Mathematics Differentiated Instructional Strategies - Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Updated January 2023)
Team members working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing need to carefully consider each student’s unique needs and learning style, as well as the demands of the task. Considerations, strategies, and resources are offered to provide a starting point for thinking about possible adaptations. It is important to remember that all team members should have input into decisions regarding instructional strategies.
Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can learn and do mathematical concepts in the same sequence and manner as their hearing peers (Meadow, 1980). Most students who are deaf and hard of hearing have a gap of approximately three years behind their hearing peers in mathematics (Brun, 2018). A delay in acquisition and understanding language can make learning mathematics challenging. However, various factors may prevent children who are deaf or hard of hearing from successfully constructing mathematical knowledge, including the following:
- Children who are deaf or hard of hearing may lack general vocabulary and the fundamental mathematical vocabulary needed to be able to understand math concepts/processes. Hearing children are exposed to language from birth and have an understanding of everyday language. An example of this early exposure is parents counting babies’ fingers and toes or counting blocks while playing with toys. This first exposure serves as a base for developing an understanding and use of mathematical language in their environment.
- It is more difficult for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to acquire language and learning from their environment incidentally (from overhearing conversations of others in their environment, on TV, on the radio). Without this incidental learning, a child who is deaf may not develop even beginning math concepts such as “big/little” or “heavy/light” without being formally taught them (Kidd, 2018).
- Communication with others may be difficult. Suppose the child and others in the environment cannot communicate effectively. In that case, they will not be able to engage in mathematical processes such as problem-solving, developing logic and reasoning, and effectively communicating mathematical ideas. Without effective communication skills, the child can be isolated in the learning environment and unable to participate in group activities and discoveries (Ray, 2001).
- Problem-solving is a difficult skill for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Problem-solving requires a child to predict and make observations based on the given information, which requires strong language skills and the ability to critically think (Barrett, 2005).
The following strategies are designed to promote access to mathematics content based on the Standards of Learning for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is important to remember that each child has unique needs and that decisions regarding instructional strategies should be based upon current and accurate information about the child’s sensory functioning and on team input.
Instructional and Environmental Strategies
- Provide an enriched learning environment that promotes a wide range of real-world, meaningful mathematical experiences with opportunities for exploration and problem-solving.
- Be sure that there is an appropriate language model that can effectively provide not only the vocabulary to label objects but also a language model for expressing concepts and ideas, using the child’s mode of communication.
- Partner with parents. Maintain ongoing communication between the home and teachers so that math vocabulary and concepts are reflected and reinforced in as many different situations as possible. Make families aware of opportunities in the home for exploring and discussing math concepts during daily routines, and make sure that the parents can communicate effectively in the child’s chosen mode.
- Use multimedia approaches for visual representation of course content. Using visual representation is especially important for students who are relying on speechreading, signing, cuing, and/or use of residual hearing for receptive communication as it reduces eye strain.
- Use more than one mode of presentation for concepts. These may include manipulatives, verbal, gestural, pictorial, and symbolic modes.
- Encourage students to translate between modalities, particularly the language of mathematics, to make connections.
- Initially introduce word problems as informal stories with math facts through dramatization, using pictures, drawings, and manipulatives, and then translating the action into a math sentence. Students can use images, objects, and visualizing or pantomiming the action in a problem to move from the concrete to more abstract representations of the problem.
- When using visuals, allow time for students to view the information, then to watch instruction given by the teacher or interpreter, and only then, allow students to offer responses. A hearing person can see visuals and listen at the same time. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on visual communication through sign language, cued speech, or speechreading may need to process information sequentially rather than simultaneously.
- Pre-teach vocabulary for coming math lessons in context. Collaboration with the Speech Language Pathologist, Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, General Education Teacher, and Parents in this effort can be beneficial. Remember, many children who are deaf or hard of hearing do not typically learn words incidentally.
- For students who sign, utilize consistent signs. Use conceptually based signs and avoid inventing signs for new vocabulary.
- Word problems may be especially difficult for some students who are deaf or hard of hearing because of the literacy level needed to comprehend the problem and calculation. Interpreting directions and word problems may be an appropriate accommodation for some students.
Citations and Resources
Barrett, Elizabeth, "Mathematics: it's all about language" (2005). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from https://scholarworks.rit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5000&context=theses
Brun, D. (2018, June 19). 7 Tips for Teaching Maths to Deaf Learners. Retrieved July 2, 2020, from https://mathsnoproblem.com/blog/learner-focus/tips-for-teaching-maths-to-deaf-learners/
DeafTEC STEM Sign Video Dictionary The Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students produced a STEM ASL online dictionary to provide standard signs for terms used in information technology, lab sciences, and math.
Kidd, Dawn Hoyt. (2018, July 6). Mathematics Learning: Keeping Deaf Students Engaged.
Meadow, K. (1980). Deafness and child development. Berkeley: University of California Press.
National Library of Virtual Manipulatives A National Science Foundation supported project. The NLVM is a digital library of Java applets and activities for K-12 Mathematics.
Ray, E. (Nov., 2001). Discovering Mathematics: The challenges that deaf/hearing-impaired children encounter. ACE Papers, Issue II.
This information is updated thanks to the efforts of Tracey Yurechko, Project Director Technical Assistance Center for Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Partnership for People with Disabilities, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2020.