Beliefs and Practices of Itinerant Teachers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children concerning Literacy Development

Article excerpt

A QUALITATIVE case STUDY examined beliefs and practices of itinerant teachers of deaf and hard of hearing students concerning literacy development, the match between these teachers' beliefs and practices, and the impact of itinerant settings. Five itinerant teachers and 15 students participated. Hearing losses were mild to profound. The research addressed 5 areas: sociocultural aspects of literacy development; effects of hearing loss on literacy development; beliefs about teaching and literacy development; practices used to develop literacy; the impact of itinerant settings on literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing learners. Five themes emerged from the data: Itinerant teachers used a variety of practices to develop literacy; itinerant teachers played a supporting role in developing literacy; most of the teachers' beliefs about literacy development were matched in their practices; the itinerant teachers were lifelong learners; the impact of itinerant settings on literacy development took many forms.

In the present article I describe a qualitative, phenomenological case study in which I examined the beliefs and practices of itinerant teachers of deaf and hard of hearing students concerning these students' literacy development. The purposes of this approach, in which I gathered itinerant teachers' stories, were to frame these educators' teaching contexts (Merriam, 1998) and to understand their experiences (Rossman & Rallis, 1998). Multiple case studies were completed for the purposes of developing contextual relevance and contributing to the larger unit of study (Guba & Lincoln, 1982; Yin, 1989).

Five topic areas of the professional literature helped frame the present stucly: sociocultural aspects of literacy development, the effects of hearing loss on literacy development, beliefs about teaching and literacy development, practices used to develop literacy, and the impact of the itinerant setting on literacy development for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Literacy development is complex, with many different aspects. One way of viewing it is from a sociocultural perspective, which allows educators' pedagogical goals concerning literacy acquisition to go beyond the formal educational setting to include life outside school and all that that entails for the purpose of acculturating youth into worldwide and community literacy uses (Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993; Padden & Ramsey, 1993; Taylor, 1983; Vygotsky, 1978).

Learning environments that involve collaborative work are grounded in sociocultural perspectives and are an area of the literature often discussed in reference to literacy development. Collaborative learning involves groups or communities of learners working together and sharing the responsibility for learning through social interaction (Dewey, 1938; Fleck, 1979; Short & Burke, 1991). Built on social interaction, these communities are formed as

learners come to know each other; value what each has to offer; focus on problem solving and inquiry; share responsibility and control; learn through action, reflection, and demonstrations; and establish a learning atmosphere that is predictable and yet full of real choices. (Short & Pierce, 1990, p. 35)

Through talk with others in collaborative learning communities, people begin to consider new perspectives, slowly revising old ways of thinking as they take the time to reflect on their conversations and constructs.

Hearing loss affects literacy development through the degree of loss, type of loss, age of onset and age of identification, amplification history, and educational history. Many learners who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulty winning access to the give-and-take of collaborative learning communities because of incomplete auditory signals and challenges relating to language development. One way to assist learners who are deaf or hard of hearing that is described in the literature involves direct instruction to promote social interaction between these students and hearing peers (Antia, 1985; Antia & Kreimeyer, 1987,1988, 1997; Stinson & Liu, 1999). …