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Active Learning for Deaf Students: Teaching Tips for Enhancing Instruction in Science and Mathematics Harry G. Lang Rachel C. Lewis National Technical Institute for the Deaf Rochester Institute of Technology Objectives

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Active Learning for Deaf Students: Teaching Tips for Enhancing Instructionin Science and Mathematics

Harry G. Lang

Rachel C. Lewis

National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Rochester Institute of Technology

  • Apply “best practices” related to active learning in instruction of deaf learners based on educational research (elementary & secondary).
  • Summarize what research says about active learning and deaf students in science and mathematics.

Upon completion of this unit, the teacher will be able to:

introductory activity
Introductory Activity
  • On a piece of paper, please draw the figure below, with the O and X four to five centimeters apart.


introductory activity4
Introductory Activity
  • Close your left eye as you look at the O with your right eye.
  • Move the paper toward your face.
  • What happens to the X? Discuss this with your group.
introductory activity5
Introductory Activity


You have discovered the “blind spot” where the optic nerve connects to the retina and there are no cones or rods to pick up an image.

discovery learning
Discovery Learning
  • Compare discovering this concept through active learning with a teacher just describing it through a lecture.
  • Discuss the difference with your group.
discovery learning7
Discovery Learning
  • Discovery learning is "an approach to instruction through which students interact with their environment-by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments" (Ormrod, 1995, p. 442).
  • Students are more likely to remember concepts when they discover them on their own.

Ormrod, J. (1995). Educational psychology: Principles and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.

discovery learning8
Discovery Learning
  • In this activity, all students have their “minds on” during the activity.
  • Minds-on learning (cognitive engagement) is much more important than “hands-on” activity.
defining active learning
Defining “Active Learning”
  • All learning is “active.”
  • The level of engagement by the student during the instructional process determines how “active” a learning experience may be.
defining active learning10
Defining “Active Learning”

Student-Centered Learning

  • Film clip A1 illustrates how a teacher is actively involving the students in creating a concept map in which they compare and contrast the characteristics of humans and computers.
  • Film clip A1
defining active learning11
Defining “Active Learning”

There is probably no better way to summarize the importance of active learning than the old proverb:

Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember.Involve me, and I will understand.

defining active learning12
Defining “Active Learning”

Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember.Involve me, and I will understand.

Involving the deaf student in student-centered activities (as compared to teacher-centered lectures) has been repeatedly found in research studies to be a critical emphasis or “best practice.”

inquiry based learning
Inquiry-based Learning

Inquiry learning is a general term for learning modeled on the scientific inquiry process.  It is described in various ways, but generally involves the following steps:

  • formulating testable hypotheses (or predictions or questions)
  • planning for the systematic gathering of data
  • acquiring the data and information
  • data analysis
  • inferring conclusions
  • reporting the findings
inquiry based learning15
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

  • On a piece of paper, please draw a triangle with a ruler.
  • It can be any shape or size.
inquiry based learning16
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

Focus questions

  • How can we find the measure of each angle of a triangle?
  • How can we find the sum of the measures of the angles of a triangle?
inquiry based learning17
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

  • Discuss how you would measure the angles and find the sum.
  • Design a short experiment to predict the sum of the angles in your individual triangles, measure these angles and record them in a data sheet.
inquiry based learning18
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

  • Next, in your drawing of a triangle, please label each angle, A, B, and C.
inquiry based learning19
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

  • Cut (or tear) each angle from the triangle and place them together with their sides touching.
  • What do you notice about the sum of the three angles?
inquiry based learning20
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

  • What do you notice about the sum of the three angles?
inquiry based learning21
Inquiry-Based Learning

An example from mathematics:

Using such a technique, the students will discover that no matter what the size or shape of the triangle, the three angles will always add up to 180 degrees (or a straight line).

inquiry based learning22
Inquiry-Based Learning

Research Findings:

Elefant (1980): Twenty-seven deaf students aged 10-13 participated in an Inquiry Development Program in five instructional groups ranging from 3 to 7 students each. The program lasted 8 weeks with two sessions per week. The focus was on whether such an inquiry approach can be used with deaf learners.

inquiry based learning23
Inquiry-Based Learning

Research Findings:

Elefant concludes from her study that the actual number of inquiry behaviors and time spent doing experiments exhibited per lesson tended to increase over time and that the the spent doing "non-involved tasks" either remained constant or decreased over time for each student. All of the students involved in the study were able to acquire inquiry skills. However, academic content learning was not evaluated in this study.

