An Observational Study of Reading Instruction for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Public Schools
By Donne, Vicki J Zigmond, Naomi
An observational study of reading instruction, using the MS- CISSAR protocol, was conducted in general education classrooms, resource classrooms, and self-contained special education/deaf education classrooms in Grades 1 through 4 in public schools within the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Participants were 24 students who are deaf or hard of hearing and 17 teachers of reading for these students. Results indicated that reading activities varied significantly by instructional setting and grade level enrolled. In addition, teacher behaviors were significantly different by instructional setting, grade level enrolled, reading curriculum level, and students’ level of hearing loss. Keywords: elementary school age; deaf; hard of hearing; exceptionalities; reading
At present, schools are working diligently toward compliance with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, specifically [section]1201(1), which states that schools are to establish “reading programs for students in kindergarten through grade 3 that are based on scientifically based reading research, to ensure that every student can read at grade level or above not later than the end of grade 3.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) supports and strengthens these academic expectations for students with disabilities.
To facilitate the implementation of these political initiatives, the National Research Council was asked to evaluate effective reading practices supported by scientifically based research. Experimental and quasi-experimental research studies on effective reading instructional methods and approaches were reviewed. Based on this review, five components of effective reading instruction were delineated: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, text comprehension, and vocabulary instruction (National Reading Panel, 2000). Thus, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) established a position on what makes up effective reading instruction reflecting collaborative efforts between the National Institute for Literacy, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, and the National Reading Panel (NRP).
Schirmer and McGough (2005) reviewed the existing research base on reading instruction of students who are deaf or hard of hearing using the NRP findings supporting five components of effective reading instruction as a starting point. On the basis of 67 studies, selected using a broader scope of research methodology than the NRP, the authors concluded that where there was adequate research to draw comparisons, the findings of the NRP were applicable to reading instruction of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The authors also cautioned that a great deal of research remains to be done to support the instructional practices and reading outcomes for this specific population.
Current political reforms have prompted many other leaders in deaf education to examine the research practices in our field. A team from the Association of College Educators-Deaf/Hard of Hearing (ACE-DHH), Topical Team 2.2, reviewed the research literature to identify 10 currently cited practices in literacy for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Easterbrooks & Stephenson, 2006). The team concluded that the research base supports four practices: metacognitive reading strategies, reading in the content areas, shared reading and writing, and a semantic approach to teaching vocabulary. Their literature review further indicated a developing research base of support for four additional practices: use of technology, phonic/phonemic awareness, a morphographemic approach to teaching vocabulary, and fluency.
In a follow-up study, the ACE-DHH team, Topical Team 2.2, developed an online survey that was completed by 37 “master teachers” from 25 different states (Easterbrooks, Stephenson, & Mertens, 2006). The survey asked participants to rate, on a 5-point Likett-type scale, the perceived benefit to students of each of the 10 practices identified above and the likelihood that these teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing would use the practice. Participants were given an opportunity to comment on each item as well. The survey return rate was 50%. Researchers reported that 46% to 89% of participants indicated that for all 10 practices, the practice was clearly beneficial or most beneficial. For example, 46% of participants indicated that teaching phonic and phonemic awareness was clearly beneficial to most beneficial and 45% of participants indicated that they were very likely to highly likely to use the practice of phonic/phonemic awareness. Also, 76% of participants indicated that teaching fluency was clearly or most beneficial to students and 64% indicated that they were likely or highly likely to incorporate fluency activities into reading instruction. Based on the results of the Likert-type scale responses and teacher comments, the researchers recommended that teacher preparation programs provide training in the 10 literacy practices and in designing schedules to incorporate the practices into teachers’ instructional routines.
To ascertain if and how reading programs for students who are deaf or hard of hearing were implementing these scientifically based components of reading instruction in light of current political reforms and research findings, a review of the literature on the nature of reading instruction for this population was conducted. Several survey studies provided useful information. For example, LaSasso and Mobley (1997) sent a 38-item questionnaire to programs listed in the 1993 American Annals of the Deaf Directory of Programs. Seventy-two percent of participants indicated heavy reliance on basal reader series such as Reading Milestones, Focus, Ginn World of Reading, and Scott Foresman Reading. When asked to report on the types of specific instructional strategies used, the most frequent instructional strategies included sustained silent reading, guided reading, language experience approach, read aloud, and shared reading. Answers to survey questions about the teachers’ knowledge in areas related to instructional strategies for developing reading ability, variables influencing the development of the reading process, and the area of reading theory confirmed findings from previous survey studies (LaSasso, 1978, 1987) in which participants reported a general lack of knowledge in basic concepts related to reading instruction.
In another earlier study, Coley and Bockmiller (1980) sent questionnaires to 122 residential schools for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the United States; 395 complete questionnaires (72.7%) were returned from teachers directly involved in teaching reading. Biographical data collected from the survey indicated that 56.2% of participants held master’s degrees. Almost 20% of participants reported taking no or one course on how to teach reading throughout his or her combined undergraduate and/or graduate coursework. Teachers reported on the percentage of instructional time in reading that was spent using various approaches. Results indicated that 41% of teachers spent more than half of reading instructional time using basal readers, making basal readers the most commonly used material for reading instruction in residential schools for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Among those teachers who reported using basal readers more than half of instructional time, the largest percentage (32%) taught in the primary grades (1-3). Fewer than 2% of participants used individualized reading as the main instructional method (more than half of instructional time). The language experience approach was used by 45% of participants but only for up to one quarter of reading time. More than 80% of teacher participants reported feeling adequately prepared to feeling very well prepared to use basal readers, individualized reading, and the language experience approach. Researchers concluded that teachers used techniques for which they felt adequately prepared.
The above survey studies provide teacher-reported information on approaches to reading instruction; however, there were very few studies that described the daily activities of students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their teachers during reading instruction.
