Dr Breda Carty
I attended the International Congress
on Education of the Deaf (ICED) in Athens in July 2015. One of the most
interesting sessions was a symposium about the challenges of working with
signing students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) who may not have rich sign
language input outside their school environment. Children whose parents are
also DHH, or exposed to other environments with fluent and consistent sign
communication, are more likely to have age-appropriate academic and social
skills. However, only a small minority of signing students have these
linguistically rich backgrounds. The symposium I attended focussed on what
teachers can do to enrich the linguistic and cognitive abilities of students
who are not exposed to complex signed communication in their home or social environments.
Some presenters, such as Debbie Golos (2015),
shared resources that have been developed for young children who are DHH. These
resources, such as http://peterspicture.com, are not intended to replace good face-to-face
communication and interaction. However, the resources can provide ideas for
teachers and caregivers to enhance their signed interaction with children who
are DHH. The resources also provide valuable models of effective and engaging
signing exchanges appropriate for different age groups. Some resources can
offer rich interactive experiences for children themselves.
Another presenter, Kimberley Wolbers (2015),
described strategies for using signed communication as a bridge to English
literacy. The activities Wolbers describes are currently being workshopped in Australia
(e.g., Baker & Stark, 2015). Wolbers and her colleagues are helping to make
the link between the two languages more explicit to address the limited
linguistic ability that some children who are DHH may have if signed language
is not their home language (see also Dostal & Wolbers, 2014). I will be
writing more about this in my next article for the VDEI newsletter.
Other presenters at the symposium,
such as David Smith (2015) emphasised the need for teachers of the deaf in
bilingual classrooms to have well-developed signing skills. They also
recommended engaging their students who
are DHH in challenging interactions to
strategically extend their linguistic and cognitive skills. Smith and his
colleagues (e.g., Smith & Ramsay, 2004) have promoted the ‘Instructional
Conversations’ approach that has been used with people from other language
minorities in the USA and Canada (e.g., Goldenberg, 1992) and also the use of dialogic
pedagogy (e.g., Alexander, 2004). Both approaches encourage the teacher to plan
strategic conversations with students rather than focus primarily on direct
instruction. The approaches require that teachers have fluent signing skills,
and to develop their ability to ‘listen’ and wait for responses from students.
They are also expected to challenge the student’s responses and extend to
extend their understandings of subject matter. These practices can be
challenging for teachers of the deaf who are not yet confident of their own
This symposium was an example of teachers,
parents and other stakeholders in bilingual education for children who are DHH sharing
rigorous and creative solutions.
Alexander, R. J. (2004). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking
classroom talk. Cambridge: Dialogos.
Baker, M. & Stark, M. (2015). Building connections between the
signed and written language of signing deaf children.
Dostal, H. M. &
Wolbers, K. A. (2014). Developing language and writing skills of deaf and hard
of hearing students: A simultaneous approach.
Literacy Research and
Instruction, 53(3), 245-268.
Goldenberg, C. (1992).
Instructional conversations: Promoting comprehension through discussion. The Reading Teacher, 46(4), 316-326.
Golos, D. (2015). Fluent language models in early childhood deaf
education. Paper presented at International Congress on Education of the Deaf, Athens, 7th July.
Peter’s Picture. (2015). Peter’s
picture: An educational video series in ASL. Retrieved from: peterspicture.com
Smith, D. (2015). Classroom discourse practice of a deaf high
school social studies teacher. Paper presented at International Congress on Education of the Deaf, Athens, 7th July.
Smith, D.H. & Ramsay, C. L. (2004). Classroom discourse
practices of a deaf teacher using American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies, 5(1), 39-62.
Wolbers, K. (2015). Strategic and interactive writing instruction
(SIWI) in later elementary grades. Paper presented at International Congress on
Education of the Deaf, Athens, 7th July.