TEACHING CHILDREN WITH DEAF/HARD-OF-HEARING
World Hearing Day is an annual advocacy event held on
3rd March by the World Health Organization (WHO)
Prof. Dr. Nasir Sulman
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
Curriculum for the deaf has developed within residential schools of the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout this time period, controversy surrounded the development of a curriculum for the deaf. Debate centered on whether to maintain an emphasis on teaching sign language in the curriculum for deaf students or to follow an oral approach focused on lip-reading and listening skills as well as on how to speak. Today, this controversy continues at the language level—the core of human communication. On one side is the position that deafness is a difference and not a disability; Deafness is a culture with its own native language—Sign Language (SL). On the other side is the position that deafness is a disability, creating in an individual significant limitations in communicative competence; measures must be taken in order to compensate for these limitations. (For example, cochlear implants provide access to the stimulus for hearing speech sounds and establish conditions for learning to speak and to use amplification [hearing aids].)
Crucial curricular content for deaf students include language, reading, and writing; Deaf culture, speech development, and aural habilitation. A curriculum in language often consists of teaching students sentence patterns, starting with basic patterns and moving to increasingly complex structures. A curriculum in reading regularly involves using books with relatively simple grammatical structures or basal reading material that is designed so that sentence patterns increase in difficulty from book to book. A typical writing curriculum requires students to learn the rules of different types of discourse and the rules of grammar. Curriculum in language, reading, and writing today can be best described as a balance of analytical and holistic methods.
Learning about Deaf culture is an important curricular goal for all students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, regardless of educational setting. One goal of instruction about Deaf culture is to help students develop understanding of the culture of the Deaf community so that they can participate to whatever extent they wish. A second goal is to help transmit Deaf culture to the next generation of individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Curriculum regarding speech development is aimed at helping children develop breath control, vocalization, voice patterns, and sound production. This curriculum focuses both on producing spoken language and on improving speech. Aural habilitation curriculum involves helping students use their remaining hearing effectively. Depending on a student’s capability, learning goals might include awareness of sound, localization of sound, discrimination of sound differences, or recognition of sound. For some it may be recognition of speech used by others. In order to be effective, curriculum must be instituted early.
In deaf education, three distinct communication approaches are identified for teaching the deaf and hard-of-hearing. These approaches are the bilingual-bicultural approach, the auditory-oral approach, and the total communication approach.
The position of the bilingual-bicultural approach is that sign language (SL) is the natural language of Deaf culture and that SL should be the primary language choice for deaf students. When using this approach, the objective is to provide a foundation in the use of SL, with its unique vocabulary and syntax rules. With this approach, SL is the method of communication in the classroom.
It is important to discuss here the difficulty of learning SL and the misperception that it may be learned easily. Like all complex and subtle languages, mastery beyond a basic level requires extensive exposure and practice. Sign language should be approached with respect and with the understanding that mastery will occur only over time. Also, there are differences in sign complexity by three to nine years of age between native signing deaf children of deaf parents and early signing (before five years of age) deaf children of hearing parents. A whole-language approach to literacy and bilingual-bicultural (bi-bi) education complement each other.
The position of the auditory-oral approach is that students with hearing impairments can develop listening/receptive language and oral language expression skills. It emphasizes the use of residual hearing, amplification, and speech/language training. When using this approach, the objective is to facilitate the development of oral (spoken) language.
Research on teaching practices related to this method has thus far been inconclusive. It does appear, however, that hearing-impaired infants born to Deaf parents using SL may exhibit significantly improved language development. Parents who use a total communication approach, including manual signs, fingerspelling, and spoken language with their child and with each other enhance their child’s acquisition of language. There is a great need for families to have access to comprehensive information about educational options for their children. The debate between manualism or oralism continues to be a heavily charged issue.
Total Communication Approach
The position of the total communication approach is that simultaneous use of multiple communication techniques enhances an individual’s ability to communicate, comprehend, and learn. When using this approach, the basic objective is to provide a multifaceted approach to communication in order to facilitate whichever method works best for each individual. The method of communication used by a student should be a combination of sign language, fingerspelling, and speech-reading.
Inclusion of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children
There are many strategies for teaching students with hearing impairments. It is important to promote acceptance of these students, and to provide an environment where students feel accepted and where modifications can be made without causing undue attention to be focused on individual students. This can be aided by efforts to welcome a student to their new classroom, by discussing the student’s hearing loss with him/her and letting him/her know his/her teacher is willing to help, by having the student or another person—with the student’s approval—explain about the student’s hearing loss to the entire class if appropriate, by making modifications seem as natural as possible so that the student is not singled out, by accepting the student as an individual and being aware of his/her assets and limitations, and by encouraging the student’s special abilities or interests. Adapted from Turnbull (et al., 2002), several factors that appear to contribute to effective placement in general education settings are listed below:
- Classroom teachers need time to learn about their student and deafness. A student’s team, usually including their general education teacher, interpreter, and speech language pathologist need time to share information and plan instruction.
