Sheldon: Welcome advocates to another episode of The Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Today I have a very special guest with me, Dr. [Martreece 00:00:11] Watson, and we're going to be talking about how we can support our deaf and hard-of-hearing students, so without further ado, Martreece thank you so much for joining us today.

Martreece Watson: Thank you Sheldon for the opportunity to be on your podcast today. It's a great privilege and an honor.

Sheldon: It's my pleasure. And you're going to be discussing some information that I have not had on my show, and I have to admit, I have limited knowledge, and I can't be the only person, and so that's why I'm excited. Advocates out there who are listening, we're going to be talking about how to support our deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Even as a special education director myself, I don't currently have any students who identify with this community. And so, again, this is going to be helpful for me. Also, our special education instructors and workers, in addition to our general education teachers and educators, I think this is going to be very helpful.

Sheldon: Before we really get into the subject, Martreece, I would love for you to share a little bit about who you are and what you do, and kind of how you got into this research.

Martreece Watson: I am from Columbus, Ohio, but I'm here now in Washington D.C. I got into the work with deaf and hard-of-hearing youth as a teenager myself. I met my first deaf person in freshman year, first a week of school. A beautiful person came up to me and gave me a note and said, "Will you be my friend? Check box yes or no?" I checked the box, yes, and for a week she brought me notes. And then Friday, being the teenager I was, I'm like, "Girl, why can't you just talk to me?" She grabs my hand and we go running down the hall, and we'd go out the back door, because remember back in the day, special education units were in a trailer behind the school. And so she went in a class and I was with her, and I saw her and her teacher and hands flying in the air. And the next thing I know, her teacher looked up, she was having an exceptionally bad day, she's like, "You want to learn to talk to her? Learn this." And she through a book at me.

Martreece Watson: And at the time they were using the Total Communication Method at school. And so the book was called [See Exact Sign 00:02:07], which is actually just a manmade communication form, and that's all that we had. And so we started learning and I became really good friends with her and that just sparked my love to want to work with the deaf community.

Sheldon: Wow, so do you still keep up with her?

Martreece Watson: No, that's the crazy part, because even when I was doing my dissertation research, I told about this story and we looked for her online and everything, couldn't find her. And so it was just, I'm sad that we don't know where she is, but she really changed the course of my trajectory because I was going to be a horse veterinarian and have a horse in the Kentucky Derby. But now I've work with deaf and hard-of-hearing youth and I love it.

Sheldon: Two totally different careers. You settled, not settled, but you opted to go, based off your experience as a younger individual, and you have decided to make this life a part of your, this research is part of something that's very important to you, you had that personal connection in that way. I'm excited. I'm excited to ... You and I were talking before we even started recording and I'm really, really excited for this conversation, because I think you, you can bring so much value.

Sheldon: And just again, you mentioned earlier and I love for you to kind of explain this a little bit, you mentioned earlier as far as your position is a privilege when it comes to being able to hear. Could you share a little bit about what you shared with me prior to us recording, as far as your position as far as privileged goes? And maybe a message that you wanted to display as far as getting this message out and the oppression that kind of continues to happen when it comes to our deaf and hard of hearing?

Martreece Watson: Absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity to speak on that. I work at Gallaudet University. Gallaudet University is the only university in the world for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. We only accept about 200 hearing students per year. And the reason is that they want to make sure that this place is deaf central, and deaf-centric, meaning that they value a bilingual approach to communication. I work in my second language, sign language. ASL communication is prevalent on campus and we use English in the print form to communicate, because more often than not, outside of these gates, deaf people in the hearing world are looked down upon because of their inability to hear. There's a term called audism, where it places they hearing culture and speaking in superiority to those who cannot speak or hear, and that type of oppression you see it often, and it can be something simple as saying, "Hey, I can't wait to hear from you later."

Martreece Watson: Well hear, that word hear, what are you valuing? That shows that you're valuing speech and the hearing culture. Whereas a simple change would be, "I look forward to your response." So, being mindful of ways that you are superior, making hearing and speaking superior to being deaf or hard of hearing is paramount in the equity approach to working with students who are deaf and hard of hearing. I recognize my privilege is being able to hear, but then I respect the culture and I use sign language communication.

