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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Learners: Developments in Curriculum and Instruction

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For more than a century scientists have conducted studies on the intelligence and cognitive functioning of deaf individuals. In many cases investigators approached the issue with an implicit “deficiency” model, assuming that a lack of hearing would have negative effects on the development of intellectual or cognitive skills. In a review, Moores (2001) identified three stages in research with deaf individuals; (a) deaf people as inferior, (b) deaf people as concrete, and (c) deaf people as normal. {AU: please clarify what Moores means by “concrete.”} The third stage reflects the present time. Those of us who have interacted with deaf children and adults are aware from the research literature and from our personal observations that deaf individuals have the same cognitive potential as anyone else. Deafness sets no limits.

Because of the negative nature of past research, there has been some reluctance to consider the possibility that deaf individuals, with more of a visual orientation, may perceive, organize, structure, and interact with the environment in some ways different than that of hearing individuals. In fact, Marschark (2003) reports that research involving cognition and memory among deaf and hearing individuals consistently shows both similarities and differences in their performance. Marschark stresses that a difference does not imply a deficiency; in some tasks deaf subjects have an advantage. By further investigating and understanding relationships between cognition and deafness, we can improve educational instruction of deaf learners.


Many of the causes of deafness, for example, premature birth and meningitis, can also be related to a range of disabilities. As a result, the incidence of disabilities such as attention deficit disorder, visual impairment, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities is somewhat higher in the deaf school-age population than in the general population. All professionals should be alert to this. Deaf students with multiple disabilities have had limited access to educational opportunities available to their deaf and hearing peers (Ewing & Jones, 2003). The need for person-centered planning for deaf students with multiple disabilities is even more imperative than for other students. There is a need for a complete text in this area.


There is a clear and present need to improve the academic achievement of deaf learners in elementary and secondary school settings. Deaf students now are expected to have access to the general curriculum and to master it. This calls for effective presentation of material and organization of opportunities for learning to close the gap in educational outcomes for deaf and hearing learners, bearing in mind the special characteristics of deaf students. The context in which deaf education interacts with the larger school framework is replete with challenges for teachers, curriculum, students, and schools in general. It is possible for the field of deaf education to learn a great deal from the experiences of general educators while avoiding some of the pitfalls that they have encountered.

This book analyzes each aspect of the curriculum, appropriate instructional options, and issues related to student assessment because they all affect deaf learners. Let us bear in mind these larger contexts while educators of deaf and hard of hearing students make the case for an accessible and equitable quality education.

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