Busy days/nights, a bout with bronchitis, and an out-of-state college visit with my oldest daughter have all pulled me away from the blog the last couple of weeks, and I've missed it. It's nice to get back in the saddle again.
I'll return soon to the graduation mini-series that started last month, but I'd like to use the next several postings to address other topics of importance. I'd like to start by reflecting on a powerful instructional experience I observed last week at Mountain View Elementary. The Deaf Deaf World activities held there last week are unlikely to have a direct impact on student test scores in reading, writing, or mathematics, but will have a profound impact on that learning community in maintaining its tradition of developing students to be respectful, empathetic, and inclusive in their work together. It's another example of how some of the most important lessons taught to our students cannot be measured or quantified.
Mountain View, as some of you know, serves over 650 preschool and elementary students in total, and approximately 85 of them are deaf or hearing impaired. These deaf/hearing impaired students (DHH pupils) come to Mountain View from throughout our District and six nearby districts. Last Wednesday, many of these students served as teachers to their peers -- and the adults -- in several experiential learning activities.
The lesson started in a classroom space that was refashioned as the "cafeteria" for the day. DHH students sat at tables with two types of popcorn packaged in ziplock bags. Both types looked identical -- but one had buttery popcorn inside, and the other was coated with white pepper. The DHH students communicated with the non-hearing impaired students in sign language to explain the choices between the popcorn types, but in the end many of the customers -- myself included -- selected the peppered popcorn. As a teacher later explained to students at the end of the activity, that experience was similar to one encountered by DHH pupils as they try to communicate with food service staff untrained in sign language and attempt to navigate between mild and hot salsa choices in the cafeteria.
Students later participated in a game in which all of the rules were communicated by the teacher in sign language. The non-hearing impaired students found themselves consistently breaking the rules of the game, especially on the front half of the activity, because they had no understanding of the rules/objectives. In the reflection that followed, students recognized the parallels of this exercise to the challenges faced by DHH pupils as they attempt to join activities with peers on the playground or in the classroom that are described in spoken words they cannot understand.
The frustration grew for the non-hearing impaired students as they transitioned to other activities in this exercise, as they were not allowed to speak until they were through with all of it. Students watched a video in which a man told an engaging story -- for those who understood sign language. The other students lost interest and usually stopped paying attention. They then transitioned to a station in which they attempted to check out books from a school library in which all of the librarians communicated only in sign language. It was common to witness the non-hearing impaired students looking at the work of their peers as they tried to navigate through this confusing process -- and it helped them understand that the DHH peers looking at their written work in regular classrooms weren't "cheating," as some of them may have concluded before, but trying to decipher a complex process so that they, too, could meet the teacher's expectations.
When the non-hearing impaired students finished their work at all of the stations and were allowed to speak, I heard many of them sigh with relief or make comments about how glad they were to be able to speak again. And they also recognized, with some guided discussion from school staff, that the challenges and frustrations they had just worked through are not temporary for their DHH peers; they battle through them each day in our highly verbal society and have limited opportunities to participate in learning and social activities in which everyone in the room communicates in the same language.
I'm confident -- although I won't be able to measure or quantify it -- that the non-hearing impaired students will now be more patient with their DHH peers as they make choices in the cafeteria; more inviting to their DHH peers as they include them in games/activities; and more empathetic as their DHH buddies look at their worksheets with the purpose of better understanding the teacher's expectations. And I'm also confident that these lessons regarding interpersonal relationships will be as important to their future success as those provided in the core content areas. My hope is that all of the students in our district will have a comparable opportunity to develop these skills essential for thriving in the 21st century.