Reading, Writing, and Hearing Loss [STUDY]

Literacy Learning: Meeting the Needs of Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing with Additional Special Needs

By Roberta Ringhand Truax, Ph.D., Sue Fan Foo, Ed.D., and Kathleena Whitesell, Ed.D.


A child with a hearing loss, with or without additional special needs, comes to the processes of reading and writing with unique strengths and challenges. This article presents learning conditions developed by Brian Cambourne which form a framework that parent-professional teams may use to evaluate and/or develop appropriate physical and social environments to foster language and literacy learning, an overview of the three primary components of any language, and suggestions on how the application of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory may be used as a guideline in providing literacy learning experiences.

Language and Literacy Learning

Universally, language is used to meet social, emotional, and cognitive needs. Children begin constructing a language at birth as they interact with members of their language community (Heath, 1982, 1983; Wells, 1986). Common across cultures is the expectation that young children will learn the language of their families and communities (Corson, 1973; Foster, 1990).

Family and other caregivers, as well as peers and educators, play major roles in children’s language and literacy learning processes.  Young children who are immersed in print observe those around them making use of it and often have favorite books read to them (Smith, 1988).  Parent-professional teams responsible for supporting children who are deaf or hard of hearing continually seek better ways to immerse a child in language within meaningful communication events.  Like all children, children who are deaf or hard of hearing vary in their abilities, aptitudes, personalities, and ways of learning, knowing, and being. This is due to individual variation in cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical potential, development, expertise, and experience.  

Extreme variations in any of these areas may result in making the learning of spoken and written language more challenging. Instructional activities need to be adapted to each child’s interests, experiences, as well as their rate and style of learning. Each child has unique needs in constructing various concepts, and applying knowledge and skills across contexts.  One child may have specific difficulties processing linguistic code or in focusing attention.  Another may have motor coordination difficulties that interfere with executing communication, while another child may find interacting with others a baffling or uninteresting experience.

A child with a hearing loss, with or without additional special needs, requires models and partners as he or she becomes literate. These individuals present reading and writing behaviors that demonstrate not only what print codes mean, but also reveal what a literate person thinks and does before, during, and after they read or write (Morrow, 2001). Educationally literate partners who understand the nature of child language development and respect the individual ways in which each child learns are extremely valuable assets.  Thus, knowledge of a learner, as well as language and literacy development and learning processes, enables the literate partner to provide appropriate support, adaptations, accommodations, and modifications to meet a learner’s needs as she develops.

This article presents learning conditions developed by Brian Cambourne (Brown & Cambourne, 1982; Cambourne, 1988, 2002a, 2002b) that form a framework which parent-professional teams may use to evaluate and/or develop appropriate physical and social environments to foster language and literacy learning, an overview of the three primary components of any language, and suggestions on how the application of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory (Gardner, 1991, 2000) may be used as a guideline in providing literacy learning experiences.

Cambourne’s Eight Learning Conditions

Brian Cambourne’s set of eight learning conditions provides a powerful framework for developing and maintaining supportive learning environments (Brown & Cambourne, 1982, p.26; Cambourne, 1988, 2002a, 2002b). The communication events that a child encounters as an observer and as a participant provide the linguistic and paralinguistic samples he or she uses to determine the basic patterns of his or her community’s language and its specific conventions (Bruner, 1975; Keller-Cohen, 1978; Kretschmer, 1981).  Parent-professional teams may use these conditions to evaluate and plan literacy experiences. The eight conditions are underlined in the following section.

Every child is surrounded by individuals who hold expectations for him or her.   A child reads his or her partners’ expectations in their non-verbal and verbal expressions and reactions.  Learning to read and write, like learning to listen and speak, is grounded in conversational discourse where physical and social context support various expectations for language use and meaning (Dore, 1986; Kretschmer & Kretschmer, 1980; Snow & Ferguson, 1977; Waterson & Snow, 1978).