One observational study, conducted by Woolsey, Harrison, and Gardner (2004), used the Mainstream Version of the Code for Instructional Structure and Student Academic Responses (MS-CISSAR) instrument, developed by Greenwood and colleagues (Greenwood, Abbott, & Tapia, 2003), to observe nine middle school students who were deaf or hard of hearing (two students in a combined general education/resource room, five students in a state residential school, and two students in a residential treatment center) and the 36 adults (general education teachers, deaf education teachers, preservice teachers, sign language interpreters, and paraprofessionals) with whom they interacted. Each student was observed for 2 full school days. The most frequently observed instructional grouping across settings was students working independently. Students in residential schools were never observed in small-group instruction and students in public school settings were never observed in one-on-one instruction. Across all settings, the most frequently observed teacher behaviors were academic questions, commands, and talk. Teachers were most often observed in a neutral affect and responded more often with disapproval than approval. The authors noted that “classroom discourse, more often than not, appeared to go one way-from teacher to student” (p. 275). Although this study provided some information on classroom behaviors, its purpose was not to document the activities specifically related to reading instruction. In a thorough search of the extant literature, no additional observational studies of reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing were found. In contrast, observational studies of reading instruction for students without disabilities abound. Taylor, Pearson, Clark, and Walpole (2000) researched effective classroom practices in reading instruction at the teacher and school levels. Participants included principals, eight teachers, and students from 14 schools in Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado, and California. Teachers were observed five times during reading instruction using the School Change Classroom Observation (SCCO) protocol. In addition, researchers interviewed teachers and teachers completed two weekly logs of instructional practices. Researchers rated schools as most effective, moderately effective, or least effective based on students’ gains in reading (words correct per minute, reading words in isolation, and retelling at the students’ reading level) and reading achievement on standardized tests in third grade. Variables that differentiated most effective from least effective schools included total time spent in reading instruction, time spent in particular reading activities, and time spent in small-group instruction. Participants in the most effective schools spent more time in reading instruction (134 minutes/day vs. 113 minutes/day); more time actually reading, including silent reading, choral reading, and oral turn-taking reading (28 minutes/day vs. 19 minutes/ day); and more time in small-group instruction (60 minutes/day vs. 38 minutes/ day) than participants in least effective schools.
In a more recent study, Edmonds and Briggs (2003) evaluated the effectiveness of the National Reading Initiative in the State of Texas in 36 kindergarten and first-grade classrooms from 13 schools in 10 districts. A total of 100 observations was conducted using the Instructional Content Emphasis (ICE) protocol. Data were coded by instructional activity (e.g., alphabetics, fluency, reading, comprehension, and writing and language arts). In addition, student engagement and overall instructional quality were rated on a Likert- type scale. The researchers reported that participants in first grade were more engaged when working in small groups than when working in whole class, pairs, or independent grouping patterns; however, the most frequently used grouping pattern observed in first- grade classrooms was whole class instruction. Students in kindergarten spent 56% of their reading time in alphabetics, 15% of their reading time in reading (9% in students reading text aloud or silently and 6% in teachers reading text aloud to students), 15% of their time in writing and language, 6% of their reading time in comprehension, 6% of their reading time in vocabulary, and 2% of their reading time in fluency activities. Students in first grade spent 39% of their reading time in alphabetics, 27% in reading (21% in students reading text aloud or silently and 6% in teachers reading text aloud to students), 17% in writing and language, 10% in comprehension, 4% in vocabulary, and 3% in fluency activities.
A second study using the ICE protocol was reported on the Florida State University Center for Reading Research (2004) Web site. Observations were conducted during 45 minutes of reading instruction in 132 classrooms, kindergarten through third grade, from 34 schools in 17 districts. Researchers reported larger percentages of time spent in comprehension monitoring (17.3% in kindergarten and 25.7% in first grade) and reading text, both by the students and to the students (19.4% in kindergarten and 29.4% in first grade), than those reported by Edmonds and Briggs (2003). Percentage of time spent in phonic/word study activities decreased as the grade level increased (33% of time was spent on phonic/word study activities in kindergarten, 26.1% in first grade, 12.9% in second grade, and 11.8% in third grade).
Overall, the observational research literature in general education has substantiated the much-made claim that students learn what they spend time doing, and although time on task in reading is not a sufficient variable to explain reading growth, it is a necessary condition for improving reading achievement.
Statement of the Problem
Significance and Purpose of the Study
Through several survey studies, teachers have reported on the type of reading instructional activities used with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, their depth of knowledge in these instructional strategies, and the curriculum materials used to teach reading to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. At the same time, reading research with students who are deaf or hard of hearing has focused on documenting their low levels of reading achievement (Geers & Moog, 1989; Holt, 1993, 1994; Jensema, 1975; Traxler, 2000). Nevertheless, none of the studies involving students who are deaf or hard of hearing reported observation data on activities occurring during reading instruction and their relation to reading achievement. Could it be that students who are deaf or hard of hearing are simply not spending very much time engaged in reading activities or in instructional groupings that are likely to increase their reading achievement? Examinations of the literacy research in deaf education indicate a paucity of research on literacy development and a need for more rigorous research (Easterbrooks & Stephenson, 2006; Luckner, Sebald, Cooney, Young, & Muir, 2006; Schirmer & McGough, 2005). Given the political press to increasing reading achievement outcomes for all students, a study on the nature of reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing is both timely and important.
This observational study answered the following research questions: What is the nature of the reading activities during reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Grades 1 through 4 in public school settings? To what extent is reading instruction for these students different based on classroom setting?
In this descriptive, observational study, observations were conducted during teacher-reported periods allocated, or scheduled, for reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, an interview with the reading teacher and a review of students’ school records provided background and demographic data.
