- As a teacher, your most powerful action step is that of recognizing passive voice constructions and knowing that students may misunderstand them. In that way, you have the option of deciding whether to intervene and how to intervene.
When your purpose is to convey written information as clearly as possible to your deaf students; write instructions, quizzes, tests, and other necessary information in the active voice. In that way, you have a good chance of facilitating your students’ comprehension of the material. It is well worth the effort, but you must keep in mind the following caveat:
Never eliminate passive voice constructions from another writer’s prose in order to make it easier for your students to read. The passive voice is a tool that writers use unconsciously to keep their readers’ focus on the topic of a passage and to maintain a smooth balance between old and new information. The changing of another writer’s prose without regard for the ordering of information, can significantly disrupt the flow of reading and can actually weaken readers’ ability to remember what they have read. Moreover, in the process of simplifying another writer’s passive voice sentences, other rhetorical devices can inadvertently get eliminated as well, degrading the text even more and in imperceptible ways. The result is a passage that is actually more difficult to read than the original.
- Given the caveat above, if your students have to read extended texts with passive voice sentences, use some of the following instructive ways of intervening:
a. Point out difficult passive voice constructions and discuss them with students to make sure that students understand them. Then ask students to paraphrase them.
b. Question students about the information in the passive constructions to ascertain whether they have understood them correctly.
c. Allow students to read the passages while you stand by to offer intervention when needed.
d. Include clear illustrations that clarify the information in passive voice sentences.
- If you use contact sign language (signed English) with your deaf students, be extra careful not to try to sign the components of an English passive voice verb. You may communicate just the opposite to what you had intended. Rather, recast the sentence into the active voice before signing it. This may take some practice.