Communication partners with high expectations for literacy learning provide a physical and social environment where a child is immersed in print, and sees it being used and produced by readers and writers.  Physically, books, newspapers, magazines, flyers, schedules, maps, coupons, games, a computer, captioned television, calendars to record events, paper and pencil by the phone for notes may be provided (Goodman, Altwerger, & Marek, 1989; Morrow, 2001; Taylor, 1983).  The earlier in life the child is immersed in meaningful and purposeful texts and the use of print communication begins, the greater the possibilities for a child to attain his or her maximum potential (Goodman, 1990; Yoshinaga-Itano & Sedey, 2000).

Socially, the interactive and reflective talk that accompanies literacy events provide a child with vital understandings of why people read and write, what they think about and feel while using print, as well as various individual strategies for using prior knowledge and text clues to make sense of the author’s message (Cochran-Smith, 1983; Cochran-Smith & Lyle, 1993; Truax & Kretschmer, 1993).

Within literacy immersed environments, a child observes demonstrations of how print functions and is produced. He or she sees shopping lists made, bills paid, and maps consulted before and during trips.  The child sees the eyes and finger of a reader move across lines of print in conjunction with spoken words.   At school, educators read aloud and encourage children to draw and use print in a wide variety of activities.

A child immersed in print materials and in reading and writing events has countless opportunities to explore a range of print communication. The child engages with specific materials and activities that appeal to him or her.  It is this interest in particular types of texts and the use of tools such as pens, markers, or the computer that provide the self-motivated practice essential for becoming literate.  Developmentally, a child from a family which models reading, writing, and drawing, may scribble differently for pseudo-pictures than they do for pseudo-written text messages (Baghban, 1984; Harste, Woodward, & Burke,1984).  He or she may read books to her dolls, or if fascinated by bugs, spend hours drawing them, reading about them, and requesting read aloud sessions on the topic. 

As children become engaged personally in the literacy process, they begin to assume responsibility for selecting books and activities to meet social and personal purposes. To promote development, adults encourage a child to make choices. Literacy events demonstrate ways children might use what they are learning to become more knowledgeable and communicative. 

Supportive adults are tolerant of developmental progress in young children. They know that uncontrolled scribbles evolve into controlled scribbles featuring circles and pseudo-writing.  Chatting using conversationally intonated nonsense syllables and words, and utterances with book-reading cadence used while “reading” picture books reflect a child’s understanding about the phonological differences between conversational and literary language. Early approximations of speaking, reading, and writing behavior are celebrated, just as the attempts of beginning code-cracking need to be celebrated (Holdaway, 1979).

Developing readers and writers need to practice their attempts to make meaning from print symbols at every opportunity.  Literacy learning involves taking on the roles of reading and writing to discover why people read and write and what the messages might be based on the context. Children crack the literacy code best when they know the purpose and content of the message. A child’s attempts or approximations provide vital information to adults who want to assist emergent and developing readers.  This includes discovering what the child sees as important in the complex processes of reading and writing at any given time.

Learners need authentic responses from those around them as they apply code-cracking strategies to construct the meaning of a text. General praise, such as “good job,” is not especially helpful.  Responses that highlight why what they have done is particularly outstanding, as well as responses that endeavor to find out the motivation or understandings behind what has been read, written, drawn, or stated, let the child know what the partner values.  Responses should stimulate thinking and encourage risk taking and/or may let a child know he or she has effectively used a particular strategy.  Learning to read and write gradually merges with the processes of using reading and writing to learn. 

Components and Conventions of Language

Languages are composed of three interactive discourse components, governed by socially agreed upon conventions in the areas of language use (pragmatics), content (semantics) and form (phonology, morphology, syntax, and genre). Initially, language learning is grounded in conversational discourse where direct physical and social contexts support language use and meaning (Dore, 1986; Kretschmer & Kretschmer, 1980; Snow & Ferguson, 1977; Waterson & Snow, 1978). The communication events that a child encounters as an observer and participant provide the linguistic and paralinguistic samples he or she needs to determine his or her community’s conventions of the language (Bruner, 1975; Keller-Cohen, 1978; Kretschmer, 1981).  Research across social groups (Gee, 1996; Heath, 1983, 1982; Taylor, 1983; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988; Wells, 1986) has indicated that language forms which represent purpose and meaning within the child’s language community, greatly influence how familiar or alien school talk and print communication will be for the child. 

