View Our Catalog

Join Our E-Mail List

What's New

Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

Press Home

Deaf Learners: Developments in Curriculum and Instruction

Previous Page

Next Page


The question of what to teach deaf children has now assumed center stage. Traditionally, the curriculum in education of the deaf had little or no relation to the general educational curriculum. Residential schools established in the first half of the 19th century had a primarily vocational emphasis for deaf students, with some basic attention to English, math, and moral development. Instruction was conducted through either sign language (natural signs) or an English-based sign system (methodical signs). Beginning in the latter third of the 19th century, the emphasis shifted toward the development of vocal communication skills, especially in the newly established day schools, and reliance on any kind of signs (either natural or methodical) was either discouraged or repressed. The greater part of the school day was devoted to English, sometimes referred to as “language.” Individual, small group, and class activities evolved around lessons in speech, speechreading, and English structure, with concentration on drill and practice. Content areas such as math, social studies, and science received minimal attention. Success was judged on fluency in vocal communication.

The original press toward use of the regular educational curriculum came because of the increasing tendency of deaf children to attend the same schools as hearing children, sometimes in separate classes and sometimes integrated into classrooms with hearing students for part or all of the school day. There was a need for consistency across the two systems. This occurred at the same time that state and federal agencies were promoting access to the general educational curriculum for all children, including those who were deaf. Over time the U.S. government and states have expanded the mandate from access to demonstrated proficiency in academic content. Proficiency is measured through standardized, grade-level, statewide testing of all children. In increasing numbers of states, the testing is of a high-stakes nature, meaning that children who do not reach a certain level of proficiency may not be promoted to a higher grade or may not receive a high school graduation diploma.

Programs for the deaf have responded to this initiative by adopting and adapting regular curricula. We should note that there is no one regular or general curriculum in the United States. Although federal influence has increased significantly, the Constitution does not mention education, and state and local governments have ultimate responsibility for educating their children. Although there are commonalities, there is curricular variation across and within states. Typically, residential schools adopted the curriculum of a local or county school district and day schools, and other local programs for deaf students adopted the curriculum of the host district. A major challenge is how to provide access to and ultimately, demonstrated mastery of, the regular curriculum for deaf children who may not have complete proficiency in English. This is the purpose of this book. As we have noted, the traditional curriculum for deaf children was designed to help them develop English skills similar to those that hearing children brought to the learning process. Now, we are faced with the challenge of facilitating mastery of math, science, social studies, and literature while developing English and other communication skills to the greatest extent possible. We cannot allow English to be a barrier to learning.

To date, our record of success has been quite limited, partly because of the lingering effects of the traditional concentration on “language” and the lack of attention to academic subject matter. For example, the CEC-CED Joint Knowledge and Skills Statement for All Becoming Teachers of Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (Joint Standards Committee, 1996) lists a total of 66 knowledge and skills standards for teachers of the deaf. The list contains many admirable standards, but only two statements of knowledge outcomes address academic content aside from communication (p. 222), as follows:

Number 32. Subject matter and practices used in general education across content areas.

Number 35. Research supported instructional strategies and practice for teaching students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.


Previous Page

Next Page