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Helping Students who are Deaf Succeed in General Education Classrooms

Purpose of Study

We undertook this study to identify successful students who are deaf who receive the majority of their educational services in general education settings. We wanted to examine the factors that contributed to their success.


We sent a letter to every teacher of students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the state of Colorado explaining the purpose of the study. In the letter we asked teachers to nominate students who are deaf (BEA 75 dB or higher) who were in upper elementary school through high school, and who met the following criteria of success: (a) age-appropriate academic skills in most subjects; (b) relationships with friends; and (c) positive self-perceptions.


Twenty-seven students were nominated to participate in the study. We received 20 signed permission slips from parents. Thirteen females and seven males, ranging in ages from 12 - 19, participated in the study. Ten students used speech and sign, nine used speech and one used sign to communicate.

Data Collection

We observed the successful students in general education settings and we interviewed (a) the 20 successful students; (b) 13 deaf education teachers, 9 educational interpreters and 2 paraprofessional notetakers who worked with the successful students; (c) 19 general education teachers who worked with the successful students; and (d) 19 parents of the successful students. Each interview was audio or videotaped and then transcribed at a later time.

Data Analysis

We coded the transcribed interviews and the observation data. Themes were identified by their reoccurrence and were placed into categories based on similar content and meaning. Once all data were evaluated conclusions were derived and documented.


We examined the data from each set of interviews, as well as our observations, to identify 10 factors that were consistent across respondents (students, parents, deaf education professionals and general education teachers). The 10 factors and a brief discussion of each follows:

Family Involvement. Research with hearing students suggests that when parents are involved (a) students achieve more, regardless of any other variable (socioeconomic status, parents’ educational level, etc.), (b) students exhibit more positive attitudes and behaviors, and (c) students have higher graduation rates and greater enrollment rates in postsecondary education. Consequently, educational programs for students who are deaf need to identify ways to increase parental involvement. Practices found to enhance parent involvement include teaching families about their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and promoting ongoing communication between school personnel and parents.

Self-Determination. Self-determination refers to the attitudes that lead people to define goals for themselves and the ability to take the initiative to achieve those goals. Acquiring the attitudes and abilities associated with self-determination is a developmental process that begins in early childhood and continues throughout adult life. Interventions for helping students develop self-determination include:

Extra Curricular Activities. Extra curricular activities provide an avenue for socialization, shared experience, achievement and distinction. Through their involvement with activities such as sports, drama, drawing, computers, photography, and chess, students can learn to master skills that will help them throughout their lives. Active participation in extra curricular activities helps students develop their leadership and decision-making abilities, organizational skills, time management skills, and their people skills.

Friendships and Social Skills. Peer support and friendships are important for positive social, emotional and cognitive development. Friends (a) help us prepare for adult roles, (b) provide fresh role models, (c) help us define who we are, and (d) provide a haven from the stresses of daily living. Simultaneously, it has been suggested that social skills are a more reliable predictor of adult adjustment than either intelligence or academic achievement. To help students increase their friendship and social skills, they can be provided instruction in areas such as (a) developing a positive interaction style, (b) establishing areas of compatibility, (c) taking the perspective of others, (d) sharing and providing support, (e) building trustworthiness and loyalty, and (f) becoming skilled at conflict resolution.

Self-Advocacy. Self-advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to identify the supports needed to succeed and to communicate that information effectively to others, including teachers and employers. The development of self-advocacy skills allows students to become actively involved in identifying and meeting their educational, social-emotional and career goals. Examples of skills in the area of self-advocacy that should be emphasized during students' elementary and secondary programs include:

  1. Recognizing when he or she needs help.
  2. Knowing when and how to request help.
  3. Knowing appropriate accommodations and modifications.
  4. Actively participating in setting, establishing, and discussing IEP goals.

Collaboration and Consultation. For students who are deaf to succeed in general education settings, teachers of students who are deaf, general education teachers, interpreters and notetakers need to work in partnership. This alliance and on-going support will help the general education teacher make adaptations in the curriculum and in the structure of the classroom so that that the students who are deaf will have access to the academic content and social interactions that take place.

Pre-teach, Teach, Post-Teach. To make on-going academic progress in content areas of the curriculum many students who are deaf require additional support in order to complete the learning tasks successfully. Pre- and post-teaching activities that supplement the daily lessons can help make the content accessible. Pre-teaching essential vocabulary and concepts assists the students in establishing the knowledge base needed to understand new information. Post-teaching can be used to review key concepts, clarify misconceptions, organize information, and expand the students’ knowledge of content or skills emphasized during the lesson.

Early Identification and Early Intervention. Historically, most children with a congenital hearing loss were not identified until they were nearly two years of age. Fortunately, universal newborn hearing screening is becoming the standard of care throughout the United States. As a result, many children with significant hearing loss will be diagnosed within the first few months of their lives. When children are identified early, professional services can be provided for the child as well as his or her family. When parents are provided with information about their child’s hearing loss during early infancy they often become more successful at establishing parent-child interaction patterns favorable to communication development and are better able to facilitate the language learning in their young child. In addition, parent-to-parent support groups and opportunities for parents to build partnerships with professionals is beneficial to both the child and the parents.

Reading. In the report entitled Becoming a Nation of Readers, the authors wrote “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Reading aloud or storysigning also has been strongly advocated by professionals in deaf education. Reading aloud or storysigning helps children develop their conversation skills, which in turn increases their vocabulary. It helps them acquire an understanding of story structure and also enhances their development and knowledge about concepts of print.

High Expectations. Motivation has been defined as anything that gives direction and intensity to human behavior. People are motivated when they expect that their efforts will result in good performance, which in turn will be instrumental in attaining the outcomes that they want to achieve. Family, teacher, and student expectations influence motivation. If our expectations for students are high, chances are very good that they will perform well. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. If we expect a student to do poorly, the student expects as much.


This was a very enjoyable study to undertake. We had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful students, professionals, and parents. It was refreshing to focus on strengths instead of deficits. We felt privileged to have access to so many personal stories and to be able to encourage people to feel good about what they have accomplished while simultaneously asking them to reflect and provide advice that would be beneficial to others.

We invite educational programs and families to use this information as a catalyst for discussion about the quantity and quality of services that are being provided for students who are deaf. Simultaneously, we suggest that this type of research be replicated and expanded. It would be beneficial to (a) incorporate quantitative as well as qualitative data, (b) focus on students who are hard of hearing as well as those who are deaf, and (c) conduct a longitudinal study to see how students progress over time.

References Luckner, J.L. & Muir, S. (2002). Suggestions for helping students who are deaf succeed in general education settings. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 24(1), 22-30. Luckner, J.L. & Muir, S. (2001). Successful students who are deaf in general education settings. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(5), 450 – 461.

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