Language Use:  Pragmatic Conventions

The social or pragmatic rules that a language learner constructs reflect the child’s understanding of who can say or write what to whom, for what purposes, where, when, and how (Hymes, 1972). Expressively, pragmatic development is assessed by studying how a child fulfills his or her communicative purposes by appropriately phrasing what he or she says or writes for a particular partner within a given social, physical environment.  Receptive development may be determined by studying how well a child responds to what is said or read.  A child’s basic understanding of non-verbal, routine, social interactions serves as a foundation for the decisions he or she makes as the child learns linguistic pragmatic conventions.

Content:  Semantic Conventions

While pragmatic conventions primarily address why and how a person communicates, semantic conventions focus on the what or content of a discourse.  The semantic rules a language user utilizes reflect a child’s understanding of how his or her community organizes content meaning linguistically for representation in the sentences, phrases, and words of a discourse.  Developmentally, children learn how content meaning is organized and coded linguistically by repeated experiences with a genre. The early reading of picture book narratives is filled with conversations about what is seen, its characteristics, how it connects to what is known and what it means. Over a lifetime, a language user becomes more adept at understanding not only the literal meanings of words, but also their nuances and how narrative stories are organized.

Form Conventions

Each language community makes use of a set of symbols such as sounds and letters to construct spoken and written words in conventional syntactic patterns for a particular type of discourse.  Developmentally, a child constructs a repertoire of intonation and phoneme patterns which resemble those used by his or her communication partners. Over time, these vocalization patterns become more conventional as they incorporate words, phrases, and sentences.  Conversational discourse is usually complemented by poetic discourse and narrative discourse early in a child’s life.

The Multiple Intelligences

Although the general developmental patterns of language learning are similar for all children, each child, emotionally, socially and cognitively goes about the process of learning language in ways that reflect individuality.  Today, teams of parents, teachers, and other personnel are bound legally by IDEA (U.S. Government, 1997) to address the individual educational special needs of children diagnosed as having one or more disabilities.

Discussion and systematic application of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory is helpful in assessing the strengths and needs of learners and in assisting team members as they develop, adapt, and modify environments and instructional activities for any child, particularly a child with special needs (Armstrong, 1994, 2003; Chapman, 1993; Campbell, Campbell, & Dickinson, 1999; Gardner, 1991, 2000; Haggerty, 1995; Lazear, 2000). New concepts and language can be introduced and expanded by using a child’s strongest area of intelligence.  These may be further enriched with follow-up activities using the intelligences where the child’s potential has not been as well developed.

Gardner’s MI theory originally proposed that each human being possesses at least seven different types of intelligence (1983). These included the linguistic intelligence, mathematical-logical intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, visual-spatial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence.  Later, Gardner (1999) added naturalistic intelligence and existential intelligence. Research indicates that each intelligence guides unique mental processes that human beings use in solving problems and fashioning cultural products. Learning and using communicative and linguistic acts as a speaker, listener, writer, and reader to understand, express intent, emotions and content, may be viewed as a solution to a problem.  Various discourse forms are its products.

MI theory proposes that a child is born with a potential for each of the intelligences.  These may function independently or in conjunction with each other. The child’s varying degrees of potential in each area of intelligence is influenced by his or her personal experiences, including the physical environment and the values, knowledge, and preferred strategies and skills of the child’s social community. Individual potential, combined with experiences, determines how much and how well each area of intelligence develops.   Thus, a child’s potential may be developed to its maximum or thwarted (partially or completely) depending on life experiences.

In addition to discovering which of the areas of intelligence represents strengths for a child, it is beneficial for members of a team to identify their own areas of ability and how these complement those of the learner.  For example, a teacher might use his or her own aptitude for music to support literacy learning by providing experiences with songs composed using words from a specific text.

With the exception of existential intelligence, each of the intelligences identified by Gardner will be discussed as it relates to literacy learning.  For each, practical applications will be provided for the creation of experiences designed to develop the pragmatic, semantic, and form conventions of language.

The Linguistic Intelligence

An individual’s ability to think in words and to use language to appreciate and produce complex meanings is the domain of linguistic intelligence. Like all children, a child with a hearing loss, with or without additional special needs, has innate potential as a language learner.