Observations were conducted in general education classrooms, resource classrooms, and self-contained special education/deaf education classrooms in public schools where reading instruction occurred for one or more students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Grades 1 through 4 in the tri-state region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
The MS-CISSAR was used to record behaviors of a target student and his or her teacher. This instrument uses a 20-second interval time sampling technique. The MS-CISSAR allowed for 105 events to be coded in three categories: Ecology, Teacher, and Student (the MS- CISSAR taxonomy is presented in Tables 1a-1c). Some of the MS- CISSAR Ecology activities, or subject matter, specific to reading instruction included reading (comprehension, reading aloud, and reading silently), spelling, and language (vocabulary, language structure, and creative writing). Reading aloud for students who used a form of manual communication referred to “signing through the air.” The MS-CISSAR Ecology activity other subcategory was used to designate observations of phonic and/or phonemic awareness activities. Additional details with regard to reading and language activities were also recorded through anecdotal notes.
This study was conducted using one observer in the classroom with a second observer present for interrater reliability checks. The principal observer (first author) was hearing, had a background in deaf education, and was skilled in using sign language. A second observer was hearing, had a background in general education, and was skilled in using sign language.
An interview with teachers and/or a review of students’ school records were conducted by the first author prior to classroom observations. Reading instruction was observed only with those professionals and in those instructional settings where daily reading instruction was reported to occur. Observers arrived 15 to 30 minutes prior to teacher-reported periods allocated to reading instruction. During allocated periods of reading instruction, observations were coded based on the MS-CISSAR protocol. Observation codes were entered into a laptop computer using EcoBehavioral Assessment Systems Software (EBASS). Using this protocol, one target student and his or her classroom teacher were observed. Following the first 20 seconds of observation, the observer was prompted to enter Ecology events. After the next 20 seconds, the observer was prompted to enter Teacher events. Then, following the third 20 seconds, Student events were coded. This 1-minute cycle of coding was repeated for the entire length of the observation. An audible prompt (heard through headphones) and a change in the computer screen prompted the observer to enter data at the designated time. Observational anecdotal notes were recorded immediately prior to and following the time-sampling reading observations. Two observations per student were conducted during designated periods of reading instruction (estimated to be 90 minutes) for a projected total of approximately 3 hours of observational data per student. Observations of reading instruction occurred with prior teacher notice, on nonconsecutive days, and no student was observed on the same day of the week for both observations. Table 1a
Mainstream Version of the Code for Instructional Structure and Student Academic Responses (MS-CISSAR) Hierarchy: Ecology Variables
Mainstream Version of the Code for Instructional Structure and Student Academic Responses (MS-CISSAR) Hierarchy: Student Variables
Observer training included studying the technical and EBASS manuals, completing a computer-assisted tutorial, and practicing coding procedures using the videotaped simulations supplied by the MS-CISSAR developers (Greenwood & Hou, 1995). This training material was not specific to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The two observers progressed through the computer-assisted tutorials and classroom simulation videotapes until mastery was reached, defined as 90% agreement with coding by MS-CISSAR developers. Interobserver reliability checks were conducted for 10% of the observations. EBASS was used to calculate the percentage agreement overall and by category. Overall interobserver percentage agreement was 91.6%. Category agreement ranged from 83.1% (teacher focus) to 100% (setting) and fell within the range of reliability reported in the technical manual for this instrument.
Participants were recruited by contacting professors at colleges providing teacher preparation in deaf education and by contacting special education coordinators of programs for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the tri-state area. Based on their recommendations or approval, the appropriate supervisors, teachers, and parents were contacted. Accordingly, participation in the study required mutual voluntary consent of students, parents, teachers, and supervisors.
Participants included (a) 24 students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Grades 1 through 4 from nine public schools in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and (b) 17 teachers of reading for these students (teaching in general education classrooms, resource classrooms, and/or self-contained special education/deaf education classrooms). Some teachers were working with more than one student; some students were receiving reading instruction from more than one teacher.
Mainstream Version of the Code for Instructional Structure and Student Academic Responses (MS-CISSAR) Hierarchy: Teacher Variables
Students. Teacher interviews and/or a review of students’ school records provided demographic data on students. There was an even distribution of male and female students. Six of the 24 students (25%) were identified with a concomitant disability: 1 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, 1 with an emotional/ behavior disorder, 2 with a specific learning disability, and 2 with mental retardation. Students ranged in age from 6 years to 11 years with a mean age of 8 years 4 months. Data on level of hearing loss (see Table 2) were reported based on the hearing loss in the better ear (with the exception of the unilateral hearing loss, which was reported based on the ear with the hearing loss). Twenty students experienced a prelingual hearing loss (prior to 2 years of age), 2 students experienced a postlingual hearing loss (after 2 years of age), and for 2 students, the age of hearing loss onset was not known. Only 1 student had at least one parent who was deaf or hard of hearing. Students used various assistive listening devices and some used a combination of devices. The 8 students for whom the use of a cochlear implant was reported were implanted in just one ear and had been implanted for a mean of 4 years (see Table 2). Table 2 also reports on each student’s primary method of communication as indicated in students’ school records and/or by teacher report.
Students in this study were taught reading in one or more of the following settings: general education classroom, resource classroom (where students with disabilities spent from 30 minutes to 3 hours per day), and self-contained classroom (where students spent more than 3 hours per day) (see Table 2). None of the students were reported to receive reading instruction in the resource classroom only; six students received reading instruction in both a general education classroom and a resource classroom. The mean length of time students had spent in their current instructional setting(s) was 2.2 years.
