Changing the Lens: A Position Paper on the Value of Qualitative Research Methodology as a Mode of Inquiry in the Education of the Deaf

By Evans, Judith F. | American Annals of the Deaf, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Changing the Lens: A Position Paper on the Value of Qualitative Research Methodology as a Mode of Inquiry in the Education of the Deaf


Evans, Judith F., American Annals of the Deaf


A case study of a young deaf child's conversation development is used to explore the relationship between mode of inquiry and findings resulting from the use of qualitative research methodology. Data were collected through participant observation, videotaping, and interviews in the participants' natural settings. The breadth of findings from thematic analysis of descriptive data and discourse analysis of language samples led to the discovery of the child's language competencies in a field where research usually focuses on language deficits. Additionally, data revealed the contextual features that contributed to the child's conversation development. Scope of findings and implications for educators and researchers provide evidence of the value of qualitative methodology as a mode of inquiry in the field of education of the Deaf.

A recently received e-mail message:

Re. One researcher to another. Can you help?

I am a doctoral student in deafness planning to use qualitative methods in my doctoral research. My university is not as accepting of the paradigm as I would like, and If find myself on the defensive before I even have my proposal review. After reading your research, I was wondering if you have any insights from your own experiences that might provide a sound rationale for the use of this methodology and its value to our field. Any suggestions that would support my decision? I really need some help!

This urgent message took me back to my own doctoral experience and my reasons for choosing qualitative methodology as my research paradigm. I realized that this was not the only communique related to method that I had received since I first reported on my study of the conversation experiences of a deaf child in a hearing household (Evans, 1995). Equally urgent requests had arrived from educators elsewhere in the United States, as well as in Australia, China, Croatia, and Slovakia. There was interest in my findings, but also in the way I had obtained them.

As I reflected on the process and product of carrying out the study, Conversation at Home: A Case Study of the Communication Experiences of a Young Deaf Child in a Large Hearing Family (Evans, 1994), I was moved by the scope of findings that had emerged as a result of the method I had used to conduct my research. I had designed a study of conversation from a pragmatics viewpoint based on M.A.K. Halliday's social-semiotics perspective addressing the interrelationship of language, context, and text (Halliday & Hasan, 1989). But so much more emerged. For example, the research process guided me to a young child's language competencies in a field that has historically focused on deficits. The method revealed the child's language-learning process as well as the products of her expression. The natural settings of everyday family life in which this study was conducted uncovered the contextual features in which the child's communication experiences were embedded. I realized that information relating to family dynamics and response to deafness, as well as the pragmatic dimensions of the child's language use, would have remained hidden in a decontextualized, clinical study with controlled variables.

I wanted to share my findings with other educators. I also wanted to explain the methods that had enabled me to acquire them. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to address the features of qualitative inquiry that contributed to the breadth of my findings and the success of my research. This discussion supports the use of qualitative research methodology as a valid mode of inquiry in the field of education of the Deaf. It is a call to change the lens through which we conduct our inquiries.

History of the Study

I came to my research with more than 20 years as an educator of young deaf children and their families, 90% of whom are hearing. I had worked in both home and school settings as a teacher and parent educator.

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