Improving Access to STEM Education for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

Principal Investigator: 
Co-Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The project seeks to understand the cognitive and academic foundations of STEM learning by students with significant hearing loss and discover ways to enhance acquisition of knowledge in the classroom.

Setting: 

Rochester Institute of Technology which includes the National Technical Institute for the Deaf - together educating over 1300 deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is cross-sectional, and is designed to generate evidence which is associative/correlational (quasi-experimental), causal (experimental), and synthetic (meta-analysis). Instruments/measures used in this project primarily involve content-specific pretests, learning assessments (posttests), and gain scores. In addition, surveys concerning communication skills, educational experience, motivation, and perceptions of learning are utilized. Demographic information is obtained from self-reports and institutional databases. Individual studies include a variety of interventions including different modes of classroom communication, alternative classroom materials, and different instructional strategies. Comparison studies include "standard" versus augmented classroom communication, reading versus sign language, structured versus unstructured preparation, and hearing versus deaf students. This project collects original data using school records/policy documents, assessments of learning/achievement tests, and pencil and paper self-completion questionnaires. Primary data analyses involve analysis of variance, analysis of covariance, and multiple regression analyses. Meta-analyses include iterative multiple regression.

Findings: 

This project began with an extension of earlier studies by Marschark, Convertino, Sapere, and Masteller (2004) and McEvoy, Marschark, and Nelson (1999) examining differences between deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) and hearing students' conceptual knowledge. In one study, single word association data were collected from DHH and hearing students. Because of the concern originally motivating this study – whether DHH students would be as familiar as hearing students with printed STEM stimuli – 45 stimulus concepts received by each student were presented as words and 45 other stimulus concepts, with appropriate counter balancing, as words + pictures. For each stimulus, in addition to providing a one-word association, DHH students indicated whether (1) they were familiar with the concept/object and (2) whether they knew the sign for the concept/object (yes, hearing students should have been asked to do something like this too, we just blew it). Analyses examined differences in strength of primary associates, set sizes, frequency of idiosyncratic responses, and "No Responses" as a function of picture versus word stimuli, hearing status, and subjects' reported sign and concept knowledge.

Results indicated that the strength of primary associates was stronger for hearing students than DHH students with word stimuli, replicating earlier results, but the difference was eliminated when stimulus words were presented with pictures. Hearing students also showed a significantly larger effective set size (responses given by two or more individuals - indicating sharing of conceptual knowledge) than DHH students, a difference that was not eliminated through the use of word + picture stimuli. When idiosyncratic responses (responses given by only a single individual) were considered, there was no overall effect of hearing status, but a hearing status by stimulus type interaction reflected the fact that DHH and hearing students produced idiosyncratic responses with similar frequency when words were presented alone, whereas hearing students produced somewhat more idiosyncratic responses when words + pictures were presented. This appears to reflect the fact that hearing students were more likely than DHH students to name parts of pictures (BICYCLE: wheel); DHH students had a tendency to write the name of the picture in response to word + picture stimuli, a response given only rarely a hearing students. Finally, DHH students were more likely to fail to respond to stimuli than hearing students overall, but a significant interaction reflected the fact that this effect was almost entirely confined to the word-only stimuli.

These results suggest that previous results demonstrating significant differences between DHH and hearing students on these measures of lexical knowledge are at least partly the result of associative structures linked to printed words (hence their being studies of lexical knowledge). While the two groups are more similar when pictures are presented, it is unclear whether pictures provide students with better access to core meaning or simply provide a wider range of possible associates. In fact, DHH students were over twice as likely to indicate that they did not know a word/concept when it was presented without a picture than when it was presented with the picture, but slightly more likely to indicate that they did not know a sign for a word/concept when it was presented with a picture. Two other aspects of these results will be of practical and theoretical interest: First, given the necessity of college students' relying on printed materials for STEM learning, the fact that core meanings may be more accessible through the use of pictures could be seen as problematic or as suggesting the need for new instructional materials. Second, despite the above reference to "core meaning," the results of previous studies suggest that core meaning may be somewhat different for DHH and hearing students, and it also may be different when elicited by words or pictures.