Elefant, E.F. (1980). Deaf children in an inquiry training program. The Volta Review, 82, 271-279.

inquiry based learning24
Inquiry-Based Learning

Research Findings:

Boyd and George (1973), used an inquiry learning approach to study the manipulation of objects and classification abilities of deaf 10-13 year-old students using Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) and Science: A Process Approach (SAPA) materials. They observed increased scores for deaf students in the experimental group who used the hands-on materials.

Boyd, E., & George, K. (1973). The effect of science inquiry on the abstract categorization behavior of deaf children. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 10, 91-99.

inquiry based learning25
Inquiry-Based Learning

Research Findings:

Grossman (1987) investigated how the "antecedent cognitive skills" of 30 deaf junior high science students relate to inquiry tasks. He first assessed such cognitive skills as pattern/unit relations, symmetry, balance, and complementarity. Then he examined performance on observational science inquiry tasks, finding that antecedent process performance was significantly related to observational science inquiry skills. The antecedent cognitive skills were also significantly related to science and reading SAT scores.

Grossman, E. (1987). Antecedent cognitive skills related to science inquiry: an assessment with deaf children. Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College.

inquiry based learning26
Inquiry-Based Learning

Research Findings:

In summary, several studies with deaf learners have shown benefits of using inquiry learning approaches.

active learning
Active Learning

In addition to the short-term discovery/inquiry approaches recently described, there are many other forms of active learning.

Another type of active learning is called

Experiential Learning

experiential learning
Experiential Learning
  • “Experiential learning” often refers to a structured learning sequence which is guided by a cyclical model.
  • Experiential learning may also include unintentional learning, but we usually call this “learning through experience.”
experiential learning29
Experiential Learning
  • Experiential Learning is defined in a variety of ways.
  • There are several components which are common to all models.
  • Experiential education usually includes:
    • Some form of action
    • Some form of reflection
    • Some form of application
experiential learning30
Experiential Learning
  • Film Clip A2 illustrates the “Action” stage of experiential learning. In this lesson, a deaf girl pretends she is purchasing an automobile from a saleswoman.
  • Film Clip A2
experiential learning31
Experiential Learning
  • “Processing” is the reflection component.
  • Learners consider what is important about the activity which was recently experienced.
experiential learning32
Experiential Learning
  • Film clip A3 illustrates one part of a longer discussion of the recent experience (purchasing a car). The rest of the class is involved in the discussion.
  • Film clip A3
experiential learning33
Experiential Learning
  • Reflection ought to include communication of experience.
  • Communication itself is action, or “active learning.”
  • The reflective communication may be signed, written, or spoken (to oneself, to another, to a group).
experiential learning34
Experiential Learning
  • Critical emphasis - something must be done with the reflection.
  • As far as possible, design the processing activity to include cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (feelings) dimensions.
  • Encourage the learners to reflect, describe, analyze, and communicate.
experiential learning35
Experiential Learning

Research Findings:

In a study by Quinsland (1986), Deaf students’ learning was enhanced by an experiential activity where they acted out the different parts of the human heart (white blood cells, red blood cells, valves, chambers, etc).

The factual learning by the students was significantly better than that of a control group which learned the same material through a traditional lecture.

Quinsland, L.K. (1986). Experiential learning vs. lecture learning with postsecondary hearing-impaired learners: a study of the potential need for change to occur in instructional methodology. Ph.D. Dissertation, Walden University.

experiential learning36
Experiential Learning

An example from biology:

Sense of Hearing

Individuals in your group should “become” one of the following:

  • Sound wave (use a slinky spring if available)
  • Outer ear
  • Tympanic membrane
  • Parts of the middle ear (hammer, anvil, stirrup)
  • Cochlea with hair-like cilia
  • Auditory nerve
  • Brain
experiential learning37
Experiential Learning

An example from biology:

Sense of Hearing

  • Using note cards or sticky labels, each individual should have the name of the part he/she represents clearly identified.
  • Next, the movement and functions of each part of the hearing process should be discussed individually.
experiential learning38
Experiential Learning

An example from biology:

Sense of Hearing

  • Finally, the individuals, all standing up, should imagine themselves as the various components of the hearing system and act out the process.
  • For example, some students will be the stereocilia, imitating the motion of the hair cells. Their raised arms should move in synchronization as if carrying the sound energy through the cochlea.
experiential learning39
Experiential Learning

An example from biology:

Sense of Hearing


Discussion - each student should describe what she/he experienced as one part of the human ear.

experiential learning40
Experiential Learning

An example from biology:

Sense of Hearing


A “Writing to Learn” activity, for example, may be used to process this experience

Write a short creative essay several paragraphs long titled, “I am a Cilium in the Cochlea”

Describe yourself as a cilium.

experiential learning41
Experiential Learning

Cooperative Learning Activity: In your group, take 15 minutes to modify the “Sense of Hearing” activity based on the situation presented on the next slide.

