Saturday, February 2, 2013


Every other month I write a column for Kentucky Teacher.  Below is the column that was published on 1/31. 

Questions to ponder about how best to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students

Posted on 31 January 2013.

I spent Christmas Break catching up on some professional reading. Yes, I am an incessant learner. There are so many advances in our field that if we do not keep abreast of the recent research and practices, we are doing a disservice to our students. One book in particular that fascinated me is How Deaf Children Learn by Mark Marschark and Peter Hauser, published in 2012. Sure, after being a teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing children (DHH) for 18 years, I have a pretty good idea of how they learn. However, this book takes all the current research on deaf cognition, language, and literacy and puts it in practical terms for parents and teachers.

While reading this book, I found myself reflecting on my teaching practices and on how DHH children are currently being educated in Kentucky. Many questions came to mind that I want to share. My intent is not to answer the questions, but for all of us who teach or support DHH children to think about them. By figuring out the answers, we may be able to figure out, as a professional learning community, how to stop the cycle of having these children graduate high school reading at a fourth grade level and finally make these children college and career ready.

According to Marschark and Heuser, “for deaf children to succeed academically they need language: effective communication with their parents and others, fluent language skills to support literacy, and the internal language involved in reasoning and problem solving.” Those children who are successful in school and are better readers are those who have a fluent first language, whether it is spoken or signed.

We know that DHH children enter school several years behind their hearing peers in language and school readiness. What as a profession can we do to reduce this gap AND teach academics at the same time? We know there is a plethora of research showing that learning sign language does not hinder spoken English development but supports it. Sign Language gives DHH children an avenue to quickly learn language while they are learning to speak (if appropriate). What are we doing to educate parents, caregivers and the community about this? What are we doing organizationally to provide DHH children with peer and adult language models in either or both languages?

Research shows that those students, hearing or deaf, who have more language experiences with a variety of language partners have richer vocabulary and develop fluent language. Research also shows that “language fluency is necessary for optimal executive functioning development.” Is putting a DHH child in a classroom with an interpreter giving them language experiences with a variety of adults so that their language, executive functioning, and other cognitive skills can soar? Are we providing all DHH children with enough language experiences to increase their brain cells’ flexibility and number of branches and interconnections of their brain cells to result in higher academic achievement?

“Deaf children in regular school classrooms often report feeling more isolated and lonely than students in schools or programs designed for deaf students, even if their parents think they are getting along just fine. In programs designed for deaf children, they can find others who are like them, even if the hearing world is still all around them.” What are we doing to address this?

Cognitive differences have been found between deaf and hearing children. Fluent signers have better visual spatial memory and oral deaf and hearing children have better sequential memory. The authors said, “Deaf individuals notice more quickly than hearing individuals when something appears in the peripheral visual field or if it moves. They also are faster at shifting their visual attention to the periphery and then shifting it back.” These differences are the brain’s way of adapting to being deaf. Are DHH children being taught how to use their visual attention appropriately so they are not distractible? Are we mislabeling DHH children as having ADHD because their environment is not set up to lessen the distractions in the periphery? Are we capitalizing on the deaf child’s stronger visual spatial memory when we teach them or are we using the same strategies as we do for hearing children?

What can we do starting today to look at how DHH children learn, where we educate them, and how we teach them? What can we change right now so that these children are given an appropriate education in the least restrictive (language) environment?

There is much we can do, but where do we start? We can start by looking inward at our teaching practices and looking outward to see if we are truly offering a continuum of services that allow for rich development of deaf children cognitively, linguistically, psychologically, and socially. Let’s all start today!

Heidi Givens, an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Daviess County schools, was selected as the 2013 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. She and Allison Hunt, an AP Human Geography teacher at Manual High School in Jefferson County and the 2013 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year, will alternate monthly column-writing duties throughout their reigns. Their columns will run the last Thursday of each month.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Teachers Pay Teachers Sale

As you can see from my blog, I have a site on Teachers Pay Teachers where I sell a variety of items, mostly for Deaf students to practice ASL features.  I recently added a Super Bowl packet with numerous games and worksheets covering different math and language arts Common Core standards. 

Since the Super Bowl is only a week away, I have put this produce on sale from January 25 - 27 for just $4.00.

