by Elizabeth A. Winston
Gallaudet University

Project ~ Interpreter ~ Student ~ Classes | Analysis And Discussion | Conclusion | References

Introduction (1)

Interpreting in a mainstream classroom is not the straightforward solution to improving the education of deaf children. Given an ideal mainstream setting, there still exist constraints on the types of classroom activities which can be effectively interpreted. The goal of this project was to observe mainstream classrooms and interview the major participants (interpreter, student, and mainstream teachers). This resulted in a description of classroom activities and communication styles with an analysis of the interpretability of the various styles of communication. Analyzing and finding the most effective means of interpreting classroom activities and communication is the interpreter’s primary role in the classroom. This role must be understood by everyone involved. It can no longer be assumed that the interpreter’s role is to make communication in the classroom exactly the same for both deaf and hearing children; it is not possible to do this. Simply providing an interpreter does not adequately address the educational and communicative requirements of deaf children in mainstream classrooms. To paraphrase the view of one interpreter, interpreters have been seen as the mops which are expected to clean up after the mess made by PL 94-142. This perception of the function of an interpreter and of the capabilities of interpreting needs to be changed. Interpreters can provide a means of communication if all other factors relating to mainstreaming are considered and resolved satisfactorily. If they are not, then an interpreter cannot “clean up the mess.”
It is necessary not only for educators and parents to understand this, it is essential that interpreters themselves understand their role and the limits and constraints of the interpreting process in education. Interpreting in this setting requires an understanding of the educational process, of language acquisition, of cognitive development, of several forms of sign-supported English systems as well as of ASL, and of the process of interpreting, to list a few of the requirements. Without this knowledge and without training and experience in the field, interpreters cannot provide adequate services for the deaf student. It is important that the interpreter be aware of the aspects of education which they can affect, but it is also important for them to be aware of those areas which are not under their control, even though these may have an impact on the mainstream setting on a daily basis.
It is especially necessary for the interpreter to understand the learning process from the deaf student’s perspective. The deaf student is the one person towards whom mainstreaming is directed; the deaf person’s perspective of the process of learning through a visual mode and through an interpreter is essential in any analysis of the effectiveness of an educational placement. The interpreter must be constantly aware of the number and types of tasks being  required of the deaf student and must have the knowledge and experience to be able to resolve problems that arise, or at the very least, to point them out to those who can resolve them. In any case, the interpreter must understand the deaf student’s needs in the setting and must provide, as much as is possible within the constraints of interpreting itself, a means of communication which satisfies those needs.

The Project (2)

The purpose of this study was to analyze a mainstream setting in terms of the interpreter’s task and the tasks required of the deaf student. The goal was to find a setting which appeared to be appropriate in terms of the student’s academic achievement, language skills and motivation, and the interpreter’s skills, in order to concentrate the analysis on those aspects relevant to interpreting. The setting chosen was in a school district considered by interpreters to be a good one for mainstreaming, and the classes analyzed were those in which the interpreters were skilled and the students successful in the placement. Several classes were observed, both mainstreamed and self-contained, in order to get a clearer understanding of the overall system. Final observations were focused on two different interpreters who worked with two different students most of the time. One student was a fourth grade student who was mainstreamed for several classes. The second was a fifth/sixth grade student who was mainstreamed for the entire day. A variety of courses with each student and interpreter were videotaped. In all, approximately 29 hours of observation of various aspects of this program occurred, and approximately 2/3 of this time was spent observing mainstream classes with the two students selected. An attempt was made to observe the same type of classes for each student: a math class, a science/social studies class (these were taught in alternating units of several weeks each; the fourth grade student was mostly in social studies with some science; the fifth/sixth grade student was in science during the observations), and a homeroom setting.
The major focus was narrowed to the fourth grade student for reasons of accessibility and the interpreter’s skill. The observations of the fourth grade student will be described in some detail while observations of the second student and of other students will be included as they are relevant. The amount of time spent observing in this school was enough to learn a good deal about the situation, but certainly not enough to gain a complete understanding of the environment. Research of a much more comprehensive nature is required for an understanding of all the factors involved. It would have been more effective if observations could have been made daily, all day, with the researcher functioning as a participant as well as an observer. The researcher’s experience working in similar situations was helpful in the analysis, although care needed to be taken not to jump to conclusions based on other experiences. The researcher was able to participate in a minor way by providing copies of the videotapes made of the fourth grade student to the teacher of the deaf; she was expected to visit the classroom to observe the student’s progress. However, at the time of the mainstream classes she was also teaching several other students in a self-contained classroom and could not leave these students alone to observe the mainstream classes. This is in itself an example of the lack of support for mainstreamed students which can occur in even well-administered programs.
In addition to the observations, interviews were conducted with one mainstream teacher, the interpreter, and the deaf student, focusing on their opinions about the success of the mainstreaming from their perspectives. The observations of these people were very perceptive in terms of understanding the issues involved in main streaming and will be included as they are relevant.

