So, what is that animal called? 5, 4, 3,, 2, 1... Arma who?? Some or probably most of you know the name-armadillo. You know it especially because you saw the start of the word I typed. I can guarantee you that many of the deaf and hard of hearing students I have seen over the years would not have a clue what that little guy is called. Half,at best, would have seen one before. So, the dilema arises in class when someone either shows the pic or says the word ,"armadillo."
Think of your brain as a file box with files of different experiences and language. If we see a picture or item we are very familiar with,that language is probably at the front of the file box. Words we are not experiencing daily, like armadillo, are probably in the middle or back of the file box. We can access that name from our memory,but it might take a few seconds. If we have no language associated with a picture or never heard/used that word, that part of our file box is empty. There is no way to get that language. That is what many of our deaf/hh students experience. Empty file boxes.
I had a student read very well to me today-she came to armadillo and sounded it out perfectly and kept on reading. An untrained listener would have guessed that in third grade, the reader knew that word. I ,as a deaf ed teacher, knew better and stopped her. She had no idea-not if it was an animal, a fruit,etc. I was glad I stopped. I was thrilled that I had my iPAD handy. I quickly googled "armadillo" for her and voila,the pic above showed up.
She had never seen it-so then I added more pictures, explaining how the armadillo either plays dead or rolls up into a ball when frightened or confronted with danger. We had a one minute discussion and visual exchange of information and then returned to the reading of her book. Was that word "armadillo" really important for her understanding of the book?Probably not. However, it taught her a few things.
1. It taught her that if she is not sure of a word, she needs to stop and figure out its meaning.
2. She learned that she can ask for help or look in a dictionary or google for picture clues.
We learn 80 % of what we know through incidental learning-listening in on conversations around us. Children with hearing loss can't do this and miss out on so much language. It is important for parents of children with hearing loss to take extra time to teach, reteach,and teach again language that might be missed through overhearing.
Thanks to technology, we can catch our children up at a much quicker rate than in the past with pictures and videos!
Allison Schley has been in the field of deaf and hard of hearing education for 20 years. She founded a nonprofit for families with hearing loss. She most recently wrote a children's book, entitled Forever Friends. This book shows the how a deaf dog and deaf boy teach the world that all kids are good and being deaf is okay.