Go get it this weekend before it goes back up to $5.00!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Connecting Fingerspelling to Writing

While under the tutelage of Kristin DiPerri, I learned valuable information of how deaf children use ASL handshapes and fingerspelling in their writing.  I have used her techniques over the years and have seen students' writing confidence increase because of it.  I also read Dave Schleper's article about fingerspelling in the Odyssey issue mentioned in my previous fingerspelling post.  He mentions the same information as Kristin.  Hmm... 2 respected figures in Deaf education sharing the same information and seeing the same results.  Now I will share that information with you.

AS we know, when hearing children are writing, they tend to sound out words they do not know how to spell.  When they are young, they may put the letter for the first sound they hear then add random letters.  Then they may write the letters for the first and last sounds, and so on. 

When Deaf children are exposed to fingerspelling and loan signs, they will write the letters that they see when the sign to themselves these words.  For example, if they signed #BACK to themselves, they may write 'BK' because those are the letters they see.  They may add in a few extraneous letters in the middle because they know the word is more than 2 letters long.

When a students asks me to spell a word, if I decide to spell it for him, I never spell 1 letter at a time.  That is not the natural way to fingerspell.  instead I spell in my normal speed (for younger children I may slow down a bit).  The child then writes whatever letters they catch.  Then I spell it again and again until he finally has all the letters written.  After students are trained long enough, they will start catching most if not all the letters at once! 

Notice I said "if I decide to spell it for him".  I RARELY will spell a word for a student.  Deaf children are way too dependent on adults to save them from the unknown.  I teach them how to be more independent; and in this way, in their writing.

Deaf children who have a good linguistic foundation in ASL also use phonologically based techniques as they write words they don't know how to spell.  Young Deaf children have been seen to write the alphabetic or numerical representation for the handshape of the word they are trying to write.  For example, if they want to write the word 'cat', they will probably write 'F' (for the handshape) followed by a string of letters.  If it is a 2-handed sign, they will write 2 letters or numbers: 'YY' for 'play'.  Over time these "ASL representations' will be replaced with the standard spelling, just as hearing children will eventually replace their 'sounded out' spelling with the standard one. 

Now you may be asking, so how is this helpful in teaching writing to kindergarten through college students?  We all know that one of the reasons Deaf children get stuck as they write or may write a very small amount is due to their limited mastery of written vocabulary.  Deaf children will only write sentences that include words they confidently know how to spell.  Otherwise they are always saying "how do you spell...?" 

In order to break through this and allow Deaf children to write freely and without fear, teach them to write those words they don't know how to spell phonetically in ASL.  Have an entire lesson modeling writing sentences then intentionally get stuck on spelling a word - 'football'.  Now ask the students what strategies you could use to spell the word.  Afterwards, tell them that all of those just take too long.  You might forget what you are wanting to write.  Then through a think aloud, demonstrate how you would use what you know about ASL to spell (temporarily or permanently depending on the intent of the writing) 'football': '55'.  Then continue writing, noting to them that using ASL to write did not break your train of thought and allowed you to write more than you normally would have.  I usually ask the students to underline the 'ASL writing'.

Now, if this was journal writing or any other form of writing that wouldn't require all standard spelling, I would leave the writing like that.  When you read it, you can just ask the student what the word said.  The ASL writing would be similar for a Deaf child as a hearing child's sounded out spelling.

If the writing intent was to eventually be all standard spelling, I would demonstrate to the students how I use the ASL Handshape Dictionary to find the correct spelling of the words I wrote in ASL.  It should be emphasized to students that the dictionary should be used only during the revision or editing stages of writing.  If it is used during the draft, it will take them 1 hour just to write a few sentences.  Of course since this dictionary is organized by handshape and not the English alphabet, you will need to do a minilesson on using the dictionary.

I guarantee that if you started today teaching your students at any grade level to use ASL-based spelling, you will see their writing confidence grow!

Friday, January 4, 2013

How to make a comment

Some have asked how to make a comment to my posts.  First, comments cannot be made on the home page.  You need to click on the title of the post that you want to comment on.  That post will open in a new page.  At the end of the post you will see "Post a Comment" and a text box.  Type your comment into the box.  When you are finished, you will then see "Comment as" and a drop box.  You will need to select which is appropriate for you. There is even an option for anonymous if you prefer.

I hope everyone finds this helpful!