memo writing. Additional data were collected and analyzed specifically to tease out the connections among themes. Finally, selective coding was used to bring the entire grounded theory together through the recognition and refinement of relationships between themes. It was essential that each theme represent all cases in the study, not just one or two. For themes to be included in the final model, they had to be fully saturated and well-defined. Saturation was achieved when new data added no new insights (Charmaz, 2006).


Trustworthiness is critical as it is how a researcher provides evidence that the study and the findings are an accurate portrayal of the data (Guba & Lincoln, 1988). In this study, trustworthiness was established through the use of triangulation, prolonged engagement, peer debriefing, member checks, and an inquiry audit. Data were triangulated by collecting evidence from a variety of sources: interviews, observations, and written products. In addition, the researcher met with the teachers regularly to review the collection and analysis. Teachers were asked to clarify signs or discussions that were confusing or vague, they provided additional context on collected data, and they reviewed the final theoretical model.

Data were collected over a period of 10 weeks in which the researcher visited classrooms every day, engaging with participants for a sustained period of time. In addition, prior to this study the researcher had worked at the school as a teacher. Thus, the school culture was already familiar to the researcher, as were some of the participants in the study. This preexisting relationship may have helped students to feel comfortable with the researcher quicker than if they did not know the researcher. In addition, the researcher did have some insider knowledge to the program and curriculum of the English classes. The researcher was cognizant of this throughout the process and used peer debriefers and an inquiry auditor, all of whom had no direct experience with the program or the students, to review analyses and documents for hidden assumptions and biases.

Three peer debriefers were used to review the ongoing analysis and to highlight areas that may need more investigation or that indicate researcher bias. The peer debriefers each had a different area of expertise related to the study: one had an English degree and worked as an editor, one was an educator of the deaf with a specialization in literacy, and one was an educator of the deaf who was also deaf. In addition, an inquiry auditor who was experienced with grounded theory methodology was provided access to all data in order to examine the inquiry process and verify the outcomes of the inquiry, as suggested by Lincoln and Guba (1985).


This study examined how students who are DHH approach the process of revising their own texts. After analyzing the data, two main themes emerged to explain how these students understood, experienced, and performed revision. Interacting with Language embodies the knowledge and background that students brought to the writing process and explains the types of changes that students actually made to their writing and encompasses how students understood the English language to generate texts. This was central to the experience for the students, because language affected every aspect of writing and revising, which are intrinsically linguistic tasks. For the students in this study, the processes of writing and revising were not clear.

Each step of the process was defined by the teacher. The students only engaged in revising at the teacher's behest, and then only to fix what was wrong. Thus, the teacher was central to the students' experiences in revising, and that is represented in the second theme, Interacting with Instruction. Interacting with Instruction explains how the students interacted with the instruction provided by the teacher and the social structures in the classroom as they engaged in writing and revising texts. Of particular interest in this category were the ways in which students responded to information presented to them as they worked through the writing process. It also explains how students modified their actions in order to situate themselves within the classroom environment. As students struggled to position themselves as author of a text, they also experienced tension around using language to compose.


For every student in this study, language was a major factor in how they approached revision tasks. Interacting with Language captures the students' struggles with learning a language that is difficult to access while simultaneously being expected to manipulate that language in complex ways in order to compose a text. Students' ability to "think English" (as Ms. G told Vivian to do) greatly influenced their ability to identify what to change in a text.

Students in this study showed an awareness of their own struggles with language, indicating metacognitive awareness of their skills. One of the main struggles that six of the participants discussed was vocabulary. Three such examples include Pilar, Joshua, and Corinne. Pilar shared her efforts to express ideas using age-appropriate vocabulary, or "big words." She explained, "It's hard for me to understand the different big words. So I look to the teacher to give me answers many times, and I have to figure out how to use the big words." Joshua attempted to use a thesaurus to look up alternatives to the word get or got, and the words he chose did not always match the definition of the word in context. He did not understand the nuances of the words he was choosing as seen in his selections, but his ability to identify appropriate synonyms was limited by his own knowledge of the English language. Corinne used the word ardent in an essay, but during our interview she could not identify a similar-meaning word to sign or fingerspell it, so she resorted to pointing at the word on the page. Although fingerspelling a word does not itself denote an understanding of the concept, the fluency of the signing and fingerspelling can be an indicator of conceptual understanding (Padden, 2006). Corinne tried to use higher level vocabulary words, but she did not always know their meanings.

