When a Sentence Disappears Before Your Eyes

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

If you happened to walk into my high-school classroom of Deaf and hard-of-hearing students this week, you might have met an eleventh grade student whom I’ll call Young Lady. You can imagine her easily,  the 17 year old girl who does study but has got  a mirror app on her phone which frequently appears when she thinks I’m not looking…

Young Lady has a cochlear implant.  You, the visitor, can chat with her comfortably in her first language, ask her where she lives and what subject she is majoring in and answer her questions to you.  If you  leave the classroom after this exchange you could be forgiven for believing that the wonders of modern technology have solved Young Lady’s problems. You might even wonder why she needs to study in our special learning center and is entitled to accomodations on exams. 

That is, unless you had stayed for yesterday’s entire lesson, when Young Lady demonstrated clearly the effect of being born with a hearing loss (actually not hearing from the fifth month in the womb, before birth!) on language developement. She is a student at the three point level (the lowest of the full matriculation levels) who is doing very well and has good grades.

Follow the marshmallow trail (Naomi's photo)
Follow the marshmallow trail (Naomi’s photo)

Part of the literature component in our curriculum involves teaching higher order thinking skills. Young Lady’s current task was to give an example of something she saw on the evening news that demonstrated the skill we had learned called “cause and effect”. THE EXAMPLE WAS TO BE GIVEN IN HER MOTHER TONGUE.  Here’s our conversation, also in her mother tongue (Note: Young Lady doesn’t really use sign language, mainly with friends):

Y. L: “I saw hospital”.

Me: “What about the hospital? Why were they showing the hospital on TV”?

Y.L:  “Was man, ambulance, siren and hospital”.

Me: “You saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital. Why was he taken to the hospital? What was the cause”?

Y.L.: “Car accident”.

Me: “You watched the news and saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital because he was in a car accident. That’s a good example. Now you say it”.

Y.L.: “I watched news an ambulance take a man to hospital because car accident”.

Me: “I watched the news. I saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital because of a car accident. Now you write it down”.

Y.L. shows me her written sentence (in her mother tongue):

” See accident in ambulance man hospital”.

Most of the verbs are gone. Only one preposition “survived” and is in the wrong place. She knows she’s supposed to use them but she doesn’t  feel a need. The sentence makes perfect sentence to her this way. The order of the nouns shows the sequence of events. Though I can’t see the slightest justification for the disappearance of the word “news” (or T.V) since she didn’t actually see the accident herself…

Young Lady conceded THAT point.

There’s work to be done…


2 thoughts on “When a Sentence Disappears Before Your Eyes”

  1. You have given a wonderful example of why our work is so important. Yes, this student could probably function in society at her current level of literacy, but she will not reach her full potential. We, the teachers, enable her to do the latter. That is our, in business terms, “value add.” It is a big fat one, too!

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