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Deaf children's acquisition of prereading skills using the reciprocal teaching procedure.

Deaf Children's Acquisition of Prereading Skills Using the Reciprocal Teaching Procedure

Longitudinal research shows that children need to learn prereading skills or concepts about letters, words, and stories before they can successfully learn to read (Bissex, 1980; Clay, 1979; Mason, 1980; Soderbergh, 1977). (See also Mason and Allen, 1986.) According to Mason (1980), children acquire these early concepts informally by pointing out print in their environment, by having their parents read stories to them, and by printing letters and words in their drawings. These early concepts or prereading skills are believed to lay the foundation of early litefracy.

How do deaf children acquire these prereading skills? To find out, children were observed in the classroom over a 9-month period. Parents also were interviewed. Deaf children were found to acquire early prereading concepts by using finger spelling and manual signs in a systematic fashion (Andrews, 1983; Andrews & Mason, 1986a, 1986b). This article examines the effects of teaching four prereading skills--finger spelling, book reading, story retelling, and word recognition--on deaf children's prereading abilities when the reciprocal teaching procedures of explicit instruction, modeling, and corrective feedback are used. Information about implementing a prereading program in a classroom setting follows.


The four prereading skills selected for this training, finger spelling, book reading, story retelling and word recognition, are considered important for beginning reading (Mason, 1980; McCormick & Mason, 1981). The focus of this set of print-oriented tasks was to give the deaf children extensive practice finger spelling letters and words, holding and reading books, recognizing words, and retelling simple stories using sign language. These skills were modeled by the teacher in the story-time sessions and then practiced by the children with teacher guidance.

Finger spelling included letters, people's names, and short three-letter words. However, since most deaf children by age five can finger spell the alphabet, only name and word finger spelling were included in the data analysis. The skill of spelling has received support as an early prereading skill by Mason (1980), Soderbergh (1977), and Bissex (1980). Similarly, Hoemann (1972, 1974) and Hirsh-Pasek (1981) reported that deaf children's finger-spelling abilities are closely tied to their reading vocabularies. The ability to hold a book, turn pages, and attend to pictures and words were found to be early reading concepts by Clay (1979). A third skill, story retelling, aids in the knowledge of story concepts (Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Cochran-Smith, 1983), considered to be a precursor skill to reading comprehension. Finally, a word recognition task was included since a large accessible sight word vocabulary is considered necessary for the beginning reader (Gibson & Levin, 1975).

It is important to note that the skills taught and evaluated in this research are prereading skills, which are different from reading skills. While reading skills are concerned with decoding and comprehending sentences in longer texts, prereading skills deal with knowledge of early concepts about printed letters, words, and stories.



The reciprocal teaching procedure is much like interactive mother-child, teacher-student dyads. It consists of an interactive dialogue where the teacher explicitly models the four skills with the children imitating the teacher's example by performing the same skills on whatever level is appropriate for them. The teacher then prompts and shapes the children's participation through corrective feedback (Palincsar, 1983).

The reciprocal teaching procedure is grounded in Vygotsky's learning theory (1978). According to Vygotsky, the teacher's primary function is to lead the child from his present level of prereading development to more advanced stages of reading development through modeling and corrective feedback. This learning occurs within the child's "zone of proximal development," which Vygotsky says is the distance between the child's actual development and the level of her potential development achievable with adult guidance. Support for the reciprocal teaching procedure is found in several reading comprehension studies (Brown, Palincsar, Armbruster, 1984; Palincsar, 1983, 1984). This same instructional procedure was used in the study described in this article but with prereading skills instead of comprehension skills.

The intervention took place for 30 minutes once a week for 25 weeks over a full school year following these general procedures:

1. The teacher read and signed an experimental storybook to 5 children seated in a semicircle around her. Each storybook contained from three to five new printed words in a picture context with a manual sign illustration. Each book contained about seven to eight pages of pictures and words.

2. The teacher discussed the three to five new signs with the students to see if they could use these signs in their communication.

3. Following this dicussion, each child received a copy of the storybook. The children held and read the book to themselves and to their peers with the assistance of the teacher. The sign-to-print correspondence was made explicit in the storybooks.

4. Using the storybooks as a script, the children playacted the stories. One child held up the book to prompt the sequencing of actions for the actors. Remaining children acted as a signing chorus and signed along with the story.

5. The children returned to their seats in the semicircle. One child retold the story without the aid of the storybook while his or her peers provided prompting if necessary.

6. With the aid of the storybook, children practiced finger spelling the words, printing them on the blackboard, and reading and retelling the stories to each other.

7. The teacher provided praise and feedback specific to the child's level of participation. Following this feedback, the teacher modeled any activity in which the child needed improvement.

8. The children brought the books home to read with siblings, parents, and friends. A total of 20 books were used over the school year.




