When Plain Video Is NOT Enough: How Educational Videos Fail Teachers of the DHH and their Students


Heidi Givens is a 20 year veteran teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students in Owensboro, Kentucky. She is passionate about ensuring high quality, equal education access to all students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Read more from Heidi here.

Where are the Professional Learning Videos for Teachers of DHH Students?

Use of video for professional learning is commonplace among teachers everywhere. With the focus on personalized learning, teachers are utilizing various websites and other media to find exactly what they need to grow professionally. However, as a teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), I often struggle to find videos that meet my needs. Sure, there are archived webinars or recordings of conference presentations specific for teachers of the DHH that appear sporadically online. However, if I wanted to learn how to teach DHH students to analyze an author’s point of view, I would be hard pressed to find a video. I do not have a one-stop shop of videos as my go-to for professional learning.

The root of the problem is not that professional learning video providers are intentionally ignoring the needs of educators of this unique population. I would argue that it is not possible for them to ignore what they do not know. The fact is my students learn differently from students who can hear. For example, DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Therefore, I cannot just use strategies and curriculum for hearing students and present them in American Sign Language (ASL). Also, content teachers who learn ASL but teach the same way to DHH students as they do to hearing students, without pedagogical knowledge of DHH learning, may not achieve the desired results. A perfect example of this difference is when we look at prepositional phrases. In English, we would say “The cup is on the table.” The words must fall in this sequence in order to be grammatically correct and make sense. However, now think about how you would draw this sentence; you would first draw the table then the cup on the table. You would not have the cup floating in space then a table magically appearing. This is parallel to how this sentence would be signed in ASL; you establish the presence of the table, then place the cup on the table. Without knowing the distinction between prepositional phrases in both languages, teachers would not be using the appropriate strategies needed for DHH students to fully comprehend the concept in either language. This is a problem, and it is insidious because we cannot address it if we do not know a problem exists. The average person is not aware of these specific learning needs of DHH students. Consequently, it is imperative that teachers of DHH students take the lead in educating the public and advocating for their students. The Redesign Challenge has presented me the opportunity to do just that.

It’s Not Just About Teachers of DHH Students- The Problem is Universal.

Across the U.S. approximately 80% of all DHH students are educated in public school settings, spending at least part of their time in regular education classrooms surrounded by a sea of students and teachers who can hear. These teachers are not fully equipped to properly educate DHH students; they don’t understand that merely wearing a microphone does not provide the student with equal access to instructional content. DHH students learn differently! Even more troubling is that regular education teachers typically have little to no training in strategies that work for their DHH students. They may not even be aware that their best instructional moves are ineffective, at best, for DHH students.

Clearly, there is a great need to provide support to classroom teachers so that they have the necessary tools and skills to best meet the needs of DHH students academically and socially. I have spent countless hours searching for resources to help myself. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for teachers who are not trained in educating this population to develop the competencies in working with them. Therefore, there must be an avenue for them to learn how to effectively teach DHH students; videos that can demonstrate the strategies needed to effectively transform their teaching methods to reach all children, not just those who can hear. Additionally, DHH teachers in resource or classroom settings, like I am, should also have equal opportunity to high quality videos so they too can hone their craft.

DHH teachers are not alone. This problem extends well beyond DHH contexts. There are teachers of other disability areas, related arts, world languages, early childhood, etc. that just don’t have video resources like those available to ELA and math K-12.

There is a huge push for increased professional learning videos in this country so that ALL educators are better equipped to teach today’s students. Teachers, regardless of the setting, must be provided the same opportunity and resources to learn how to best educate their students. The problem is now clear so where do we go from here?  How can the Redesign Challenge address this issue?

When I think about the lack of video resources for my own professional learning, it makes me wonder about the access to instructional content videos for my DHH students. There is a plethora of videos for students on a variety of subjects; however there again is a lack of similar resources for DHH students. Are video developers not targeting these students, or do they just not know that they should develop videos differently for them?

Video Captions Do Not Equal Access for DHH Students.

In today’s digital age, there are countless resources that focus on enhancing student learning. Classrooms around the country are transforming themselves into blended learning environments.  Teachers are creating their own videos or using ones from such places as Khan Academy or Crash Course. Students from the largest cities or the smallest rural towns can equally access all of these videos, via computers, laptops, tablets, or even smartphones.

As a teacher of DHH students, I look at all these amazing advancements in education and think to myself, “What about my students who can’t hear what is being said in these videos? How can my students who communicate in ASL and are learning English as a second language have equal access to the high quality videos that all other children can access?”

To truly personalize the blended learning environment for DHH students, there needs to be instructional content videos presented in ASL readily available for ANY teacher of DHH students to use in their classroom. These videos must be produced in a way that capitalizes on how DHH students learn best. Remember, experts in deaf education know that DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Using the same curriculum and strategies designed for students who can hear with DHH students may not have the desired results. Plus, closed captioning is not enough since many DHH students are not reading fluently at the speaker’s rate and do not have enough academic English vernacular to fully comprehend closed captioned messages. An entire video library would have to be created that illustrates the desired content in a way in which DHH children’s brains process information.

Having such videos could benefit ALL students in unforeseen ways:

  • Since many DHH classrooms include students from multiple grade and ability levels, the videos would allow for more individualized learning
  • Using instructional videos that are presented by fluent ASL users from around the U.S. will increase the amount of language models to which students have access
  • In regular education classrooms, DHH students can freely collaborate quickly and easily with their hearing peers, on the same video project, by EVERYONE adding closed captioning and voice-overs to each ASL video
  • Hearing peers will have opportunities to learn ASL from the videos and the DHH students to increase their English skills from viewing the captions. This could have positive outcomes of reduced social isolation of the DHH students in mainstream settings.
  • DHH students can view these at home while doing their homework for relearning of content or enrichment.
  • Parents of DHH children can use the videos as a tool to better learn how to communicate with their children

I have no doubt that teachers of world languages, early childhood, other disability areas are in the same conundrum as me. They could easily craft a similar proposal of instructional content videos for their population of students or specialty area.
The parallel problems shared by students and teachers are alarming. With the abundance of online resources available to today’s teachers, there has to be a way to make 21st century learning more available to students who find themselves “in the margins” of the mainstream public school setting. Have you found a solution in your school? If you have any ideas of how to do so, I would love to hear them.

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