What Have We Learned from
Research in Deaf Ed?

By Harold A. Johnson, PhD, Michigan State University

“Will my child learn differently than hearing kids because he can’t hear normally?  What will be the best way to teach him?  How can I as a parent make sure he has every opportunity and advantage throughout his school years?  Where will I find the information I need to make that happen?”

Parents are the experts concerning their children’s experiences, interests, and day-to-day achievements.  Given this expertise, parents often seek additional knowledge concerning how to enhance their children’s learning, language, literacy, social, and academic competencies.  Unfortunately, most parents have limited access to, and understanding of, the professional journals that offer empirical evidence of “what works” with children who are deaf/hard of hearing (d/hh).  Such factors as:

  • the cost of the journals;
  • the background readers are expected to bring to journal articles;
  • the terminology used within the articles;
  • the very formal style in which the articles are written;
  • the complexities of the presented information; and even
  • the number of pages that must be read before a “kernel” of understanding can be gleamed all limit a parent’s access to best practices in deaf education.  In reality, many teachers of students who are d/hh experience these same barriers. 

In June of 2006, at the Hands & Voices National Leadership Conference in Colorado, Leeanne Seaver, myself, and others informally discussed the barriers to learning “what works” with children who are d/hh.  During the course of that conversation the “what if” question was raised, i.e., what if we could establish a system through which parents, teachers and researchers could effectively and efficiently share, discuss, and understand “what works” in the education of children who are d/hh. What if that system not only served to inform parents and teachers, but also served to inform researchers, i.e., share with them ideas, questions, observations in such a way as to lead to additional, even more inclusive and grounded investigations.  These conversations lead to the establishment of the “Journal of Deaf Studies & Deaf Education Author’s Corner” (http://jdsde-author-corner.wiki.educ.msu.edu/). 

Journal of Deaf Studies & Deaf Education Author’s Corner

The Journal of Deaf Studies & Deaf Education (JDSDE) Author’s Corner represents a collaborative effort between Marc Marschark/JDSDE Editor, Leeanne Seaver/Executive Director of Hands & Voices, and Harold Johnson/Professor at Michigan State University.  Within this collaboration, Marc assisted by identifying JDSDE authors, Leeanne assisted by encouraging parents to use the Author’s Corner, and Harold assisted by providing the necessary design, technology, oversight, and funding Sherry Ernsberger served as the Project Assistant in this effort.)  Since its inception on 2/13/08, 21 published studies, by 24 researchers have been shared on the JDSDE Author’s Corner. The researchers were asked to “recast” their longer, more complex and formal, JDSDE articles into a format that could be more quickly and easily understood and used by parents and teachers of students who are d/hh.  In addition, the researchers were asked to be available for a three-week period to respond to questions, comments, and/or suggestions concerning their research.  As a result, between 2/13/08 and 4/3/09, 329 messages were posted.  These messages represented interactive exchanges between parents, professionals, and researchers as they discussed the meaning and implications of the presented studies.  The interactive messages, in turn, where viewed 13,811 times by individuals who visited the JDSDE Author’s Corner site.  The following is a summary of what can be learned from the posted studies. 

What have we learned?

Information shared on the JDSDE Author’s Corner represents brief summaries of empirical articles published in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education (http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/).  JDSDE Author’s Corner summaries were written by the author(s) of the published research. Each synthesis was developed to convey what was considered the most critical information within the author’s summary.  Additional information is provided concerning the title of the research, the author of the research, when the research discussion ended on the JDSDE Author’s Corner, the number of messages that the discussion generated, and number of times that messages were viewed by individuals who visited the research summary.  Readers who are interested in the findings of a particular study are strongly encouraged to read the author’s summary, and/or complete article.  Author summaries can be found on the JDSDE Author’s Corner (http://jdsde-author-corner.wiki.educ.msu.edu/Past+Topical+Discussions).  Complete copies of the author’s articles can be found on the JDSDE website (http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/). 

Note: Research studies have been organized by topical focus and sequentially numbered.  In addition, key words within each research synthesis have been “bolded.”  The proceeding was done to assist readers in finding, sharing, discussing, and using the resulting information to enhance learning by children who are d/hh. 

Communication Approach:

1.   “Children’s communication approach is not fixed and changes as their needs and preferences change.”  Parents follow their children’s communication preferences.  Following a cochlear implant, children often prefer audition and speech as their preferred mode of communication, yet they, and their parents, remain open to the use of signs. 

  • Title: Parents’ Views on Changing Communication After Cochlear Implantation
  • Author: Dr. Linda M. Watson, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 6/8/08 - 32 messages posted – messages viewed 1,715 times.

