A Functional Language Program That Works: A Pilot Study

Kate Bonnickson

Keywords: Instructional Strategies/Langauge/K-12

Those in the field of deaf education are constantly looking for methods and procedures that are effective in promoting language growth. Although new developments have been made in this field, language acquisition for hearing-impaired students continues to be slow. There were two main goals of this study. The first was to speed up the process of gaining language and the second was to "establish an automatic, intuitive language base that could later be used to help clarify the more complex aspects of English structure". (p 67) It was thought that the data known about the traditional early language learning environment could be crucial to the designs of language programs for hearing-impaired students. The characteristics of the standard early language environment were used in this program's design along with some adaptations for the needs of the hearing-impaired.

The subjects were six students between the ages of 10 and 12. These students were required to meet the following criteria: "a)linguistic delay when compared to their hearing-impaired peers; b)an essentially nonexistent sight vocabulary (even elementary words such as boy and girl presented problems); and c) no sense of English sentence structure ( a typical first sentence was: Man is car the red.)" (p 68).

The materials used in this study were an adapted version of the Rhode Island Curriculum and the Northwestern Checklist. There were also seven other objectives. The first objective is to work with known concepts. It is important to connect language with events and objects that are seen and experienced. To do this a conventional environment for normal-hearing children was imitated. First-hand experiences and events were implemented. The second objective is to provide a clear, reliable language model. The Rhode Island Curriculum uses five basic sentence patterns and the Northwestern Checklist gives a guide of language structures to be used within these basic patterns. The five basic sentence charts were displayed on a classroom wall. The next objective was to increase the students' vocabulary. This was done by putting new words on classroom charts. The students copied these charts adding pictures next to each word. The fourth objective was to provide adequate time and experience to promote mastery. This was accomplished by having the students complete writing lessons each night in addition to writing assignments and drill sessions in class. Objective five was to provide many successful reading experiences. This was done by the teacher writing stories that used the basic sentence patterns and vocabulary learned by the students. The sixth objective was to encourage risk taking. This was accomplished through a healthy dose of teasing and humor which reduced tension. Appropriate responding was more important than correcting mistakes. Positive reinforcement and improving a student's self-concept were also goals. The final objective was to encourage independence. Class discussions were held to make the students aware that because of their hearing loss they were missing out on language exposure and information flow that normal-hearing people recieve constantly. The class came up with some ideas to help with this problem. "The following list resulted: 1. record new words in their notebooks, along with a picture to help them remember the meaning; 2. to review often the words in their notebooks; 3. to use each new word in a sentence; and 4. to continue writing stories every night ( the more they wrote, the easier it became)" (p 73).

Language samples were taken at the beginning, middle and end of the year. Students were given a picture of a fireman carrying a young boy out of a burning highrise apartment building. The students were then supposed to write a story describing the scene. The first sample taken showed a complete lack of sentence sense. The next sample displayed correct basic sentences. The final sample showed a large improvement. There was a big increase in the amount of words used.

Finally, the drastic improvement of the language skills of these students indicates that the standard language learning model provides important elements in the language acquisition of both hearing-impaired and normal-hearing students.

Bonnickson, Kate, February/March 1985, A Functional Language Program That Works: A Pilot Study, The Volta Review, Vol. 87 (2) 67-75.

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