Efficacy Of Inclusion Classrooms with Teacher and Interpreter Model

While deaf students exhibit communications skills comparable to those of hearing children, their language delays are significant. In areas related to phoneme production, vocabulary, and syntax, deaf children exhibit on average a 3-year developmental delay. Without early intervention, this deficiency exacerbates over deaf children's school careers, with the average deaf high schooler able to read and write at a 3rd grade level.

With this in mind, it is imperative that we examine the efficacy with which increasingly popular inclusion environments are addressing deaf children's language acquisition needs. In her 2001 study entitled, "Teaching Strategies in Inclusive Classrooms with Deaf Students," Stephanie Cawthon examines the inclusion methods used in two elementary classrooms.

Through four observations and interviews with the general education teacher in each classroom, Cawthon makes four particularly germane points.

1) General Ed teachers were half as likely to speak to a deaf student as they were to a hearing student. This observation is compounded by the fact that, because the general education teachers did not use sign language with these students, spoken interactions account for all of the teachers' interactions with their deaf students.

2) While an interpreter was always present, the classroom interpreter on record was frequently not the interpreter in the room. Given the wide variances in style and quality of ASL interpreters, this irregularity could be a measurable detriment to the deaf students in the classroom.

3) Even with an interpreter present, hearing peers rarely initiated conversation with their deaf classmates. It is important to note here that these observations are being made in K-1 and 2-3 grade combined classrooms, an age when students are generally less likely to socially discriminate based on disability.

4) Interpreters are not deaf teaching specialists, nor do they take the place of them in the classroom. The school that was observed had part-time deaf education specialists that came into the deaf inclusion classes several times a week; student interaction with these teachers was not observed, nor does the study specify the number of hours these specialists spent in the classroom with the children.

The prognosis? While this highly qualitative study raises more questions than it provides answers, it does imply that 1) student isolation, in the form of disinterested peers and lack of teacher engagement, could be an issue for deaf children in inclusion classrooms and 2) deaf children may not be getting the levels of language interaction and specialized services in inclusion classrooms that they have traditionally received at specialized schools.

These implications are extremely relevant to general education teachers, given the increasing popularity of placing deaf students in inclusion classrooms, particularly when we consider that the results from this study are, according to Cawthon's background research, the best-case inclusion scenario for deaf students. In inclusion classrooms with no interpreter and general education teachers that do not know sign language, deaf students comprehend on average 46% of what is happening in the classroom. Classroom models such as the one examined in this study, in which students are simultaneously exposed to oral and signed language, yield 86% comprehension. It's a much higher number, but we must ask: What would the comprehension rate be in a purely ASL classroom? What would it be in a room filled with deaf learners? If it's higher than 86%, the inclusion model is a disservice to deaf students.

-contributed by J. Tabak

Source Text:
Cawthon, S. W. (2001). Teaching strategies in inclusive classrooms with deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 6 (3), 212-225.