What turned out to be the most important study conducted in this project originally was intended to compare the benefits of direct and mediated (interpreted) STEM instruction for DHH and hearing students. Marschark, Sapere, Convertino, and Pelz (2008) found that when taught by skilled instructors of DHH students, DHH students learned as much as hearing classmates regardless of whether instructors were deaf or hearing, utilized sign language interpreters or signed for themselves, and regardless of whether signing was in American Sign Language or English-based sign. Together with other findings, we concluded that experienced instructors of DHH students implicitly or explicitly recognize that "deaf students are not hearing students who can't hear," but demonstrate specific cognitive differences relative to hearing peers. Those teachers modify their methods and materials (in ways to be determined) to match the strengths and needs of DHH students. The result is STEM learning comparable to that of hearing peers even though DHH students generally come into the STEM classroom with lesser content knowledge.

Another exciting study in this project was aimed at resolving a consistent but surprising aspect of previous results. Despite suggestions in the literature (theoretical claims and results from isolated, smaller-scale studies), dozens of experimental comparisons over several years failed to find that either demographic variables (e.g., parental hearing status, hearing thresholds, reading levels) or communication variables (e.g., ASL skill, preferences for spoken versus sign language) predicted DHH students' learning in the STEM classroom. Prior content knowledge has been a consistent predictor of learning from STEM lectures, but variables often linked to the development of deaf children's vocabularies and academic achievement have not proven useful in predicting college students' learning. These null findings have been surprising to the investigators and grant proposal reviewers, while journal editors have requested that we not include those analyses in manuscripts, because of their lack of significant results. The consistency of the null results, however, suggested that the issue is worthy of further consideration.
Convertino et al. (2009) therefore conducted a meta-analysis using data from 10 experiments involving deaf and hearing college students' STEM learning in mainstream classrooms (i.e., instructors who normally teach hearing students working with sign language interpreters). Experiments in this study included all those which had utilized lectures presented via sign language interpreting, both pretest and posttests, multiple-choice assessments of learning, and both deaf and hearing students. Post-lecture learning scores and gain scores (posttest minus pretest) from each experiment were standardized. Consistent with the suggestion of Marschark et al. (2008 ) that there may be fundamental differences in learning as a function of whether instructors are experienced in teaching deaf students, analyses were conducted separately for data obtained from instructors who typically teach DHH for hearing students, all in the same university. In addition to the analysis of learning scores, parallel analyses were conducted using college entrance scores as the dependent variable.

Briefly stated, learning in classrooms taught by STEM faculty who were not deaf-experienced was associated with only two major predictors. First, learning was best predicted by deaf students' academic preparation scores (ACT scores): all-around better students learned more. Second, the DHH students simultaneous communication (speech and sign together) receptive scores predicted learning, even though they did not receive any of the lectures via simultaneous communication (sign language interpreters provided access). This finding was interpreted as an indication of language flexibility, as students who are comfortable with both the English and sign language are able to utilize either/both will as necessary in the classroom.

A parallel study was conducted involving skilled instructors of the deaf, although that study was not included in the Convertino et al. (2009) because such academic settings are not available beyond programs specifically designed for deaf students. Nevertheless, analyses indicated that learning in classrooms taught by faculty who were deaf-experienced also was predicted best by deaf students' academic preparation scores. Consistent with the fact that approximately half of the STEM lectures provided by deaf-experienced faculty were on mathematics-related topics, mathematics achievement was the best predictor of learning overall, followed by more general predictors – but not reading level. ASL comprehension skills, however, were a significant predictor for students in lectures from skilled instructors of DHH students, even though the interpreting was provided by the same interpreters as the lectures. These findings suggest the possibility that experienced instructors of DHH students might communicate with their students in a way more consistent with ASL discourse structure or in some manner that affects the interpretations provided. In particular, NTID instructors appear to use ASL-like strategies such as metacognitive reminders ("remember the way I said that...") and bracketing (stating important points both before and after explanations) as well as more concrete explanations for complex topics. These and other possibilities remain to be determined in future research.

The most significant findings are (1) deaf and hard-of-hearing students come into the classroom with less content knowledge than hearing peers, a gap that typically increases with instruction. However, (2) instructors who are experienced in teaching those students apparently employed strategies (to be determined) that prevent the gap from widening. Such instruction (3) is independent of whether instructors sign for themselves or utilize sign language interpreters. Meanwhile, (4) deaf students do not understand as much as they think they do from sign language and may understand more than I think they do from text.

