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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Support for the Needs of Mainstreamed Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students

This is a guest post by school librarian Nadene Eisner. Reprinted with her permission, this article was originally posted on Deaf Politics.

It takes a village: teachers and librarians can help students achieve academic success

In 2009, twenty schools for the deaf were targeted for closings or budget cuts. Throughout 2011 the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has fought to protect schools for the deaf from closing. The NAD’s position statement on schools for the deaf recognizes their value both educationally and culturally but when we look at enrollment numbers more deaf and hard of hearing students continue to attend their local public schools, private schools, or public schools with deaf and hard of hearing programs than schools for the deaf.

While the NAD is fighting for schools for the deaf to remain open, who is looking out for the educational welfare of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students in public schools? We know the current learning situation is not working successfully for all DHH students. Research continues to show the average DHH student graduates high school with a fourth grade reading level. To combat this decades-old struggle to improve literacy and learning, research out of RIT supported recognizing and teaching to the unique learning styles of DHH students. With appropriate support, DHH students made academic gains relative to their learning level. Recommendations from this research included educating DHH students in an environment with teachers experienced in working with DHH students and supporting independent learning by providing opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge of what they read and learned. Being encouraged to think independently helped students transfer knowledge from one area to another.

Who is responsible for teaching these independent thinking skills? Many articles about educating DHH students point to classroom teachers as the responsible parties in educating students. Those of us who subscribe to the theory of teachers as guides recognize “it takes a village” to educate our students. In a true collaborative team schools might look to the music, art, and physical education teachers to provide lessons that tie in to classroom learning. The special education staff supports specific learning needs while the school librarian ideally works with everyone to ensure students have the literacy and information skills to help them become life-long thinkers and learners.

School librarians can play a tremendous role in improving learning in students who are DHH. Teachers are under a lot of pressure in the classroom to help students pass tests due to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Within the library, school librarians may have the freedom to do original teaching that can only improve the critical thinking skills students need to pass these standardized tests.

As with all teachers, school librarians need to be alert to the individual learning differences in their students, especially those who are DHH. This can be challenging when a school librarian teaches over 600 students each week, but by recognizing specific learning differences in students, lessons can be tailored to meet many needs at once.

What are the learning styles that define DHH learners? While many of us may learn best with a combination of learning styles, DHH learners may rely more on learning visually. Visual learners learn best with pictures, written instructions, sign language, and visual demonstrations. By contrast, auditory learners process information more effectively by listening, and kinesthetic learners do best in environments that encourage movement and tactile activities.

It’s important to understand that our brains are often expecting us to learn in a certain way regardless of how we are taught in the classroom. For example: as a deaf person I’m a visual learner; however, I became deaf at the age of three in the years before computers and captioned television. My brain was probably wired to learn by hearing but I could no longer comprehend everything I struggled to hear with hearing aids. When I looked for visual supports—pictures to demonstrate routines, written instructions, gestures, sign language, anything to fill this immense gap I was experiencing—here was nothing because I was educated in environments that didn’t differentiate for different learning styles. This didn’t change the fact that I was still an auditory learner who was now forced to learn visually without visual supports. The result for me was learning became tedious and boring.

Some DHH students in mainstreamed and self-contained classrooms today are having challenges similar to when I was a student. They may be in mainstreamed classrooms without efficient visual support. They may have teachers who don’t understand completely their very unique culture and learning needs. Students are moving from music, to art, to physical education, to the library to be taught by teachers who may be unfamiliar with their specific needs.

DHH students are not the only visual learners. We are seeing more and more visual learners in hearing students, which is terrific news for our DHH students who are educated in mainstreamed programs. Some point to technology as one reason for more visual learners. From an early age, children are surrounded by visual stimulation through television, computers, video games, and texting. As a result students also have become accustomed to receiving short bursts of information rather than long lectures.

Regardless of the reason, we are more aware of learning differences now than in the past, and we are better equipped to teach to these unique learning styles. Teachers and school librarians need to collaborate with each other to meet these unique learning needs. Students in kindergarten through high school need our guidance as they learn and we need to support students by recognizing their unique needs as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

As a teacher-librarian I’ve looked to my own needs as an auditory/visual learner to create and present lessons that incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning while also encouraging the use of technology as it relates to specific learning goals. I was thrilled to see how successful these strategies were with my hearing students and because they incorporate so much visual learning they can be adapted in a DHH classroom, or a classroom with DHH mainstreamed students.

Evidence from RIT shows that many DHH students are not where they should be academically, not because they are unable to learn but because we are not teaching to their learning styles. The more we can differentiate to encourage our students to read and communicate the better they can strive for academic success.

To further meet the needs of DHH students and provide support they may not be receiving in the classroom, I have created a tutoring service, Signs of Success Tutoring, to work not only with DHH students but also with parents, teachers, and late-deafened adults to implement strategies tailored to the needs of DHH learners as illustrated in this article. My tutoring service includes support beyond homework help that encourages students to communicate with me through my website and engage in discussions. I provide links to websites that support student learning and instruct students in how to navigate the Internet. I collaborate with teachers virtually and face-to-face to create engaging curriculum-based lessons and exercises for DHH students.

While the NAD continues to focus on keeping schools for the deaf open my tutoring service provides educational support for DHH students at home who are learning in public schools and hearing colleges. With enough teachers and parents looking out for our students we can challenge the “fourth grade reading level” research and push our students to succeed.

Works cited:
Eisner, Nadene (2011).

Gallaudet Research Institute (2011). Annual survey of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth, 2007-08 Regional and National Summary. Gallaudet Research Institute / Gallaudet University

Marschark, M., Spencer, P., Adams, J., & Sapere, P. (2011). Teaching to the strengths and needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 26(1), 17-23. doi:10.1080/08856257.2011.543542

Nadene Eisner earned her MS from Drexel University and her School Library Media Specialist certificate from the Universtiy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She's worked in several libraries throughout the years, most recently serving as the school library director and teacher in a hearing elementary school. She is completing her Certificate of Advanced Studies at UIUC. She lives in Illinois with her four children—and lots of books.<


Xpressive Handz said...

Nadine, this is excellent! We all have different ways of learning, there is no "One Size Fits All" approach.

Xpressive Handz said...

I'm sorry, I spelled your name wrong.

(e said...

This has been a problem for ALL students, hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf. Certainly "one size does not fit all" which makes teaching each and every student in a classroom of 25 or more effectively, extremely difficult. Add deafness or hearing loss and it makes it even more difficult. We can only do the best we can and try different things until something seems to work well.

Positive and optmistic attitude is a must when teaching!!


Nadene Eisner said...

@Xpressive Handz, "everyone" spells my name wrong :)
Thank you for your supportive comments!
@e, one of the concerns that has surfaced from years of research is that teachers are trying different strategies but still are not seeing high reading scores. Much of the research focuses on students who are struggling. It would be interesting to research high achieving deaf and hard of hearing adults to see what was different about their learning styles, education and personal backgrounds that helped them become successful. For some it may simply be that they were exceptionally bright.