Current reading test scores were not consistently available in students’ records. For example, some students did not have a record of any reading assessment score (in particular those students in first grade), some students’ reading assessments had been administered in the previous school year, and other students’ assessments had been administered within 8 weeks of the observations. There was also a wide variety of assessment instruments used, making a summary report of reading levels across all students problematic. The publishers’ reported grade level of the current reading curriculum observed in use was consistently available and provided an estimate of each student’s current reading level. This reading curriculum/grade level was compared with the grade level in which the student was enrolled to assign each student an on, above, or below reading curriculum grade level designation. Students ranged from working with reading curriculum on grade level to working with reading curriculum two grade levels below (see Table 2). As grade level enrolled increased, the percentage of students working with reading curricula on grade level decreased (see Table 3).
Teachers. Data obtained from informal teacher interviews indicated that all 17 teachers were hearing and most were female (88.2%). Eleven teachers (64.7%) were certified in elementary education and taught reading in the general education setting. The remaining 6 teachers were certified in deaf education; 3 taught reading in a resource room setting and 3 taught reading in a self- contained setting. None of the teachers taught reading to students who are deaf or hard of hearing in more than one setting (see Table 4). An equal sample of general education teachers and deaf education teachers was not applicable for this study as some teachers worked with more than one student and some students received reading instruction from more than one teacher.
Demographic Characteristics of Students
Student Reading Curriculum Grade Level based on the Grade Level Enrolled
The mean number of years teaching was 17.9 with a range of 2 years to 38 years. Mean number of years experience teaching students who are deaf or hard of hearing was 5 years with a range of 6 months to 31 years. Mean number of reading courses taken was 3.3 with a range of 0 to 10 courses. Mean number of reading in-services attended within the past 5 years was 8 with a range of 0 to 20 in- services.
Reading Curricula Used in Public Schools
Data on the core reading curricula and supplemental curricula used were obtained during informal teacher interviews and observations. Table 5 cross-references these data by school. Only one curriculum, Harcourt Trophies, was reported and observed to be used by more than one school. This curriculum was used with students receiving reading instruction in the general education setting. Supplemental curricula of trade books, individualized material, and computer software were also reported and observed to be used in several schools and across several instructional settings. Some curricula were reported but not observed. This may be due to the limited number of observations or the time of school year in which observations occurred.
Comparison of Demographic Characteristics of Teachers
Students receiving reading instruction in the general education setting only and in both the general education classroom and resource classroom settings used the same reading curriculum used with hearing students in the general education setting of each school. In addition, 10 of the 11 students who had all or some of their reading instruction in a general education classroom worked with a general education reading curriculum on grade level. The 11th student also used the general education curriculum, but at one grade lower. Teachers in the self-contained setting did not use the same reading curriculum used with students in the general education setting or with students in other special education settings in the same school. Teachers in two of the self-contained classrooms used reading curricula specifically designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Reading Milestones and Fairview with Science Research Associates) and the teacher in the remaining self- contained classroom used a reading curriculum designed for students learning English as a second language (Focus).
MS-CISSAR Ecology Codes
Activities during reading instruction. The mean time scheduled/ allocated for reading instruction was 103.1 minutes/day. Mean time actually spent in reading instruction was 77.3 minutes/day. There was wide variability in both the time scheduled/allocated for reading instruction and the time spent in reading instruction.
Based on MS-CISSAR observed data, reading activities (including reading aloud, reading silently, and comprehension) made up 46.4% of observed time in reading instruction, language activities (including vocabulary, grammar, and creative writing) made up 22.6% of observations, spelling activities made up 13.8% of observations, and phonic/phonemic awareness activities made up 1.6% of observations. This translates to a mean of 35.9 minutes/day spent in reading, 17.5 minutes/day spent in language, 10.7 minutes/day spent in spelling, and 1.2 minutes/day spent in phonic/phonemic awareness activities. The remaining time (12 minutes/day spent in reading instruction) was spent in activities other than reading. For example, math activities were recorded during 3.3% of total observations for students in the first- and second-grade general education setting. Science activities (.3%) were observed in the general education and self- contained settings and self-care (2.2%) and arts/crafts (.3%) activities were observed in both the general education and resource room settings. Transitioning occurred in 6.4% of observations and was observed in all settings. Table 5
Curriculum and Supplemental Curriculum Reported and Observed by School
During observations of reading instruction, students spent 15.9% of the time actually reading, 9% reading aloud and 6.9% reading silently; this translates to a mean of 12.3 minutes/day reading (6.9 minutes/day reading aloud and 5.3 minutes/day reading silently).
The five essential components of effective reading instruction were not observed in all reading lessons or among all the students. Only 10 of the 57 observations (17.5%) included fluency activities; these fluency activities were observed with 8 students (33% of students). Vocabulary activities were observed in 25 observations (43.9%) with 16 students (67% of students) and were fairly consistent across grade level enrolled and instructional setting. Comprehension activities were observed with the highest frequency, in 41 observations (71.9%) with 20 students (83% of students). All students receiving reading instruction in the general education setting and the combined general and resource room settings were observed in comprehension activities, and for 82% of these students, comprehension activities were observed on both occasions. Four students were never observed in any comprehension activities; these students were in second- or third grade, working with reading curriculum below grade level, and received reading instruction in the self-contained setting.
Only 4 of the 24 students were observed participating in phonic/ phonemic awareness activities. These were 2 first-grade students and 2 second-grade students in four different schools. Levels of hearing loss for these 4 students ranged from a unilateral severe loss to bilateral moderate-severe loss. They used a variety of assistive listening devices (personal FM system, personal hearing aids, and/ or classroom amplification). Speech was their primary method of communication and all 4 students were working with a reading curriculum on grade level. Three of the 4 students were observed participating in phonic/phonemic awareness activities in the general education setting and 1 student was observed participating in phonic/ phonemic awareness activities in the resource room setting. The total time spent in phonic/phonemic awareness activities for these 4 students was 59 minutes; the mean time spent was 7.4 minutes/day with a range of 2 minutes/day to 24 minutes/day.