In addition to vocabulary, seven of the students did not feel comfortable with their knowledge of grammar or in making corrections to make a text clearer. Vivian shared, "I don't know when something's wrong." Corinne also shared, "I can read it, but I feel if other people read it, they might not know. People might think differently when looking at this (essay)." Both students knew what they wanted to say, but neither one was confident enough with her own language to consider how a reader might interpret the text. When probed, all of the students said the teacher helped them to identify grammatical changes that made the writing clearer.

Despite feeling unable to ensure their writing was clear, four of the students mentioned using the grammar check feature in word processing software to identify and correct errors. Students saw the green underlining and knew something was wrong, although they did not always know how to fix the sentence. David described his feelings: "I still don't like it, because when 1 find out the bad grammar ... [the] green underlining doesn't says [sic] what the underline, so sometimes I get ... I really don't like it." Kenny had a different approach. If he could not figure out how to fix the grammar, he deleted the entire sentence to eliminate the green underlining.

Both of these students reflect a common sentiment among the students in this study: When in doubt, the student is always wrong. When teachers made comments on their papers or when the computer flagged a sentence, the other was right. The students did not question the authority of these others. Instead of accepting that it might be okay to have the green underlining or asking the teacher why the change was necessary, the students assumed that they must be wrong and made the changes to the text.

The students in this study were not always confident in their own knowledge of English or their skills, but they attempted to portray confidence in their writing during our interviews. Students spoke confidently of the changes that they had already made and often offered sophisticated reasons for making those changes. However, this confidence came only after the student received feedback from the teacher. When faced with a first-draft text with no comments and asked what changes they would recommend, the confidence level dropped. Suddenly, students were unable to identify changes or explain why they suggested a specific change.

Despite the struggles the students faced as they wrote and revised essays, they displayed resilience in working through difficult tasks. Resilience refers to overcoming some challenge to develop positive or desirable outcomes (Martin & Marsh, 2009). Martin and Marsh argue that the desirable outcomes are in the form of academic success, but for the students in this study, that was not the outcome seen. The challenges faced by the students were the daily frustrations of working in a language they could not easily access and in which they had few opportunities to meaningfully engage. The positive outcome was not necessarily writing and revising but was more reflective of the persistence of the students in the face of such a daunting task. Even when students were not "right" and needed to continue working, they did not give up. If they conferenced with the teacher and did not understand what the teacher wanted, the students did not give up. They may have been frustrated, but the students continued trying to figure out what was expected of them until they were successful (as measured by teacher acceptance of the product). Although the teacher provided many of the answers, students still felt a sense of accomplishment, which could be what encouraged them to persist.

All eight of the students described the purpose of writing using vague, hypothetical terms and did not always appear to have a clear purpose for their writing. However, the students were clear on one aspect: Writing was for school only; it was not something to be done for pleasure. Vivian explained that writing essays in school is not fun "because it takes longer. And it's many paragraphs, and you use a lot of details and examples." David only enjoyed writing short stories that were one page long. Despite this, some students saw the value of practicing their writing in order to improve their writing skills. For example, Ramona said, "To practice writing, you write. Then you mess up and write it again, and it gets better." The purpose of writing for Ramona was to improve her writing skills, but she did not seem to understand why learning to write was important. She also left out the whole section between messing up and rewriting to explain how "it gets better." Likely, she was not clear herself on how her writing improved.

Neither Ramona nor any of her peers engaged in the revision process independently. The classroom observations and teacher interviews indicated that all eight of the students were satisfied to turn in a first draft for a grade. Ms. G said, "If they have to revise it themselves, they will say it's perfect the way it is." For all of the students in this study, revising was only to be done when something needed to be fixed, otherwise there would be no reason to revise. When asked to describe possible revisions, students either identified mistakes or suggested adding vague details. Ramona found one mistake that she suggested fixing: capitalize a word. The word my began a sentence, and it was a grammatically appropriate change to suggest. She said, "I just need to fix the m so it is a capital. That's it." No substantive changes were identified.

