Investigating the Role of Visual Language on Reading Strategies in Native Deaf Signers
Frances Cooley

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Texas at Austin

Primary Discipline

Our understanding of DHH signers' reading acquisition is relatively understudied, resulting in a lack of consensus for best educational practices with regards to literacy instruction. DHH children who are exposed to a signed language could exploit multiple linguistic cues in the visual modality that may contribute to reading, including aspects of American Sign Language (ASL) and fingerspelling, and experience with written English. Additionally, the processes by which these children learn to read may be systematically different than those of their hearing peers, in part due to a primarily visual experience with language acquisition and use. Various researc¯hers contend that some DHH children's struggle with literacy acquisition is due to a lack of access to English speech sounds, which results in a deficient ability to match speech sounds with written letters. Other scholars, noting the advanced written English skill of many DHH adults without any access to spoken English, have suggested that proficient signed language use predicts more advanced reading in DHH children. My approach accounts for various aspects of the visual language signal experienced by DHH signers, primarily ASL and written English. I employ eye-tracking and mixed-model statistical analyses to investigate reading strategies employed by young DHH readers. Specifically, I target whether DHH children use speech-based cues when reading, as many early hearing readers do, or if their strategies differ systematically due to their unique language experiences.
About Frances Cooley
Frances Cooley is a doctoral candidate in Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin. She double majored in brain and cognitive sciences and American Sign Language (ASL) at the University of Rochester. Before beginning graduate school, Frances spent two years in research labs at Boston Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School studying the neural and cognitive development of children with developmental disorders. She also worked on a project investigating sign language use in Deaf children with autism at Boston University. More recently, Frances has been working on a project documenting a developmental signed language disorder in a deaf child from a deaf, signing family. Her dissertation work uses psycholinguistic and mixed-model statistical methods to examine the processes by which Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) children learn to read. In particular, she studies DHH signers of ASL who are bilingual (ASL and written English) and who attend schools where both English and ASL are used for instruction. The long-term goal of Frances' research plan is to influence educational practices that would promote optimal development of DHH children's reading skills. Frances lives in Austin, TX, with her partner Drew and dogs Salvador and Lola. Together, Frances and Drew teach ASL workshops at bars and breweries in Austin to promote ASL use and help staff interact with Deaf patrons.

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