The primary components of language, which are the domain of linguistic intelligence, have been defined in the following manner by Haggerty (1995):

  1. Pragmatic competence is reflected by an individual’s sensitivity to the functions of linguistic discourse, including its power in social interaction and ability to get needs met, such as to please, inform, and protest;
  2. Semantic competence is reflected by an individual’s sensitivity to the functions in a discourse, to the literal meaning of words and their nuances, and the overall sense of a discourse;
  3. Competence in the use of spoken and written forms is reflected by an individual’s sensitivity in a discourse to the grammatical order among words and phonological use of the sounds, rhythms, and inflections of words.

To foster pragmatic development, an educational team needs to review social resources and communication contexts available for a child with special needs.  These include possible partners, settings, events, roles assumed in activities, as well as purposes for communicating both in and out of school.

The way we use talk and print communication varies among partners. The pretend play of young children is replete with examples of children adopting a variety of roles by assuming the appropriate stance, vocal quality, language, and actions of others. These events offer valuable opportunities to evaluate the linguistic and non-linguistic aspects of the child’s communication and linguistic performance.

Like verbal messages, written messages depend not only on the intended audience, but also on their purpose.  For example, there are varied spoken and written discourses for protesting, persuading, entertaining, receiving and presenting information, and passing the time of day. The style and form of a private message written for oneself is less formal than a more public message written for a wider audience. The development of pragmatic competence as a reader and writer is the result of literacy experiences that introduce the child and engage him or her with a range of different partners. While a child needs to come to understand the purposes of others, others also need to listen carefully to determine the child’s intents behind his or her statements and questions.

The physical, social, and emotional environment in which a discourse occurs also influences what and how messages are said, read, and written.  Reading and writing looks different and may serve different purposes in supermarkets or at the zoo than in picture books, magazines, and captioned television.

In evaluating and planning, a team needs to consider pragmatic components involved in an educational activity, as well as Cambourne’s eight learning conditions.  A child’s linguistic intelligence potential requires appropriate use and stimulation if it is to be developed to its maximum. 

To promote semantic development, a team needs to take stock of a child’s personal interests; they represent what the child values, knows, and will practice independently. Experiences should be provided to a child based upon what he or she already knows, has interest in, or is curious about. Immersion in talk and print before, during, and after these experiences provide opportunities for a child to further develop concepts and language.  Composing meaning while reading and writing requires the ability to make connections between what is known and familiar, and what is new and unfamiliar.  It is in this way that concepts and language evolve.  The talk that accompanies a reading or writing activity enriches comprehension by helping a child to realize that such activities involve making connections across a variety of experiences.

Children need to be prepared for the reading and writing of a text by discussing content that might be included based on a title, subtitles, and illustrations.  Questions may be posed that prepare a child to seek information that will lead to making inferences and connections. From the beginning, a child needs to integrate prior knowledge with current context in conjunction with the print code to produce meaning. What a child gets from print as a reader depends on what he or she brings to it, just as what he or she creates when the child writes depends on what he or she brings to that task.

Becoming familiar with word forms is of primary importance for beginning and developing readers and writers.  Young readers more easily build a repertoire of sight words for people, places, things, actions, and descriptions when they are organized around a topic, unit of study, or personal interest.  As they learn to connect spelling patterns with their corresponding sound patterns, they are able to connect words they know in spoken language to the words they encounter in texts.  For example, word study activities that include pronouncing individual words and sorting them based on their beginning and ending syllables can be the focus of instructional activities. The use of the same words in poetry, where alliteration, rhyming, and rhythm are important elements, provides appropriate textual contexts.

Samples of a child’s behavior and products gathered as he or she communicates as a speaker, listener, reader, and writer may be used to infer his or her understandings of how linguistic forms represent his or her pragmatic and semantic development (Goodman, 1995).  The child’s use of conventionally ordered discourse structures for genres such as stories (Glenn & Stein, 1980) may also be studied over time using retelling. Analyses of language samples inform team members about the aspects of language that are a child’s strengths and weaknesses. These findings assist educators in revising and adapting activities to best meet a child’s needs.