Language Development:

2.   Early intervention is not enough for optimal spoken language development to occur. EI must be paired with a substantial level of parental involvement. 

  • Title: Spoken Language Development in Oral Preschool Children With Permanent Childhood Deafness
  • Author: Dr. Julia Z. Sarant, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 11/23/08 - 4 messages posted – messages viewed 187 times.

3.   Age matters in relation to when a child receives a cochlear implant, i.e., “...children who received their implants at young ages had higher scores on all language tests than children who were older at implantation.”  “However, age-appropriate language skills are not being attained by all [implanted] children when they reach school age...”  In relation to those language skills, “Assessment of only vocabulary is insufficient when considering the amount of support that a child requires and/or the need for continued special education.” 

  • Title: Spoken Language Scores of Children Using Cochlear Implants Compared to Hearing Age-Mates at School Entry
  • Author: Dr. Ann Geers, facilitated discussion of this topic will end on 4/12/09 – as of 4/3/09, 10 messages posted – messages viewed 147 times.

Thinking Skills: 

4.   The greater the access to and the more experience with language, either spoken or signed, the more developed the language skills.  The more developed the language skills, the more developed the thinking skills, e.g., the ability to “...predict and explain people’s actions as motivated by their mental states (desires, beliefs, emotions, etc.).”  Cochlear implants facilitated access to, and experience with, spoken language.

  • Title: Theory of mind and language in children with cochlear implants
  • Author: Dr. Ethan Remmel, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 2/22/09 - 6 messages posted – messages viewed 192 times.


5.   The stages of literacy development begin with competency in the face-to-face use of the written language, followed by knowledge of how face-to-face and written language use relate to one another.  This stage is followed by knowledge of the letter/syllables/word to sound relationships, i.e., phonological awareness.  “Therefore it is important to think about ways in which deaf children can develop phonological awareness via routes other than, or in addition to audition (e.g., visual phonics, speechreading, fingerspelling etc.).” 

  • Title: What Really Matters in the Early Literacy Development of Deaf Children?
  • Author: Dr. Connie Mayer, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 4/27/08 - 41 messages posted – messages viewed 1,881 times.

6.   The more children are engaged in the reading process (by being read to, by being asked open ended questions, by their statements being recast and expanded upon, and by using sounds to decode and make new words), the greater their literacy skills. 

  • Title: Literacy Skills in Children with Cochlear Implants: The Importance of Early Oral Language and Joint Storybook Reading
  • Author: Dr. Jean DesJardin, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 8/31/08 - 4 messages posted – messages viewed 214 times.

7.   Children who are deaf learn vocabulary in the same order and manner as their hearing peers, albeit at a slower rate.  The rate of vocabulary learning can be enhanced through the use of explicit cueing strategies that are more commonly used with younger children, e.g., “...repeating the words and pointing to an object while talking about it. Tailoring language-learning experiences to individual needs can be expected to accelerate vocabulary development and, in turn, provide a better foundation for later, higher-level language and literacy skills.

  • Title: Word-learning abilities in deaf and hard of hearing preschoolers: Effect of lexicon size and language modality
  • Author: Dr. Amy Lederberg & Dr. Pat Spencer, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 3/8/09 - 10 messages posted – messages viewed 166 times.

8.   The phonological performance (i.e., an awareness of, and ability to “...pull apart and manipulate segments of spoken language”) of deaf children with cochlear implants, was enhanced “...if the stimuli was presented in an audititon plus vision modality, rather than an auditory only modality.”  Reading skills in children who are deaf are predicted by their knowledge of print-to-sound correspondence, their speech intelligibility and their speech reading skills.  There is “...a correlation between phonological skills and reading skills in children with CIs.”

  • Title: Evaluating Phonological Processing Skills in Children With Prelingual Deafness Who Use Cochlear Implants
  • Author: Dr. Linda J. Spencer, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 2/1/09 - 7 messages posted – messages viewed 223 times.

9.   The instructional strategy of “chaining” (i.e., written words, linked with fingerspelling, then with a sign), as commonly used within Deaf Education Bilingual programs, is insufficient to support meaningful vocabulary development in students.  Students must also gain an understanding that written languages are not related to sign languages and they must gain phonological skills in the written language.

  • Title: Modeling Reading Vocabulary Learning in Deaf Children in Bilingual Education Programs
  • Author:  Dr. Daan Herman, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 8/11/08 - 8 messages posted – messages viewed 434 times.

10. Student’s signing and reading vocabularies are related, i.e., the larger the sign vocabulary, the larger the reading vocabulary. 

  • Title: The relationship between the reading and signing skills of deaf children in bilingual education programs
  • Author: Dr. Daan Hermans, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 11/02/08 - 11 messages posted – messages viewed 389 times. 

