Creating Classroom Conversations with Deaf Children

Key words: Instructional Strategies, Language, K-12

Reference: Musselman, C. & Hambleton, D. (1990). Creating classroom conversations with deaf children. ACHI/ACEDA 16, (2/3), 68- 90.

Carol Musselman
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education


Don Hambleton
Metropolitan Toronto School Board


"A study was conducted in five classrooms in which teachers were using a conversational approach to language teaching with hearing impaired students. Analysis of the teacher-student interaction indicated that teachers engaged children in conversations on a wide variety of topics in both individual and group sessions. Overall, between one half and two thirds of all teacher utterances were directive. Individual differences among teachers were evident, and conversational control decreased over time. The limited evidence of language growth among the children was only evident in their imitations and responses, and not in their spontaneous utterances, raising questions about the generalizabiliy of their learning" (p. 68).


The primary purpose was "to identify the ways in which teachers have implemented a conversational approach to language teaching, to assess the extent to which practice reflects the underlying theory, and to identify difficulties and effects of individual teacher and child characteristics on implementation. A secondary purpose was to obtain preliminary evidence regarding the success of a conversational approach in fostering language growth" (p. 70).


"The study was conducted in four auditory/oral (A/O) and one total communication (TC) classroom" (p. 71). In the A/O classroom, four teachers used individual conversations to teach spoken language to three children of different degrees of hearing loss: moderate to severe, severe, and severe with almost no instruction. In the TC classroom, a teacher used "several conversational activities to stimulate language growth" on seven students with severe to profound hearing loss (p. 71).


"Considerable differences were observed among teachers, all of whom were using a conversational strategy" (p.84). Teachers generally talked two-thirds of the time except "in the TC classroom where the children were older, the conversation was split roughly 50-50 between teacher and students" (p. 85). "Teacher input reflected developmental characteristics of the children, as is typically the case with mothers of hearing children...input also depended on their (teacher's) view of the task, a fact that maintains true for mothers of hearing impaired children" (p.85). "In contrast to their teachers, the young children produced only a few utterance types, primarily imitations and responses to questions; they produced relatively few spontaneous contributions...these children's use of language was related to their teacher's input and changed over time in ways that reflected change in their teachers" (p.85).

One of the children in the A/O classroom, whose teacher's language was highly structured and patterned, showed evidence of language growth, but "only in his imitations and responses to questions, and not in spontaneous contributions" (p.86). "A corresponding phenomena occurred within the TC classroom, where it appeared that students sometimes restricted their questions to ones that they know how to phrase using acceptable English grammar, rather than ones that were interesting and conversationally appropriate. This created comprehension difficulties because the context lacked cohesion" (p.86).

"It is essential that teachers should only credit children for having mastered a language structure when it is used generatively (i.e., in a novel utterance) and spontaneously (i.e., in an utterance that is not imitated or prompted)" (pp.86,87).

Teachers' view of their students is an important factor in classes for hearing impaired children. "In the case of mothers of hearing impaired children, the mother feels powerless to elicit normal language because of the child's hearing loss. Thus she views her job as that of 'teaching' language rather than supporting the child's own attempts to communicate. This hypothesis can be extended to teachers" (p.88).


Modeling can "increase the conversational nature of classroom interactions" (p. 87). "Increased reliance on modeling as a technique require that teachers learn to be conversational partners with children rather than conversational referees. This requires conversations that are spontaneous and less planned. In such conversations ,children respond, not because they are required to imitate, but because they are involved in a topic which both partners are actively contributing" (p.87).

"Increased use of peer talk is another strategy for enhancing the value of conversation" (p. 87). "Encouraging more peer-peer talk would broaden students' language experience and allow the teacher to model types of language that students rarely have the opportunity to receive from an adult, a strategy elaborated by van Uden(1977)" (p. 87).

"For these older children who have mastered the basic principles of language, longer episodes of conversation on complex topics are also required in order to provide opportunities for practicing complex structures" (p.87).

Uploaded by: Jessica Soltesz/Kent State University/Deaf Education Major