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Deaf Cognition: Foundations and Outcomes

reviewed by Diane Clark - August 31, 2009

coverTitle: Deaf Cognition: Foundations and Outcomes
Author(s): Marc Marschark and Peter C. Hauser (eds)
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford
ISBN: 0195368673, Pages: 496, Year: 2008
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Marschark and Hauser’s book, Deaf Cognition, brings together a group of researchers who investigate the foundations of deaf individuals’ learning in multiple environments across multiple ages. The book’s authors drafted copies of their work and shared them at an NSF supported conference at NTID called Cognitive Underpinnings. This meeting allowed the authors to network with each other as well as to receive feedback from other researchers in the field before they prepared the final draft of their chapters. Therefore, the book includes the perspectives of the individual authors after they had an opportunity to convene in a face-to-face meeting to discuss their research.

The editors challenge many assumptions that have been embedded in earlier research about deaf individuals’ cognitive processing and language delays. They suggest that understanding deaf children’s early environments will provide insights into the cognitive differences that are created by these early experiences and question the assumption that deaf learners are hearing learners without hearing. The introduction by Marschark and Hauser points out that differences in perceptual strategies, as well as language and cognitive skills, could lead to the academic delays often seen with deaf students.

Given that research agendas tend to be individualistic rather than synergistic, our understanding of deaf individuals’ cognitive processes is uneven. Therefore, the editors selected individuals from diverse research areas to meet their goal of developing an integrated research agenda that had the potential to bridge research to practice. I have grouped the chapters into four areas: cognitive underpinnings; language; math abilities; and challenges faced by deaf students.

Cognitive Underpinnings.  The chapters headed by Courtin, Dye, Pelz, and Hauser most clearly fall in this category. Courtin, Melot, and Corroyer consider new methods to investigate the development of theory of mind in deaf children, finding that native signers (those who learn sign from deaf signing parents as their L1) resemble hearing individuals more than previously had been reported. They looked at children’s false belief justifications and found that deaf children who reached the same conclusions often arrived at those solutions by using different processes. Dye, Hauser, and Bavelier summarize results on visual attention and clarify how the loss of hearing itself, not the use of signing, appears to lead to reorganization of the attentional system. Next, Pelz, Marschark, and Conventino investigate how deaf students in interpreted classrooms allocate visual attention. In this situation there are multiple displays happening at the same time, setting up competition regarding where to focus—should the visual gaze be on the interpreter, power points or graphic displays or the teacher who is speaking? Skilled signers tend to focus on the interpreter who provides accessible information while less skilled signers divide their gaze time between the teacher and the interpreter. Finally, Hauser, Lukomski, and Hillman discuss executive functioning and its development in deaf individuals.

Language.  The four chapters that I place in this section could fit into other categories as well, but those led by Leigh, Pisoni, Akamatsu, and Marschark also make contributions to the language choices used for and by deaf individuals. Both Leigh and Pisoni with his colleagues focus on deaf individuals with cochlear implants. They begin the important task of empirically investigating the impact of these devices on language, cognition, and educational outcomes. Within this framework, they also begin the vital discussion of the characteristics that lead to more successful oral/aural outcomes with cochlear implants. This knowledge can subsequently create a profile to be shared with families to provide them with information about the likelihood of their child learning oral languages. Akamatsu and her colleagues assert that verbal language is critical to the development of print literacy and that current technologies provide auditory access that needs to be both nurtured and assessed. Marschark and Wauters provide an excellent review of the interactions between language and cognition for both spoken and signed languages. In addition, their chapter highlights the importance of cognition that leads to skilled language usage rather than the traditional deaf education focus on print literacy.  

Math Abilities. The chapters led by Bull, Kelly and Numes focus on the math abilities and math reasoning of deaf students. Bull focuses on the fact that sign languages are visual-spatial in nature and uses the Spatial Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) effect to investigate possible reasons for mathematical difficulties often found for deaf individuals. She concludes that deaf and hearing individuals are similar on these spatial reasoning tasks and, therefore, this issue cannot be used to explain differences. She states that more in-depth case studies are needed to understand how background characteristics impact math learning. Kelly summarizes research on reading and problem solving and concludes that math problem solving difficulties are related to poor reading skills, not math skills. Numes and her colleagues investigated how deaf children understand the concept of inverse relationships. Their conclusion is that when given proper interventions, these children are able to learn how to use inversion. While they have the capability to learn inversion, their performance is likely delayed due to peripheral obstacles such as linguistic delay or a lack of experience with these kinds of problems.

Challenges faced by deaf individuals. The three remaining chapters discuss challenges often faced by deaf students. Schick looks at how information is conveyed from teachers to students through interpreters and finds that only about 40% of the information is successfully understood by the children. A six-pronged model is proposed to explain the difficulties faced in these situations, including the knowledge and characteristics of interpreters, students’ abilities, teachers’ beliefs, and educational policies. In a similar vein, Richardson investigates deaf students’ study skills, focusing on both reproductive strategies and meaning making strategies. Related to others’ concerns about the metacognitive abilities of deaf students, he finds that the deaf students in his study were more likely to use reproductive kinds of processes that did not connect new knowledge to other related concepts. Finally, Hermsen and Franklin provide an example of a writing strategy that may be useful for deaf students.

In the concluding chapter, Hauser and Marschark indicate where additional hypothesis-driven research is needed to fill in the gaps in our understanding of deaf individuals’ cognitive processes. Overall, the book has many strong chapters that summarize current research while avoiding the political pitfalls often blocking this area of research. However, some chapters do fall prey to making political statements without empirical evidence. One comes away from reading this book with the notion that the field is still split along ideological and theoretical lines. The field would benefit from Marschark and Hauser’s original goal of developing an integrated research agenda that leads to more synergistic interactions among researchers as they work to understand Deaf Cognition.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 31, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15762, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 5:19:22 PM

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About the Author
  • Diane Clark
    Gallaudet University
    E-mail Author
    DIANE CLARK is currently involved with an NSF funded Science of Learning Center on Visual Languages and Visual Learning housed at Gallaudet University as their Director of Education. She is a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Research teaching research design and statistics. She enjoys working with student interns to encourage them to become interested in research and go on to graduate school. Her research interests include dating and rape scripts, deaf studentsí study skills, the influence of American Sign Language on early memories, and the impact of morphological and orthographic information on deaf readers.
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