Martreece Watson: Also, understand that not all people who are deaf and hard of hearing do sign. That's something that is a choice that's made by the parent early on. And then when they're older they can choose to either learn sign. We have a lot of students here at the university who started off with their parents, who a majority of deaf and hard-of-hearing students are born to hearing parents and they want their children to be like them, and so they do that by trying to have them have cochlear implants, and that's their choice.

Martreece Watson: But when they get to college, a lot of times those same students opt to learn sign language because they want to have more access. And being that sign language helps with the brain and it's multimodal, so they're not only seeing the language, but they're also putting it on their hands, so they're using both sides of their brains, and they're doing a lot. And it also promotes language acquisition later on if they can use their sign language earlier in their life, studies have shown that. That's a little bit about audism, and making sure that we are mindful that we are not being oppressive to our deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Sheldon: Thank you for sharing that Martreece. And audism is not to be completely confused with autism, so I'm glad that you went through and explained that, because again, that is some information, just the whole part of, "I'd love to hear from you." Just some of the ways that we, you frame our language and our communication is very pivotal. Again, I appreciate your time with that.

Sheldon: Now, you've mentioned some things that I think we can already get our gears turning as far as some ways that we approach this. What are some other things that we need to consider immediately when supporting our deaf and hard-of-hearing youth?

Martreece Watson: Understanding first, that we need to look at deaf gain. I'm going to teach you another term here. Deaf gain. Deaf gain is a terminology that was coined by a British performing artist back around 2005. He continued to have, growing up through his youth, had doctors tell him, "Oh, you suffered a hearing loss, or you gained a hearing loss." And he was like, "Wait a minute, why not change that approach from the deficit to say deaf gain?"

Martreece Watson: And then Bauman, Dirksen Bauman, and Murray took up that notion of deaf gain, and then defined it as the contributions that those who are deaf and hard of hearing can contribute to society, to being a human. And one of those wonderful contributions is the fact of closed captioning. When you think about closed captioning, that is deaf gain. Not only is it accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but for hearing people, it's also a benefit. If you're in a crowded environment and there's closed captioning on and there's something happening, you can still understand what's happening on this show. For students who are English language learners, it's a wonderful way for them to help them to learn English, if the captions are done correctly. And then also it will help enhance students' language, having the closed captions. These kinds of deaf gain contributions help support our students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Martreece Watson: Another immediate thing that we need to do is to recognize, and accept, and embrace our deaf and hard-of-hearing students. More often than not, they are placed in mainstream public hearing settings, because a lot of their parents don't want to send them to a residential seats program or a day program for deaf and hard of hearing, so a lot of them are mainstream with interpreters, so make sure that you're seeing your student, that you are not just having them sit with the interpreter, that you are including them in your class, that they have barrier-free environments, meaning that there are no obstacles in front of them or around them where they cannot see who's actually speaking. Make sure that your lesson plans are more visual, and if you're using notes for the day, have those notes already ready for your student, because it's very hard for them to take notes, watch the interpreter and watch you. Make sure that you have your notes already taken down for that student. And adjust and adapt.

Martreece Watson: Also, understand that when you are having activity happen in the classroom, that you take time to, not necessarily slow your pace, but recognize that the deaf student is trying to attend, so you're going to need to make sure that your students in the classroom raise their hand and pause, so it gives that deaf student, deaf hard-of-hearing student, opportunity to attend to the person who's actually going to be speaking. That way that they can understand the communication process and the discourse that's happening from student to student, from teacher to student, and they're able to be engaged in the classroom.

Martreece Watson: And then in addition to that, understand that what these students are doing takes a lot of brain power and energy. Meaning that they're using their eyes, they're taking in the information, they're watching the interpreter who's signing that information to them, and then they're having to process and translate that to be able to participate. That's a very tiring process.

Martreece Watson: I don't know if you watched hours and hours of anything on the television and then your eyes start to get tired. Same thing for our deaf and hard-of-hearing students. They get a little tired, so break up your lessons with activities that reinforce what you're teaching. Break that up so that they have time to assimilate and accommodate the information that they've been receiving, and that they're doing activities that reinforce what is being said verbally.

Sheldon: Can I-

Martreece Watson: That's a lot. Go ahead and jump in.

