APRIL 4, 1997

Key Words: Instructional Strategies, Deaf Education, K-12


The purpose of the study is to determine factors that contribute to the academic success of two elementary aged children in a residential school for the deaf. Descriptive and demographic data were collected from interviews and questionnaires involving the participants. Results indicated that contributing factors such as parental involvement and student attitude play a vital role in the academic success of these two children. Suggestions for follow-up research are presented.

Many studies have been done on the academic achievement of deaf students and most conclude that hearing impaired students lag behind their hearing counterparts in reading and math (Shildroth & Karchmer, 1986). However, very little research is available on hearing impaired students who do as well or better than hearing children in their age group. The purpose of this study is to determine some of the factors that contribute to the academic success of two children in a residential school for the deaf. For this study, academic success is defined as "on grade level" with hearing peers. Determining these factors is beneficial not only in maintaining the academic success of the two children involved, but also to the research in educational approaches for other children with hearing loss.

According to research on contributing factors to academic achievement in hearing impaired children, one area strongly supports genetics as a dominant factor (Vernon & Andrews, 1990). However, even genetics would be of little consequence if children were left to flounder in isolated environments with little or no stimulation. Therefore, a family environment which promotes a deaf child's self-esteem through establishment of communication should be considered a contributing factor to achievement also (Desselle, 1994).

In a study of the classroom attributes of program placement and mode of classroom communication and their relationship to a deaf child's achievement, it was noted that students who are integrated (mainstreamed) show higher achievement in math and related areas (Holt, 1994). It was also noted in this study that many of these students were white, with a less-than-severe hearing loss and no other cognitive handicaps. This would seem to indicate that a child's achievement depends on many and varied factors including economic status and cannot be contributed to one factor alone. Another study conducted to evaluate integration programs for deaf pupils, concluded that schools do have a significant effect on pupil outcomes, but more research is needed to identify instructional factors that would effect greater academic success (Powers, 1996).



The purpose of this study is to explore factors that contribute to the academic success of two elementary aged children in a residential school for the deaf. Academic success is defined as "on grade level" with hearing peers. Factors to be explored in this study are classroom attributes, parental involvement, and students' attitudes toward education. The two subjects in this study are a deaf child, age seven, female, with hearing parents and a deaf child, age 8, male, with deaf parents. These two children are in the third grade and in the same classroom. Choice of these subjects was the result of conferencing with teachers who know them and through information from an earlier action research paper.

A cover letter, explaining the study and asking for their participation was mailed to each set of parents. A questionnaire, that asked the parents for specific factors contributing to their child's academic success, was enclosed with the letter and consent form. Introductory sessions were conducted with the teacher and participants to explain the research project. Data were gathered from samples of each child's work in reading, writing and math. Interviews were conducted with each child to gather data on his/her attitudes toward school and his/her education. Data were also gathered from the teacher involved in the participants' education and from parent questionnaires. After all data were collected, analyses were conducted to profile those factors that contribute to the academic success of the participants.



The author of this study contacted the teacher at the residential school for the deaf with a proposal for this research project. After permission was given to conduct the study, cover letters with consent forms and questionnaires were sent to the parents of the two potential subjects. Upon receipt of the signed consent forms, the author scheduled interview sessions with each of the students and their teacher. Each child was interviewed for fifteen to twenty minutes in an informal one-on-one setting, outside of their classroom. The author interviewed the teacher in a thirty minute session after school hours but on school premises. Each interview session was conducted in a question and answer format designed to elicit open-ended responses from all participants. After both subjects and their teacher had been interviewed, one thirty minute session was held to administer sample "classwork" in reading, math and cursive writing applicable to third grade level. This material was selected from supplements purchased by the author and administered solely by the author. Upon collection of all the data, analyses were conducted to profile those factors that contribute to the academic success of the participants.



Classroom attributes, parental involvement, and students' attitude contribute to academic success of any child, but which factor contributes most? This research explored the presence of these three factors in the lives of two academically successful deaf children. The results suggest that parental involvement can make a difference to a child's success.

The author started this project with the thought that one factor would overshadow the others, but this is not supported by the data collected in this study. However, the overall theme seems to suggest that parental involvement does have an edge over classroom attributes. Data from the questionnaires and interviews revealed that both subjects are confident and motivated children. Their confidence and self-esteem stems from supportive parents who believe in natural learning environments and use opportunities in real life situations to promote this belief. Responses from the parent's questionnaires support their involvement and interest in their children's education.

Quotes such as these:

"We try to be a positive influence; we desire to teach respect for each other and ourselves. Each activity/opportunity can be a learning situation - as it happens naturally."

"Being with him and encourage that helps - and I used my own methods showing him how to relax and put his mind on ease."

Classroom attributes enhance the learning experience for all children. The subjects in this study responded well to their classroom environment and were eager to learn from new experiences. In interviews and observations, it was noted by the author that both subjects did not hesitate to participate in any given assignments. For the purpose of this research project, the author s ubjected the children to "sample classwork assignments" in three subject areas. Data revealed that the subjects demonstrated third grade level proficiency in cursive writing, multiplication and reading comprehension. Copies of these samples are included in Appendix B.

Quotes from interviews with the subjects revealed their confidence and motivation also.

"I like everything about school, I like cursive writing best, it is fun. I like math, but it is hard sometimes. I study alone - most, sometimes with Mom there. I like to read, I like to answer questions fast, get finished."

Neither subject demonstrated any hesitancy in being a part of this study and seemed to enjoy their time with the author. They both asked the author questions about her personal life and were very friendly and communication was easy.

The participating teacher revealed the subjects "strengths and weakness in the classroom. The teacher communicated well with the subjects upon observation by the author and demonstrated a natural approach to learning offering many activities and experiences. The participating teacher revealed to the author that she felt an involved and supportive family contributes greatly to any child's education and that the two subjects in this study have very supportive home environments.

Problems noted during the research collection process were in scheduling times for interviews and testing. The children were involved in many different activities such as speech and other school functions which made it difficult to arrange compatible schedules. The only other problem noted was in finding that the subjects were not on the same level with their hearing peers in the area of "reading." Talking with the participating teacher helped to alleviate the author 's concern in this area.



The research data suggest that having parental involvement/support is indeed a major contributing factor to the success of these two children. Their attitudes about school and their education are reflective of this involvement. Their motivation to succeed means education is important to them and fosters their involvement with school and enhances their learning experience. Previous literature has shown that self-esteem is important and can greatly impact on your life in many areas. Suggestions for future research include a follow-up study on these two children as they progress into adolescence to see if the balance for contributing factors shifts from parental involvement/support to other factors related to maturity of the child.



Allen, Thomas E., 1986. Patterns of academic achievement among hearing impaired students: 1974-1983. In Arthur N. Shildroth and Michael A Karchmer (eds.) Deaf Children in America. San Diego: College Hill Press, 161-206.


Holt, Judith A., 1994. Classroom attributes and achievement test scores for deaf and hard of hearing students. American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 139, No. 4, 430-437.


Desselle, Debra D., 1994. Self esteem, family climate, and communication patterns in relation to deafness. American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 139, No. 3, 322-328.


Powers, Stephen, 1996. Deaf pupils' achievements in ordinary schools. Journal of British Association of Teachers of the Deaf. (20), 4. September, 111-123.


Vernon, McKay, & Andrews, Jean F., 1990. The psychology of deafness: Understanding deaf and hard-of-hearing people. New York, NY: Longman, 269-276.