The planning of instructional activities to facilitate literacy learning cannot be based solely on the use of the linguistic intelligence.  Linguistic communication naturally involves the incorporation of other ways of thinking.

The Interpersonal Intelligence

An individual’s ability to think interpersonally involves noticing others and making distinctions among them, including their intentions, moods, and motivations.  A child’s use of his or her sensitivity to others enhances opportunities for social interaction, which, more often than not, includes verbal communication.

A child’s interpersonal intelligence potential is developed in concert with his or her linguistic intelligence as he or she listens, speaks, reads, and writes with others.  Developmentally, she learns to “read” his or her partners, seeking pragmatic clues to the intents behind what they do and say. In turn, the child experiments with paralinguistic and linguistic ways to accomplish his or her own communication purposes. The child learns the power of politeness by using “please” and “thank you” and comes to understand the impact of notes and cards on special occasions. The use of children’s literature offers opportunities for children to examine, enact, and discuss the dynamics of interpersonal communication among characters.

In the classroom, group activities that involve cooperative learning groups (Truax & Kretschmer, 1993), literature circles (Daniels, 1994), and readers’ and writers’ workshops (Atwell, 1989; Graves 1983, 1991, 1993) enhance possibilities for a child to learn how to interact more effectively with others. For groups to work successfully, educators need to help children learn to communicate effectively.  This effective communication involves not only listening to and responding to partners, but also reading the messages of others and writing appropriate responses. Learning to work one-on-one, in pairs to do shared reading or writing, or in larger groups to complete tasks, requires effort and planning. The long-term pay off in increased development of the interpersonal and linguistic intelligence potentials cannot be underestimated.

Pragmatic application might involve “critical literacy” (Comber & Simpson, 2001). Children read about their world and learn when and how to take action in response to reading texts which portray social injustice.  For example, a child might learn to write letters to editors and make informative posters.

Semantically, discussions around characters in stories provide opportunities for children to learn to talk about human interactions. Children immersed in comments on interactions and their outcomes are assisted in developing understandings of cause-and-effect relationships.  Predicting what will happen in a story often depends on inferring the intents of characters (what they might do or say) and the effects of those actions and words.  Learning to talk about what causes conflict, how to solve problems, or what might be done to help characters achieve a goal or avoid a disaster, goes beyond literal interpretations of text meanings.  This is an important aspect of becoming literate.

Learning to adjust the use of linguistic forms to meet the needs of communication partners is highly dependent on a child’s sensitivity to and understanding of others. Having an audience in mind is related to what a child knows about meeting the needs of partners in face-to-face situations. Similarly, learning to communicate via writing requires the child to anticipate the needs and understanding level of the reader. He or she might be helped by envisioning or enacting the impact of what the child writes for his or her intended audience.

The Musical Intelligence

An individual’s ability to think in musical tones and rhythmic units and to appreciate and produce music is the domain of musical intelligence.  Children’s use of the forms of melody, pitch, tone, and rhythmic patterns for communication purposes, reflect their potential and what they have learned about their environment. Young children are expected to use their musical intelligence and linguistic intelligence as they participate in singing.  Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence may be incorporated by coordinating hand and body movements or by using motions to portray a story.

Children with hearing loss and additional special needs should be exposed to musical experiences. Technical advancements have made it possible for the various characteristics of music to be heard, seen, and felt kinesthetically by almost everyone.

Pragmatically, spoken language and texts read orally have musical qualities that contribute to the understandings of intent and emotions of messages. For example, short, rapidly spoken sentences using a staccato beat indicate a sense of urgency. The volume, pace, and cadence of someone making a sales pitch, or inciting a crowd is quite different from that of someone telling a ghost story. Musical scores may complement the moods and emotions of a book.

Some musical pieces, like Peter and the Wolf (Storr, 1991), make use of various musical instruments to semantically symbolize different characters and actions in a narrative.  Stories take on richer meaning if children are able to select different types of music to represent different characters or events in a story.  Semantically, the actions and dialogue in films are enhanced by background music that reflects the emotions of a scene or is used to pre-shadow transitions between actions and/or feelings.

