New method to teach reading to the hearing impaired showing success

Children who are deaf or hard of hearing generally read at a significantly lower level than their peers. But now a new method of teaching reading and phonics to hearing-impaired students has allowed some children to increase up to 2½ years in reading levels in just seven months. And that same strategy also may help children with other disabilities.


DePaul University School of Education

By combining visual phonics with direct instruction, a phonics program, special education professor Beverly Trezek of DePaul University’s School of Education has found that students gained between 1.2 and 2.5 grade levels of reading in seven months. The system helps students visualize sounds rather than teach them to memorize whole words by sight. Memorization of words has long been used to teach hearing-impaired children to read since they couldn’t grasp the phonetics of the English language.

“In working with kindergarten and first-grade students, I’ve found they’re able to make progress that’s similar to their hearing peers,” Trezek says. “It has a lot to do that we’re following a curriculum that’s the same, but we’re changing how we’re delivering the information.”

Visual phonics uses hand cues to represent sounds; for instance, the letter M sound is “mmm.” The hand motions give a way to tell how the sound is produced; for instance, when you say a sound, it can show that your tongue is hitting the roof of your mouth.

Trezek says this method of teaching holds great potential for children with other disabilities, including those with autism who may need another way to communicate. The DePaul Family Lab offers reading instruction using this method and is also able to do diagnostic evaluations. It charges on a sliding scale. For more information, visit or call (773) 325-7745.

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