- Professional staff and a student’s parents must be committed to making placement successful and feel confident about a student’s ability to be successful.
- School leadership must provide the kinds of support that promote positive outcomes, such as providing adequate professional staff, paraprofessional staff, computers, and an adequate budget for the purchasing of materials and equipment.
- Professional staff must provide information about the needs of students who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and must be engaged in activities that enable them to understand program design, clarify their roles and activities, and identify appropriate instructional strategies.
- Parents need to be involved on a daily basis and not relegated merely to IEP planning.
- Teachers of the deaf must have occasional opportunities to teach a whole class or to team teach with a general education teacher.
- A school must offer structured and supportive extracurricular activities.
Another important suggestion for teachers of hearing impaired students is to provide them with preferential seating in their classroom. A hearing-impaired student should have a seat near where the teacher usually teaches. The student should be able to see the face of the teacher without straining. The student should be seated away from noise sources, including hallways, radiators, and pencil sharpeners. The student should sit where light is on the teacher’s face and not in their eyes. If the student has a better ear, that ear should be turned toward the teacher. The student should also be allowed to move when necessary for demonstrations or other classroom activities.
Teachers should also increase visual information made available, since the student will use lip-reading and other visual information to supplement what he or she hears. The student will need to see the teacher’s face in order to lip-read. The teacher should use visual aids whenever possible and should demonstrate what the student is supposed to understand whenever possible. A chalkboard should be used for assignments, new vocabulary words, and key phrases.
Other suggestions for classroom teachers are to minimize classroom noise, modify teaching procedures, and have realistic expectations of students. Teaching modifications allow a student to benefit from instruction and decreases the need for repetition. Teachers can aid these efforts by being sure a student is watching and listening when others are talking to him/her, by being sure a student understands what is being said and having him/her repeat information or answer questions, by rephrasing (rather than repeating) questions, by repeating or rephrasing things said by other students when appropriate, and by introducing new vocabulary to a student in advance prior to a lesson.
Adapted Educational Methods
Instructional interventions for students with hearing impairments include adapted methods of communication as well as the use of audiologists and interpreters. Different instructional interventions may be required depending on the severity of hearing loss. These include hearing aids, personal FM systems, favorable seating, medical management, auditory skill-building, help with self-esteem, sound-field FM systems in the classroom, and/or special educational support.
There are four basic types of hearing aids available: 1) in-the-ear aids, 2) behind-the-ear aids, 3) body aids, and 4) bone-conduction aids. Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can also be used to enhance participation and responsiveness of people with hearing loss. In addition, students sometimes use auditory trainers—specifically, FM systems—in their educational settings. These amplification systems are easy to use, enhance signal-to-noise ratio, and are often more effective than hearing aids in managing acoustical problems inherent in many classrooms.
It is also important that teachers ensure that hearing aids and other amplification devices are used when recommended. Teachers should understand that most hearing aids make sounds louder but not necessarily clearer. Students’ hearing devices should be checked daily to ensure that they are always in proper working order. Students should be encouraged to and trained to care for their own hearing device.
Everyday alerting devices can be adapted to meet the needs of hard-of-hearing students. These include wristwatches, doorbells, flashing-light clocks, flashing lamps, pillow vibrators, and specially-designed smoke detectors. Captioning is available on many television programs to make entertainment more accessible to people with hearing impairments. In addition, a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD) can be used by individuals with severe hearing impairments to help them communicate by telephone. (A TDD is a small keyboard with an electronic display screen and a modem attached.) Amplified telephones are also available in a wide range of models and capabilities.
A teacher’s role in implant use warrants more attention and that all factors should be considered before advocating or choosing this “financially, emotionally, and therapeutically challenging option”.
Computers have many possible applications for students with hearing impairments. Special programs offer the opportunity for students to learn at their own comfort level and pace, and special programs are available for speech drill, auditory training, speech-reading, sign language instruction, and supplemental reading and language instruction. Web sites related to hearing impairment include:
- The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (http://agbell.org), The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center (http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu),
- The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (http://www.asha.org), and
- Self-Help for Hard of Hearing people (http://www.shhh.org).
There is a need to encourage reflection upon teacher practice and to promote increased application of computer technology in educational curricula. To achieve this goal, a greater understanding of the relationship between teacher variables and teacher adoption of computer use is needed. This information may be used to help teachers become familiar with how computers work in the classroom and how they can be used for instruction.
For technology to work in schools, it is critical that teachers support the concept of instruction with computers and use them constructively with students. In enhancing teacher technology training programs, the three primary means of support are equipment budget, access to equipment, and support personnel. Teachers need more than just access to resources of hardware and software. They also need “opportunities to discover what the technologies can do, [to] learn how to operate them, and [to] experiment with ways to best apply them in the classrooms.