Art could be the next big breakthrough in deaf education
Joanne Weber is looking to educate the students she sees falling behind
One Regina teacher is trying a cutting edge approach to deaf education. It's all through art.
Joanne Weber has taught the deaf and hard of hearing class at Thom Collegiate for twelve years. Over the last five years, she's started to see a troubling trend in her students. Many of her high school students are not reading at the Grade 4 level.
"Typically the case that we're dealing with is that kids know a little bit about the basic stuff, but it's the vocabulary that's killing them," Weber said.
This past school year, Weber decided to really focus on art as a way to approach learning differently. She's deaf herself, and knows if she's a visual thinker, her students likely are as well.
The class accelerated when artist Chrystene Ells spent three months helping the children with art. Ells made sure the students had the basic art skills they needed to work on their projects. This included mixing colours, learning about lines, and drawing, among other techniques. It was through drawing that she saw a breakthrough in one particular student, Jacqueline Fink.
Her brain changed through drawing, and then something about that broke down a wall and she was able to get through to the end of the word.- Chrystene Ells
"She would draw everything on the left side of the object, and then she wouldn't draw anything on the right side of the object," Ells said. "So for example, if you had a toy dinosaur she might draw the tail and the back legs, and then that would be it."
When Ells would point out the missing half and ask where the head was, Fink would just draw a line cutting the dinosaur in half. Ells kept encouraging her to draw the right side.
"After a while she would turn her head, she would squint at it, and then after a while she would draw the right side. It was like she broke through this wall."
Fink would also not read the second half of a word. She would read the first half, and guess the second. But lately, she had been reading whole words.
"When I realized what [Jacqueline] was doing in the art making was parallel to how she was approaching reading, then I knew we were making progress. Her brain changed through drawing, and then something about that broke down a wall and she was able to get through to the end of the word, or the other side of the dinosaur."
Deaf and hard of hearing students not getting the language skills they need
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Weber's new students have worse language skills than before. Whether it's through more television time, less communication, or something else, Weber said her students do not have the language skills they need.
This holds true for both written, oral, and sign language.
Meanwhile, many children are not being taught how to become fluent in sign language. The parents often don't have time to learn a second language fluently, and Weber said the interpreters in Saskatchewan often aren't well trained and don't have opportunities for development.
"The analogy would be somebody who knows a little bit of French would be able to teach French. You really have to become fluent in a language."
The result, said Weber, is a lack of access to a full language, which leads to a lack of knowledge.
"They're not picking it up through the hearing and the technologies, and they're not picking it up through the sign language, so they're really stuck between two languages."