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Grant to help hearing-impaired children learn to read
Gainesville resident to help create research center
Susan Easterbrooks, a Gainesville resident and Georgia State University professor, works with Tyson Terry at the university’s child development center. - photo by MEG BUSCEMA

Learning to read presents special challenges to children who are deaf or hard of hearing, but a recently awarded grant could help those students read on the same grade level as their hearing peers.

Georgia State University special education professors Susan Easterbrooks, a longtime Gainesville resident, and Amy Lederberg have been awarded a $10 million grant to create the first national research center aimed at improving reading for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The grant comes from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Georgia State will be the lead institution, with teams of researchers at five other universities across the nation.

“Historically the reading outcomes for children with hearing loss have been pretty poor,” Easterbooks said. “But we know that there are children with hearing loss that do learn to read. It’s time to investigate what is working and what is not to make sure that all children have that opportunity.

Easterbrooks and Lederberg developed a prekindergarten curriculum to teach children with hearing impairments to read. The program has been so successful they’ll continue the curriculum up to the second grade.

“The reason this is so important is that children’s reading at the end of the second grade is a huge predictor of their reading in the upper grades and education outcomes,” Easterbrooks said.

The grant will provide for five years of research, two of which will be spent collecting information.

Researchers will videotape nearly 400 deaf children nationwide to help researchers identify patterns of learning in reading.

The researchers will review the video to link patterns of learning, taking various factors into account to determine what methods work.

“With every child there are patterns of learning and we’ve never identified those patterns in deaf children. That’s what we’re hoping to do with this grant — to identify what those patterns are so we can match appropriate interventions to these patterns of learning,” Easterbrooks said.

Children today have much better access to auditory information than in years past with advancements in cochlear implants and digital hearing aid technology, which make learning to read a little easier.

Young children whose only language is sign language have a more difficult task because they’re learning to read a language they don’t speak.

However, Easterbrooks said deaf children are able to master the foundational skills of reading, primarily in the areas of vocabulary, sounds and letter-sound correspondence.

“These are the things I’ve been hoping my entire career to have the opportunity to address,” she said. “These are problems that have been in the field forever and it’s just a real honor to be given the trust to do that.”