Students rarely spoke of changes made for purposes other than correcting errors, such as clarifying meaning or modifying content or tone. The students said they were "fixing wrongs" in their writing. The students frequently interchanged mistakes and "wrongs." They also interchanged error correction with revision, as in "If it is wrong, I fix it." The conceptualization is understandable given that when students were asked to make changes to their writing in class, they were mostly told to fix their mistakes. Written feedback from the teachers also focused on mistakes in the students' writing, particularly syntactical elements. In addition, when the teachers discussed their teaching of revision, fixing mistakes was the focus.

Students did engage in making higher level, substantive changes at the teacher's direction. Teachers most often requested adding descriptive words or details to a text. Unfortunately, these changes did not always result in a better text. For example, in one of David's essays, changes to the word choice (adding descriptive words) were limited to the first half of the essay, and there was not much difference in meaning between the two drafts he produced. To illustrate, compare the first sentence of the essay from the first and final drafts. The first draft said, "Lysander and Hermia's choice influenced the end of the story, A MSN Dream." The final draft said, "The handsome Lysander and the beautiful Flermia's choice influenced the end of the story, A Midsummer Night Dream." David provided the barest amount of information possible to the reader about the play and the characters. Words such as beautiful and handsome did not enhance the reader's understanding of the characters, their relationships with each other, the plot, or the choices made. The descriptive words, while not fixing anything that was inherently wrong, did not add anything to the essay. They were added to appease the teacher, who was trying to encourage the use of "power words," or higher level vocabulary.

For all of the students, the writing and revising processes were completed when the teacher accepted the essay. As David explained, "If you're done early, give them [to the teacher] ... We have to show it to the teacher first, and then we will fix it." Students had no authority over deciding when a piece had been suitably revised. Students acted merely as conduits to transcribe the teacher's feedback into their own handwriting, in such a way as to simulate revising without actually doing it. Ramona summarized, "The teacher makes corrections and then I copy the changes." The teacher played a substantial role in the writing and revising experiences of the students.


Students' experiences with revising were shaped by their interactions with the instruction, as delivered by the teacher. The students wanted to be "right," and what was right was defined by an outside authority, such as the teacher or the computer. The students held an implicit assumption that their writing must be either right or wrong, and it was impossible for it to be both simultaneously technically correct but still in need of revision. In seeking adult validation, students deferred to the power structure inherent in schools and classrooms by complying with teacher requests. When the teacher made specific changes to a writing assignment, students copied them without question. When Joshua was asked why he incorporated changes made by the teacher, he explained, "English teachers are good, successful so I figured that maybe if I used the teacher's words and put it into a sentence with my own words that I would get a good grade." David also admitted that he used the teacher's prompting and wording because she was the authority in the class. He felt that "If she changed it, I do it." Corinne incorporated the teacher's suggestion to add the word accused to her essay about Twelve Angry Men. She likely did not understand the word, because she spelled it aecused in her draft and maintained the misspelling to her final draft, where the word morphed into recused. Corinne understood that if the teacher wrote on her paper, she needed to include it in her writing. The teacher ultimately had the authority to decide what was right or wrong for a text.

In my observations, the students seemed to do just enough to pacify the teacher and nothing more. They wanted to complete the task, and if they did what the teacher requested, they finished sooner. In both classrooms, the students did not make changes or move on in their writing until they received teacher feedback and approval. It may be that students were trained to turn papers in to the teacher for each step, but it was also partly that they did not seem to know what might need changing. The teacher was the ultimate director of writing in the classroom. For example, Ms. L told the students to write only the topic sentence of their text, because she wanted to approve it before students added details. Ms. L developed the "Persuasive Essay Due Dates" worksheet on which each step of the process had a specific due date and score. Students were expected to submit something such as a plan, topic sentences, or a first draft at each step.

