Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading and Writing with Deaf Children

In this special Reading Rockets video series, experts answer real questions from families about reading and how to support their children at home.

The Reading SOS video series was produced in partnership with the National Education Association.

Click to jump ahead to each question and answer:

Learn about our Reading SOS experts.

Question: Is it necessary to read books aloud to my deaf child?

Dr. Leala Holcomb, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, says that reading aloud together is a superpower in developing your child's literacy skills. You are showing your child that sharing stories, perspectives, and information are both joyful and meaningful. Read alouds also help your child strengthen their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, and story elements. Bring the books to life as you read, and don't forget to pause and talk about the book as you go. (Presented by Dr. Leala Holcomb, interpreted by Dr. Hannah Dostal)

 

Question: How do I, as a hearing parent, read aloud with my deaf child?

Dr. Leala Holcomb, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, says that all children — hearing and deaf — need the experience of being read to by a caring adult. Dr. Holcomb offers lots of tips for making the experience fun and full of learning, including these: use your most expressive reading voice, bring your child's attention to key English words, explain the differences between similar English words, talk about English words that have more than one meaning, point out changes in font size and punctuation and talk about what it means, and switch back and forth between English and ASL. And don't worry if you are still learning to sign — your enthusiasm will be contagious! (Presented by Dr. Leala Holcomb, interpreted by Dr. Hannah Dostal)

 

Question: How do I encourage my deaf child to do more independent reading?

Dr. Leala Holcomb, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, offers practical suggestions for encouraging your child to read on their own. Let your child see you reading and encourage them to choose their own books. Try reading a picture book aloud one night, and then having your child read the next night — or take turns reading the chapters in a chapter book. Both of these activities are wonderful moments of shared reading that also help your child build confidence. (Presented by Dr. Leala Holcomb, interpreted by Dr. Hannah Dostal)

 

Question: What can I do at home to set my child up for success in reading and writing?

Dr. Hannah Dostal, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, says it's important to surround your child with reasons to read and write. Let them see you reading and writing so they understand why it's important. Engage your child with lots of different kinds of texts, involve them in fun, everyday reading and writing tasks to build confidence, and ask your child about their writing — all of these positive experiences will help your child persist through any challenges that they might face in school. (Presented by Dr. Hannah Dostal, interpreted by Dr. Leala Holcomb)

 

Question: How do I encourage my deaf child to write more at home?

Dr. Hannah Dostal, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, says that writing opens up additional opportunities for deaf children to communicate with family, friends, and their community. Writing also reinforces the connection between language (signed and spoken) and print. Help your child to see that we write for a reason, and that there are many different kinds of writing. Give your child lots of interesting and positive experiences with writing. It could be as simple as signing your name to a thank-you card or adding a note to a family calendar. And build on your child's interests — if they love comics, encourage them to create their own. (Presented by Dr. Hannah Dostal, interpreted by Dr. Leala Holcomb)

 

Meet our experts

Leala Holcomb, Ph.D.

Leala Holcomb is a postdoctoral research associate studying language and literacy at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Holcomb is White, Deaf, Non-Binary, and uses gender neutral pronouns. Ze received exemplary ASL/English bilingual education at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. Ze went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in international education and development from Gallaudet University, a master's in special education with specialization in deaf and hard of hearing from National University, and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Holcomb taught university courses on language, literacy, and multilingualism in deaf education and provided consultations and workshops to families, teachers, and schools, both nationally and internationally. Ze was a former early childhood educator working with deaf preschoolers and their families where ze was instrumental in developing American Sign Language (ASL) standards, multilingual learning resources, and visual nursery rhymes. Dr. Holcomb is a co-founder of a non-profit organization called Hands Land, whose mission is to expand educational resources through ASL rhyme and rhythm for young children that integrate into family and school activities. Much of Dr. Holcomb's work is driven by zir commitment to eliminate systemic inequalities within the education system.

Hannah Dostal, Ph.D.

Hannah Dostal is an associate professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut in the Neag School of Education and the Co-Editor of the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Her research focuses on writing instruction for deaf and hard of hearing students and teacher professional development in literacy. She also investigates the role of genre and literacy instruction in the development of disciplinary knowledge and discipline-specific communication patterns. Dr. Dostal’s research and university teaching is focused on designing learning environments with an explicit focus on equitable access to instruction and is informed by her experience as a middle school language arts teacher and writing intervention coordinator at a deaf school.

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