Reorganizing Teacher Preparation in Deaf Education

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES an experimental program at the University of California-San Diego that in 1996 began developing a teacher preparation curriculum that closely integrates regular education and the specialty of deaf education; it specifically aims to bring established bilingual pedagogical theory and practice to bear on deaf education. We began with the principle that bilingual fluency in American Sign Language (ASL) and English and cross-training in deaf education, coupled with applicable practices derived from bilingual education, are essential for both pre-service and in-service teachers of deaf children. Our thesis is that this foundation provides teachers with an improved ability to communicate with their students and opportunities to design and implement assessment and learning strategies for diverse populations of deaf and hard of hearing students. Additionally, we believe this approach encourages bringing indigenous practices from the Deaf community, as well as the child's home community, into the school to aid learning and development.

An unfortunate reality in the practice of educating deaf and hard of hearing children is that innovative teaching and learning practices in regular education are often overlooked or deemed difficult to implement in this "specialization." As a result, many of the most important ideas of regular education practice developed over the past two decades have not been widely incorporated into the theoretical or practice base of deaf education. Instead, research on deaf education practice very often focuses on the effectiveness of devices that are intended to replace lost hearing or on the improvement of speech and language therapies rather than pedagogy. This direction of research does little to alleviate the widespread frustration felt by deaf education professionals and parents that deaf and hard of hearing children as a group are undereducated and under-prepared at all levels of schooling. In contrast, action research is relatively rare in the education of deaf and hard of hearing children and perhaps even rarer in the training of these children's teachers.

Our approach represents a shift in paradigms-moving away from a "special education" pedagogy that assumes that deaf and hard of hearing children are deficient or developmentally abnormal to an understanding that these children are emerging language learners who require learning environments that are culturally and socially accessible. Because we had no established models to draw upon, we felt it necessary to put into place several important self-critical processes to help us shape the training curriculum, as well as to evaluate outcomes for pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and their students. One such process was to establish feedback loops for constituencies-students, cooperative teachers, training faculty, and principals. Another was to submit ourselves to rigorous self-inquiry about our own practice of training teachers using this new curriculum. Yet another process was to conduct a collaborative project with our pre-service teachers, in-services teachers in the local schools, and assessment specialists to measure some of the impact of the training on teachers, the classroom, and students. This article presents a description of this collaborative research project.

Our attempt to shift to a new practice raised several issues and solutions tor action research. For example, the question of the sustainability of new practices was a concern. At a time when deaf education programs were closing across the country (Illinois used to have six but now has only two, and two programs closed in California in 2004), how could we design a program that was not vulnerable? Moreover, how could we create longitudinal research plans that would not be prematurely terminated by outside forces? These matters led to a critical decision to design the deaf education training program as a fully integrated part of an existing general education program rather than as a stand-alone deaf education program, as is done in so many universities. …