The teachers directed the pace of writing by determining which steps to complete and the timeline to be followed, and each step in the process was punctuated by turning something in to the teacher. For example, in Ms. L's class, students were not permitted to move on to drafting until their graphic organizers were approved. When permitted to draft, students were only to write the topic sentence and gain approval before adding details. Following this approach forced the students to rely on the teacher for determining when writing was acceptable and when it required adjustment. They did not have to make that decision themselves.

The teachers assumed the cognitive burden for much of the writing process. They determined the purpose, audience, and form of the texts to be written. They set the process to be followed and established the criteria and timeline for the texts to be completed. Both Ms. G and Ms. L wrote wording or corrected syntactical errors on students' papers more frequently than they suggested ideas or prompted students to consider changing content of a text. Given teacher wording or correction, students almost always copied the text exactly as it was written by the teacher. It should come as no surprise then that most of the students shared that writing and revising were easier when the teacher helped. As such, students rarely worked independently. Students in both classes sought assistance an average of two to three times per writing session, and students rarely continued to work on their writing while they were waiting for help from the teacher. Instead, they generally engaged in off-task behaviors such as chatting with their peers or escalating attention-getting techniques. Abha frequently sought the teacher's assistance on writing assignments. She rarely worked for longer than a minute independently before seeking teacher assistance or switching to off-task behavior.

Early in the process of writing an essay, David sought Ms. G's attention as he was typing a draft. While he was waiting, he looked around the room and was generally off task. When Ms. G appeared ready to help, David caught her attention. The following is an excerpt from their discussion:

David: I need help with my conclusion.

Ms. G: What do you need help with?

David: The conclusion.

Ms. G: The concluding sentence. Okay, what is our topic sentence?

David: Lysander and Hermia's choice influenced the end of the story.

Ms. G: Okay. Rephrase it.

David: (Attempts, pauses, and stares at the screen.) The end of the story ...

Ms. G: (Prompts) At the end of the story ...

David: (Repeats) At the end of the story, Lysander and Hermia's choice influenced.

Ms. G: Yep. (David types.)

This exchange not only shows the attention-seeking behavior from David, but also illustrated how he relied on the teacher for crafting parts of his essay.

In addition to seeking assistance, students relied on the teachers to answer difficult questions. If the teacher asked a question that the students did not know how to answer, they would shrug, say they did not know, or look at the teacher blankly. The teacher would then answer the question for the student. One clear example of this happened in a conference between Ms. L and Kenny about his text:

Ms. L: The child died. Awful, (points to paper) How does that make you feel to read about the death of the child? (Kenny nods. Teacher points to paper.) Because then ... what will you put here? (indicates paper. Kenny shrugs.) Because (points) the poet used the words "calling child" because ... tell me ...

Kenny: Because the child died and happened next. Child was dead.

When asked a question, Kenny merely shrugged. He did not even attempt a guess. Perhaps he knew that if he did not respond, then the teacher would answer her own question, which was what happened. Then he could repeat the teacher's words and be right.

There was some tension around who was responsible for ensuring the purpose was adequately addressed. The students expressed that they were responsible for ensuring the message was conveyed to the audience (as nebulous as the reader might be). In addition, the teachers told students that ensuring that the text made sense was their responsibility. However, throughout the processes of ensuring the essay made sense and addressing the purpose, the work was actually done by the teacher in both classes. To illustrate, let us return to the earlier example of Joshua using the thesaurus. Ms. G gave him the instructions and said, "I'll tell you if it makes sense." Joshua's task moved from that of sense-maker to simply word-copier. Later, when Ms. G conferenced with him to discuss the new word choices, she merely responded "no" then pointed out a word that would work without explaining why one word was a better choice. The responsibility for sense making shifted from Joshua to Ms. L. This conflict was confusing to the students who knew that they were responsible for ensuring their message was clear and purposeful, but they did not have the tools or the opportunities with which to practice.

Another particularly vivid example of the teacher controlling the writing process was seen in Ms. L's conference with Ramona. During this conference, Ramona submitted a draft of a text, which Ms. L re-wrote. Here is a translation of part of the conference:

Ms. L: (Takes pencil from Ramona and erases something, then underlines something) Don't write. I will write an example for practice. (Ramona nods.) You won't rewrite this later. No. (Ramona shakes head no.) This is the last one, then it's finished. (Ramona nods.) I am going to show you how to write it, so you can see what I'm doing.