Songs and poems may have rhythmic forms and predictable cadences which support children in learning to read with greater fluency. Writing poetry helps the child to focus on the syllables of individual words and on particular accent patterns.  A child might find enjoyment in using words to make up songs or use a melody or rhythm pattern to practice spelling. Information might often be put into verse and sung as a way of remembering the facts, such as the letters of the alphabet.

The Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

Children’s ability to think in ways that discern logical and numerical patterns reflect their potential and experiences using inductive and deductive reasoning processes and numbers. Their use of number concepts and forms to represent them as patterns of analysis, reflect their potential and experiences in experimentation, quantification, conceptualization, and classification using logical structures, such as patterns and relationships.

Pragmatic uses of language support children as they use logical thinking strategies to discover and construct linguistic patterns.  Patterns often occur in poetry, songs, and rhyming games. Reading, writing, and talking in order to gather facts and logically organize them offer opportunities to develop and expand logical-mathematical potential.  To assist a child in developing his or her strategies for making inferences, the child may be supported as he or she predicts what will happen in a story, through such actions as gathering and listing possible clues. This often begins with picture books.

In recent years, children who have been asked to solve problems involving arithmetic operations have been required to explain the processes they used. Writing story problems and explanations about solving them may help a child make connections between his or her logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences. Talking, reading, and writing about logical and mathematical processes, along with demonstrating and producing written explanations in a group, offer a child opportunities to become more literate in logic and/or mathematics. For example, one child may draw a picture, another might directly manipulate objects, and another might create a graph or use a number line to demonstrate how a problem was solved. Many children’s books currently available may also be used to enrich understanding of mathematical concepts. For example, The Math Curse (Scieszka, 1995) offers opportunities to explore logical-mathematical concepts in everyday life.

Semantically, with the support of more competent language users, a child may engage in experimentation and classification of vocabulary. The child may develop systems of meaning that include denotations and connotations for words as well as understandings of how words fit into given genres and syntactic structures on specific topics. As a child systematically explores the patterns of meaning-form relationships, he or she engages in comparing and contrasting the impact of word meaning within texts. Synonyms, for example, do not denote or connote exactly the same meanings, nor do they necessarily represent the same types of intent.

Investigating forms, such as words and syllables, might be facilitated by reading and creating haiku poetry (Unger, 1978). Poetry of all kinds offers authentic material for studying and using syllabication to create meaningful, rhythmic language.

Not only words, but other forms of language, such as sentences and genre, may be used to offer a child opportunities for systematic investigation. Timelines are logical ways to organize information in social studies texts, novels, and biographies. Some books explicitly employ timelines as an overall organizational format (Bruchac & London, 1992; Cherry, 1992; Vieira, 1994). Learning to use a timeline format for writing personal pieces provides a logical way to organize experiences. Readers may analyze a text by placing events along a timeline, noting the cohesive devices used by the author to indicate time relationships.

Once children begin to recognize various patterns, they are able to reflect on how different patterns are used to communicate intent, how they are adjusted to meet partner and setting constraints, and how they are used in semantic and grammatical conventions.

The Intrapersonal Intelligence

An individual’s self-awareness is based on his or her ability to reflect on his or her own inner moods, intentions, motivations, potentials, temperaments, and desires.

Pragmatically, a child’s ability to access and use his or her inner, intrapersonal intelligence in conjunction with his or her interpersonal intelligence helps the child to understand his or her own emotions and “read” the emotions of others.  The child needs to talk about feelings based on shared experiences and understand how authors and illustrators convey emotions.  As a reader, a child should be able to respond to the joys and plights of characters and understand their motivations. Individually, or as a member of a group, a child might create a story based on personal experiences. Alternately, discussions and dramatizations of emotional situations based on fictional and historical figures may prove beneficial in interpreting the motivations and responses of others.

Developing a child’s intrapersonal potential also results in vocabulary growth. Words and phrases that denote various semantic categories may be studied by making web diagrams (Freedman & Reynolds, 1980) or mind-maps (Campbell, et al., 1999). A child benefits when it becomes possible to talk, read, and write about his or her own feelings and those of others.

