Bobcats and Barbie dolls-what do they have in common?Sure, they both start with "b". Some might say they are both scary or predators;) NO, really, how are they related? They might be common place in your home or classroom,but for some, they are very abstract words. Today in school, both of these words came up during math. Yes, math. We were doing some word problems and the teacher made very creative word problems including a certain amount of bobcats in one story and a certain amount of Barbie Dolls in another story.
The class had a number of deaf and hard of hearing children in it-many of those kids did not know what a Bobcat or a Barbie Doll was. These kids were 9 years old and had no clue. Why is that? Sure, you might say, your own 9 year old son did not have a Barbie doll..that is different. Your 9 year old boy would have heard his female friends at school talking about them or might have seen an advertisement and heard the name "Barbie" on the TV. Kids with hearing loss often don't overhear that information. We hearing parents would not think to mention the name of a Barbie in a structured setting-our hearing kids learned about them through life's experiences,not through direct instruction. Bobcats are cool and strong animals-if you have taken your children to the zoo,you have probably seen them before. Our deaf and hard of hearing students might have seen them,too,but never knew they were different from a leopard or a cheetah. I notice now that Bobcats have pointed ears and spots,. I also think they have a black line near their eyes that looks like eyeliner. However, deaf/hh children might not have heard their parents mention the name or the difference in casual chit chat at the zoo mixed in with all the other background noise at the zoo.
My job as a Teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing children is to point out these gaps and fill them in. Can we know what our students don't know by looking at them or giving them standardized tests?Sadly, no. We can't know what background information they are missing until it shows up somewhere. Our students often have super surface language-they can go on and on about every day stuff,events they did with families if the families spent time talking about the vacation or activity. However, when we dig deeper,we often see these gaps. I sat through a lesson in science with these kids and the teacher was talking about consumer and producer-after the lesson we were doing a hands on project. My students had these concepts backwards. I am not saying that some hearing kids did not get confused as well. However, I am saying that hearing kids only need to get a concept in general a few times and then it is understood and stored in their brains. Kids with hearing loss need many repetitions of the same concept in order for it to make sense and stick.
So, for those of you who often wonder what I am doing in the regular ed class, now you know one small part of my job. I am there finding and filling in gaps. I might spend 20 minutes just observing-seeing where the students are participating and where they are missing the boat. I then move into catch up mode and explain,reexplain and give examples and reword things. Next time you think I don't do anything in the mainstream, just remember Bobcats and Barbies:)
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.