Deaf Education is Bilingual Education

Dr. Eddy Laird, Deaf Education
McDaniel College
March 7, 2003

Historical Evolution of Deaf Education:

Historically, teachers' beliefs and assumptions about language development and Deaf students have profoundly influenced how they taught.

From 1900 to 1950:
Teachers believed that with repetitious training, Deaf students would develop English through speech training.

From 1950 to 1970:

Behaviorist theories dominated. These theories were based on the belief that if Deaf students were  exposed to both speech and signing, they would develop English skills from imitating teachers and parents.

In the late 1960’s:
American Sign Language (ASL) was recognized by linguists as a natural language (Stokoe, 1960).

In the 1970’s:
Educators began using signs in the classroom with the philosophy of total communication. Total communication (TC) consisted of auditory training, speech, speech reading, finger-spelling, and signing. TC emphasized the importance of using all means of communication with Deaf students at the earliest possible age.

From 1970 to 1980:
Chomsky's (1965, 1967, 1968) theories of transformational grammar filtered into the field, and teachers began to see language as having a different levels of structure and meaning. Also during this time, artificially constructed manual systems of English became popular. Schools throughout the United States mandated the use of these systems in the belief that if Deaf students were exposed to them, they would develop reading and writing skills (Reagan, 1995; Ramsey, 1989; Stewart, 1992).

In the 1990’s:
The bilingual-bicultural, Whole Language, and emergent literacy approaches of teaching Deaf students language and literacy had gained recognition in schools.

Deaf Bilingual Education:

The Deaf bilingual education has meant the use of:

  • ASL as the language of instruction;
  • Teaching English as a second language; and
  • Spoken English instruction as an elective.

  • Deaf bilingual education has also placed an emphasis on providing Deaf students with knowledge about American Deaf culture.

    Why Deaf Bilingual Education?

    The foundation of Deaf bilingual education is based on a theory of human development.
    The foundation describes the relationship between language, culture, and cognition.

    Linguistic Foundation:

    When children are born, they are predisposed to learn a natural language.  Deaf children also have this predisposition to learn a natural language.Deaf children will acquire a natural language if the language is made accessible to them during the critical, developmental years of infancy and early childhood.

    (First) Natural Language:

    The accessible, natural language for Deaf students is a visual, gestural, spatial language.
    The natural language for Deaf people in the United States is American Sign Language (ASL).

    Second Language:

    Deaf students are capable of learning a second language, given that certain skills in their (first) natural language have been acquired.
    This “first” language base facilitates the learning of a second language.

    Written English:

    The teaching of English, must, however present English in its visual, written form.
    Thus, learning English is the process of learning to read and write English.

    Spoken English:

    Some Deaf students are capable of learning how to understand spoken English and to speak English. The most significant factor for the development of spoken English is the ability to hear.  Skills in spoken English are most easily learned after Deaf students have acquired competencies with written forms of English.

    Cultural Foundation:

    People develop identities with groups of other people who share similar life experiences.
    These groups are generally characterized by the use of a common language.People within each group also share a belief system that governs their behavior, a specific way of conceptually organizing the word, a set of values, and a rich heritage of traditions.

    American Deaf Culture:

    Deaf people have a strong sense of identity as members of the American Deaf community.  They also share certain cultural aspects of the American society-at-large, and apply those cross cultural skills in order to achieve economic and political goals, and to communicate with members of the American society-at-large.

    Cognitive Foundation:

  • True learning occurs when people are able to think critically.
  • Critical thinking refers to the process of linking knowledge to power and human interest.
  • Critical thinking requires students to have a firm and confident understanding of their own identity and ability to view the world from a variety of perspectives.
  • Critical thinking demands a respect for and appreciation of different cultures.
  • Critical thinking also implies a commitment to and the skills necessary for taking social action for the good of oneself, one’s immediate community, and for the world community.
  • Classroom Instruction:

    Classroom instruction will utilize ASL as the language of instruction. Deaf students will use written forms of English as a tool for learning in classrooms. Deaf bilingual teachers present academic concepts in ASL and expect Deaf students to use these concepts to build English skills.