Publications & Presentations: 

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., Mayer, C., Wauters, L. & Sarchet, T. (2009). Are deaf students' reading challenges really about reading? American Annals of the Deaf, 154, 357-370.

Marschark, M. (2009). Educating deaf students: Is literacy really the issue? In E. Pisula & P. Tomaszewski (Eds.), New ideas in studying and supporting the development of exceptional people (pp. 151-159). Warsaw: University of Warsaw Press.

Convertino, C.M., Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Sarchet, T., & Zupan, M. (2009). Predicting academic success among deaf college students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14, 324-343.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C.M. & Pelz, J. (2008). Learning via direct and mediated instruction by deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 446-461.

Hintermair, M. & Marschark (2008). Kognitive Entwicklung gehörloser Kinder: Was die Forschung für die pädagogische Praxis anbietet [Cognitive development of deaf children: What research can offer for educational practice]. Das Zeichen, 79, 240-254.

Marschark, M. & Wauters, L. (2008). Language comprehension and learning by deaf students. In M. Marschark & P. C. Hauser (Eds.), Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes (pp. 309-350). New York: Oxford University Press.

Pelz, J., Marschark, M., & Convertino, C. (2008). Visual gaze as a marker of deaf students' attention during mediated instruction. In M. Marschark & P. C. Hauser (Eds.), Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes (pp. 264-285). New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. (2008). A review of discourses on deafness and education and their contemporary influence. In M. Hyde & G. Høie (Eds.), Constructing educational discourses in deafness (pp. 8-26). Oslo: Skådalen.

Marschark, M. (2007). Comprendre et utiliser les fondamentaux cognitifs de l'apprentissage des enfants sourds. [Understanding and utilizing the cognitive underpinnings of learning by deaf children.] Enfance, 59, 271-281.

Marschark, M., Convertino, C.M., Macias, G., Monikowski, C., Sapere, P.M., & Seewagen, R. (2007). Understanding communication among deaf students who sign and speak: A trivial pursuit? American Annals of the Deaf, 152, 415-424.

Hauser, P. & Marschark, M. (2008). What we know and what we don't know about cognition and deaf learners. In M. Marschark & P. C. Hauser (Eds.), Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes (pp. 439-458). New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. (2006). Intellectual functioning of deaf adults and children: Answers and questions. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18, 70-89.

Marschark, M. (2007). Comprendre et utiliser les fondamentaux cognitifs de l'apprentissage des enfants sourds. [Understanding and utilizing the cognitive underpinnings of learning by deaf children.] Enfance, 59, 271-281.

Marschark, M., Convertino, C., & LaRock, D. (2006). Assessing cognition, communication, and learning by deaf students. In C. Hage, B. Charlier, & J. Leybaert (Eds.), L'évaluation de la personne sourde (pp. 26-53). Brussels: Mardaga.

Marschark, M., Convertino, C.M., Macias, G., Monikowski, C.M., Sapere, P.M., & Seewagen, R. (2007). Understanding communication among deaf students who sign and speak: A trivial pursuit? American Annals of the Deaf, 152, 415-424.

Marschark, M., Convertino, C., & LaRock, D. (2006). Optimizing academic performance of deaf students: Access, opportunities, and outcomes. In D. F. Moores & D. S. Martin (Eds.), Deaf learners: New developments in curriculum and instruction (pp. 179-200). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Marschark, M., Convertino, C., McEvoy, C., & Masteller, A. (2004). Organization and use of the mental lexicon by deaf and hearing individuals. American Annals of the Deaf, 149, 51-61.

Marschark, M. & Hauser, P.C., Editors (2008). Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. & Hauser, P. (2008). Cognitive underpinnings of learning by deaf and hard-of-hearing students: Differences, diversity, and directions. In M. Marschark & P. C. Hauser (Eds.), Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes (pp. 3-23). New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M., Leigh, G., Sapere, P., Burnham, D., Convertino, C., Stinson, M., Knoors, H., Vervloed, M. P. J. & Noble, W. (2006). Benefits of sign language interpreting and text alternatives to classroom learning by deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11, 421-437.