To understand why phonic/phonemic awareness activities were not observed in the reading instruction of the other 20 students, several analyses were undertaken. First, we reviewed the core curricula and the components of reading instruction; all curricula but one contained phonic/phonemic awareness activities designed to be incorporated into the comprehensive reading program. The lack of phonic/phonemic awareness activities, then, cannot be explained by the absence of this component in the curriculum. Second, we reviewed data on teacher training; teachers who incorporated phonic/phonemic awareness activities into their reading instruction reported taking an average of two times more reading courses than teachers who did not incorporate phonic/phonemic awareness activities, t(2.396) =12, p = .034 (two-tailed).
Tasks and instructional groupings during reading instruction. Activities or subject matter were just one area coded in the Ecology category of MS-CISSAR. Other items coded under Ecology included task and instructional grouping. The most frequently recorded tasks were working with readers (24.1%), other media such as videos, overheads, flipcharts, flashcards, computers, dictionaries, and the blackboard (18.2%), paper and pencil (17.2%), worksheets (11.7%), and discussion (11.3%).
The most frequently recorded instructional grouping, regardless of the instructional setting, grade level enrolled, or reading curriculum grade level, was whole class (observed in 58.1% of all observations). Small-group instruction was recorded in only 16.8% of observations, one-on-one instruction was recorded in 13.4% of observations, and independent seatwork was recorded in 11.1% of observations. It is interesting that as reading curriculum grade level decreased, the frequency of independent seatwork increased. Furthermore, not only was whole class instruction the most frequently observed instructional grouping across observations of all students, but it was also the most frequently observed instructional grouping for every student. Moreover, three students (12.5%) were observed only in whole class instructional groupings (one student in each of the instructional settings). Small-group instruction was never observed for 25% of students; one-on-one instruction was never observed for 33.3% of students; and independent work was never observed for 33.3% of students.
MS-CISSAR Teacher Codes
The second category in the MS-CISSAR hierarchy was the Teacher category, which included teacher definition, teacher behavior, teacher approval, teacher focus, and teacher position. Reading instruction was provided by special education/deaf education teachers in 59.6% of observations, by general education teachers in 29.7% of observations, by an aid/interpreter in 3.2% of observations, and by peer tutors in 1.7% of observations. Peer tutors were observed only with those students in first- or second grade who were working with a reading curriculum on grade level and in the general education setting only and in the general/resource room settings (general education setting only).
The most frequently reported teacher behaviors were attention (21.9%), talk academic (21.2%), question academic (16.5%), talk management (10.7%), and nonverbal prompting not including sign language (4.9%). Attention was coded when teachers were looking at or paying attention to any student; talk academic was coded when the teacher was lecturing or discussing academic topics; and talk management was coded when teachers were talking or signing about topics to get students prepared, such as giving directions.
Overall, teachers were observed showing neither approval nor disapproval toward the target student, the student who was deaf or hard of hearing. In 44.5% of observations, teachers were observed focusing on a group of students that included the target student (target and other), and in 21.8% of observations, teachers were observed focusing on the target student only. Teachers were most frequently positioned in front of the student (67.6% of observations).
One-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) and independent t tests were used to calculate significant differences between subgroups of students (by instructional setting, grade level enrolled, reading curriculum grade level, level of hearing loss, and presence of a concomitant disability). A .05 level of significance (alpha) was set for all tests.
Instructional setting. Table 6 provides detailed data on activities by instructional setting. Although there were some differences in activities, such as students receiving reading instruction in the self-contained setting spending twice as much time in spelling than students in other settings, there were no differences that reached the .05 level of significance, in the mean time spent in activities by instructional setting.
Within-setting analyses revealed some interesting findings. Of the 10 observations of students taught in the general education setting only, there was an equal occurrence or emphasis on fluency, vocabulary, and phonic/phonemic awareness activities; however, comprehension activities were observed in twice as many observations as the other components. Of the 21 observations of students taught reading in both the general education classroom and the resource room settings, phonic/phonemic awareness and fluency activities were observed with similar frequency, vocabulary activities were observed almost twice as often as fluency and phonic/phonemic awareness activities, and comprehension activities were observed in almost twice as many observations as any other activity. Of the 26 observations of students taught reading in the self-contained classroom, comprehension activities were also observed with the highest frequency (65.4% of observations) but were still significantly lower than those recorded in the combined general/ resource room settings (p = .025). In contrast to reading instruction in the general education setting only or the combined general/resource room settings, reading instruction in the self- contained setting placed little to no emphasis on phonic/phonemic awareness or fluency.
Activities by Instructional Setting
Results of a one-way ANOVA showed a significant difference in tasks (instructional materials) by instructional setting, F(2, 21) = 3.924, p = .036. Tukey post hoc comparisons revealed that students receiving reading instruction in the combined general/resource room settings spent significantly more time using readers (36.2% of observations) than students receiving reading instruction in the self-contained setting (17.5% of observations; p = .035). For students receiving reading instruction in the self-contained setting, rather than readers, other media were the most frequently observed task. In addition, results of a one-way ANOVA showed a significant difference in the time spent in workbook tasks by instructional setting, F(2, 21) = 10.517, p = .001. Tukey post hoc comparisons revealed that students receiving reading instruction in the general education setting only spent significantly more time working with workbooks than students receiving reading instruction in other instructional settings. Teacher variables were also examined by instructional setting. Results of a one-way ANOVA showed significant differences by instructional setting in the time teachers spent talking to get students prepared, F(2, 21) = 14.658, p = 000, and attending to students, F(2, 21) = 5.276, p = 0.14. Tukey post hoc comparisons revealed that teachers in the self- contained setting spent less time talking to prepare students than those in either the general education setting only (p = .000) or the combined general/resource room settings (p = .003). Teachers in the self-contained setting also spent significantly less time in attending to students than teachers in the general education setting (p = .014). There was a significant difference by instructional setting in the time spent by teachers in a neutral affect, showing neither approval nor disapproval, F(2, 21) = 6.489, p = .006. Specifically, teachers in the general education setting spent less time with a neutral affect and more time showing approval than those in the self-contained setting (p = .006).
