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Context, Cognition, and Deafness

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Concern about the lack of interdisciplinary integration is not new (e.g., Clark and Hoemann 1991). However, interdisciplinary discussion has occurred, if only at specialty meetings. These discussions encouraged researchers to be clearer when defining variables, such as “deaf participants” or “fluent in American Sign Language” (ASL), and recent publications reflect more precise definitions. In addition, methodological issues such as how control groups are defined and chosen and which statistical analyses are most appropriate have received attention. Lederberg and Spencer have combined sequential designs (including both cross-sectional and longitudinal data collection) in their ongoing project focusing on vocabulary learning. Future analysis can now include more person-centered views, exploring individual differences in background factors such as early detection, family characteristics, linguistic backgrounds, and educational settings.

Thorny and emotional questions remain for truly interdisciplinary endeavors. They include:

  • What topics are important within the field?
  • How can researchers from divergent backgrounds utilizing different methodologies benefit from ongoing research programs?
  • What types of training programs are available to encourage interdisciplinary research?
  • How can theory inform practice?

Marschark and Lukomski have integrated two areas of research—school psychology and cognitive development—as one example of the intersection of theory and practice.

A common lament when discussing interdisciplinary issues is the lack of dialogue between teachers and researchers. Teacher/practitioners tend to find basic research questions “irrelevant” to their daily experiences. At the same time, basic researchers rarely stop to ask how their findings affect the daily experiences of practitioners (see Marschark, this volume). Current projects are bridging this gap by utilizing mutual self-interests between these groups. Basic researchers require access to participants and teacher/practitioners desire curricula to improve the educational outcomes for their students. Through dialogue and partnerships, both of these goals can be met for the mutual benefit of all constituents.

Content, Cognition, and Deafness Defined Interdisciplinarily

Johnson, Liddell, and Erting’s (1989) Unlocking the Curriculum: Principles for Achieving Access in Deaf Education highlighted the differences of philosophy regarding whether deaf children should be taught ASL as their first language and precisely how to establish the most supportive context for deaf children within school systems. Regardless of people’s opinions on these polarizing issues, many people realized that the current status quo was not working. Since that time, more networks have been established among researchers, and the dialogue has begun to effect the successful adaptation of children with hearing losses. Interdisciplinary research will benefit from these dialogues.


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