The significance of hearing often goes underappreciated until it is no longer available, and for students who have lived their entire life with a hearing loss, education can prove challenging. Teachers must adapt to each classroom of students, and working with deaf or hard of hearing students requires some modification to traditional teaching methods. However, modern techniques are allowing for a smoother adaptation to traditional education, for both students and teachers alike.
Students with Hearing Loss by the Numbers
Three out of every 1,000 American children are born deaf or with hearing loss, and 9 out of 10 of those children are born to fully hearing parents. An even larger number (14.9 percent of children ages 6-19) is documented as having low- or high-frequency hearing loss, in one or both ears.
More surprisingly is that most children are not diagnosed as deaf until they are two to five years old. The field of deaf education has come a long way since its origins, dating back to the 15th century. Although the field has seen great advances in recent years, it continues to be a challenging and uniquely interesting career choice.
A History of Deaf Education
In 1520, while working with deaf students, a Spanish monk named Pedro Ponce de Leon created one of the original manual alphabets, and in 1550, Geronimo Cardano, an Italian physician, concluded hearing is not required for learning and he used his teaching approaches for the education of his own deaf son.
Speech training for the deaf found its beginnings in 1550 (Manuel Ramirez de Carrion) and the first published approach for deaf education was recorded in 1620, with the work of Juan Pablo Martin Bonet. The first School for the Deaf in the world was founded in Paris in 1762, and simultaneously, a basic form of sign language was introduced and used as a teaching tool in the school curriculum.
Early European methods were brought to the newly formed America, and through the work of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the American School for the Deaf was created in 1817. Similar schools emerged across the country, including a school founded by Alexander Graham Bell who adamantly believed that deaf individuals could and should be taught to speak. His views expressed resistance against sign language and encouraged oral education for all students.
The passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 gave equal rights to public education to all students, regardless of hearing loss, and the creation of the cochlear implant and digital hearing aids in the 1980s opened up new doors for students with a hearing loss.
Teaching Techniques for Students with a Hearing Loss
A lack or loss of hearing can affect a child’s learning progress, particularly in the understanding and production of spoken language. While many theories have emerged over the years as to which approach is most effective, experts agree that the teaching method should adhere to the individual student’s capabilities, needs and personality. The most common educational approaches include:
- Bilingual-Bicultural: In this approach, American Sign Language is the only method used in the classroom. Traditional English is taught through exposure to printed words on paper.
- Auditory/Oral: This teaching approach does not use sign language, but instead teaches the English Language through residual hearing and speech.
- Total Communication: This method combines auditory and visual communication for instruction. A combination of sign systems can be used, including American Sign Language, signed English, speech and sign language used simultaneously, cued speech and/or other communication methods.
The classroom environment itself can also determine the success of a deaf student’s learning abilities, and some options for deaf education include:
- Day schools
- Early intervention and preschool programs
- Residential schools for the deaf
- Self-contained classrooms
- Mainstreaming and inclusion in general education settings
- Home school environment
The environment and basic methods selected for students with a hearing loss should be chosen based on the student’s personality and individual needs, but each factor should incorporate the student’s capabilities to reach the highest level of success. Modern techniques for students with a hearing loss include:
- Proper Classroom Considerations: Students with hearing loss require a modified classroom, which should incorporate well-designed acoustics (for maximum sound production), little distractive noise, and proper lighting for visuals. Each student should have a clear view of all visuals as well as the instructor.
- Use of an Interpreter: Many classrooms with deaf students who sign incorporate an interpreter for easier translation of material. Deaf students, who have grown up with sign language, should have sign language included in their daily educational life.
- Assistive Technical Capabilities: Years of research and development have provided educators with wonderful tools for maximizing auditory abilities for those students with some degree of hearing including:
- FM Systems which can project sound from an instructor’s microphone
- C-Print which is a speech-to-text computer system
- A speech synthesizer which converts a typed word into speech format
- Personal amplification systems
Many opportunities exist for deaf education training and certification, and an educator’s responsibility is to be prepared for his or her students’ individual needs. For teachers of students with hearing loss, the right adjustments to the classroom environment coupled with advanced teaching methods can mean the difference between a student’s success and failure.
There are few better ways to make a positive impact on the future than by becoming a teacher. Students with a hearing loss benefit from the dedication of teachers, and you can begin your journey into deaf education at Saint Joseph’s University by earning your master’s degree in deaf education online. For more than 160 years, Saint Joseph’s University has motivated students to excel in their chosen careers, and your success story can start today.