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Professor's method helps deaf improve reading levels

By Lisa Franklin
On October 26, 2009

Beverly Trezek's passion for education is freely shared, inside and outside of the classroom.Trezek, an assistant professor of Literacy and Specialized Instruction in the School of Education at DePaul University, is continuing research to advance reading skills of deaf and hard of hearing students. Along with Suzann Hummer, an alumna and former adjunct professor at DePaul, Trezek has written an article for Reading and Writing Quarterly, which discusses research findings in Visual Phonics and Direct Instruction.

Trezek became fascinated with deaf education while attending John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Ill. The deaf education program at Hersey was integrated into all regular classroom instruction and Trezek, who hears, found sign language interpreters during her classes interesting. Trezek graduated with Marlee Matlin, an academy award winning deaf actress who debuted in the film "Children of a Lesser God" in 1986 and was featured in the sixth season of ABC'S "Dancing with the Stars."

As a public school teacher for 12 years, Trezek became frustrated at the reading limitations placed on her deaf and hard of hearing students. Worried about the future of her students, Trezek refused to believe that deaf students could not read beyond the fourth grade level. She researched and tested new teaching methods for her Ph.D. dissertation in Special Education at University of Wisconsin- Madison, finding Visual Phonics, a method created by a mother of three deaf children, being optimal when paired with Direct Instruction. Visual Phonics allows students to "see the sounds." The ideal behind Direct Instruction is that all students are able to learn, although differently.

"[Visual Phonics] is multisensory, using hands to represent sounds," said Trezek. "Kids like to use their hands, so it is fun for them to learn this way."

Trezek has found these techniques are transferable to all students, especially those having difficulty learning to read. This quarter she is working with graduate students in the School of Education, many of whom are currently teachers. Trezek found students can gain as much as three years in reading levels in as little as one year with the use of Direct Instruction.

"I teach fourth grade, where phonemic awareness and phonics instruction are usually not a part of the daily curriculum anymore," said Amy Twardowski, a first year graduate student in the Reading Specialist and Learning Disability program at DePaul."With my struggling readers, I am seeing the importance of finding time to work on these skills.

In Trezek's Tuesday night course, "Foundations of Literacy-Assessment and Instruction," students presented devised learning activities to the class using phonemic awareness.

"I have used many of [Trezek's] strategies with my daughter who is in fourth grade. working with her on decoding words and pronouncing the sounds of letters correctly," said Patrice Faggins, a graduate of DePaul's School of Education, current educator, and current student of Trezek's. "We had a letter-sound lesson, and surprisingly, even I have been pronouncing letters incorrectly; this seemingly small skill has made a big difference in the way I teach."
The consensus of Trezek's students at DePaul is that she is not only knowledgeable, but also a fun person to be around.

"Dr. Trezek is very upbeat and fun," said Twardowski. "She makes the class interesting with her personal anecdotes and witty sense of humor."

When Trezek is not teaching, researching or traveling nationally and internationally to present lectures, she enjoys leisurely travel, knitting, and cooking. She is currently taking a Mediterranean cooking class at the Chopping Block.

"I am very sociable and find myself using every opportunity to learn and teach others," Trezek said.

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