Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A Model for Effective Practice: Dialogic Inquiry with Students Who Are Deaf

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A Model for Effective Practice: Dialogic Inquiry with Students Who Are Deaf

Article excerpt

Discussion of effective teaching practice in the education of students who are deaf and hard of hearing is dominated by considerations of language, literacy, and communication modality. This is most apparent in the discourse that attends the examination of the classroom use of various signed forms of communication which is focused on concerns of how to improve student "performance" by prescribing the nature of the face-to-face communication to be employed. But despite this concentrated focus, there is little agreement among educators as to which is the best form of signing to use with students who are deaf.

This overemphasis on prescribing a particular form of signed communication (e.g., American Sign Language [ASL], English-based signing) does little to address the real concerns of teachers in the classroom. While educators may be sympathetic to the cultural, political, linguistic, and social issues which surround this debate, they also face the daily challenge of interacting with children from widely differing backgrounds and abilities, of being held accountable for teaching a common curriculum, and for achieving a set of standard outcomes. In the face of these realities, it is timely to revisit our notions of what constitutes appropriate pedagogy in classrooms of learners who are deaf. The central question, then, is: How can we rethink notions of effective practice to move beyond questions of signing? Thus, the research described in this article looks past questions of signing as a code for transmitting a language to questions of how signing is utilized as a linguistic resource in classroom discourse. The premise for the research is derived from the role that discourse plays in the enterprise of teaching and learning.


Central to the model of effective practice espoused in this article is the view that education be seen as an enterprise which centers on the co-construction of knowledge. This knowledge building is realized in classrooms where more knowledgeable and less knowledgeable participants work together to achieve particular goals. In this model, education is seen as a collaborative enterprise in which the teacher takes a leadership role in creating a climate in which all participants learn from and with each other as they engage in joint activity.

This vision of education stands in contrast to structured, transmission models of teaching and learning which emphasize the transfer of knowledge and the transmission of skills, in which the teacher is clearly the "teller" with the student assuming the role of listener and "answerer." In this top-down model, knowledge is imparted, not jointly constructed. Dialogue often takes the form of a recitation script (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988), with the teacher asking the questions and the students providing the answers, with the implicit understanding that what is to be learned is knowledge that is already in the head of the teacher.

The view of education as a collaborative enterprise can also be differentiated from progressive, student-centred notions of discovery learning that emphasize active exploration, rather than passive reception of knowledge by the learner. In this discovery model the teacher acts not as teller but rather as the custodian of a stimulating environment in which students are left to their own devices to learn and acquire knowledge independently.

In creating our model of effective teaching, we assumed a dialogic approach to teaching and learning that takes a fundamentally different view of what knowledge is and how it is acquired. This dialogic approach to teaching and learning has its foundations in the work of sociocultural theorists, most specifically that of Vygotsky and those who followed in his footsteps (Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1981; Wells, 1999a; Wertsch, 1985). The major themes of social constructivist theory could be summarized as follows: (a) that psychological processes can only be understood in terms of their origins and the mechanisms by which they change; (b) that the development of all higher psychological processes have their origins in interaction among individuals; and (c) that it is through communication using symbols and signs that individuals eventually become capable of regulating their own behavior. …

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