Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Frederick Gault

Second Advisor

Dr. Jack Michael

Third Advisor

Dr. Mike Keenan

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Brad Huitema


Teaching reading and spelling to the deaf requires materials and methods which compensate for the two problems of the deaf child. The first is that the deaf typically have a small verbal history in either the sign language or lipreading modes. The second is that the deaf cannot identify unknown written words by phonetically sounding them out. In comparison, the hearing child has sophisticated sounding out skills and an extensive auditory-vocal history.

The seven experiments in this research investigated a method for teaching vocabulary comprehension and spelling to the deaf which assumed neither a verbal history with respect to the words, nor sounding out skills. A sign language mediated transfer paradigm provided the framework for the Investigation. This paradigm consisted of eight matching-to-sample tasks involving printed words, pictures, sign language words, and fingerspelled words.

In each experiment, the first procedural step was to pretest the deaf subject’s knowledge of a group of words. Each of the eight tasks in the sign language mediated transfer paradigm was administered in the pretest. Specifically, the subject was required to (a) match printed words to their pictures, (b) match pictures to printed words, (c) sign when shown a picture, (d) fingerspell when shown a picture, (e) sign when shown a printed word, (f) choose the picture when a word was fingerspelled to him, (g) choose the picture when a word was signed to him, and (h) choose the printed word when a word was signed to him.

Following the pretest, the subject was taught two of the tasks. He first learned to match pictures to signed stimuli. He was then taught to match printed words to signed stimuli. This second task included a spelling drill after each correct printed word choice. Two spelling drills (zero delay, simultaneous) and two spelling modes (fingerspelling, writing) were investigated during this procedural phase.

After the subject had learned these two tasks, all of the eight tasks were administered as a posttest. The purpose of the posttest was to assess transfer, this being defined as a spontaneous improvement in the subject's posttest scores for the six tasks that were not taught.

The seven experiments in this research investigated three experimental questions. These were (a) transfer, (b) a comparison of spelling drills, and (c) a comparison of spelling modes and an assessment of spelling generalization.

With respect to the first, transfer did occur in all seven experiments. In general, the subjects performed poorly on all pretest tasks. They were then taught two of the tasks and a spelling drill. After learning these, they responded correctly on the six untrained tasks during the posttest.

With respect to the second experimental question, the zero delay and simultaneous spelling drills were compared. In the zero delay drill, the subject had to recall the spelling of the word. In the simultaneous drill, he looked at the printed word and copied its spelling. The zero delay drill proved superior.

The third experimental question involved a comparison of writing and fingerspelling in the zero delay drill, and an assessment of spelling generalization from one mode to the other. The results indicate that either mode may be used, and that generalization readily occurs. The subjects preferred writing to fingerspelling.

The paradigm and procedures used throughout this research are well suited to the needs of the deaf for several reasons. The first is that teaching the deaf student to match pictures and printed words to signed stimuli provides him with, respectively, a verbal history and an alternative to sounding out skills. Second, the procedural steps of (a) pretest, (b) teach two tasks and a spelling drill, and (c) posttest are self-paced and individualized. Third, the procedure is simple enough to be administered by a teacher's aide, parent, or older student. Finally, the eight tasks in the paradigm are comprehensive and include all of the behavioral skills involved in reading.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Psychology Commons