Unpacking the Common Core Standards with Teachers of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students
By Drs. Rachel Friedman Narr, Associate Professor of Special Education, Sharon Klein, Professor of Linguistics, and Ellen Schneiderman, Professor of Special Education
Teacher participants work at unpacking and understanding the Common Core Standards in English-Language Arts at CSUN
Currently, I’m using a more collaborative approach in my classroom with students. Deaf and hard of hearing students typically rely on their teacher for communication; they go back and forth with the teacher. Now, I’m trying to have the students discuss more among themselves and get information from each other. I’m trying to stay out of it more. The idea is that students will be able to use their resources and be responsible for where they get their information and finally be responsible for how to use their own language for that information.
This is a reflection from one of the 25 teachers of deaf/hard of hearing (DHH) students participating in a unique project designed to explore the Common Core Standards in English-Language Arts (ELA) and how they apply to DHH children. Eisner College of Education faculty members Drs. Rachel Friedman Narr and Ellen Schneiderman (Deaf Education/Special Education), and College of Humanities professor Dr. Sharon Klein (Linguistics /English) teamed up in 2011 with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to implement this exciting project with teachers of DHH students. The project is part of the Improving Teacher Quality program funded through the California Department of Education.
The Common Core English-Language Arts standards (CCS ELA) and professional development have largely addressed general educators. But this grant focuses exclusively on teachers of DHH students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. What makes this grant unique is not only its focus but also the diversity of the teachers themselves. The 25 teachers, working for both LACOE and LAUSD, represent the diverse ways that DHH students are served: some teach at a school for the deaf, some work in general education schools in special day programs, and some are itinerant, moving from school-to-school and serving multiple sets of students. Several of these teacher-participants work with DHH students who have special needs, including those with autism and significant intellectual disabilities. Participants include one science teacher, one math teacher, and one adaptive physical education teacher. Not only that, over half of the teachers are bilingual and use instructional strategies for students who are English Language Learners. Many use American Sign Language with their students and teach English through print. Others instruct through spoken English. This group clearly represents a diverse group of teachers, instructional approaches, and a heterogeneous student population.
The entire first year of the project found teachers unpacking and dissecting the Listening and Speaking domain of the CCS ELA during face-to-face workshops. To us this was an obvious starting point because this domain is a foundational piece in the process of developing academically competent students who are ready for college and career. This singular focus during the first year allowed us to carefully analyze the standard—a crucial step—and to concentrate on the goals for communication and content that were at the core of the domain. Concurrently with developing a greater understanding, we empowered teachers to translate the CCS ELA into operationally relevant classroom work.
Teacher participants at CSUN
Within the strand of the Listening and Speaking domain, collaborative conversations require students to have frequent and well-planned opportunities to engage in content-full and directed discussions with each other. The teacher’s reflection at the beginning of this article illustrates how our work is finding its way into classrooms. In collaborative conversations students develop communication proficiency, including skills such as taking turns, checking their own comprehension, and improving the clarity of their contributions to the conversations.
The second year of the grant, now in progress, is building on what we learned with the Speaking and Listening domain. Through face-to-face workshops and specially designed online modules, we are exploring both the remaining domains and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as it connects to the CCS and developing leadership skills with the teacher-participants. Considering the CCS ELA domains—Reading, Writing, and Language—as an aggregate, we are explicitly looking for language that connects and integrates them with one another and with the Listening and Speaking domain. From this integration, teachers will be more prepared to develop classroom applications that address the domains together and to deepen students’ abilities to connect the skill sets that the new CCS ELA delineate.
Reflecting their leadership development, eleven participants will be involved in presentations at the California Educators of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Annual Conference in March. And related to our technology piece, one of the high school teachers will lead a presentation focused on teaching the concept of Digital Citizenship with her students. Moreover, we have also introduced a substantial technology component, primarily through the use of iPads and applications that facilitate the work teachers do surrounding the Common Core.
Thus prepared, this unique group of teacher-participants will contribute to the development of language and thinking skills for future generations of deaf and hard of hearing students, preparing them for college, their careers, and beyond!