As deaf students struggle with a language they cannot hear, the acquisitioin of English in deaf learners is slower than in hearing learners (Berent, 2000). The average deaf 18-year-old graduates with approximately a fourth grade reading level (Traxler, 2000). Therefore, it is imperative for teachers to effectively choose appropriate literature for deaf learners to help them interact more successfully with text. This paper addresses some common challenges deaf readers have with respect to the acquisition of English syntax and how these difficulties affect their reading comprehension. Conjoined sentences and relative clause sentences serve as examples of complex grammatical structures that pose difficulty for deaf students in their writing and reading comprehension. Despite their limited input and attainments in English, deaf children have the ability to acquire syntactic notions and become successful readers. This paper not only addresses the widespread reading struggles of deaf learners but, it suggests how educators can more effectively assess the syntactic complexity of reading materials for deaf students using the T-unit. The T-unit is a base unit of measurement for determining the complexity of a sentence and can be useful for estimating readability (Hunt, 1965). In particular, the T-unit can be an effective tool for comparing the readability of texts designed specifically for readers who struggle with complex grammar (like deaf students). Data derived from comparing original texts to their altered counterparts speaks to the credibility of the T-unit as an effective readability tool. Results showed a decrease in the number of words per T-unit from the original texts to their altered, simpler versions, confirming that the T-unit is sensitive to grammatical complexity and can serve as a useful index for struggling deaf readers.
Draiss, Monica, "Syntactic complexity of original and altered reading materials" (2006). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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