Ramona: Yes.

Ms. L: Next time, you will do the same thing yourself. You won't do a second draft, this is the final one. Then we will put this away and it's done. (Ramona shakes head.) What I'm showing you, you will learn. (Ramona puts her head in her hand on the table.) Watch and I'll show you. (Ms. L starts writing on the paper. Ramona starts rubbing her hair and looking at other students.) No, watch. (Ms. L continues writing on the paper. Ramona looks over at the other students again.) Ignore them and pay attention here.

Ramona: Alright. (Ms. L continues writing Ramona's essay. Ramona appears to be watching, but does not appear engaged or to really understand what is going on.)

There was very little interaction or dialogue actually happening. Ramona was not engaged in thinking about how to put her ideas down or how to shape the language of her text. She was merely a passive watcher while the teacher did the sense-making work. In this study, the person with the greater control of English was the one who assumed the responsibility of ensuring that a text made sense. In both classrooms, that person was the teacher.

Students were not expected to revise their writing in any meaningful way. For example, in the second draft of the essay about Twelve Angry Men, Corinne copied a sentence that Ms. L added to the end: "At the end, Juror #3 changed his perspective about his responsibility." Corinne copied the word perspective as pespective, and Ms. L wrote the correct spelling above the word and added a comment: "Look up the dictionary [sic]." This is an interesting, yet confusing expectation on the part of the teacher. Ms. L provided the sentence she expects Corinne to copy in to her paper, which Corinne did. Then Ms. L told her to look up a word in that sentence. Ms. L provided a sentence to Corinne that included words Corinne did not know, because, as she indicated in her interview, student comprehension would come later.
   I just expose them to a lot of words over and
   over.... So they can internalize this knowledge
   for when they read ... that's the only
   time I encourage the use of a dictionary. Not
   so they can understand but so they can find
   information. Some students will understand
   its meaning and others won't and we discuss
   it later.... It requires 50 times before they internalize

However, for Corinne, writing a sentence that included words she did not know was akin to writing gibberish. This was evident in her interview when she did not attempt to sign a word that she wrote in an essay.

The teachers in both classrooms tried to expand student vocabulary and word choice in their instruction, but the expectation seemed to be confusing for the students at times. Students wanted to incorporate new age-appropriate words (Pilar's "big words"), but they just did not know or remember the meaning of those big words. Students would either incorporate unfamiliar words without fully comprehending them, or they would stick with words they knew and use other words when suggested by the teacher. The expectations of the teachers played a powerful role in shaping how the students viewed themselves as revisers. The more teachers took on the tasks of revising, the less students needed to engage with them and the less sure they were of what they wrote.

Typically, the teachers assumed responsibility for identifying errors in the texts that students wrote. However, this is not to say that students could not identify things that needed to be fixed. They could and did, but because they were not required to engage in the activity in meaningful ways, students depended on the teacher to fix the "wrongs." As a result, their skills in identifying mistakes were limited. During the interviews, students indicated that they were not satisfied with their unedited pieces, but they seemed lost when it came to actually identifying changes. They often looked to the authority to tell them what to do.


This study examined how middle school students who are DHH construct meaningful texts by exploring how their writing evolves semantically and syntactically. There are two main findings that arose out of this study. First, the students in this study struggled with their ability to manipulate language in a way that effectively communicates their message to a reader. Second, the teachers of these students had considerable control over every aspect of text development and revision. Both of these findings are consistent with previous research on students with disabilities, struggling writers, and English language learners.

These students knew that writing well was important and that they should improve; however, they had only a vague understanding of why learning to write was important. Lin, Monroe, and Troia (2007) examined perspectives on writing by typically developing and struggling writers in Grades 2 through 8. They found that typically developing writers in middle school were more aware of their writing than the younger writers and struggling writers. The students in this study exhibited the same metacognitive awareness of their writing, although they did not always know how to handle their perceived limitations. However, these students also displayed behaviors similar to the struggling writers in Lin et al.'s study. The struggling writers discussed writing in concrete, vague, and simple ways and were unable to use writing terminology in their discussions. The students in this study also used surface descriptions that focused on vague responses or physical features. In addition, most students did not use writing terminology in their discussions. This shows that the students were in a complex situation where they developmentally understood what writing is and should be, but they did not have the skills to articulate how to develop their own writing in that way.