A child may express experiences and feelings in many ways. One form the child may adopt is dance; others may be songs, poems, dramatic pieces, visual art forms, and spoken or written discourse. Capturing and expressing emotions with words, actions, color, line, melody, and rhythm may enable a child to bring more enriched interpretations to the stories the child reads and to the written pieces he or she writes.

The Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Children’s ability to think in pictures and images is the result of their cognitive potential and past experiences in perceiving the visual world. Perceptions may be re-perceived mentally, modified, and/or recreated in whole or in part or as two and/or three-dimensional products.

Becoming literate is a highly visual activity. Over time, a child comes to recognize a type of text by its format. For example, the format of a recipe looks different from that of a story or a letter.  Demonstrations and support in learning to read and write different types of text formats is essential.

Reading books with children is more than mere words; time can be spent enjoying the illustrations and discussing them.  There are also many books with illustrations that appeal to older readers linguistically and visually (Billman, 2002; Benedict & Carlisle, 1992).  Comparing and contrasting illustrations and texts on the same topic can strengthen understandings of concepts, vocabulary, and how different individuals interpret meaning in different ways. If a child reads or listens to a passage read out loud, it may be informative to find out what the child visualizes. Some children make mental images or note visual details for everything they see, hear, or read. Others find this difficult to do. The still or action pictures a child creates in his or her mind, or doodles on a page as he or she composes meaning, may be the way the child best remembers when recalling a story or information.  When called upon in class, he or she may need time to re-visualize a scene in a story using her visual-spatial intelligence.  The child who plans visually may like to draw before he or she begins to write (Hubbard, 1989).

Instructional activities which focus on visualizing and creating visual artifacts while immersed in talk can help children integrate what they know visually and linguistically. Semantically, spelling words might be written in ways that make their meanings and form memorable, such as turning the “u” in tunnel upside down or putting “pupils” in the “oo’s” in the word “look.” Colors might also be used to symbolize different emotions.  For example, the word “sad” might be written in blue, “embarrassed” in shocking pink, and “angry” in red (Armstrong, 2003).

With experiences of observing and interacting with environmental print and with print in books and magazines, children begin to build a repertoire of sight words. First words may be logos that depict favorite restaurants, foods, and toys.  Gradually, the repertoire expands to include words that are classified by overall physical features, which may or may not include individual graphemes. As a child’s pseudo-writing begins to include individual letter-like forms, alphabet books may become a favorite genre.

The Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

An individual’s potential to think based on movements and kinesthetic perceptions is reflected in their control and fine-tuning of physical skills and the handling of objects.  This potential may develop through activities requiring the use of gross motor skills such as athletics or dance, or in activities that use fine motor skills, such as drawing, painting, or cutting.

Pragmatically, a child uses bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to process demonstrations of paralinguistic features such as facial expressions, gestures, body postures, and movement while talking. Through dramatizing and talking about paralinguistic features that are depicted in illustrations and stated in a text, a child comes to value his or her awareness of motor aspects of language that help project intentions and feelings. Helping children comprehend stories is enhanced when conversational passages are read to them with dramatic voices, facial expressions, and even body movements.  While writing, a child may “mouth” or sub-vocalize what he or she wants to write.  When creating fiction, he or she may act out events or assume the demeanor of a character. A child who prefers reading and writing expository or factual texts may create drawings or models to complement what is read or written.

 When preparing to write, a child might be encouraged to think about what he or she physically did and the sensations he or she experienced. Re-enacting and talking about actions and personal sensations, as well as listing the specific vocabulary and expressions, will enrich the semantic aspect of the child’s written language.

Learning to spell words, construct sentences, and arrange texts may be addressed through bodily-kinesthetic activities. A child might rearrange disassembled lines of a favorite poem or the child might construct sentences from sets of word cards.  Learning the motor patterns for writing words can be enhanced for many children by rewriting the words, using letterforms to construct them, or making pipe cleaner letters and using them to write words. The child may spell a word as he or she bounces a ball for each letter. Tracing letters and/or words made out of sandpaper or tracing words on a tabletop with a finger may prove helpful. The child might find identifying words he or she feels written on his or her back helpful (Armstrong, 2003). The children’s book, Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco (1998) is an autobiographical account of the author’s difficulties in learning to read and how a teacher finally helped her by using some bodily-kinesthetic activities.