    Theoretical Framework:Bilingual/ESL Model:

    One potential source for a language learning and teaching framework for Deaf bilingual education derives from the developing bilingual and second-language acquisition research literature. (Arias & Casanova, 1993; August & Hakuta, 1997; Baker, 1996; Lyon, 1996; Strong, 1988) In fact, educators such as Mahshie (1995), Paul (1998), and Strong (1988) in Deaf bilingual education have often quoted Stephen Krashen (1987, 1988, 1995, 1996), Jim Cummins (1984, 1989, 1995) and Kenji Hakuta (1986, 1990)--well-known bilingual and second-language theorists.There are also detailed descriptions of teachers using these and other bilingual/ESL theorists' work with Deaf students in France, Sweden, and Denmark.

    Developmental Threshold Model:

    One developmental model that may be useful in Deaf bilingual education is Lyon's (1996) Developmental Threshold Model.This model explains the development of bilingual students (see next slide). Such a model, modified from Lyon's work provides a measure of how the bilingual Deaf students are progressing in both languages--ASL and English.

    Modified Model for Deaf Students:

    Relating Lyon's model to Deaf students, in the earliest part of bilingual development (Early Language), Deaf students first acquire language in the form of signs and phases in one or two languages. When Deaf students cross the next threshold (Potential Bilingualism), they use simple sentences in ASL (L1) plus words in the second (English) language (L2). In the third threshold (Developing Bilingualism), Deaf students use appropriate levels in ASL plus simple sentences in the L2 (English). Finally, in the fourth threshold (Proficient Bilingualism), Deaf students attain age-appropriate levels in both languages, ASL and English

    Bilingual/ESL Language Model for Deaf Students:

    Decisions on language teaching methods for Deaf students have been heavily based on pathological and medical views of professionals rather than on appreciating and using the unique experiences of Deaf learners, Deaf teachers and staff who have gone through the educational system (Hoffmeister, 1996; Woodward, 1982). This model emphasizes the importance of incorporating Deaf signing adults cultural view of the educational system.

    Bilingual Approach: ASL dominance and code-switching:

    ASL signacy abilities:

    Watching and attending Signing

    English literacy/oracy abilities:

  • Finger-reading
  • Finger-spelling
  • Reading (English text)
  • Writing (English text)
  • Typing (English text)
  • Lip-reading (where appropriate)
  • Speaking (where appropriate)
  • Listening (where appropriate)
  • Nover, 1997

    English as a Second Language (ESL) Approach: English only and no code-switching:

    English literacy/oracy abilities:

  • Finger-reading
  • Finger-spelling
  • Reading (English text)
  • Writing (English text)
  • Typing (English text)
  • Lip-reading (where appropriate)
  • Speaking (where appropriate)
  • Listening (where appropriate)

  • Nover, 1997

    Council of Education of the Deaf (CED):
    The Council on Education of the Deaf (CED) is the national professional organization, which provides program evaluation and teacher professional certification. Their standards include teacher-preparation competencies, educational foundations, deaf learner characteristics, assessment and evaluation, instructional content and practice, planning the educational environment, managing student behaviors, communication partnerships, and professional and ethical practices (Council on Education of the Deaf, 1990). Recently, the CED committee adopted the concept of bilingual education as one track that the teacher-preparation programs may follow.

    McDaniel College:
    First teaching-preparation program in the United States to have been reviewed and approved by CED for training candidates in the field of Deaf bilingual education

    Deaf  (Education is)
    Bilingual Education

    Additional Information

    McDaniel College
    Department of Education
    ATTN: Eddy Laird
    2 College Hill
    Westminster, MD 21157

    Fax: 410-857-2516
    TTY: 410-857-2529
    Voice: 410-857-2506