Twenty-three prelingually deaf kindergarten and first-grade students with severe-to-profound and profound hearing losses participated in the reciprocal teaching training. All children attended a full-time program in a state residential school. (Children from full-time programs were selected to ensure accessiblity to large groups of students for the perormance and evaluation of the intervention treatment.) They were between five and eight years of age, had a sensorineural hearing loss between 71dB and 115dB (Ansi, 1969) in the better ear across the speech range, had lost their hearing before age two, had noraml intelligence, and had no additional handicaps. A control group of 22 prelingually deaf children with similar background characteristics from two other residential schools were tested for purposes of comparison. The children had a wide range of communication abilities and used speech, manual signs, and finger spelling for communication. Six children knew less than 50 signs and 4 children knew several thousand signs and American Sign Language (ASL) constructions. (See Andrews, 1983, for a more complete description of the subjects.)

Control Group 1 received traditional reading instruction similar to that received by the experimental group with several differences. For example, Control Group 1's entire curriculum was unit based; thus the children seemed to be exposed to print by way of the many chart stories hanging in the classroom and the teacher-made booklets on the children's desks. Additionally, several first graders were working on computer-aided instruction to increase their print word vocabularies. Overall, this group had daily story-reading activities where the teacher or aide would sign to and discuss with the children a library storybook.

Control Group 2, again, received the same type of conventional reading instruction found in the classrooms of Control Group 1 and the experimental group. This second control group, however, relied mainly on lnaguage-experience chart stories for their reading material. One activity observed only in Control Group 2's classroom was matching sentence strips to chart stories. Also this group was observed to spend less time in teacher-led story-reading activities than the other two groups.

In making the comparisons between the reciprocal teaching procedure group and the control groups, the intent was not to criticize the school's reading curricula. Instead, the main purpose was to show that significant progress can be made in prereading skills when the deaf child is made aware of the sign-to-print correspondence presented in the context of meaningful stories.

Procedures and Design

To measure the gains made over the school year in the prereading training, a pretest was given in September and a posttest in May (Andrews, 1984). This test consisted of eight prereading tasks measuring knowledge in letters, finger spelling, book reading, story retelling, and word recognition. Univeriate t-tests (adjusted for pretest scores) were performed on the posttest scores to measure the effects of the training.

Within the experimental group (N = 23), four groups of five to six students met for 30 minutes each week over 9 months (a total of 12.5 clock hours of training) for the prereading training. Using the reciprocal teaching procedure, the 23 children were coached on finger spelling, book reading, story retelling, and word recognition. The differential effects of the training were measured with a second classroom experiment. The 150 print words (of the word recognition tasks, Griswold & Commings, 1974) were ranked in difficulty based on the pretest results and put into three equivalent groups of 50 words each. Fifty drilled words appeared in the training books and were rigorously taught. Fifty exposed only words appeared in the training materials but were not actively taught. Fifty untaught words were not presented in the training sessions and did not appear in the materials. A comparison of words learned within each word set determined to what extent exposure to printed words would be helped by drill (see Figure 1). Two planned orthogonal comparisons were carried out on the experimental group's word learning data in order to determine if amount of exposure influenced word learning across 3 levels of treatment: words drilled, words exposed, and new words.


The training materials consisted of 20 experimenter-made simple storybooks and 50 drill cards. Each storybook was constructed on 5" by 8" carboard approximately seven to eight pages in length (adapted from Mason, 1980). Each story featured pictures, a simple plot, and single words and phrases (vocabulary was taken from a list of expressive vocabulary of deaf preschool children (Griswold & Commings, 1974). With each printed word was a graphic illustration of the ASL lexical sign equivalent (Bornstein et al., 1975). The drill cards had the printed word on one side with the ASL lexical sign on the reverse side. (See Andrews, 1985, for a copy of one training story.)


Using the reciprocal teaching procedure, the children modeled the teacher's example as she performed the four prereading skills. The teacher then followed up by prompting and shaping the students participation through corrective feedback. The specific steps are:

1. Modeling of story reading.

2. Discussion of three to five target signs.

3. Guided Reading of the story with target signs read with printed words in story context.

4. Supervised Practice of the children holding and reading books, playacting and retelling stories, finger spelling words, and reading words.

(See Andrews, 1985, for a classroom transcript of one story time session.)


Tables 1, 2 and Figures 1, 2 show the results. On the finger spelling task, the children were asked to finger spell their name and five 3-to-4 letter words. Over the 9 months of training, the experimental group practiced finger spelling the target vocabulary (100 words). A t-test indicated on the finger spelling task that the experimental group outperformed the control group, t (1,44) = 4.88, p [is less than] .001. On the book-reading task, children were asked to hold a book upright, sequence pages, and attend to words on the page. After the children practiced this task for 9 months, a t-test indicated the training group outperformed the control group, t (1,44) = 4.55, p [is less than] .001. On the story-retelling task, the childen read a 10 to 15 content-item story and then retold they story without the aid of the book. The t-test showed that the experimental group outperformed the control group, t (1,44) = 2.22, p [is less than] .05.

Finally, on the print-word identification task, the children were asked to identify 150 sigght words with the ASL sign equivalent. During the training, the children read the words in the context of stories. Results on the May posttest showed that the experimental group outperformed the control group on the word recognition task, t(1,44) = 4.58, p [is less than .001. Another data analysis was performed on this task. To orthogonal comparisons support the differences between exposed and untaught words (t, 1,44 = -6.84, p [is less than]), Thus, exposure plus word still had a significant advantage. See Figure 1.


