University of Edinburgh

Language and Deaf Education: Into the 21st Century

March, 2006

Marc Marschark -

Deaf Education: An "Enlightened Empirical Approach"

Marc Marschark
Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

Thank you for coming. I am excited to be here. Thank you John, Marion, Sheila, interpreters, captionists struggling to keep up. My sponsors, people who sponsored this meeting, those who made it possible, those who I work for, those who pay for my research. I don't get to talk much about it today. I start the whole thing today.

Enlightened Empirical Approach - what is this thing? This has developed, over the last few years - since I started research that gave me results 190 degrees from what we expected. It includes the empirical part - goal explicitly to bring research to practice - researchers and teachers have to work together. What the partnerships is about - to team up researcher and teacher.

Enlightened Empirical Approach - to be enlightened - some can't read this - we need to be honest that deaf students challenges are across the curriculum. Easy for us to pick literacy, but will look at the issue of general education.

We have to be clear we don't understand how deaf children learn. We think we do sometimes. Some of the strategies we use don't work. It leaves behind the politics. Our assumptions, some with us over 100 years - have not got us far in improving education achievement of deaf children - why? What can we do about it?

It may not seem strange here, but notion of looking at the whole child, not something that happens much in the States. USA generally has been very reductionistic - we study the little pieces and give the rest to teachers. Need a holistic view of children and deaf children. Students have been from the UK and Europe - USA ones no fun!

Most importantly, as the view has developed in my head, need to acknowledge deaf and hearing children don't necessarily learn same way - diversity with deaf children more. They have more trouble with 6 deaf children than 30 hearing

Literacy as an easy target - last summer I did a presentation about whether deaf children's reading challenges are really about reading? Why have we not made more progress? Premise: we have gotten our own way. We have assumptions about their abilities. We have looked in the wrong place.

Today in this enlightened view I will say we know a lot more than we think we know about improving deaf children's learning. Why aren't we doing something about it?

Many misunderstandings in literacy comes from statements like this one. We know in the USA 50% of deaf and hard of hearing children graduate from secondary school reading below the grade 4 level. It means they are reading 50% above this.

Who: who are the kids who are reading, not only - I probably pushed the wrong button - not only who are the children who struggle - who are the 50% - the best young deaf readers. Something we will pick up tomorrow afternoon. Only 1 study of who are the best deaf readers. I want to know about placement - where are they? Because of being in that placement or are they there because they read best.

Talking about mainstream versus separate education. Trained as a psychologist - wise in reading - this is my old thing - if any of you heard me do a presentation in the last 3 years, you have seen some part of this puzzle. Hopefully today will put pieces together to give a picture not seen before.

Grade 4 is around 11 years old. These are USA numbers.

I talk about top down , bottom up - talking of reading. What we know our problem solving strategies, concept knowledge affect how we deal with things on the printed page - what we get on printed page affects what we know.

We focus on this bottom stuff. Why? For past 2 years I argued we should look at this top technical term stuff - knowledge, problem solving.

In fact it doesn't matter if print on the page , or through the air - it is about language. All of cognitive social functioning involves knowing the structure of interactions - what the rules are - interacts with what we know - we learn from it and it affects how we behave in the future.

Not understanding the cognitive foundations of learning - it is broad when comes to deaf children - so variable - all six children in your room learn differently. I will will summarise iwith four points.

I pointed out that - I don't care what people tell you - no evidence that spoken language leads to better reading. Children with residual hearing have better speech, read better - everything I say is on average - link not between spoken language and reading - it is between residual hearing and reading.

No evidence that fluent sign skills are sufficient to give you good literacy skills - fluent language - yes. Link from BSL to literacy in English is not a simple one.

I don't care what people tell you - no evidence because you have deaf parents you read better. Many reasons - one - if 50% of deaf school leavers reading below - how can they be good models for their children - co-relational - to do with fluent language.

We know that deaf children's literacy skills optimally benefit from fluent language and exposure to print. After that presentation, a teacher asked is it reasonable to expect deaf children to read at grade level.

The data you will see are not a product of my working with them. I was there to document it. School for the deaf - 300 kids - mostly rural but some urban. Over past 5 years we have figured they have made 21 changes in curricular and co-curricular programmes related to language and reading.

Let me show you a few:
Trying to get kids to read more - that's all that matters. What they are specifically - doesn't matter yet but it will.

Stanford Achievement Test grade 8 - 15 years old - data from 5 classes that graduated from this school 2001 - 2005 - this is how they were reading when they were 15.

On right - is the median - children were reading like children all over the USA. The class that graduated last year almost 2 grades above the one before - the first beneficiaries of the push in reading. 8th grade reading of ones not yet graduated - will this coming spring.

Before the 15 year olds looked good. Children in that school are now reading at grade level after benefitting from one of these 21 things. Study now is trying to figure out which of these matter for which children. Likely a formula that makes a difference between the varying children.

It is not just a group of smart children - this is the Maths score - in maths they look like everyone else in the country. It is not just one group of smart children. This is embarrassing for the school. They have to do something in maths too now. Is it reasonable to expect deaf students to be reading at grade level - YES!

You had to be there. Now beyond literacy - how it extends to all educational achievement.

Some things to keep in mind that we know. The gap is not just in literacy - most of you know that. In fact most deaf children and college students struggle in problem solving skills - verbal and non verbal suggesting not just about language. We know deaf children who group up signing have visual spatial advantage - why haven't we used this in the classroom - a tool we have not touched.