  • Choose a leader for the discussion.
  • Come up with some basic rules for communication.
  • Determine the specific part of the hearing system that needs to be modified.
  • Train the individuals on how to modify their behaviors to demonstrate the hearing system failure.
  • Demonstrate it through experiential learning.
experiential learning42
Experiential Learning


Mary had spinal meningitis at the age of 11. Discuss and then demonstrate through this experiential learning model what happened to her hearing.

lesson planning embedding multiple activities
Lesson Planning:Embedding Multiple Activities

Often, a series of short-term activities of the “hands-on/minds-on” type can be embedded in a single lesson.

short term activities
Short-Term Activities

To illustrate how short-term activities can be embedded in classroom discussions, we provide a series of QuickTime movies for a lesson on “Properties of Air”:

  • Air has weight
  • Air occupies space
  • Air can exert pressure
short term activities45
Short-Term Activities

Example 1: Air has Weight

  • Have the students blow up two balloons (so that they are roughly of equal size) and tie them to opposite ends of a meter stick. Tie a string to the center of the meter stick so that the meter stick and balloons can be held suspended in the air. The meter stick should be fairly level since the balloons "weigh" the same.
  • Have students write down their prediction of what will happen when one of the balloons is broken with a pin.
short term activities46
Short-Term Activities

Example 1: Air has Weight

  • [See Film Clip A4]
  • Have students turn down their hearing aids. Have a student burst one of the balloons with a pin. After the students burst the balloon, have them write on an index card what they saw actually happen. Did this match their prediction? Why or why not? Why did the remaining balloon rise or fall?
short term activities47
Short-Term Activities

Example 1: Air has Weight

  • Some teachers may assume that a verbal explanation is adequate. Having the students do this themselves makes a difference in how well they understand the concept. The activity also fosters inquiry, involves multisensory experiences (visually observing, feeling and/or hearing the balloon burst, etc.), and the writing activity encourages self expression.
short term activities48
Short-Term Activities

Example 2: Air occupies space

  • In the same manner, students can see how air will occupy space when they do this short-term activity themselves.
  • Importantly, ask the students first if they can design a basic activity that will demonstrate air occupying space (inquiry learning).
  • See next slide
short term activities49
Short-Term Activities

Example 2: Air occupies space

  • Give them a container with water and an empty glass and allow them to discuss the design…rather than quickly demonstrating it yourself.
  • [See Film Clip A5]]
short term activities50
Short-Term Activities

Example 3: Air exerts pressure

  • A simple piece of balsa wood and some newspaper are all that are needed to dramatically observe air pressure.
  • Importantly, involve the students in the activity.
  • [see Film Clip A6]
short term activities51
Short-Term Activities
  • With the open newspaper, there is a larger area on which the weight of the air is applied. There is a larger force. The balsa wood breaks. With the same newspaper rolled up, there is less area and less force. The balsa wood does not break.
active learning52
Active Learning

Tell me, and I will forget.

Show me, and I will remember.

Involve me, and I will understand.

importance of active learning
Importance of Active Learning

The use of multisensory, active learning with deaf students was first mentioned in the seventeenth century.

In one of his books on the education of deaf students, Juan Pablo Bonet discussed the importance of active learning.

importance of active learning54
Importance of Active Learning
  • In an active learning environment, students develop conceptual knowledge and acquire language through engaging in activity.
importance of active learning55
Importance of Active Learning
  • Active learning involves the student taking responsibility for discovering, constructing, and creating something new. The primary role of the teacher is to be a resource and facilitator, not a "source of facts".
  • Such an approach leads deaf learners to gain a sense of empowerment as they construct meaning through experience and discussion.
importance of active learning56
Importance of Active Learning
  • A number of research studies have been cited thus far which show that when deaf students are "active," "interactive" (with peers, teachers, or computer media, for example), or "participate" (in terms of learning styles) rather than passively watch a teacher, they learn better.
  • The more deaf students are actually engaged in the learning activity (as compared to passively watching explanations or examples), the better they will learn.
importance of active learning57
Importance of Active Learning

As science and mathematics teachers, we should take every opportunity to actively engage the deaf student in the classroom, avoiding traditional lectures as much as possible and encouraging interaction and collaborative learning experiences.

importance of active learning58
Importance of Active Learning

In one study with deaf adolescents, Lang, Stinson, Basile, Kavanagh and Liu (1998) compared six learning styles and their relationships to course grades for 100 deaf adolescents.