11. Student’s knowledge of written vocabulary can be enhanced through the use of computer programs that emphasize the spelling of words. This is “...likely because it stimulates close attention to the word-specific pattern of letters.”  Following the spelling-to-words presentation, computer programs that emphasized word-to-drawing were more beneficial than word-to-signing programs. 

  • Title: Computer-based Exercises For Learning to Read and Spell by Deaf Children
  • Author:  Dr. Pieter Reitsma, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 3/29/09 - 4 messages posted – messages viewed 54 times. 


12.  The learning and language knowledge and skills of young children who are deaf are enhanced when parents frequently interact with their children in engaging, varied and meaningful interactions that incorporate basic mathematical concepts (e.g., “number/counting, quantity, time/sequence, and categorization”) into day-to-day family routines.

  • Title: Family mediation of mathematically based concepts while engaged in a problem-solving activity with their young deaf children
  • Author:  Dr. Karen Kritzer, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 9/21/08 - 41 messages posted – messages viewed 1,257 times. 

13. Success within mathematics requires individuals to understand the relationships, or connections, between the objects of a math problem, vs. simply recognize those objects. Most students who are deaf do not understand the relationships of objects within math problems. Students understanding of mathematical relationships of objects can be enhanced if parents and teachers “think aloud” re. how they use math to solve everyday problems, e.g., “...explain why you decided what you decided, what previous experience lead you to” your decision. “Talk through your thought processes...while you are working on a problem or seeking to understand something. Talk...about how you decided which approach was better. Explain your evaluation process.”

  • Title: Visual-Spatial Representation in Mathematical Problem Solving by Deaf and Hearing Students
  • Author:  Mr. Gary Blatto-Vallee, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 5/18/08 - 8 messages posted – messages viewed 542 times. 

14. Success with story problems in math requires more than simply using the correct operation (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication).  Success also requires individuals use their informal knowledge, as gained from day-to-day experiences, to understand “story” within the problem.  Unfortunately, many students who are deaf and hard of hearing ignore the story and focus upon the rigid use of mathematical operations. The rigidity of this use, in turn, limits their success within mathematics. Success within mathematics can be enhanced by parents and teachers using “...the language of mathematics in [their] everyday conversations...” and by explaining “...their thinking in how they solved [real life] problems.”

  • Title: The Relative Difficulty of Signed Arithmetic Story Problems for Primary Level Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
  • Authors: Dr. Ansell & Dr. Pagliaro, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 2/13/08 - 64 messages posted – messages viewed 2,182 times. 

Learning Contexts:

15. While it is impossible to guarantee the academic success of deaf and hard of hearing students in general education classrooms, factors have been found to be frequently associated with academic success. Those factors are as follows:

  Facilitators Detractors


  1. participating / being active in class
  2. personnel motivation to succeed
  3. self advocacy
  1. inconsistent use of amplification
  2. poor/inconsistent completion of work
  3. lack of/difficulty with class participation


  1. high parental support and expectations for student & the school program
  2. ability to help with and ensure that homework is completed
  1. inability of parents to help with, or lack of consequences for failing to complete homework
  2. failure of parents to communicate with school personnel


  1. expectation that deaf student would achieve at the same level as hearing students + high expectations for all students.
  2. willingness of general classroom teacher to make classroom accommodations
  3. good communication between professionals providing services
  1. inadequate accommodations by the general education teacher
  2. low academic e expectations

The research further indicates that “...students who were not doing well seemed to have cumulative and multiplicative detractors that overshadowed facilitators.”  Therefore, “...it may not be sufficient to focus on alleviating single risk factors. Programs may have to tackle multiple detractors simultaneously.”

  • Title: Academic Status of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students in public schools: Student, home, and service facilitators and detractors
  • Author:  Dr. Shirin Anti, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 6/30/08 - 20 messages posted – messages viewed 1,220 times. 

16. Social integration is a frequently cited expectation, but an uncertain outcome when children who are deaf are placed in an inclusive classroom. While children who are deaf have been found to experience the same level of acceptance as their hearing peers, they are also considered to be more withdrawn and display lower prosocial behaviors (e.g., cooperative, helpful, or considerate) than their hearing peers. Therefore, teachers should be aware of this. “Training of deaf children in aspects of social competence seems plausible as well as focused classroom discussions including hearing and deaf classmates about issues of mutual cooperation and support.”

  • Title: Social Integration of Deaf Children in Inclusive Settings
  • Author:  Dr. Loes Wauters, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 4/6/08 - 11 messages posted – messages viewed 703 times. 