Not picking on deaf children. Most deaf students do succeed. We define success as what they have accomplished rather than what they could accomplish - brings up parents, teachers, expectations - also what George W Bush wants. Not going there!

Differences between deaf students more successful academically - and not - parallels differences between deaf and hearing children.

We have to be able to admit when we're wrong. I used to think if we could just teach deaf children to do what hearing children did, they could succeed just like hearing children. It does not work that way. There are some parallels. It is not the case that putting an interpreter in the class makes everything go away.

Deaf students who are less successful academically typically don't know how much they're not understanding. I understand all the teacher signs so I know what is going on - I come back understanding signs, I can play with my pager for a while, we have data to show students that think if they know the signs they know what's being said.

As information comes in, trying to figure out how it is connected. Read and solve problems one stage at a time - less able students. If you look at the knowledge they have - better academically achieving students have stronger connections in their knowledge - table gets you chair quickly. With less achieving - table might get you tree. It varies more, children are more diverse. Children who are struggling are more diverse than ones who are not.

When we know the children know that, they don't necessarily utilise that knowledge. Know the calculus but can't put it into engineering. Same thing.

From our work, those differences we see in literacy and academic achievement, we also see in the comprehension of sign language. Evidence - we looked at how students learn through sign language interpreting. Liz, Oliver - I know them. I can embarrass interpreters - I have bad boundaries. Oliver's mother taught me most about what I know about interpreting. Anything I sign wrong - it's his fault

How do kids learn this way? A variety of studies done - one involved ASL interpreting vs English translation at National Technical Institute for the Deaf - aural kids who didn't know how to sign. Gave them translation.

You never have to look at numbers today. Interpreting, real ASL vs English based signing made no difference. Did not learn so much from these lectures, as the hearing students. They got written tests like in class.

We did learn that our students come into the classroom with less knowledge than their peers. We can control for how much knowledge they come in with and see how much they learn - then the difference gets smaller.

True hearing students learn more from a lecture than the deaf students. Difference between strong ASL students who sign and oral students who don't - is not great. This is a case where students are in same class listening to hearing teacher - other students learning through an interpreter. It is not that learning through an interpreter reduces what you learn.

What does predict comprehension of learning via sign language. Its not their language skill - we have tested 800 students and its not this. It doesn’t depend on degree of hearing loss or whether they have deaf or hearing parents, or when they learn to sign.

These are university students. We know that how well students learn from interpreting is related to how they think they are learning. Hearing students can predict what they have learned in the class. Deaf students can't predict this. Hearing students predict what they have learned from the teacher. Any deaf student learning via interpreting - it is mediated - they do not get it directly.

Related to this mediated learning a study we did recently addressed this issue of direct communication versus mediated. We had pairs of ASL students and oral students doing trivial pursuit. We also had mixed pairs. I see oral students talking to ASL users and we don't know if they understand each other.

The trivial pursuit study was junior version - questions like which day is leap day? Mark asks Lisa which day is leap day? To make sure she understands she has to repeat it. We keep going until we are sure she understands it. She then gives us the answer and then we go to multiple choice if she doesn't. This is about face to face communication. It includes kids who have different language. We tried to model the classroom discussions.

It tells us how much they understand as well as how much they think they understand. We gave them cash and chocolates to take part. We encouraged them to ask if they didn't understand the question. (They got more chocolate if they asked for repetition.)

They didn't ask for repetition often. Why? Did they not need it or did they think they didn't need it.

So how often did they actually understand each other?

Skilled ASL signers understood 62% of single sentence face to face communication.

The oral students it was 44%.


This is a problem for classroom communication.

Clearly we need to look at the stuff at the bottom if students are not understanding the language of their peers. This tells us we need to look at development and education. Children are coming to school without language, cognitive and social skills.

In America we are losing Teachers of the Deaf because of classroom behaviour. We need them to come to school with social skills and being ready to learn. We need to ask hard questions.

This research tells us deaf children are not children who can't hear. We need to match instructional methods with the way the individual children learn - different is good if we can figure out the differences. I would say that deaf children learn differently - one more data example: its not because they are deaf its because of the way we teach them.

They do learn differently from other children. See this graph on vocabulary development. I'm sure you all read this earlier. In hearing kids vocabulary growth is variable - its the same for deaf children of deaf parents. We know that. What is interesting is at the vocabulary spurt level - where children acquire a billion words a day (I'm not a parent). We know that deaf children of deaf parents don't show this vocabulary burst.

There are three stages of word learning. The slow word learning stage (camel), then the rapid word learning stage (penguin), then there is cognitively mediated word learning (the rhinoceros). If you know the camel and penguin you should be able to work out the rhinoceros.

Remember I said deaf children who are less successful don't process things relationally.

We know that deaf children of deaf parents don't follow a pattern of cognitively mediated word learning. So deaf children don't have this tool to bring to the classroom.

So where does that leave us?

If we want to improve achievement in deaf children we have to adjust our tools and products to suit they way they learn. We have to help them to become more aware of their own learning - teach them to be independent learners. we should teach them to know when they understand and when they don't. we need to be clearer with parents - we have to work together to figure out what is best for individual kids in individual settings

We are positioned today to make big advances in the academic achievement of deaf students. I saw that in the school in Pennsylvania.