  • The only learning style found to correlate significantly with course grade was "Participative Learning Style.“
  • The study indicated that deaf students who have higher “participative” learning styles tend to receive higher course grades.

Lang, H.G., Stinson, M.S., Basile, M., Kavanagh, F., & Liu, Y. (1998). Learning styles of deaf college students and teaching behaviors of their instructors. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 16-27.

importance of active learning59
Importance of Active Learning

In "How the Brain Learns", Sousa (2000) summarizes what research has shown about retention of learning material after 24 hours for various instructional methods.

As shown in the graph, on average only about 5% of the material is remembered when learned through a lecture.

Sousa, D. A. (2000). How the brain learns: A classroom teacher's guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

importance of active learning60
Importance of Active Learning

Audiovisual support and demonstrations, for example, increase the amount of material remembered as compared to non-supported lectures or reading.

importance of active learning61
Importance of Active Learning

Active learning ("practice by doing") strategies significantly improve the percentage retained (75%).

importance of active learning62
Importance of Active Learning

Teachers may enhance recall in their students even further when they introduce activities that encourage students toexplain what they have just learned to others…orto use what they have learned.

importance of active learning63
Importance of Active Learning
  • In film clip A7, a deaf student was asked to explain to others what she just learned about simplifying radicals in a mathematics class. (A story about prime factors escaping from prison was used to help remember the process.)
  • She proceeds carefully through the steps, demonstrates to the teacher and peers an understanding of the process, and she will likely remember this process much better as a result of having explained it in class.
multimedia approaches
Multimedia Approaches
  • In a study with 144 deaf students involving multimedia science learning, Dowaliby and Lang (1999) compared factual recall when the students learned through:

1. text only

2. text and sign movies

3. text and animation movies

4. text with adjunct questions

5. all of these conditions together

multimedia approaches65
Multimedia Approaches
  • Deaf students with low reading skills who learned through reading with adjunct questions performed as well as high reading ability students who learned through text only.
  • (No statistically significant difference was found for the sign movies or content movies.)
  • What is a possible explanation for this finding?
  • Please discuss this with your group before advancing to the next slide.
multimedia approaches66
Multimedia Approaches

What is a possible explanation for this finding?Dowaliby and Lang conjecture that watching movies and reading text are more passive as compared to answering the adjunct questions while reading text, which likely leads to more cognitive engagement.

Dowaliby, F. & Lang, H. G. (1999). Adjunct aids in instructional pose: A multimedia study with deaf college students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 270-282.

multimedia approaches67
Multimedia Approaches

One implication of the Dowaliby and Lang study is that teachers should give several questions with all reading assignments. This will likely encourage more thinking about what is being read.

multimedia approaches68
Multimedia Approaches

Steely (see Lang & Steely, 2003) combined text, signing, animations, and questions in three separate studies (Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physical Science), each 8 months long. He compared deaf students’ performance in learning through the multimedia units with learning the same material in traditional lectures.

Lang, H.G., and Steely, D. (2003). Web-based science instruction for deaf students: What research says to theteacher. Instructional Science, 31, 277-298.

multimedia approaches69
Multimedia Approaches

Steely found that in all three studies, deaf students learning through interaction with the multimedia units did significantly better on post-tests as compared to students learning the same material through lectures.

Again, there appeared to be more cognitive engagement via adjunct questions. The combined use of signing, text, and graphics with the questions had a positive effect on learning.

active learning70
Active Learning

General Strategies:

  • To enhance cognitive engagement, a teacher should use a series of questions and encourage students to write down their answers individually.
active learning71
Active Learning

General Strategies:

  • In general, science and mathematics teachers should minimize passive seat work (e.g. meaningless copying from blackboard), single student answers, "busy work" (e.g. watching a movie for pleasure during class time), and drill and practice.
active learning72
Active Learning

General Strategies:

  • Teachers need to maximize time on task, "minds-on" work, and full-class responses to questions.
  • For example, when students are watching a film, offer a prize for answering five questions about the movie's characters, plot, etc.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to develop thinking skills.