Revolutionizing Education for Deaf and Hearing Students in One Classroom

When a teacher steps into a classroom knowing that a student is Deaf or hard-of-hearing, they must be prepared to manage communication in an effective manner. While navigating student disabilities can trigger uneasiness, recognizing that diversity will elevate the educational experience for all proves pertinent for classroom success.  

Whether a student is Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or fully hearing, all students have unique learning profiles. When teachers empower students to embrace their individualism and diverse abilities, it creates an environment for everyone to thrive. Focusing on the contribution each student can make to the classroom experience benefits the student and their fellow classmates.

Image of classroom with young female student and older female student using sign

Source: Columbia News

With awareness and assistive technology, designing classrooms where Deaf and hearing students can learn as equal partners together is necessary and absolutely attainable.

By implementing diverse teaching strategies, educators can successfully increase student achievement despite disabilities. Creating a safe space that recognizes how their differences can add value to the classroom is an important first step.

Here are some ways to make classrooms more inclusive.

Modified Teaching Styles

For Deaf and hearing students alike, alternative non-auditory teaching methods are impactful.  

Naturally, different teaching methods are necessary when teaching students with different abilities. Using diverse teaching strategies is beneficial for supporting students whose disabilities may not be as apparent as others.

Much like teachers adjust their teaching style for students without perceived disabilities, they must aim to educate those who are Deaf in a similar fashion. Simply modifying styles of teaching can help Deaf students enjoy the same enriching experience as their peers.

Image of student learning styles in different circles with a thinking head in the center

Source: Online Degrees

For Deaf or hard-of-hearing students, multimedia approaches for visual representation of lesson content can help with the way information is received. PowerPoint presentations and interactive white boards are preferable to traditional chalkboards as the teacher does not need to turn his/her back to the students. This is especially important for students who rely on speechreading, sign language, Cued Speech, and/or listening for receptive communication. It’s wise to base instructional strategies on students’ receptive and expressive communication strengths.

Use Different Learning Formats

Various learning formats, such as making print an important part of everyday routines and incorporating signing into your lessons further support both Deaf and hearing students. Recognizing that one size does not fit all is essential; therefore, differentiated learning should be incorporated accordingly. Producing materials and coursework in text, audio, video, and graphical formats can have a huge impact on how students absorb, process and retain information.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

-Ignacio Estrada

Closed Captioning

Closed captions are imperative when it comes to making classrooms more accessible. It supports both language and literacy development for all students. While it makes it easier for Deaf students to see what is being said, it also proves useful in other contexts.

Image of a TED talk video with TED logo and speaker presenting

Source: TED

For instance, captions accompanying a video can offer context so a student can fully grasp the intent of sounds. Respectively, hearing students whose first language may not be English can also benefit from closed captions. Captions strengthen the connection between spoken and written words and can enhance understanding.

Never Underestimate the Value of Digital Tools

Technology greatly supports students in reaching their academic potential. Offering such learning tools can also level the playing field for all students. Low, mid, and high tech assistive technology options, like notetakers, voice amplification, or speech-to-text tools work well independently and in combination.

Assistive learning devices, like hearing loop systems or frequency modulated (FM) systems, are helpful alternatives. For Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, automatic speech recognition software can be a game-changer.

Digital tools that assist Deaf students have shown to serve students of varying abilities. Multilingual students studying in their second or third language find it easier to follow along during lessons with applications.

Additionally, students who struggle with note-taking, or those who miss a class and need access to the material can also reap the benefits. By planning ahead in catering to diverse needs, teachers can provide personalized learning paths with the technologies available.  

Introducing caption applications such as Ava to the classroom offers a visual form of communication that Deaf and hearing students can use together. It promotes classmate connection while simultaneously supporting student independence and autonomy.

Image with a woman's hand holding a phone with captions on it sitting with a group. Overlaid text reads "Communicate beyond barriers".


Make the Most of Visuals

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students experience the world through tactile and visual means — as do hearing students. Providing visual cues is a fundamental part of making information more accessible and easier to process. Lessons presented in a visual manner can benefit a diverse group of students.

A key factor to keep in mind with students who may use lip reading or ASL interpreters is dividing attention between the two mediums. Focusing on multiple visuals simultaneously can also be challenging for hearing students, especially when learning new concepts. One way to circumvent this issue is to offer students the opportunity to view visuals beforehand, giving them time to engage with the lesson.

Normalize the Presence of Interpreters

Sign language interpreters play an important role in the classroom for both Deaf and hearing students as well as for teachers. An interpreter facilitates meaningful two-way communication, helping everyone connect and better understand each other. They help bridge the communication gap between students with different language abilities, ensuring fair and equal accessibility.

Image of a female interpreter sitting next to a student, both signing.


Support Social Development and Engagement

Supporting a student’s social development is important irregardless of their hearing status. Some children may have a tendency to reject peers who seem different, so teaching children to embrace and appreciate the differences in one another is key. Having an interpreter in the classroom can seem like a distraction to some and may be viewed as an interlocutor for students who are unfamiliar with it. Nevertheless, it can be used as an opportunity to teach them that different students have different needs.

Unique means of engagement and a variety of prosocial strategies can help students feel more comfortable connecting with one another. Incorporating ASL into lessons to teach hearing students basic signs gives them a skillset to communicate with their Deaf peers in and out the classroom. Enabling students who are Deaf to use text, or a shared Google document is another great way to help them connect with others and participate in classroom discussions.

“When inclusive education is fully embraced, we abandon the idea that children have to become ‘normal’ in order to contribute to the world. We begin to look beyond typical ways of becoming valued members of the community, and in doing so, begin to realize the achievable goal of providing all children with an authentic sense of belonging.”

- Norman Kunc

Opportunities for students of varying abilities to work together in small and large groups will create communication norms that encourage ongoing participation. Encouraging students to think critically about how to collaborate with each other regardless of their disabilities can be a powerful lesson.

In a safe, engaging and friendly environment, Deaf and hearing students are more inclined to ask questions, experiment, take risks, and recognize solutions in real-world scenarios.

Foster a Culture of Respect

Teach students that regardless of their learning abilities or differences, they can enjoy collaborative interaction in the classroom. Show them the importance of acceptance, diversity and inclusion.

Exposing students to a world full of diversity will help prepare them for real-world situations. Fostering a culture of respect among students in the classroom sets an example for behavior and manner for outside of the classroom.

Image of a TED X video with a male presenting in sign and a screen behind him.

Source: TED

Two Worlds as One

Many people still look at disability from a lens of sympathy instead of curiosity. Educators create the narrative around students of varying abilities or disabilities, and are responsible for the impact made on their students.

Planning strategies so that all students can learn and thrive creates an inclusive environment and more productive experience. Teachers must impart learning methods and use different ways to make classrooms more accessible that do not limit students with stereotypes or pre-existing expectations.

Teaching Deaf and hearing students in the same classroom is not only possible, but beneficial when done properly. Designing classrooms to be more accessible has a ripple effect for all students — directly, and indirectly by modeling equity. To truly normalize differences within the classroom and accommodate every student, educators must be dedicated to making equity their educational mission.