A child might prefer to read while standing, walking, lying down, or moving back and forth in a rocking chair. For some children, instructional activities that involve movement and language in all its forms will help them be more successful in their quest to become literate (Armstrong, 2003; Levine, 2002, 2003).

The Naturalistic Intelligence

An individual’s potential and development in ways of thinking and creating products using the naturalistic intelligence is reflected in the ability to recognize and classify natural phenomena within his or her environment.  A child may have a particular sensitivity to animals, plants, earth, sea, and/or weather phenomena. These abilities are manifested in his or her care or interaction with plants and animals in natural and man-made ecosystems.

Pragmatically, a child might be moved to become involved in local ecology efforts based on what he or she learns from his or her observations, readings, and discussions.  The child may become well informed as well as proficient in using expository texts, maps, and diagrams. He or she may become involved in critical literacy projects that focus on endangered species and their ecosystems.

Semantically, in the English language, animals, plants, and objects of nature such as “fox,” “red rose,” or “gray cloud” may symbolize specific meanings. Animals are often used in fables and folk tales as the vehicles for teaching group morals and human traits.  These simple tales can be re-visited as children mature and become able to discuss them at different levels of interpretation.

Reading and writing activities which encourage a child’s natural intelligence, may take many forms.  A child may enjoy and benefit from learning to read and create different types of formats, such as maps and daily weather reports. Catalogues from garden stores and seed companies might complement books about the care of pets, local birds, and types of trees.  A child interested in birds might practice reading directions while making a birdhouse or bird feeder. Alternately, he or she might write a list of activities for daily pet care.  Activities such as these forge practical links between the development of the child’s naturalistic intelligence and literacy learning.


Today, a child who is deaf or hard of hearing with additional special needs has opportunities for educational support and literacy learning.  A child’s ability to reach his or her potential depends upon the parent-professional team responsible for providing home and school activities that support his or her development as an individual and as a member of a community.

It has been suggested in this chapter that team members need to prepare themselves for the challenges presented by a child with multiple needs.  To be a parent or teacher on a team for a child with multiple special needs that include hearing loss, requires becoming an active, risk-taking learner.  This involves interacting with a child in order to learn what he or she knows, what he or she enjoys, what he or she can do, and how the child engages with the world.  It involves individuals collaboratively sharing what each has learned and then determining what they understand about the child as a learner within the framework of Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory.

The goals for a team are to establish an understanding of how best to help the child to ‘learn how to learn’ and to apply what is learned.  This chapter has suggested the use of Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory as a construct for understanding the child as a learner, developing a broad range of possible instructional activities to support the child as an individual and as a member of a learning community, and tapping into the MI strengths of team members.  It also has been suggested that the team employ Cambourne’s learning conditions in conjunction with the multiple intelligences to establish appropriate social and physical environments. 

The activities developed should provide literacy learning experiences in all three areas of language use (pragmatics), content (semantics), and form (phonology, morphology, syntax, and genre).  

It is through these activities that literacy evolves as part of the process of using reading and writing to learn.

Planning activities for literacy learning involves determining objectives for individuals and groups, including the types of immersion experiences and specific kinds of demonstrations that might be provided across the various multiple intelligences. It is important to also anticipate what might engage the child.  Various outcome expectations for activities should be discussed. Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (1978) which notes what a child will be able to do independently, with minimal support, with some support, with much support, or not at all (Vygotsky, 1978), might form the basis for these discussions.

What is learned from the child’s performance as an individual and as a member of a group may be used to better understand the child and to help the team revise their approaches over time.

Team members must continue to communicate in order to maintain, assess, and revise plans of action. Regular, individual, and collective reflection helps them establish new understandings of the child for the development of revised objectives to be used in the next cycle of action. As a result of these activities, the team becomes a learning community – a place where individual and group inquiry becomes the means for establishing a strong theory base about the processes of literacy learning for a given child and for developing best practices.  It takes a supportive team to educate a child who is deaf or hard of hearing with additional special needs, so that he or she may realize his or her potential and become a contributing member of the community.

Source: The Volta Review, 2002