An action research approach was used in conducting this study. Action research can be defined as "the study of a social situation with a view to improving the quality of action within it" (Elliot, 1991).
Participants. Four hearing impaired students were chosen from a small, urban public elementary school in the southeastern United States to participate in the study. Two of the students were in the 3rd grade, one was in the 4th grade, and one was in the 5th grade. Each of the four students was white. The 4th grade student was the only female participant in the study. The ages of the participants ranged from 9 to 12 years old. The 5th grade student performed academically at a 2nd grade level in both math and reading. The 4th grade student performed academically at a 3rd grade math and reading level. One of the 3rd grade students performed academically at a 3rd math level and a 2nd grade reading level while the other 3rd grade student performed at a 1st grade level in both math and reading. All four students had moderate (60 dB or higher) to profound (90 dB or higher) hearing losses, as defined by R.C. Bevan (1988). Each one of the students was prelingually deafened, and three of the students wore hearing aids in both ears. The fourth student, a 3rd grade male, had received a cochlear implant on his left side and had no amplification in his right ear. All of the students received some, or all, of their instruction in a self-contained classroom where the teacher used Total Communication. Total Communication incorporates a variety of forms of communication, including "formal signs, informal gestures, finger spelling, facial expression, body language, mime, and spoken or printed words" (Turnbull, Turnbull ill, Shank & Lcal, 1995, p. 572), into instruction. One of the 3'd grade boys stayed in the self-contained classroom all day and received instruction in all subject areas. The other three students went out into mainstreamed classrooms for various subjects, and each of these students was followed by his/her own interpreter. These three students came into the self-contained classroom for academic support.
Instructors. Instruction in the self-contained classroom was provided by two teachers. One was a white male who is currently doing an internship and working towards his Master of Science degree; the other instructor was a white female who acted as the mentoring teacher for the intern. She had 3 years of teaching experience in a special education classroom, 4 years of teaching experience at a state school for the deaf, and was currently in her first year of teaching at the elementary school where the study was conducted.
Outside Evaluator. An individual unfamiliar with the study was chosen to analyze the students' dialogue journal entries for clarity of expression. The outside evaluator was a white female with 10 years of teaching experience at a residential school for the deaf. She was asked to read the dialogue journal entries and evaluate each student's clarity of expression.
Procedure. For the study, each of the students was given a free e-mail account through HotMail (http://www .hotmail.com/). Using a computer that was already equipped with access to the Internet, the students were able to read any messages and send any messages from inside the self-contained classroom. For a period of five weeks, the students received and responded to e-mail messages sent from the intern teacher at least 1-2 times each week. Each student was sent messages which focused on topics such as academics, social activities, likes and dislikes, and any other topics which pertained to the student's own interests. Since the intent of the dialogue journal was to allow the students to write freely to the intern teacher, few limitations were placed on the content of the messages. Originally, the e-mail messages sent to the students were to be the same. Instead, because the students showed little interest in the generic dialogue, the format was altered. The messages were adapted to be more individualized to each student's likes and interests. Each student had a designated time during the school day in which he/she would sit down with the mentoring teacher to read and respond to any e-mail messages. The mentoring teacher helped the students by answering questions about the e-mail messages, explaining words or phrases not understood by the student, and spelling any words that the student could not spell on his/her own. The intern teacher wrote and received all of the e-mail messages to and from the students, and analyzed the data with help from a peer debriefing group. These dialogues were then printed and recorded by the intern teacher (Appendices A-C). Although some of the students received and sent messages to other people in addition to the intern teacher, only those messages to and from the intern teacher were recorded as part of the data set.
Student responses were analyzed based on criteria for written work adapted from Paul Deiderich, Director of Research in the English Educational Testing Service at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) (Appendix D). Because these criteria were established for college or university written samples, it was adapted for use with elementary-aged students. Specifically, the analysis focused on how well the students were able to put their thoughts and ideas into written English language, and whether or not the clarity of these thoughts and ideas would improve during the course of the study. Each of the students was assigned a pseudonym by the intern teacher to help protect his/her identity when the data were reported.
Because of time constraints, this study was limited to a small sample
of participants. The four students that participated were chosen because
they were all in the intern teacher's placement. Because parental consent
forms were returned by only 3 out of the 4 students, only those 3 students'
dialogue journal el7tries were analyzed. Because the study was restricted
in length, more in-depth quantitative measurements could not be used to
determine the degree to which the students' writing had, or had not, improved.
The mentoring teacher intends to continue to have the students respond
to their e-mail as part of the daily routine of the classroom.