In summary, reading instruction was similar across instructional settings in several respects. Reading was the most frequently observed activity or subject area during reading instruction. Whole class instructional grouping was the most frequently observed instructional grouping. Generally, teachers showed neither approval nor disapproval toward students. Also, teacher position was observed most frequently in front of the student. Attending to students was the most frequently observed teacher behavior.
There were also some important differences by instructional setting. For students taught reading in the general education setting only and the general education setting as part of the combined general/resource room settings, reading instruction was structured similarly. In both, readers were found to be the most frequently observed task and attending to students was found to be the most frequently observed teacher behavior. A lot of activities other than reading occurred during times allocated to reading instruction in both settings (e.g., math, science, and self-care). There were some differences, such as the observance of paper-and- pencil tasks and independent instructional groupings twice as often in the general education setting as part of the combined general/ resource room settings. Peer tutors were observed twice as often among students taught reading in the general education only setting. Also, teachers showed approval almost twice as often and showed disapproval significantly less frequently for students taught reading in the general education setting only than for students whose general education instruction was combined with resource room.
Reading instruction in the two special education settings (self- contained class and resource room) was also similar in several respects. In both special education settings, students spent a small percentage of reading instruction time in activities other than reading, spelling, and language. Neither instructional setting used peer tutors. The most frequently reported teacher behavior in both settings was lecturing or discussing topics, with classroom discourse appearing to be one way: teacher to student.
But reading instruction in the self-contained setting and resource room setting was also different in many respects. Students receiving reading instruction in the self-contained setting had no observed occurrences of phonic/phonemic awareness activities. The most frequently reported task in the self-contained setting was the use of other media, and the most frequently reported task in the resource room setting was the use of readers. Teachers in the self- contained setting were observed with a higher frequency showing approval or disapproval than teachers in the resource room setting (who were more often observed with a neutral affect). Teachers focused on the target student only in the self-contained setting twice as often as in the resource room setting. Students were observed more frequently working independently in the self- contained setting than in the resource room setting; however, the frequency of oneon-one instruction grouping in the resource room was twice that of the self-contained setting.
Reading instruction in the self-contained setting was significantly different from reading instruction in the general education setting. Students receiving reading instruction in the general education setting spent significantly more time in comprehension activities and with readers and workbooks. Teachers of reading in the general education setting spent significantly more time attending to students and in talking to prepare students than teachers in the self-contained setting.
Grade level enrolled. There were significant differences in the Ecology and Teacher categories by grade level enrolled. A one-way ANOVA showed a significant difference in time spent in spelling and language activities by the grade level enrolled, F(3, 20) = 3.2350, p = .044, and F(3, 20) = 4.290, p = .017, respectively. Students in third grade spent significantly more time in spelling activities than students in first grade (p = .061). In addition, students in third grade spent significantly more time in language activities than students in either second- or fourth grade.
Several significant differences were found in the Teacher category by grade level enrolled. Students enrolled in third grade spent significantly more time with a deaf education teacher than students enrolled in second grade (p = .029). In addition, students in the third grade spent significantly more time with teachers who used nonverbal prompting than students in the second grade (p = .026).
Reading curriculum grade level. There were no significant differences found in Ecology variables, activities, tasks, or instructional groupings by reading curriculum grade level; however, significant differences were reported in Teacher variables of teacher definition, teacher behavior, and teacher approval by reading curriculum grade level.
As one might expect, the observed frequency of students working with deaf education teachers increased as the reading curriculum grade level decreased (e.g., as students fell farther behind grade level peers). Students working with a reading curriculum on grade level spent significantly more time with general education teachers than students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below (p = .000) or students working with a reading curriculum two grade levels below (p = .001) and less time working with deaf education teachers than students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below (p = .001) or those working with a reading curriculum two grade levels below (p = .000). In addition, students working with a reading curriculum two grade levels below spent significantly more time working with deaf education teachers than those students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below (p = .047).
Students working with a reading curriculum on grade level spent significantly more time with teachers lecturing, discussing, and preparing students than students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below (p = .030 and p = .020, respectively). Also, students working with a reading curriculum two grade levels below spent significantly more time with teachers lecturing or discussing topics than those working with a reading curriculum one grade level below (p = .006).
Results of a one-way ANOVA showed that students working with a reading curriculum two grade levels below spent significantly more time with teachers who showed neither approval nor disapproval than students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below; students working with a reading curriculum one grade level below spent significantly less time with teachers who showed neither approval nor disapproval than students working with a reading curriculum on grade level, F(2, 21) = 5.885, p = .009.
Level of hearing loss. To investigate the possibility of the level of hearing loss as a confounding variable, MS-CISSAR variables were analyzed by level of hearing loss. No significant differences were found in Ecology activities, tasks, or instructional groupings by level of hearing loss. Significant differences were found in only two areas: teacher behavior and teacher approval.
Students with mild/mild-moderate hearing losses spent significantly more time with teachers in lectures, discussions, or preparing students than students with severe-profound/profound hearing losses (p = .033 and p = .06, respectively). Results of a one-way ANOVA showed significant differences by level of hearing loss, F(2, 21) = 5.168, p = .015, and in the frequency of teachers showing neither approval nor disapproval toward students. Tukey post hoc comparisons revealed that students with a mild-moderate hearing loss spent significantly more time with teachers showing neither approval nor disapproval than students with a severe-profound hearing loss (p = .048).