Marschark, M., Pelz, J., Convertino, C., Sapere, P., Arndt, M. E., & Seewagen, R. (2005). Classroom interpreting and visual information processing in mainstream education for deaf students: Live or Memorex?® American Educational Research Journal, 42, 727-762.

Marschark, M., Peterson, R., & Winston, E.A., Editors (2005). Interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. & Sapere, P. (2005). Educational interpreting – Does it work as well as we think? In J. Mole (Ed.), International Perspectives on Interpreting (pp. 5-20). Brassington, UK: Direct Learning Services Ltd.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., Mayer, C., Wauters, L. & Sarchet, T. (revised manuscript under review). Are deaf students' reading challenges really about reading?

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C.M. & Pelz, J. (2008). Learning via direct and mediated instruction by deaf students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 446-461.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., & Seewagen, R. (2005). Educational interpreting: Access and outcomes. In M. Marschark, R. Peterson, & E.A. Winston (Eds.), Interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice (pp. 57-83). New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., & Seewagen, R. (2005). Access to postsecondary education through sign language interpreting. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10, 38-50.

Marschark, M., Sapere, P., Convertino, C., Seewagen, R. & Maltzan, H. (2004). Comprehension of sign language interpreting: deciphering a complex task situation. Sign Language Studies, 4, 345-368.

Sapere, P., LaRock, D, Convertino, C., Gallimore, L. & Lessard, P. (2005). Interpreting and interpreter education – Adventures in Wonderland? In M. Marschark, R. Peterson, & E. Winston (Eds.), Interpreting and Interpreter Education: Directions for Research and Practice (pp. 283-297). New York: Oxford University Press. 

Examples of several dozen presentations citing NSF support for this project:

Educating Deaf Students with Cochlear Implants in Bilingual Settings. Invited presentation to the Toward Inclusive Education for Deaf Students conference. Madrid Spain.

"Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can't Hear." Lyon Daughters Lecture, Rochester Academy of Medicine.

"Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can't Hear (so, can implants close the reading achievement gap?)," Indiana University School of Medicine, DeVault Otologic Research Laboratory.

"What We Know, What We Don't Know, and What We Think We Know about Language and Learning by Deaf Students," University of Rochester, Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

"Educating Deaf Students: What We Know, What We Don't Know, and What We Only Think We Know" and "Educating Deaf Students: Different Does Not Mean Deficient," Drury School for the Deaf, Milton, Ontario.

"Myths and Misunderstandings in Deaf Education" presentation to Rochester School for the Deaf staff, parents, and Board

"What We Know, What We Don't Know, and What We Think We Know about Alternative Educational Models for Deaf Students." Keynote address, Second Brussels Conference on Bilingual Education, Brussels, Belgium.
"Grade Expectations: What We Know, What We Don't Know, and What We Think We Know (but Really Don’t Know) about Language in the Education of Deaf Students." Keynote address, British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, Glasgow, Scotland.

"Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can’t Hear: On Language, Cognition, and Learning." Special course for Teachers of the Deaf in Scotland Scottish Sensory Centre, Edinburgh.

"Literacy Skills of Children with Cochlear Implants: Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can't Hear." Invited address, State-Of-The-Art conference on cochlear implantation, Nottingham.

"Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can’t Hear." Plenary address, Canadian Association of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"Myths and Misunderstandings in the Education and Development of Deaf Children." "Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can’t Hear." Plenary address, Canadian Association of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"Educating Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Children: What We Know, What We Don’t Know & What We Think We Know (But Really Don’t)." Keynote presentation, Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Learning Celebration Conference, Montpelier, VT.

"Grade Expectations: Sign Language in the Education of Deaf Students." In-service presentation, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

"Do deaf students' visuospatial abilities give them an advantage in multimedia classrooms?" Technology and Deaf Education Conference (invited), NTID, June 25.

"Deaf Children's Literacy: What We Know, What We Don't Know, and What We Think We Know (But Really Don't)." Keynote presentation, Texas Statewide Conference on Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"Moving Forward with Deaf Education: Deaf Children Are Not Hearing Children Who Can't Hear." Invited presentation, Texas Statewide Conference on Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Galveston.