The students overwhelmingly used low-level skills to make changes in their writing. In Lin et al. (2007), the researchers found that "novice writers place more emphasis on the physical product and local meaning, while more experienced writers focus on global aspects, such as meaning and communication with an audience" (p. 207). The students in this study behaved as both novice and experienced writers simultaneously. They were overly concerned with spelling, capitalization, punctuation, handwriting, and simple grammar, but they were aware of the idea that they should be conveying a message to an audience. They were just unsure how to convey that message and to whom the message should be directed. Lin et al. also found that "struggling writers focus on product over process even at the secondary level" (p. 207). This is similar to the observations of the students in this study. They were focused on the final product, either just producing one or ensuring that it looked perfect, the product was the emphasis of their writing. They were less engaged in the process of writing, and particularly revising. Of note is that the students understood the nature of the changes they already made, but they could not transfer that knowledge to new writing situations, a phenomenon reported by Truscott & Hsu (2008), who examined students learning English in Taiwan.

The teachers in this study dominated almost all of the writing process, which resulted in the students being overly reliant on them. Lee (2008) examined the influence of teacher feedback on student performance in Hong Kong. The study included 58 students between the ages of 12 and 13 who were learning English from one of two teachers. Lee found that teacher feedback on stu dent writing focused almost exclusively on error correction (as was most of the feedback given by Ms. L and Ms. G in this study). In addition, Lee found that the teachers were dominating the writing process by providing the topic, brainstorming ideas, and giving answers to proofreading or grammar exercises. The students in Lee's study, regardless of writing ability, wanted teachers to provide more feedback and more error correction. They became passive learners who were increasingly reliant on the teacher to tell them not only what was wrong but how to fix it. Lee concludes that "teacher-dominated feedback practices breed passive and dependent learners" (p. 157). In essence, that is what the teachers in this study have done. By assuming all of the cognitive burden for writing and revising, they have released students from the responsibility of developing the skills to write and revise independently.

This study examined students' writing for more than just the types of revisions as the process for identifying and making changes was investigated. Although this study investigated student processes, they could not be extricated fully from the instruction and the teachers' actions. Teachers have a significant role in the development of writing and revising skills, and it is clear that the students did not have enough opportunity to practice those skills.


Although this study provides a picture of what students who are DHH do as they revise an essay, this was a qualitative study, and the results cannot be applied generally. The sample of students in this study does not reflect the larger population of students who are DHH. For example, no children who have parents who are deaf were included in the sample. Because these children often show typical language development in both ASL and English (Schick, de Villiers, de Villiers, & Hoffmeister, 2007), including students with parents who are deaf may have affected the findings of the study.

An additional limitation is that this study only examined students in one school. The experiences of students attending residential deaf schools, attending private schools, or who are fully included without other children who are DHH have not been considered as part of this study. It is impossible to know whether including students from other types of educational settings would result in the emergence of the same themes.


The emerging theory presented here adds to the knowledge base on deaf students' writing and revising processes by providing new insights into the experiences of the students as they engage (or not) in writing. The findings of this study suggest important recommendations for how teachers can support the development of writing and revising skills for students. The recommendations in this section will foster the development of independent skills and procedural knowledge, while also supporting the linguistic needs of the students.


If teachers wish to improve the writing competence of their students, they may want to consider the influence of their interaction style. Ellsworth (1997) offers one way to do this by examining the mode of address of curriculum, which "is one of those intimate relations of social and cultural power that shapes and misshapes who teachers think students are, and who students come to think themselves to be" (p. 6). To analyze the mode of address, Ellsworth changes a question in film studies from, "Who does the film think you are?" (p. 1) to, "Who does the curriculum think you are?" (p. 1). In the classroom, the teacher is in a place of power, as the person who knows and transfers knowledge to the students. Foucault's (1975) notion of "the gaze" is important here, as the ways in which the teachers view the students eventually become the ways in which the students see themselves. Students in this study accepted the role of the not-knowing participant and came to over-rely on the teacher for writing.