Sheldon: No, let me, yeah if you don't mind, I want to jump in because something that stood out, and the overarching theme that I'm hearing with your response to my initial question is the fact that we want the students to feel at home, we want them to feel as part of the community, as the classroom environment, whether that's a school level, and also in the classrooms as well. We want them to feel engaged. We want them to feel a part of this classroom and not ostracized and placed in a corner somewhere and they're here and the classroom is there.

Sheldon: What are some ways or activities, because you kind of mentioned some ways, breaking things up and things like that, but how would you suggest a teacher could really get the student's peers and really developed this culture of inclusion for the student? What are some maybe suggestions that you have there?

Martreece Watson: If you become a community of learners and start embracing the language that the student uses, so if it is sign language, have the school or start a sign language class, have a buddy system of peers where they're learning a sign a day or something in the classroom. And then have individuals throughout the school, and teachers, who is just not the interpreter, that can communicate with the student.

Martreece Watson: Basic rules for how do you interact with a deaf person would be awesome. If all else fails, you can use pencil and paper and write back and forth, messages with this student. That act alone will help them feel like, "Oh, okay, this person is really trying to encourage and embrace me, and make me a part of their community." We need to work on normalizing, but in a social justice manner, in that we're being equitable and seeing it from their perspective and taking on ownership.

Martreece Watson: One thing, the grouping, start learning the language, having not only the class support that, but the whole school support that. And then having the administration support the teachers in doing that. Partnering with itinerant teachers. A lot of communities and school systems have itinerant teachers for the deaf that come to different schools, or to support their deaf and hard-of-hearing students. But at the same time they're a great resource for teachers to connect with, to get ideas on how to make things more visual, how to really engage the student.

Martreece Watson: And so one ... So the language piece, having buddies, and then working to have ways to engage them in extracurricular activities. Kids want to be kids. They want to be able to play as well and join into fun things without having to sit on the sidelines because there's no communication happening, or there's no access.

Sheldon: Is there a special, I don't want to say special, but is there specific ways, because you'd mentioned sports, when it comes to referees, and a lot of times referees use a whistle, what kind of accommodations have you seen on a football field or a basketball court or some kind of sports activity for our students that are deaf and hard of hearing?

Martreece Watson: Back in, I think it was the 1800s, 1900s, early-1900s, there was a baseball player and his nickname was Dummy, because at the time they use deaf and dumb, mute, to describe deaf and hard-of-hearing people. And so it was Dummy Hoy that came up with sign signals, so hand signals. A lot of the hand signals that you see in professional sports today, especially baseball, came from Dummy Hoy.

Martreece Watson: When there's whistles, there's a specific hand signal that football players do to each other so that they know that the ball has been snapped, there's a drum that beats, the vibration, they can feel that. A lot of them are hand signals that are done on the sidelines. That right there totally encourages students to learn sign language, even just the minimal part of it. The coaches will sign to their students and use basic signals that they come up with together, so that student knows, "This is what you're supposed to do when I do this, you're going to cut to the right and then go down for a pass."

Martreece Watson: Or on the basketball court, "When you see this signal from the sideline, you know that you're getting in a 2-3 zone." There's different signals and hand shapes. And light, flashing lights that are used to signal the students as far as sports is concerned.

Sheldon: Okay. Thank for that. Now, one of the things about, when it comes to equity, especially when we talked about access and accessibility and things like that, sometimes if I don't have a lot of experience working with a particular group, I may have limited knowledge. Sometimes stereotypes play factors and implicit bias things start to kick in. Some of us have myths or misunderstandings when it comes to supporting, or what the abilities of our deaf and hard-of-hearing students are. Could you just share with us some of the myths and misunderstandings, debunk them for us so that we can, again, continue on with providing services and an equitable approach to the way that we support our students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Martreece Watson: Absolutely. First thing is, one of the myths is that just because their ears are broken and they cannot hear, that a lot of teachers tend to think that, "Oh, we need to lower expectations for these students because they can't learn." That is a myth. You need to have the same high standards for your deaf and hard-of-hearing students that you have for their hearing peers. Understand that ASL American Sign Language is not a universal language and all people, all deaf people do not know or use it, and so don't expect them to know and use it. And please do not ask them to read your lips. Not all deaf and hard-of-hearing students can read your lips. And don't over-exaggerate your speech or pronunciation or annunciation.

