FINGERSPELLING OUR WAY TO READING
Fingerspelling Our Way to Reading is an evidence-based, supplementary literacy program for deaf and hard of hearing students in kindergarten to second grade. The program has two components: a three-day-per-week fingerspelling program, and a complementary two-day-per-week reading comprehension program.
Based on evidence that fingerspelling may provide a pathway to decoding words and strengthening print recognition by building phonological awareness, a team from the National Research and Development Center on Literacy and Deafness (CLAD) developed the Fingerspelling Our Way to Reading program.
Often, one would assume phonological awareness is the awareness of sounds and the ability to work with them. With both phonological awareness and orthographic awareness—knowing letter positions, combinations, and sequences that make a word—people are able to decode words. But what about signing deaf and hard of hearing children? The research team found that deaf and hard of hearing children link their mental phonological representation through fingerspelling to a mental orthographic representation.
While hearing students and deaf and hard of hearing students who have auditory access to and use spoken English can develop phonological awareness through sound, researchers have found that deaf and hard of hearing students who use sign language can develop phonological awareness through fingerspelling. For signing deaf and hard of hearing students, fingerspelling provides an alternative pathway to sound-based phonological awareness (Lederberg et al., 2019).
Fingerspelling phonological awareness allows deaf and hard of hearing students to be able to manipulate the sublexical structure of words. Identifying and understanding these structures can assist students with word identification and be transformative in developing reading skills. These structures include:
- Syllables (e.g., ed-u-ca-tion, re-cy-cle)
- Onset or beginnings of words (e.g., bat, black, strip)
- Rimes (e.g., stick, fight, black)
This innovative program is a supplementary literacy program for deaf and hard of hearing students in kindergarten to second grade that focuses on developing fingerspelling phonological awareness, printed word analysis, and multiple opportunities to read target words in sentences and original stories.
The fingerspelling component provides a pathway to decoding words and strengthening print recognition through intensive work on word analyses of word families; fingerspelling phonological awareness activities; and repeated practice to sign, fingerspell, read, and write the target words.
The reading comprehension component provides a pathway for understanding connected English text through repeated opportunities to read target words in meaningful sentences and stories, applying comprehension strategies when reading original stories, and explicit analysis of ASL-to-English text.
Lederberg, A. R., Branum-Martin, L., Webb, M. Y., Schick, B., Antia, S., Easterbrooks, S. R., & Connor, C. M. D. (2019). Modality and interrelations among language, reading, spoken phonological awareness, and fingerspelling. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 24(4), 408-423. https://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enz011
What the program looks like daily
Click here for research information on the program
To implement the Fingerspelling Our Way to Reading program in your learning environment, you must be trained to use the program. The Clerc Center provides an 8-hour in-person curriculum training or two 4-hour virtual sessions on consecutive days. If your school or organization is interested in hosting a training, the fee for the training is $1,250. If you are interested in attending the scheduled training sessions that the Clerc Center provides throughout the year, the fee is $125 per participant. Please note the maximum number of participants for the two different training formats: 25 participants in person and 15 participants virtually. All fees go to the trainers for their time and expertise.
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