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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Learners: Developments in Curriculum and Instruction

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The emphasis on academic content increases the importance of reading and writing for all children, especially for deaf students. Reading requires not only the ability to decode words but also to decipher meaning. As is reported in the chapters on academic content, the standardized tests that are being used are in reality tests of reading as well as of science, math, and social studies knowledge. It is not sufficient today, for example, for a student to know how to perform addition or subtraction tasks or solve quadratic equations. A student must read a problem, decide what function is required, and then solve the problem. A student without mastery of English will not succeed, regardless of computational skills. The relationship between reading and subject matter should be reciprocal; reading should provide access to content areas at the same time that content areas such as social studies and science provide a foundation for reading. It is our responsibility to build reading skills in conjunction with academic subject matter.

The school environment also calls for more writing skills than in the past, when writing did not receive the attention it deserved either in general education or in education of deaf learners. This added emphasis is because of increased reliance on electronic print and the need for clear expression. Once again, standardized tests call for answers to be given in narrative form. Our students must not only have knowledge but also be able to express that knowledge literately. Teachers must devote more time in the school day to teaching a systematic way of writing.


Our present educational system provides a variety of academic placement options for deaf students including residential and day schools serving only deaf children, separate classes for deaf students within schools where the majority of children are hearing, resource rooms for deaf children where they may be integrated with hearing students for one or more subjects, and full-time inclusion with hearing students in conjunction with services from itinerant teachers of the deaf on a “pull-out” basis. In reality these four options do not reflect the complexity of the entire range of possibilities, but they do encompass the placements for most deaf children. Children who receive itinerant services represent the fastest growing segment of the deaf school-age population.

Given the diversity of the deaf school-age population, the placement options represent a positive response to the needs of the children. In some cases these options are not available, especially in view of the decline in residential school enrollment and the closing in some states of state-supported residential schools for the deaf. That is a disturbing trend, but, in general, deaf children and their parents can make choices from among different placement options.

Regardless of placement, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) expects deaf children to have access to the regular educational curriculum. Residential schools adopt a county or school district curriculum and other programs for deaf students usually adopt the curriculum of the local school district. However, the presentation of curriculum can be quite different. Teachers of the deaf instruct children in residential schools, public day schools, and separate classrooms for deaf students. Both teachers of the deaf and regular education teachers instruct children in resource rooms, and teachers of the deaf often provide additional support for the regular classroom subject areas. Regular classroom teachers instruct children who are integrated full time, with an itinerant teacher of the deaf providing support and advice to the regular classroom teacher and individual tutoring to the deaf child.

Each type of placement requires different skills for the teacher of deaf learners. It is beyond the scope of this book to provide in-depth information for each of the placements, but there are general principles that can be applied. In the past, most professional preparation programs concentrated on developing the skills to work with deaf children in separate settings on a full-time basis, but only a few have addressed the preparation of itinerant teachers of the deaf (Luckner & Howell, 2002). Luckner and Howell’s book takes into account the complete range of placement.

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