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Examining the relationship between linguistic- and non-linguistic cognitive processes in deaf children's vocabulary development in spoken and signed vocabulary

Final Report Summary - SIGNLEARNSPEAK (Examining the relationship between linguistic- and non-linguistic cognitive processes in deaf children's vocabulary development in spoken and signed vocabulary)

The goal of the SIGNLEARNSPEAK (SLS) project was to develop and pilot dynamic assessment procedures with signing deaf children to gain insight into their language learning process. Dynamic assessment combines teaching and assessment within a single assessment procedure to measure language potential and evaluate the enhanced performance that results from teaching. It is based on the idea that successful learning takes place through social interaction. Accordingly, a child working together with a more advanced adult or peer can develop higher mental functioning skills. So far, dynamic language assessment has been mostly used with hearing children from nonmainstream backgrounds. SIGNLEARNSPEAK is the first study to use dynamic language assessment with signing deaf populations and explore differences in deaf children’s language learning profiles. A test-teach-retest design was used by which deaf children completed vocabulary tasks in American Sign Language (ASL) and English and participated in one-on-one interactions, referred to as Mediated Learning Experiences (MLE) with a hearing adult fluent in ASL and English.

During the first year of the study, the team developed the vocabulary tasks for the test/re-test measures. These were adapted from another signed language, British Sign Language (BSL), and had been developed previously by the project coordinator. The team also developed the activities for the MLEs one targeting vocabulary knowledge in ASL, the other targeting vocabulary knowledge in English. .

For the MLEs targeting ASL, the activities included sorting by size, colour and shape and/or matching pictures/ASL signs based on category membership (e.g. apple, strawberry = fruit);. The materials for these activities were piloted with a small sample.

During the second year of the study, 37 deaf children, including 11 children, who had been identified as weak language users,,were tested. They were randomly assigned to a mediation or non-mediation group. Children in the non-mediation group received the MLEs after completing the pre- and post-tests. In addition, a control group of 89 age-matched hearing children completed the English vocabulary tasks and two of the ASL tasks. The control did not participate in the MLEs.

Preliminary findings revealed that the ASL vocabulary tasks were age The goal of the SIGNLEARNSPEAK (SLS) project is to develop and pilot dynamic assessment procedures with signing deaf children to gain insight into their language learning process. Dynamic assessment combines teaching and assessment within a single assessment procedure to measure language potential and evaluate the enhanced performance that results from teaching. It is based on the idea that successful learning takes place through social interaction. Accordingly, a child working together with a more advanced adult or peer can develop higher mental functioning skills. So far, dynamic language assessment has been mostly used with hearing children from nonmainstream backgrounds. SIGNLEARNSPEAK is the first study to use dynamic language assessment with signing deaf populations and explore differences in deaf children’s language learning profiles. A test-teach-retest design was used by which deaf children completed vocabulary tasks in American Sign Language (ASL) and English and participated in one-on-one interactions, referred to as Mediated Learning Experiences (MLE) with a hearing adult fluent in ASL and English.

During the first year of the study, the team developed the vocabulary tasks for the test/re-test measures. These were adapted from another signed language, British Sign Language (BSL), and had been developed previously by the project coordinator. The team also developed the activities for the MLEs one targeting vocabulary knowledge in ASL, the other targeting vocabulary knowledge in English. .

For the MLEs targeting ASL, the activities included sorting by size, colour and shape and/or matching pictures/ASL signs based on category membership (e.g. apple, strawberry = fruit);. The materials for these activities were piloted with a small sample.

During the second year of the study, 37 deaf children, including 11 children, who had been identified as weak language users,,were tested. They were randomly assigned to a mediation or non-mediation group. Children in the non-mediation group received the MLEs after completing the pre- and post-tests. In addition, a control group of 89 age-matched hearing children completed the English vocabulary tasks and two of the ASL tasks. The control did not participate in the MLEs.

Preliminary findings revealed that the ASL vocabulary tasks were age sensitive and correlated with each other, even when age is controlled for. With regard to the dynamic assessment procedures, children in the mediation showed significant gains in their post-test vocabulary performance, compared to the no-mediation control group, whose performance on the tests did not differ significantly. In addition, both strong and weak language users benefited from the mediation. Mediators rated children’s emotional behaviour (e.g. motivation) and cognitive strategies (e.g. error correction) at the end of each session. These ratings showed that cognitive strategies were the strongest predictors of language ability.

During the final year of the project, the focus was on dissemination of the findings and training. This included publications in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, presentations at (inter-)national conferences, talks/workshops for non-academic audiences (parents, clinicians), organization of community events (ERSC Festival of Social Science). Training was received in the areas of writing/publishing, leadership, and public engagement. The possibility of a computer adaptive version of the vocabulary assessments that were developed over the course of the fellowship will be explored as part of a proposal for a ERC consolidator research grant, submitted by the project leader earlier this year.

In continuing project work, the researchers will investigate deaf children’s performance on the English vocabulary tasks and the MLEs targeting vocabulary knowledge in English. In addition, deaf children’s performance on the ASL tasks will be compared to hearing children’s performance on the English vocabulary tasks. The next step will be to administer the tasks/MLEs to a larger sample of deaf children with hearing parents, who represent the majority of this population. This is also part of the submitted ERC grant proposal. Once the tasks have been standardized and normed on a larger sample, they will be made available to schools where the information they provide can guide teachers in deciding which area of students’ vocabulary needs to be supported.