The question of how best to teach learners who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) is perhaps the oldest topic in any area of education for children with diverse learning needs. Developments in a number of fields have accounted for more DHH learners achieving educational outcomes commensurate with their hearing-age peers than at any point in that long history. Efforts to further develop and implement effective educational practices with these learners continue, with an abundance of interventions proposed in the literature and in practice. Despite this, evidence for their efficacy remains limited. Such evidence as there is tends to be drawn from observations of professional practice and not always from the outcomes of high-quality research. This is not to say that a lack of research evidence for a particular educational practice means that it is necessarily ineffective or should not be used. Rather, it is to acknowledge the preeminence of quality research outcomes as the cornerstone of an evidence-base for educational practice with DHH learners while recognizing that contributions can come from two other sources: the expertise and experiences of professionals involved in the education of DHH learners in educational settings, and the views and preferences of DHH learners and their families about how the best educational outcomes can be achieved. The vast majority of DHH learners are educated in regular classrooms alongside their hearing peers, including a significant minority whose primary or preferred language is a signed language. Questions of how best to facilitate access to regular classrooms for those DHH learners are inextricably linked to issues in three areas: (a) communication, language, and literacy; (b) classroom access; and (c) pedagogical practices and other educational supports. The first area covers the unique set of challenges that relate to DHH learners acquiring a language (i.e., whether that be spoken or signed) and how best to support their ongoing development and use of their communication, language, and literacy skills in the classroom. The other two sets of issues, relate to the difficulties that are typically encountered by DHH learners in gaining access to the regular classroom curriculum through their preferred language and mode of communication (i.e., how best to access the auditory and visual environment of the classroom on an equitable basis with their hearing peers), and how best to support that access through instructional techniques and/or specialist support services. In all three areas there remains the challenge of assembling an evidence base for practice from quality research evidence.
Greg Leigh and Kathryn Crowe
Deaf education, particularly in the United States, is an ongoing and controversial conundrum. The term “deaf” applies not only to a medical diagnosis that defines hearing loss and speech ability but also to a cultural and linguistic recognition of a way of life that is deeply rooted in deaf community practices often unknown to “hearing” communities. The tension between these different philosophical and epistemological worldviews starts the moment a baby is identified as “deaf.” This identification affects language and modality choice, school placement, literacy instruction, curriculum, academic achievement, marriage partners, social groups and organization, and even meaningful and equitable employment. The inherent struggle in deaf education is the desire on the part of monolingual, hearing-centric educators, professionals, and parents to rely on technological solutions or therapeutic interventions to produce “hearing” speaking citizens. These participants are expecting the same outcomes from deaf children as they are from hearing children, emphasizing auditory/oral learning without understanding the sociocultural, linguistic, and biological challenges experienced by deaf children. While inclusive education may seem to “accommodate” the idea of equality, perversely those who experience the process can vouch for the inequalities, inequity, and injustice in monolinguistic deaf education. Most of society has yet to recognize that education of deaf children is necessarily embodied in a far more complex cultural and linguistic ecosystem. For American deaf persons, this ecosystem involves American Sign Language, visual learning strategies within culturally and linguistically driven content instruction, and cultural traditions and experiences that are indigenous to deaf communities. How are best practices addressed when the medium of instruction differs in modality and structure (i.e., spoken language vs. signed language); when reading instruction involves a different mapping process; when school assessments are only available in a spoken language; and when lack of teacher qualifications may hinder learning. Historically, conflict over language ideologies has dominated academic discourse about classroom pedagogy, literacy, teacher training, and educational research. Issues of power and language dominance emerge around curriculum instruction and assessment, as deaf individuals struggle to take their rightful place in a largely hearing deaf education environment. However, both hearing and deaf scholars in the field of neuroscience, child development, and Deaf studies have contributed to critical understanding about a bilingual-bimodal ecosystem in deaf education. This research has set the stage for reevaluating systematic, linguistic, and pedagogical traditions and has raised ethical questions regarding education and sign language research with deaf participants. By including members of the deaf community in the discourse, the emergence of a new practice of bilingual-bimodal education for deaf children secures a sociocultural and sociolinguistic foundation for all deaf children. Research findings support the veracity of a bilingual-bimodal deaf education classroom.