Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Jessica A. Scott

Second Advisor

Amy R. Lederberg

Third Advisor

Sarah G. Hansen

Fourth Advisor

Hannah M. Dostal


Instruction is required for many students, including deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students, to develop word reading and spelling skills (Wauters & de Klerk, 2014). Sight-word instruction is known to be a commonly utilized approach in early literacy programs for DHH students and has been a primary method of teaching these students to read (Easterbrooks et al., 2015; Mayer 2007). Recent research, however, suggests that it may be appropriate to differentiate reading instruction for DHH students depending on their language use (Lederberg et al., 2019). To better understand how teachers in classrooms provide word-level instruction to enhance DHH students’ word reading and spelling skills, an observation is needed. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to observe and describe word-level instruction provided to DHH students within three different classroom language groups: classrooms in which sign language was exclusively used; classrooms in which only spoken language was used; and classrooms in which various combinations of spoken English, sign language, and/or sign systems were used. One day of language arts instruction in 85 kindergarten through second-grade classrooms was observed. All instances of teachers’ word-level instruction were coded using a researcher-developed coding scheme. Results revealed that the average amount of time teachers devoted to word-level instruction was similar across the three classroom language groups. The strategies teachers used for word-level instruction were also similar across the classroom language groups in that they utilized strategies that focused on the sublexical structure of words more frequently than any other strategy. Differences in instruction existed in whether teachers used phonological strategies or fingerspelling and how they used the strategies.


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