Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from K.W., New Jersey

I am a TOD on the high school level. I have been for 18 years. I had four years in the preschool. I am a self-contained teacher and an Inclusion teacher. I was wondering if you had a suggested materials for me to use in the classroom. I currently teach World History. My students have very low Lexile levels. My biggest struggle is reading comprehension and my boss constantly telling me I need to ask higher order questions to my students. My students struggle with basic questions: who, what, where, when, …. My vice principal has a special education degree. I have tried to explain that my deaf students think and process information differently than the special needs and regular education students. Also can you suggest any books that I should read to help me in the classroom with my students? My students’ parents do not sign and two out of three students come from Spanish-speaking homes.

Question from K.W., New Jersey. Posted March 20, 2015.
Response from Dana Dailey - Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

My favorite high-interest, low-reading level materials are published by Steck-Vaughn. The World History book is “World History and You” by Vivian Bernstein which is a 2nd-3rd grade reading level. They also have similar books for other Social Studies courses (America’s Story, World Geography and You). They are short reading selections and include activities and assessments. AGS also publishes social studies books, which are written at a 4th grade level. Reading A-Z is another program that has leveled readers about various topics that may include some information that you are covering. Unfortunately, there are not many other options that I have found that work well with students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing who are reading significantly below grade level. If those texts don’t match up with my student’s needs, I tend to rely on teacher made materials and websites such as edhelper.com and enchantedlearning.com.

If your students are having difficulty reading the material, perhaps you could have the students put the reading portion on hold at first. I’ve had success by pre-teaching new vocabulary with pictures, then story telling and having the students do a non-reading/writing activity (role-playing, make a picture book together, create a time-line with titles/pictures only, etc.) Once they understand the concepts “through the air”, the students can then apply that to the text.

As far as books that you can read, there is a lot of information out there about embedding formative assessment, which has helped me recently in my classroom with struggling learners. Try publications by Dylan Wiliam.

Strategies that I feel are necessary for student success are:
• Visuals – Use as many visuals as you can find.
• Repetition – After the initial instruction, take some time each day to warm up by touching on previous information and do this often.
• Vocabulary – So many students have difficulty reading simply because they don’t recognize the words. This happens even with simple words that they actually DO know the meaning of, but just don’t recognize the written word. Step up your vocabulary study with vocabulary notebooks, word walls, etc. Use pictures along with simple definitions and even pictures of the signs when able. Avoid definitions from the dictionary, which can be confusing for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Quizlet.com (there is also an app available) is a fantastic way for students to practice vocabulary. It gives the option to add a definition and/or picture for each vocabulary word, as well as games and assessments.
• Real Life Connections – Find a way to connect the information to the students’ real life. This could be by paralleling English to Spanish (written, spoken or signed) or events that have occurred in their everyday life.

I agree that it IS extremely difficult for students to be able to answer higher level questions if they are struggling with basic WH- questions. To improve your students reading comprehension, critical thinking skills, and ability to answer questions, consider trying readtheory.org. It is a tool that offers reading exercises for all ages and reading ability levels. The students start off by answering lower level questions, and as they become more skilled in doing this, they move on to higher level questions. This may be ideal for your students because it gives you the freedom to individualize for each student. In addition, it also gives you analytical statistics for each student about their ability to answer higher order questions, so you can have data to show your boss to back up the way that you question your students.