(Meta)communication Strategies in Inclusive Classes for Deaf Students

Article excerpt

How can an inclusive classroom for deaf students be successful? The use of metacommunication strategies by teachers and hearing peers seems promising. Schools that promote this approach tend to improve deaf students' psychosocial development and academic achievement. However, this is not a general rule. The present study identifies the elements of success, with the investigators basing their analysis on extensive observation of 4 bilingual classes conducted by regular education and specialized teachers. The study was conducted in 3 public elementary schools in Brasilia, Brazil. Data were collected through direct observation (156 hours) and video recording (34 hours). Results were qualitatively analyzed from a microgenetic perspective. The investigators devised 14 categories of social interaction, e.g., visual contact and responsivity, multimodal communication, co-construction of meanings, flexible use of space, and sign language instruction for hearing students.

The inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing students in regular classrooms is a reality that has been observed with increasing frequency in different parts of the Western world. Sixty-two percent of deaf students enrolled in U.S. elementary public schools were studying in regular classes in 1998 (Antia & Kreimeyer, 2001). According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1 year later this segment had grown to 83% (Luckner & Muir, 2001). In Germany, where municipal school systems have adopted a differentiated model of instruction, Hamburg schools have faced inclusion and diversity in regular classrooms as an opportunity for reciprocal learning to take place (Beyer, 2002).

In addition to differentiated learning, inclusive classrooms function under principles such as coteaching and individual evaluation. The basic assumption is that children with different needs learn in distinct ways, and at different rates. Therefore, two teachers are assigned to work in the inclusive classroom: a regular teacher and a special educator. Evaluation takes into account individual achievement, and the progress of each child with a disability is compared to his or her own previous development. Among other countries, deaf children have also been mainstreamed in Italy; there, hearing peers are learning sign language.

In Brazil's capital, Brasilia, the public school system has adopted a model similar to that used by the Hamburg schools. There are inclusive schools where the only students with special needs who are enrolled are children who are deaf; other inclusive schools follow a similar policy - for example, limiting registration of students with special needs to children who are blind. In these schools, deaf and hard of hearing children study in special classrooms through second grade. Starting in third grade, however, they study in regular classes described as "inclusive classes"; more specifically, these are bilingual education classes. In such educational settings there are two teachers working, a regular teacher and a specially trained teacher. They work according to a coteaching schedule, deaf students go to a special educational center twice a week, where they work with a deaf teacher to learn sign language or improve their signing skills.

In grades 1 and 2 of elementary school, deaf students learn sign language and Portuguese (the national language of Brazil) within the same physical setting that other children do, but their classes follow a different schedule. A hearing teacher who knows sign language is in charge of teaching them both languages. In the third grade, deaf students are mainstreamed in classes of up to 25 students, with 6 at most being deaf or hard of hearing. To make it easier for the reader, in the remainder of the present article we will designate as deaf those students considered either deaf or hard of hearing. This is how the Brazilian deaf community and experts refer to both categories.

Considering the need to better understand successful experiences of deaf children's inclusion, we aimed in the present study to describe, analyze, and interpret what happens in elementary school bilingual education classes for the deaf. …

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