Presence of a concomitant disability. None of the six students who had concomitant disabilities received reading instruction in the general education setting only. Students in this subgroup had the same percentage of students working on grade level (33.3%); however, this subgroup had 3 times as many students working two grade levels below (50%) than that reported for students with no concomitant disability. Results of an independent sample t test indicate a significant difference between groups in the mean occurrence of phonic/ phonemic awareness activities, f(2.364) = 17, p = .030 (two- tailed), with students with a concomitant disability spending significantly less time in phonic/phonemic awareness activities. They also spent significantly less time working with workbooks (p = .045) than students without a concomitant disability. No significant differences were found in the category of Teacher variables. Summary
To summarize, for these 24 deaf or hard of hearing students, reading instruction was provided by a general education teacher and/ or a deaf education teacher. Students were taught reading using a variety of curricula. During the 77 minutes/day actually spent in reading instruction, reading activities made up the largest portion of this time. Comprehension and vocabulary activities were observed with the highest frequency. Phonic/ phonemic awareness activities were observed with only 4 students for an average of only 7.4 minutes/day; this was not due to lack of a phonic/phonemic awareness component as part of the curriculum. Regardless of instructional setting, grade level enrolled, reading curriculum grade level, or concomitant disability, whole class instruction was the most frequently observed instructional grouping, and for 12.5% of students, it was the only instructional grouping observed. Teachers were most frequently observed attending to students, showing neither approval nor disapproval, and positioned in front of the students.
Significant differences in the nature of reading instruction were found by instructional setting, grade level enrolled, curriculum grade level, hearing loss, and concomitant disability. Significant differences were found in the Ecology variables of language and spelling activities, and comprehension. Significant differences were also found in the Ecology tasks of readers and workbooks. In addition, significant differences were found in the Teacher variables of teacher definition, teacher behavior, teacher approval, and teacher focus.
This study sought to investigate the following research questions: What is the nature of reading activities during reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Grades 1 through 4 in public school settings? To what extent is reading instruction for these students different based on classroom setting? Data obtained from teacher interviews, a review of students’ school records, and observations were used to examine these questions.
In the present study, reading instruction was provided to students who are deaf or hard of hearing only by general education teachers and/or deaf education teachers. No student received daily reading instruction by a speech/ language pathologist. None of the teachers certified in deaf education reported or were observed coteaching students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the general education setting and no student received daily supplemental reading instruction from a reading specialist. This latter finding was particularly puzzling because 21 of the 24 students were in schools where a reading specialist was available and a large percentage of these students were working with a reading curriculum below grade level. Eligibility for services in special education does not preclude students from receiving services from a reading specialist and many could certainly have benefited from additional time in reading instruction.
In this study, a higher percentage of deaf education teachers held master’s degrees (66.6%) compared with that reported in the Coley and Bockmiller (1980) survey study (56.2%); however, teachers in this study were not better prepared to teach reading. A higher percentage of deaf education teachers in this study reported taking no or one reading methods course (33.3%) compared with the earlier survey study (20%). These differences may simply be due to comparing the results of an older study with a more recent study; to variations in sampling (the Coley and Bockmiller survey was sent only to teachers in residential schools); or to a combination of these two factors. What is known is that although a large percentage of deaf education teachers are pursing higher degrees, many are still not receiving instruction specifically in how to teach reading.
Data from the present study on reading curricula also differed from data obtained in survey studies conducted 10 or 20 years ago. In the present study, teachers working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing used a variety of reading curricula, in contrast to reading instruction curricula reported in the longitudinal surveys by LaSasso (1978, 1987) and LaSasso and Mobley (1997). Only deaf education teachers teaching reading instruction in the self- contained setting used similar curricula to those reported in earlier studies (Reading Milestones and Focus). Although the LaSasso survey was sent to teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing in various settings, the results did not include input from general education teachers. Therefore, the difference in findings on curricula may be from including data from general education teachers or it may reflect more recent political initiatives to promote access of the general education curriculum to all students.
Results reported on Ecology variables were compared with findings from other studies involving hearing students with and without a disability. Edmonds and Briggs (2003), using the ICE observational tool, also reported that the most frequently observed instructional pattern was whole group, but that first-grade students were more engaged when working in small groups. Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, and Moody (1999) conducted a meta-analysis of 20 studies on grouping formats and reading outcomes for students with a disability and found that reading outcomes for pairs, small groups, and multiple grouping were higher than whole class. Greenwood et al. (2003), using the MS-CISSAR observational instrument, reported that the most frequently observed instructional grouping was whole class. In studies involving students with a mild disability, Wallace, Anderson, Bartholomay, and Hupp (2002), and Logon, Bakeman, and Keefe (1997), also using the MS-CISSAR, reported that the most frequently observed instructional grouping was whole class. Results of the present study were similar in that whole class instruction was the most frequently observed instructional grouping and that whole class grouping decreased the probability of student engagement in reading.
