Problem-Solving Strategies for Teaching Mathematics to Deaf Students

Article excerpt

Three teaching and learning strategies for problem solving were implemented with first- and second-year deaf college students enrolled in mathematics courses at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), Rochester Institute of Technology. These strategies involved the students in ( a ) giving an explanation to a peer observer in sign language, after which they would put their understanding of a problem and its solution in writing; ( b ) visualizing the problem-solving process prior to starting to solve a problem; and ( c ) observing their teacher modeling the analytical process step by step for a sample problem prior to solving math word problems. The students were asked to solve two types of problems: typical word problems, and a visual/ manipulative puzzle that would provide a problem-solving experience that would contrast with the experience of solving a problem presented in text format. The results showed that these kinds of instructional strategies can enhance the problem-solving performance of deaf and hard of hearing college students.

The need to address the problem-solving and critical thinking skills of deaf students throughout the curriculum has long been emphasized by educators and researchers in deaf education (Furth, 1973; Luckner, 1992; Luckner & McNeill, 1994; Martin, 1984, 1993; Mousley, 1991; Rohr-Redding, 1985).

Several factors appear to contribute to the difficulties experienced by deaf students with respect to the problem-solving process and general reasoning skills, as well as those specific to mathematical problems. One such difficulty is in building metacognitive skills. Loera and Meichenbaum (1993) and Martin (1993) argue that metacognitive skills are critical to literacy development in deaf learnersspecifically, the cognitive functions emphasized by Feuerstein (1980), such as taking note of all available data, being systematic in exploring all options, being precise, focusing on relevant information only, and overcoming trial-and-error behavior, to name a few.

Second is the tendency of many deaf students to proceed too quickly to solve a problem without pausing to think it through or develop a coherent plan. While hearing students may exhibit similar behavior, impulsivity is a behavior consistently observed in deaf students. (Impulsivity is defined as a characteristic of cognition that results in failure to reflect on the appropriateness or correctness of an approach to a task or problem, particularly when the task or problem is perceived to contain high ambiguity or uncertainty; see Kagan, 1966; Kagan, Moss, & Siegal, 1963). Impulsivity, a lack of reflective thinking, and immaturity have been documented by several researchers (e.g., Altshuler, Deming, Vollenweider, Rainer, & Tendler, 1976; Eabon, 1984; Freeman, 1979; Meadow & Schlesinger, 1971; Meadow & Trybus, 1979). In his discussion of impulsivity and deaf students, Campbell (1986) described 10 behavioral characteristics that impulsive children, adolescents, and adults would likely exhibit, several of which are pertinent to problem solving:

a tendency to work quickly and make errors;

an inability to attend to and to sort out relevant features or information, given a problem situation;

an inability to analyze a problem carefully, with preference given to a global or holistic approach.

Such impulsive behavior not only results in failure to solve the problem at hand, but also limits one's capacity to learn from the experience. Impulsive behavior may be related to limited language abilities that lead to stress and frustration when one is trying to deal with or clarify ambiguous situations, as suggested by Furth (1973). Feuerstein (1980) has also emphasized the importance of restraining impulsivity when formulating problem solutions.

Third, specific to mathematics and problem solving, it has been noted that most of the difficulties experienced by deaf school children are pertinent to solving written math problems (Pau, 1995). …