17. Two-way text messaging technology is “...useful for deaf adolescents and helps alleviate some of the concerns that have kept them from developing independence as quickly or readily as their hearing peers.”

  • Title: An investigation of two-way text messaging use with deaf students at the secondary level
  • Author: Dr. C. Tane Akamatsu, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 7/20/08 - 10 messages posted – messages viewed 432 times. 

18. Deaf and hearing college freshman are similar in relation to self perception of descriptive words like  “discourage,” “worry,” “body image,” “anger,” “alcohol,” “trouble,” and “school.” They differ in that deaf freshman considered themselves to experience significantly higher “home life difficulties” and significantly fewer “coping difficulties.”  In addition, female deaf freshman, considered themselves to have significantly more “worry” than their male deaf and hearing peers.  The results are difficult to interpret and may be at least partially due to an artifact of the research instrument. 

  • Title: Deaf College Students Perceptions of their Social-Emotional Adjustment
  • Author:  Dr. Jennifer Lukomski, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 3/16/08 - 3 messages posted – messages viewed 214 times. 


19. When statewide standardized assessments are taken by students who are deaf/hard of hearing, the three most common types of accommodations are: 1) small group testing; 2) interpreting test directions; and 3) and extended time. “With the exception of interpreting or reading test items aloud, accommodations were largely used for both reading and math assessments. Participants perceived all listed accommodations as both valid and easy to use. Participants recommended that student academic level, communication mode, and additional disabilities be taken into account when choosing accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.” 

  • Title: Accommodations used for statewide standardized assessments: Prevalence and recommendations for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing
  • Author:  Dr. Stephanie Cawthon, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 10/12/08 - 14 messages posted – messages viewed 459 times. 

20. When alternative assessment strategies are used with students who are deaf/hard of hearing, teacher preferences and state regulations determine the format and use of the strategies. The most commonly used strategy to track student progress was student portfolios. “Out-of-level” tests were test rarely permitted due to state assessment regulations. 

  • Title: Alternate Assessment Use with Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: An Analysis of Portfolio, Checklists, and Out-of-Level Formats
  • Author:  Dr. Stephanie Cawthon, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 12/7/08 - 6 messages posted – messages viewed 248 times. 

21. Oral reading fluency is related to reading comprehension. Unfortunately, until just recently, teachers of students who are deaf/hard of hearing who use signing as their primary mode of communication lacked a fluency test that they could use with their students. This situation has been addressed via the development of the “Signed Reading Fluency Rubric for Signing Deaf Children.” The authors of the assessment rubric “...constructed a definition of signed reading fluency by investigating information from references relating specific communication characteristics that were known to be associated with either signed communication proficiency or proficiency in literacy.”  The resulting rubric included “...speed, facial expression, body movement, sign space, sign movement, and fingerspelling” and the “...use of space, role taking, eye gaze, negation, directionality, use of classifier, and pronominalization.”

  • Title: The Signed Reading Fluency of Students Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • Authors:  Dr. Easterbrooks & Ms. Huston, facilitated discussion of this topic ended on 2/25/08 - 14 messages posted – messages viewed 952 times. 

How do we use this information?

The information presented within this article should be discussed, questioned, shared, and used whenever appropriate. Parents may find these studies from the JDSDE Author’s Corner to be helpful in understanding their child’s needs, and in supporting their request for specific IEP services or educational placement. The information should not be taken as the “last word,” but rather a current reflection of what we have learned and what we are yet still trying to understand. The information should be used to help move us from a “community of believers,” to a “community of learners.” A community in which isolation is reduced, recognition is increased, and collaboration is fostered. A community that knows, understands, and uses what has been empirically proven to enhance and document the performance of children who are d/hh. 

Where do we go from here?

The JDSDE Author’s Corner began with a conversation and ended with a worldwide community of researchers, parents, teachers, and other professionals who efficiently and effectively shared and discussed a wide range of empirical investigations concerning children who are d/hh.  The data concerning use of the Author’s Corner, e.g., number of studies presented (21), participating researchers (24), posted messages (329), and messages read (13,811), is impressive.  Staring on 8/1/08, additional data collection began concerning the overall Web “traffic” to the Author’s Corner. That data indicates that during the last seven months, the Author’s Corner web site has been “visited” over 12,265.  Given the “low incidence” nature of deafness, the statistical data is impressive.  More impressive though are the comments and questions of individuals who post messages to the Author’s Corner. Many of these messages are from parents of children who are d/hh. All of the messages reflect a deep concern and evolving understanding of how to enhance the learning opportunities of our children and students. The messages also serve another function, they provide us the opportunity to learn and share with one another.  This is the true value of the JDSDE Author’s Corner.

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