Teachers can change how they address students and how students internalize the instruction by escaping the temptation to make all of the important decisions on every writing piece and to fix every mistake in a text and by allowing students greater control during the writing process. This may mean providing additional time to allow children to write or accepting more errors as students play with the language, but good writing is not a process that happens overnight. It must be nurtured and developed.


Cognitive strategy instruction is an approach that encourages students to actively engage in their own texts by teaching them how to use and apply strategies to their writing by placing an emphasis on process over product. One evidence-based approach is self-regulated strategy development (SRSD; Harris & Graham, 1996; Mason, Harris, & Graham, 2011). SRSD was developed specifically for struggling writers, and although supported by research, outcomes of instruction should be evaluated. Students learn strategies to assist them with each step of the writing process, including revision. Harris and Graham suggest that students learn and use strategies that are employed by skilled writers, with the goal of developing the strategies into habits.

A second form of cognitive strategy instruction is interactive writing instruction, which has been studied specifically with students who are DHH. In one study, Wolbers (2008) implemented interactive writing instruction using Morning Message with students who are DHH in elementary and middle school classes. During Morning Message, a 15- to 30-min daily writing activity, students and teachers collaborated in the composition of a text. Initially, the teacher modeled the process and conducted a think-aloud. Eventually the students took on responsibility for composing the text, and the teacher stepped into a supporting role. Students created and analyzed each phrase and sentence of the text; they decided when and what to revise. They discussed whether ideas were written following ASL or English grammatical patterns and made changes accordingly. Through Morning Message, students had conversations about the structures of English and ASL, and they could make better language choices in their writing.

Cognitive strategy instruction transfers responsibility for the writing process from the teacher to the students. In addition, students develop the ability to review their own writing and make changes they deem necessary, which supports the development of metacognition. It is through this process that students will assume control in composing, and it is only when that happens that the students will become authors of their own texts.


This study presents a look at the experiences of middle school students who are deaf as they revise their writing. The existing knowledge base on this is sparse, and even with this study, leaves many unanswered questions. One such question is whether this theory will hold up when the scope of the participants is broadened. The participants in this study were limited to one school and were all in self-contained English classes. Future research can examine the experiences of students from more diverse locations and backgrounds. Finally, it may be helpful to examine the teachers' perspectives when teaching revision, because at present, they are central to the process of how students who are DHH revise their writing.

DOI: 10.1177/0014402914522426


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Gallaudet University

CHRISTINA YUKNIS, Assistant Professor, Education Department, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

Address correspondence concerning the article to Christina Yuknis, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002 (e-mail:

Manuscript submitted: March 2013; accepted May 2013.
Characteristics of Student Participants

Student                  Hearing         Aids   Years in
(age)                      Loss          Used   Program

Ms. L's 8th Grade
  Abha (15)         Severe               2 HA    4.5
  Corinne (14)      Profound             1 CI   11
  Kenny (13)        Moderate to severe   2 HA   10
  Pilar (15)        Moderate to severe   2 HA    5
  Ramona (14)       Moderate             None    6
Ms. G's 7th Grade
  David (13)        Profound             1 CI   10
  Joshua (13)       Severe to profound   1 CI    9
  Vivian (12)       Profound             1 CI    9

Student                Communication
(age)                     Mode(s)         Gender   Ethnicity

Ms. L's 8th Grade
  Abha (15)         MCE                     F      Asian
  Corinne (14)      ASL                     F      Bi-racial
  Kenny (13)        MCE, spoken English     M      Black
  Pilar (15)        MCE                     F      Hispanic
  Ramona (14)       MCE                     F      Hispanic
Ms. G's 7th Grade
  David (13)        Cued speech             M      White
  Joshua (13)       Cued speech, spoken
                      English MCE           M      Black
  Vivian (12)       Cued speech             F      White

Note: CI = cochlear implant; HA = hearing aids; ASL = American Sign
Language; MCE = Manually Coded English; F = female; M = male.
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Author:Yuknis, Christina
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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