Martreece Watson: The biggest one is that we need to fix them. No, we do not. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people and students do not want to be fixed. They have a strong, proud tradition of deaf pride, and deaf people celebrate having deaf children. It is a joy for them to have a child who is deaf and hard of hearing, because more often than not, deaf children are born to hearing parents, and they're isolated for a lot of their lives. If I would have to say those would be ... And also the last one, which is the most important one, is that there are more culturally, linguistically diverse, deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as well as immigrant deaf and hard-of-hearing students than there are White, deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Martreece Watson: Coming from a multicultural perspective with your students and meeting them with relevance and sustaining lessons is very important, because they are the majority, not the minority. Often deaf and hard-of-hearing community, the Black and Brown students and children are a minority, so they're like a triple minority. Not only just in the hearing culture, but in their own community they're a minority, so we need to be mindful that we are elevating their culture. And Black and Brown people do have, that are deaf, have culture and they have a language that is very, that a lot of people do not know.

Martreece Watson: Some wonderful work by our Dr. McCaskill and Dr. Ceil Lucas on the hidden treasures of Black ASL, and that comes from, it's a variation, it is a dialect of American Sign Language. We have various dialects within our standardized English, one being that of African-American vernacular English. You might've heard the term of Ebonics, and there is a form of ASL that incorporates some of the traits of, and the features of AVE in the signing language.

Martreece Watson: And that happened because back in the day they weren't allowed to go to school with their White counterparts. And so they developed their own language to communicate and to be accessible to each other. And then when they were mainstreamed or integrated again it was like, "Oh wow." They couldn't even understand their counterparts because they were speaking different languages. And so that needs to be understood, that there are different dialects within American Sign Language, and one being Black ASL.

Sheldon: Wow, you definitely have enlightened me. I have some more questions if that's okay?

Martreece Watson: Absolutely.

Sheldon: Because I know you do a lot of research on academic literacy skills.

Martreece Watson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sheldon: What are some tools that educators can use, maybe at the primary and also at the secondary level when it comes to academic literacy?

Martreece Watson: That right there is the million dollar question, and educators out there who work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students know it's the million dollar question, because if I knew that answer, I would be writing books and living large. But what I'm going to say is, these tools and strategies that I'm going to give you, are applicable both to the primary and to the secondary level, it's just the difference in the function. At the primary level we're teaching them to read. And then at the secondary level we're teaching them these skills specifically, to read to learn.

Martreece Watson: And so these include a teaching explicitly. And when I say explicitly, you really need to teach the rules of language and grammar. For example, you need to teach them specifically what a noun is. It's a person, place or thing. And then you incorporate that into making sentences. In our language, in the English language, we go subject, verb, object, are the component parts that put the grammar together. Right?

Sheldon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Martreece Watson: Well, for American Sign Language, the structure is object, subject, verb. If they're using sign language often, when you're teaching them these new skills you're actually having, they're actually having to take in and translate this into a new language. Understand also that when you're teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, you need to go from the whole to the part. We like to go from a part to the whole in just teaching regular English. You start with your root word, and then you increase it to the whole word, and then you put the word into what sentence. It's best to show our deaf and hard-of-hearing students the whole piece, and then you break that down into individual parts, so that they understand, "Oh, this is why I use a noun." So if I say that this is an adjective, adjective describes a noun, so you know that the noun is going to be after the adjective most times in a sentence, so that they're seeing the whole thing together, and then when you break it down piece by piece, they can understand that structure. That's that implicit, or explicit teaching.

Martreece Watson: Because you have to think about it, a lot of times hearing students have accessibility to language that is indirect, so they're hearing things and learning language all the time. Whereas deaf and hard-of-hearing students don't have that same access, so you really have to be mindful to explicitly teach these tools.

Martreece Watson: Another thing is, that makes an impact, is making sure that they have interpreters that are qualified. A lot of times you'll have interpreters that come straight out of college, and they're working with your deaf and hard-of-hearing students. You don't know if they're understanding your message or not, so it's really key about that.

Martreece Watson: Also, media, when you're using any kind of media in your classroom, make sure that the captions are correct. Captioning is so important, again, for the reasons I mentioned before, because it not only enhanced the language of the deaf individual, and deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, but those also your other students in the classroom as well.

