The evidence base for our primary role

It is almost out! 664 pages detailing Evidence-Based Practices in Deaf Education will be published this October, for £64.  It is edited by the prolific sponsor and coordinator of research in this area, Marc Marschark, with Harry Knoors with a world-wide list of contributors.  A quick scan of the contents indicates that it addresses issues that we deal with constantly: The diversity of our students, supporting language, assisting with literacy and numeracy, and enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development.


So what would we like from such a book? We might dream that somewhere out there is an instruction manual for that student that we can’t get out of our minds as we drive from one school to another, or to work. Perhaps there exists a set of lesson plans, with attached resources, finely attuned to that student, who like many others, has the paradox of great potential, but huge gaps in his skill set? Returning to reality, however, I would like to point briefly to three articles from our Deafness and Education International Journal (DEIJ) that can serve to remind us of basic daily realities. The articles concern Language and Play, Numeracy, and Executive Function.


Our own Margaret Brown from Victoria and Linda Watson from Birmingham have stepped down from many years of voluntary editing the DEIJ with a wonderful collaborative article synthesizing studies in the early language and literacy development of deaf children (Vol. 19 pp.108-114). A wonderful must-read for any of us working with prior-to-school aged children and their families. It reviews the significant literature and concludes that practitioners need to focus not on their interventions with the child, but with assisting the parents to utilize the everyday and ‘exotic’ experiences they have with their child. Pretend play should be a strong focus, and a means of providing quality scaffolded-interactions. We know most of this, but in the era of reductionist SMART goals, we may need reminding that play-based and parent-focused strategies are necessary to effectively assist language development, even with students at school with delayed language.


Two articles in Volume 20:2, both with Marc Marschark as a collaborative editor, give a sense of what is to come in the impending book. The first deals with numeracy and includes a discussion of real-world estimation abilities (number, length, weight, volume) – abilities that are also related to everyday living skills as well as to academic performance. Apart from yet again establishing that the deaf learners are behind their hearing peers–even though this gap is unrelated to cognitive abilities–there were few indications of what we can do about it apart from avoiding generalizations for the actual students we are supporting. There were also strong suggestions that language ability is a mediating factor, including the way in which it can limit everyday interactions and negotiations with pre-school children. There was also yet another warning that the early benefits of early intervention and cochlear implants seems to diminish over time, i.e. starting school well does not mean that they will not need continuing assistance over their school life.


The second article in Vol.20:2 relates to social maturity, executive function and self-efficacy. Even though the research was with deaf university students, it provides access to current thinking in all these areas with our students. New for me was the Learning, Executive, and Attention Functioning (LEAF) scale as a research measure, which includes comprehension and conceptual learning, factual memory, attention, processing speed, visual-spatial organization, working memory etc. There is a lot of other interesting detail in this study, but I was struck by one of the conclusions: Social maturity was a key issue for both executive function and self-efficacy, and that this was strongly related to spoken language between hearing parents and their deaf children. This once again indicates to me that a family centred approach that strives to enhance communication at home may be the best focus of our activities and energy. Rather than lie awake thinking about how we will engage with a particularly difficult student, we may be better engaged thinking about how to assist the parents to engage more with their child – reading to them, arguing, sports, games together, homework time etc.

So, I am left wondering about our primary role: obviously as a parent coach in early intervention, and perhaps still as a parent coach all through school? Or is our role to work to find other ways to increase the amount and quality of the interactions that our students have, with anyone, independent of us?


By Dr John Davison-Mowle