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Scheme to help deaf challenges old results

A new teaching scheme that improves the reading and comprehension skills of deaf children could be used to help poor readers around the world, according to an Australian researcher.

The scheme uses pictures to teach new readers how to extract information from a page and understand it. Clues from a picture on one page are used to try to predict what will happen on the next page. The comprehension skills that are developed are then transferred from the images to the words.

The technique has been developed by Lyn Walker, a researcher working in the Deafness Studies unit at Melbourne University. Children with impaired hearing who have problems hearing spoken words also experience difficulties when learning to read. Deaf children using the new Walker programme have shown a startling improvement in their reading abilities. Ms Walker believes the new strategy would be just as successful with other under-achieving pupils, especially those with learning disabilities and short-term memory problems.

Researchers claim that the results achieved by the Walker programme challenge the results of British and American research which implied that teaching reading to deaf children was difficult and had little hope of success. Some of the children who have been taught to read using the new programme strategy have since gone on to university and one student has even won an American scholarship.

In a study of 200 deaf children, Ms Walker found that more than half had below-average reading skills for their age. Deaf children tend to be poorer at "inferential comprehension" where the meaning of a text is implied, than at "literal comprehension" where the facts are stated.

Using different groups of children in the study, Ms Walker found that the group that were involved in her new comprehension programme improved their reading ability twice as fast as has previously been considered normal for non-deaf children. On the other hand the deaf group left without special instruction increased their reading ability by about a third of the normal rate, a typical result for children who are deaf.

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