Results reported on the Ecology variables of activity, or instructional focus, were also compared with results of other studies involving hearing students with no disability. Results of the study conducted by the Florida State University Center for Reading Research (2004), using the ICE observational instrument, indicated markedly less time spent in spelling activities (3.2% for second-grade students) than reported in the present study both for all student participants (13.8%) and for students enrolled in the second grade (20%). Results of the present study and results of Greenwood et al. (2003), using the MS-CISSAR, were similar in the percentage of time spent in spelling activities (11%). Therefore, the difference in spelling emphasis may reflect a true difference for this population or simply the use of different observation instruments. Also, the Florida State University Center for Reading Research (2004) and Edmonds and Briggs (2003) reported considerably higher percentages of time spent in phonic/phonemic awareness activities (7 to 20 times higher) than reported in the present study with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The researchers reported a decreasing percentage of time spent in phonic/phonemic awareness activities as the grade level increased. Results of the present study indicated that phonic/phonemic awareness activities were observed only with students in first- and second grade, with no such activities observed as the grade level increased. Also, only 25% of students in first- and second grade were observed in these activities, so grade level alone does not explain the low frequency of observed phonic/phonemic awareness activities. Other studies using the MS-CISSAR instrument did not isolate data on phonic/ phonemic awareness activities but, rather, coded these activities as reading; thus, results of similar studies using the same observation instrument as used in this study were not comparable. Phonic/ phonemic awareness activities were recorded in only 1.6% of observations and were observed with students who had hearing losses ranging from a unilateral severe loss to bilateral moderate-severe loss and with students working with a reading curriculum on grade level. Past research has shown that skilled readers who are deaf or hard of hearing make better use of phonological information than average readers who are deaf or hard of hearing (Conrad, 1979; Dodd, 1980; Hanson & Fowler, 1987; Hanson, Goodell, & Perfetti, 1991; Kelly, 1993; Schaper & Reitsma, 1993). Also, researchers report that the use of phonological coding does not seem to be directly related to level of hearing loss (Dodd, 1980; Hanson, Shankweiler, & Fischer, 1983). Given prior research on phonic/phonemic awareness activities with students who are deaf or hard of hearing and the frequency of these activities observed with hearing students, one might expect that a higher frequency of phonic/phonemic awareness activities would have been observed in this study. However, Easterbrooks et al. (2006) reported that 36% of master teacher survey participants were least likely to incorporate phonic/ phonemic awareness practices and that teachers indicated insufficient training in this practice and a belief that phonic/ phonemic awareness skills were inappropriate for this population. Given that teachers in the present study who incorporated phonic/ phonemic awareness activities reported having taken significantly more reading method courses than those who did not include this activity, insufficient training in this practice may certainly have been a factor. Teacher beliefs were not assessed in this study, but that may be of interest in future studies. Several other findings of this study were surprising. There was no assessment in the students’ records of student signing skills, even when such assessment was available as part of the curriculum. Researchers have reported a relationship between American Sign Language ability and reading comprehension (Padden & Ramsey, 1997). Thus, an assessment of sign ability, for those students reporting sign as the primary communication method, may have provided useful information to the teachers in relation to the reading curriculum grade levels and any possible relationship to the emphasis of Language in reading instruction. This may be an area to explore for further research.
As this study is not experimental in design, we do not suggest that receiving reading instruction in the selfcontained setting caused students to work with a curriculum below level. Nor do these data suggest that because students who received reading instruction in the general education setting were working with a reading curriculum on grade level, the general education setting is the appropriate setting for reading instruction for all students. Perhaps, the reason that students were receiving reading instruction in the self-contained setting was that they were not working with a reading curriculum on grade level; however, that, too, cannot be answered from this study. This study was observational and reported simply what was observed.
One important finding of this study was documenting the strong influence of instructional setting on the reading instruction experience. Overall, results indicated that reading instruction provided to students in the general education setting was significantly different from the reading instruction provided to students in the self-contained setting. Students were, of course, not randomly assigned to settings. Perhaps, as students are no longer able to work with a curriculum on grade level, they receive reading instruction in the resource room or self-contained setting, and with these setting changes come significant changes in instructional practices.
This descriptive study used both survey/interview and observational research methods. Observational studies, by definition, have the limitation that presence of an observer in the classroom may affect the behavior of teachers and/or students. This study attempted to minimize this bias by having the observer sit in an unobtrusive area within the classroom and arrive before class started. The observers) did not interact with students during observations. Also, a second observer observed at most sites, minimizing observer bias. This study, as with other observational studies, had ecological validity in that it recorded what actually happened during reading instruction rather than reports of what happened.
There are some limitations in the size and heterogeneity of this sample. Although the sample size was small, the demographics of this sample were more similar than dissimilar to those reported in the Annual Survey (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2005) and appeared to adequately represent the demographics of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, the large percentage of students who are deaf or hard of hearing receiving theneducation in various public school settings (89.3% nationally and 84.8% to 91.6% in the tri-state area) makes instructional setting an important variable in this research study (Department of Education, 2004). As this study was exploratory in nature, the characteristics of the sample were representative of the continuum of characteristics of the population. Simply put, but making generalizations difficult, the demographic characteristics of students who are deaf or hard of hearing are variable. Although the variability of demographic characteristics among the student sample presents unique challenges, this study provided a glimpse of reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Implications for Practice
This study has several implications for practice. First, results reported from this study should make teachers aware of the nature of reading activities and the ways in which reading instruction varies by instructional setting, grade level enrolled, reading curriculum grade level, level of hearing loss, and presence of a concomitant disability. Results may also raise awareness of the effect of teachers’ choices of activities and how those choices interact with student characteristics. In addition, they suggest the need for better training in teacher preparation programs in the area of reading instruction, types of phonic/phonemic awareness instruction, and importance of varying instructional groupings.
Based on the results of this study, there are several suggestions for further research. First, this study should be replicated in schools for the deaf to determine if and/or how reading instruction in those settings differs from reading instruction provided in the public school settings. Results from this replication would round out our understanding of reading instruction in Grades 1 through 4 in all instructional settings serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In addition, future observation studies might incorporate a teacher belief survey to assist in understanding the factors that contribute to how teachers schedule or structure the focus of activities during time spent in reading instruction. Also, the additional study proposed above should include data collection and analysis by language levels as well. As there is a relationship between language and reading, it would be of interest to investigate the relationship between language levels and the reading instruction experience in students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Finally, this study reported on the curricula observed in use and the reading curriculum grade level of students. An additional study of interest would investigate the reading difficulty level o