Communication Problems in the Classroom

Key words: Instructional Strategies, Language, K-12

Submitted by: Melissa Close

Topic: Communication problems in the classroom

Tasks: The communication problems that arise in the classroom due to the limitations of the receiver to see the sender's signing Resources: Matthews, T.J., & Reich, C.F. (1993). Constraints on communication in classrooms for the deaf. American Annals of the Deaf, 138(1), 14-18.


The academic achievement of deaf students is still far below that of their hearing peers. There is not one explanation for this struggle, but two facts that contribute to this poor achievement are the speed of information being given and the problem with line-of-sight communication. Line-of-sight communication is a type of communication that relies mostly on the visual domain. Research has implied that only about half the information that is communicated by speech can be communicated by sign. This study focuses on the amount of time that communication is possible in a classroom for the deaf.

The research was collected at a deaf high school by using videotapes. The teachers used a multi modal approach to communicating. The experiment included two different classrooms. The major results are the following:
1. Someone signed 73% of the total time in the classroom. Most of the non-signing intervals were during note-taking or when someone moved around the room.
2. In Class A, 43% of the total signing time was done by the teacher and in Class B, the teacher signed 27% of the time. The difference in teacher signing time was due to the format of the different classes.
3. On the average the student looked at the teacher about 44% of the time the teacher was signing.
4. In Class A, the student , to whom the teacher was signing to, was looking at the teacher 62% of the time, compared to Class B, where the student being signed to was only looking at the teacher 42% of the time.
5. The students signed two-thirds of the total signing time. This measure indicates that the students were participating in the signing.
6. Only about 30% of the signing by a student was seen by the other students. This is not extremely low considering that there was only a 14% difference between the amount of signing the student received from other students and the amount received from the teacher.
7. Students participated in collateral conversations, which occurred when two students looked at each other and one or the other or both signed, about one-fourth of the time.

The results also showed that a considerable amount of signing was not seen by the target, the person being signed to, or by any person in the classroom. A conclusion can be made in reference to this study that line-of-sight communication plays a giant role in the problem of transmitting information to deaf students.

There are some useful strategies which can be employed to diminish the communication constraints. During a lecture, the students should be arranged in a shallow V to control the amount of student-to-student communication. Another suggestion to minimize the line-of-sight communication constraints was to use computer networking in the classroom. By using a network, each student would receive the information, even if he/she was not viewing the computer screen at the moment the information was sent out.


The communication restraint in a deaf classroom can be minimized by the use of computers. By using computers, the students can work on written English and English grammar. Teachers need to become more aware of the necessity to adapt the classroom environment so that the optimal line-of-sight communication can occur.


Due to the line-of-sight communication used by deaf students, should they receive more one-on- one instruction?

What methods should be used for deaf students to learn to pay more attention to the signer in the elementary grades?

Does the amount of information which a deaf student receives depend on the different communication modes which are used? The more the better?


Cokely, D. (1990). The effectiveness of three means of communication in the classroom. Sign-Language Studies, 69, 425-442.

Allen, T.E. (1986). Patterns of academic achievement among hearing impaired students: 1974-1983. In R.N. Shildroth & M.A. Karchmer (eds.). Deaf Children in America. San Diego: College-Hill Press.

Mather,S.A. (1987). Eye glaze and communication in a deaf classroom. Sign-Language Studies, 54, 11-30.

Edited by: Melissa Close/Kent State/ Deaf Ed. Major