Prereading behaviors of children entering the study ranged from those who could identify a few letters to more skilled children who could read sentences in storybooks. (As the beginning of the study, approximately 10 of the deaf students could read simple sentences with comprehension.) Yet, the training was beneficial for all students as the teacher intervened and modeled prereading behaviors appropriate to the child's current level. For example, more skilled children still needed practice in retelling stories (story concepts) while lesser skilled children needed practice labeling pictures with signs. The reciprocal teaching procedures accommodated both learners. The benefits even extended into the home environment as children took their storybooks home and read to their friends and families. Children became sign language teachers to their hearing relatives as they practiced reading and retelling the simple story plots.

The following guidelines can ensure a successful implementation of the program:

1. By integrating this procedure into the school's reading curriculum with as little as 30 practice minutes a week, gains in prereading skills will occur.

2. For those students who have difficulty in the story-retelling activity (as did some students in the experimental group) modeling and positive corrective feedback with encouragement and praise can be helpful.

3. Frequent measures of performance on the story-retelling activity are important to ensure a successful intervention. If a student is reluctant to participate, give this child more opportunities to act out the story with an open book, then move into the story-retelling activity. These students typically have had little experience having stories read and told to them.

4. Create a network of peer tutors who can prompt their less capable classmates in a relaxed and comfortable manner.

The reciprocal teaching procedure can be taught to teachers-in-training, classroom teachers, and parents of deaf children. Sample training materials can be obtained from the author or other easy-to-read children's books can be used. The primary requirement is that the teacher be able to communicate effectively with his or her deaf students. If that requirement is met, the reciprocal teaching procedure can easily be incorporated into the daily curriculum.


American National Standards Institute. (1969), American National Standard Specifications for Audiometers (ANSI 53.6--1969). New York; Author.

Andrews, J. F. (1983). A study of the letter, word and story reading abilities of forty-five young deaf residential children: A longitudinal study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

Andrews, J. F. (1984, November). A manual prereading knowledge test--Assessing prereading abilities in young deaf children. Paper presented at 10th Annual Southeastern Regional Conference of the International Reading Association, Lexington, KY.

Andrews, J. F. (1985). Deaf children's acquisition of prereading skills using the reciprocal teaching procedure. (Tech. Rep. No. 350). Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading.

Andrews, J. F., & Mason, J. M. (1986a). What do deaf children know about prereading? American Annals of the Deaf, 131, 210-217.

Andrews, J. F., & Mason, J. M. (1986b). Childhood deafness and the acquisition of early print concepts. In D. Yaden & S. Templeton (Eds.), Metalinguistic awareness and beginning literary: Conceptualizing what it means to read and write. Portsmouth, NH: Heinnenman Educational Books.

Bissex, G. (1980). Gnys at wrk: A child learns to read and write. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bornstein, A. L., Hamilton, L., Kannapell, B., Roy, H, & Saulinier, K. (1975). The signal English dictionary for preschool and elementary levels. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.

Brown, A., Palincsar, A. M., & Armbruster, B. B. (1984). Instructing comprehension-fostering activities in interactive learning situations. In H. Mandl, N. Stein, & T. Trabasso (Eds.), Learning from texts. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clay, M. (1979). Reading: The patterning of complex behavior. Exeter, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1983). The making of a reader. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Gibson, E. J., & Levin, H. (1975). The psychology of reading. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Griswold, E. L., & Commings, J. (1974). The expressive vocabulary of preschool deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, 119, 16-28.

Hirsh-Pasek, K. (1981). Phonics without sound: Reading acquisition in the congenitally deaf. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Hoemann, H. (1972). Children's use of fingerspelling versus sign language to label pictures. Exceptional Children, 39, 161-162.

Hoemann, H. (1974). Deaf children's use of fingerspelling to label pictures of common objects: A follow-up study. Exceptional Children, 40, 519-520.

Mandler, J., & Johnson, N (1977). Remembrance of things parsed: Story structure and recall. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 111-151.

Mason, J. M. (1980). When do children begin to read: An exploration of four-year-old children's letter and word reading competencies. Reading Research Quarterly, 2, 203-227.

Mason, J. M., & Allen, J. (1986, March). A review of emergent literacy with implications for research and practice in reading. Paper presented at a conference on the process of reading acquisition, University of Texas at Austin.

McCormick, C., & Mason, J. (1981). What happens to kindergarten children's knowledge about reading after a summer vacation? Reading Teacher, 35, 164-172.

Palincsar, A. (1983, April). The acquisition and implementation of comprehension monitoring fostering activities by poor comprehenders in junior high school. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Montreal, Canada.

Palincsar, A. S. (1984). The quest for meaning from expository text: A teacher-guided journey. In G. Duffy, L. Roehler, & J. Mason (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Perspective and suggestions. New York: Longeman Press.

Soderbergh, R. (1977). Reading in early childhood: A linguistic study of a preschool child's gradual acquisition of reading ability. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (M. Coles, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds. and Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

JEAN F. ADREWS is Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond.
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Title Annotation:includes bibliography
Author:Andrews, Jean F.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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