From Drill to Practice? A Question of Generalization

Ellen Schneiderman, Ph. D.

Key words: Instructional Strategies/General Information/K-12

The primary goal of the majority of educational programs for the hearing-impaired is "to develop the ability to read and write the common language of the general society." More recent studies on language development focus on language in context while older studies have looked at structure or meaning of discrete linguistic units. These models ignored the primary function of language which is communication. A social-interaction theory of language holds to the fact that a child progresses toward "greater linguistic competence through the interaction of the child's own communication skills with adults' strategies for interaction with the child" (p 27). There is an assumpion in this theory that a child's language competence is gained through his/her social interactions. Teachers must develop methods of instruction in which there is a need to communicate some information within a meaningful context . There are some ways in which teachers can imitate the typical caregiver-child interactions. The adult must focus on and be responsive to the child's area of attention, support the child's verbalication with nonverbal information, model the correct form of language structure in a meaningful context, allow the child opportunities to initiate, respond to initiations with feedback that is based in truth instead of form, and use responses that correspond with the child's level of skill.

A social-interaction perspective is interesting when compared to two approaches to English language instruction that are currently popular in programs for hearing-impaired students. The natural approach tries to parallel the way that hearing children acquire language. Structural approaches look at language analytically and focus on knowledge of its structure. A major study done by King (1984) looked at the different ways to teach language instruction. The study found that the majority of the programs use some type of metalinguistic symbol. It also found that over half of programs used metalinguistic symbols at the preschool level and almost 98% of programs at the high school level used them. Another interesting note that King noticed was a lack of uniformity in the use of symbol systems among programs.

Metalinguistic practices are very different than a social-interaction perspective on language development. Structural approaches believe that writing skills gained in this type of instruction will generalize to less structured writing activities.

In structural approaches students learn that language is a system of rules that starts out simple and becomes more complex. There is little documentation that the structural approach gains generalization in language outside of this highly controlled context. This brings about an interesting question. "Why do students whose written performance reflects knowledge of specific sentence patterns on sentence-generating tasks neglect to use this knowledge in a less controlled format?" (p 31) The structural approach to teaching language doesn' t provide the students with a context in which there is an need to communicate information in a meaningful context. Students must learn to use language for specific purposes and evaluate their communication skills based on some communicative result.

Schneiderman, Ellen, Ph.D., From Drill to Practice? A Question of Generalization, American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 135 (No. 1), p 27-32.

Uploaded by: Jennifer Waxman/Kent State University/Deaf Education Major