Reflections On Language Programs For The Hearing Impaired

B.R. Clarke, PhD & D.A. Stewart, EdD

Keywords: Instructional Strategies/Language/K-12

This evaluation examines eight common approaches to language programs for hearing-impaired students. There are two concepts which seem to be most important: creating opportunities for conversations and the exploitation of authentic real-life experiences for the development of language.

The first method examined is language stories and drills. The story and drill method is historically the first of the methods that were looked at in this evaluation. The early workbooks concentrated on such things as: "a story with new vocabulary and examples of the principles to be developed, practice in writing questions ( to given answers) and formal review drills on previous materials, questions to be answered by the student and exercises based on the new language principle" (p 154). Currently the trend is moving away from word order, word choice, etc. Now educators are focusing on understanding and reproducing meaningful language.

The next approach is the Fitzgerald Key. It was originated to be used as a guide to correct sentence patterns. The woman who designed the Key meant for it to be used to assist deaf children in viewing language syntactically. She also wanted it to be used in a language learning atmosphere that was comparative to the experiences of hearing children learning language. Unfortunately, in practice the experience factor hasn't been accomplished. Instead the Key has been used for primarily language structure.

The natural approach encompasses the following principles: " a.) Language and vocabulary must be supplied according to the child's needs. b.) Language is acquired in meaningful communication settings rather than by drills and textbook exercises separate from meaning. c.) Language usage is best taught through conversation and discussion and written compositions, and through the academic and skill areas of the curriculum. d.) If language principles need to be taught, they need to be introduced incidentally in natural language learning situations, explained in real situations, and practiced in conversations, stories, and games. It is only in the upper grades that language requires exactness in planning, organization, and self-criticism" (p 154). For this method to succeed the teacher must view language as a way to communicate and a way to develop academic and social skills.

The patterning approach was developed by St. Joseph's School For the Deaf in St. Louis. It is a structural approach. The slot grammar approach is used combined with natural experiences such as a conversational format. One disadvantage of this method is that it is hard to determine how fluent language performance at all levels can be achieved without more focus given to the meaning and understanding of utterances.

The programmed instruction approach was developed in the 1960's when there was a trend towards machines and computer technology. There is once again a lack of real-life experience in this method which may cause a decline in effectiveness.

Behavior modification is often used with children who are severely retarded, autisticlike, or multihandicapped. It depends largely on imitation to shape behavior which is limited and specific. One problem of behavior modification is that it doesn't account for developmental language patterns.

The most common program of linguistically based approaches is the Rhode Island Curriculum. "The aims of this curriculum are twofold: 1. the development of basic underlying linguistic knowledge for sentence generation and 2. language is made an integral part of the total curriculum. Although the major concern is for the syntactic component of language, control of linguistic input is advocated by using events, stories and experiences".(p 156). The process is done slowly and only meaningful sentences are used. It doesn't focus on syntax but instead looks at the internalization of simple relationships. Through this the child will be able to comprehend and produce many sentences. The program is flawed because it is based on an adult model that ignores developmental data.

The next model is developmentally based language instruction programs. Kretschmer and Kretschmer created a developmental outline of English structures to guide teachers in planning language experiences. There are six stages to the outline which show different syntactic categories. Kretschmer and Kretschmer believe that language programs should be dialogue or communication based coupled with modeling or expansion techniques. There are also other developmentally based language programs. Although they may not be for the hearing-impaired they could still be applied to these students because they offer alternate language schemes which may coincide with various educational settings in which the hearing-impaired are found.

After reviewing some of the methodologies used three conditions appear to be necessary for the effective acquisition of language. "Instruction should: 1. be guided by features related to the normal language acquisition process 2. have emphasis placed on conversations or interactive communication, and 3. ensure that authentic language is used in natural settings" (p 157). The idea that conversation is the most important element means that syntax shouldn't be the main focus for teachers planning language experiences.

There are features of the conversational approach which appear to be quite important. They are as follows: 1.) conversations should be the main focus for developing language in hearing-impaired students. When authentic real-life settings are used all aspects of language can come together 2.) Effective communication requires knowledge in different conversational skills 3.) Students should be encouraged to have frequent conversations with their peers 4.) Nonverbal communication is an important part of conversations 5.) Language goals should be based on the individual's own rate of development 6.) Language experiences should show functional relevance 7.)The hearing-impaired individual should be encouraged to experiment with language 8.) Reading and writing skills should coincide with the students stage of language attainment 9.) The conversational approach can be used with any particular communication method.

In summary, if hearing-impaired individuals are to be part of the community then we must provide them with competence in communication. Language must be taken seriously and viewed as a means of communicating information. Children should be encouraged to use language to convey a message. The challenge for teachers is to make sure that language is taught using authentic, real-life exchanges.

Clarke, B.R., PhD & Stewart, D.A., EdD, 1986, Reflections on Language Programs for the Hearing Impaired, Journal of Special Education, Vol. 20 (2) p. 153-165.

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