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
Communication is about working together to create shared meaning. It usually requires at least two people (one acting as the sender, and one or more acting as the receiver), uses a particular code (which may involve either conventional or unconventional signals), may take linguistic or nonlinguistic forms, and may occur through speech or other modes. In the classroom context, spoken language is typically the preferred mode of communication and the primary medium through which teaching and learning takes place. For learners with speech and langue disabilities, this is problematic. Communication does not develop in a vacuum. Cognitive and social routes are both important and therefore evidence-based practices (EBP) that impact on both need to be considered. In an attempt to delineate evidence-based strategies from assumptions or commonly accepted practices that have become “teaching folklore,” three aspects should be considered: (a) the best available research evidence that should be integrated with (b) professional expertise (using for example observation, tests, peer assessment, and practical performance) as well as (c) the learner’s and his/her family’s values. EBP thus recognizes that teaching and learning is individualized and ever-changing and therefore will involve uncertainties. Being aware of EBP enriches service delivery (in this case teaching practice) and enables teachers to support their learners to achieve high-quality educational outcomes. Research has shown that high expectations from teachers have a significant influence on the development of academic skills for children with speech and language disability. Teachers should therefore be empowered to understand how they can set up the environment in such a way that responsive, enjoyable interaction opportunities can be created that will enable learners to develop a sense power and control which are important building block for learning. They also need to understand the important role that they play in shaping behavior through the provision of consistent feedback on all communication behaviors and that communication entails both input (comprehension) and output (expression). Four teaching approaches that have some evidence base for learners with significant speech and language disabilities include: a) communication passports: this is a means through which idiosyncratic communication attempts can be captured and shared enabling everyone in the learner’s environment to provide consistent feedback on all communication attempts; b) visual schedules: a variety of symbols (ranging from objects symbols to graphic symbols) can be used to represent people, activities, or events to support communication. Visual schedules signal what is about to happen next and assists learners to predict the sequence of events, to make choices, and to manage challenging behavior; c) partner training: as communication involves more than one person, communication partner (in this case teachers) training is required in order to ensure responsivity; d) aided language stimulation: this classroom-based strategy attempts to provide a strong language comprehension foundation by combining spoken language with pointing to symbols, thereby providing learners with visual supplementation.