Martreece Watson: Teacher to teacher discourse, that's important. Teacher to student discourse, make sure you're talking to the students, not to the interpreter.

Martreece Watson: Scaffolding and chunking of information is really paramount. Like I said before, they have a lot to attend to, so break it down and make sure that you meet them where they're at. Do not diminish where they're at and say, "Oh my God, I can't believe you don't know that." No. Meet them where they are and bring them to where you want them to be.

Martreece Watson: And you really need to specifically teach decoding skills, because they don't get that as a lot of hearing students do innately, they actually have to work at decoding. And they can apply these specific skills immediately, the best, in their groups. Working together, having group work where they can work on these skills in a group.

Martreece Watson: What does that look like at my level? I have kids that come in and I give them a brief explanation. We start with parts of speech. And so then I put them on the whiteboards in my classroom and I'm like, "Okay." And I turn it into something fun. You can't just have worksheets all the time. That's not going to work for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. It's boring, it's monotonous. Get them active and engaged. And I put them in teams. Use a noun in the sentence. Write a complete sentence using the very things that you've been explaining. You can have small whiteboards at their desks.

Martreece Watson: And they can, a lot of times, teachers sit their kids in pods. In the pod, working together, the first pod that gets the sentence right, wins points and then you collect points for the week for some prize, whatever. But at the collegiate level, you're still doing similar practices but they don't get the prize at the end of the class because they're college kids. But it's still, that whole part of taking the pieces and then building it, and then showing them how it connects, and then how does that relate to the real world? Because you've got to make a connection with the real world so that it's sustainable.

Martreece Watson: If they don't have that connection with the real world and how it applies, then it's not going to be meaningful for the student, and you have to see them and the work. Also, a part of that is making sure that you as an educator do your due diligence in your homework, and not to think that you can teach deaf and hard-of-hearing kids all just one way. That reminds me of, I'm going to say her name really wrong, but I'm going to try to do it right. I know her last name is Adichie. She talks about the danger of a single story and a single narrative.

Sheldon: Yeah, I know?

Martreece Watson: It's Chimamanda?

Sheldon: Yeah, yeah.

Martreece Watson: Chimamanda.

Sheldon: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Martreece Watson: Chimamanda Adichie, and it's a beautiful piece. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It talks about the danger of a single story and a single narrative, understand and recognize that. And so those are some of the tools that I completely use, making sure that I'm meeting the kids where they are, and that we're doing explicit teaching, rather than just relying on their implicit learning.

Sheldon: Martreece, so many points there, so much there and I definitely appreciate your time. You have hit it on the head. I consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you could leave our listeners today?

Martreece Watson: So much to say, so little time. Much of the accommodations, I think the biggest thing I want you to understand, that it might seem like doing a lot for accommodating your deaf and hard-of-hearing students. However, much of the accommodations that you teachers and educators will do for your deaf and hard-of-hearing students will benefit all of your students. And so making sure that you embrace deaf gain and not seeing them as a burden or a disability, but as a contribution, as a gain to your classroom and a gain to your school community. And so I think I would leave you with that. Make sure that you are seeing your deaf student, see them, see them in the work and engage with them.

Sheldon: Better tell it. Okay, I like that. Thank you so much Martreece.

Martreece Watson: Oh, you're welcome.

Sheldon: Dr. Martreece Watson is here, and I definitely appreciate your time. If we have some folks that want to reach out to you and want to connect with you, especially if they want some additional support, what's the best way to connect with you?

Martreece Watson: Okay, email [email protected] I'm also on Twitter @Martreecew, so you can reach me in those two places.

Sheldon: All right, there it is. Again, I have Dr. Martreece Watson with us, and she did an awesome job. I might have to bring you back on because you seem like you had more to say, so I might-

Martreece Watson: I do.

Sheldon: I might have to bring you on for part two down the road, or maybe have you in the next Leading Equity Virtual Summit, because I think your message is very important, and sadly I haven't done the best job when it comes to advocating for our deaf and hard-of-hearing students and providing more resources on the, on my podcast platform, so I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Martreece Watson: Thank you. It was an awesome privilege.

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