The Interpreter

The interpreter was the original contact in the school. Throughout the observations she was very helpful and interested in the project. It was through her that much of the videotaping was arranged, as well as most of the schedule for observing. She provided the most in-depth information about the process of mainstreaming from her perspective. She has been interpreting for 7 years in a variety of settings. She has a teaching degree in Physical Education and had been coaching the varsity softball team at Gallaudet when she became interested in sign language and interpreting. Her training in interpreting consists of experience, in-services provided by the school, and study on her own. However, her training as a teacher has provided her with many insights about the classroom that interpreters without this training may not share (or may learn only after experience in the classroom).
The interpreter began working with this student at the beginning of the 1987-88 academic year. She began with the understanding that she was to use a signed English system for interpreting and tried that for several days. She became frustrated at the lack of response from the student during the mainstream classes; she got little in the way of feedback to indicate any sort of comprehension on the part of the student. At this point, she asked her supervisor to observe her interpreting, hoping for suggestions for improving the interpreting. The supervisor decided that the goal for interpreting was not to be the form of the message but the content. After this, her interpreting became much more conceptually oriented and she saw an immediate change in the student’s response to the interpreted messages. He began providing feedback indicating that he understood.
The interpreter still felt it necessary to provide some of the English during the interpreting and did that whenever it would not interfere with the student’s understanding. For example, when a teacher used an idiom, she would interpret the meaning, then use a sign-for-word translation and explain to the student the meaning of the idiom. She believed that this provided the best balance of both meaning and form in the signed message.
Another concern of the interpreter was the question of voicing for the student. While she produced correct English sentences, she believed that the teachers were often not aware that this did not reflect the English skills of the student. She has worked with the teacher of one class to make sure that the teacher is aware that the English produced by the interpreter is not the English of the student. This has been done by reminding the teacher of this after class and by pointing out the need to interpret written questions to the student. The teacher was aware of the English difficulties mainly by the written work of the student and by his ability to read and understand such written materials as tests and textbooks.
An important aspect of the interpreting in this fourth grade class was that the student was still learning how to use an interpreter. Instruction in using an interpreter was a program-wide activity and was carried out over a period of time with the students. Interpreters with students in the younger grades were expected to teach the students how to use interpreters. They did this in various ways, including instruction to all students, hearing and deaf. In the mainstream setting, interpreters were expected to remind students that what they signed would be voiced and to encourage students to direct questions to the teacher rather than to the interpreter. In the higher grades, the students were expected to understand the role of the interpreter without the need for reminders. The fourth grade was a middle point, according to this interpreter. She gave some reminders about voicing and directed the student to the teacher, but she felt that at this time the student was beginning to deal with this without help. He was making the transition to an independent consumer of interpreting services.

The Student

The student was a nine-year-old boy who had his tenth birthday on the last day of my observations. He has been deaf from birth, as has been one of his brothers and  one sister. The three deaf children used sign language at home, as did the parents and other siblings, although the hearing family members were not skilled signers according to this student. All of the deaf children were mainstreamed part-time. This student had been mainstreamed full-time the previous year, but the time allotted for mainstreaming was cut back to allow him to take his language courses in the self-contained classroom with the teacher of the deaf and other deaf students. At the time of this study he was mainstreamed into Homeroom, Math, Social Studies/Science, Phys. Ed., Art, and Music, as well as lunch and recess. He was friendly and communicative with me from the beginning of my observations and appeared to get along well with the teacher and with the interpreter. He had very little interaction with the hearing students, but interacted well with the deaf students in the self-contained classroom.
His favorite classes were, in order: language, because he could communicate with everyone in that class; math; science, because they did experiments that were fun; then social studies. He clearly expressed a preference for the self-contained classroom during my interview with him. His comments about the mainstream class were that he did not have any friends and that no one in those classes could sign well enough to communicate with him (with the exception of the interpreter). He did enjoy his mainstream teacher for science and social studies, but did not enjoy all the reading and writing that social studies involved.
During the interview, he was asked if he knew any other deaf people, especially any deaf adults. He responded by naming adults he knew who signed (these were hearing teachers in the deaf education program). While this response might require further verification from parents and teachers, it is some indication of the amount of sign language input he receives outside of school, other than from his brother.

The Classes

Several classes which the student attended with the interpreter were observed and videotaped, with the intention of seeing as much of the mainstream day as possible. A description of a typical day in this student’s classes follows, beginning with his first class and following him through to the end of the day. The only class not observed was the self-contained classroom.
9:00-9:15: This time period consisted of homeroom activities, during which time the students did independent reading and other work at their desks. It is also during this time that general school announcements were made over the loud speaker system. These were interpreted for the deaf student. The interpreter also interpreted whenever the student looked up from his work and when she judged that there was something important for the student to know, such as instructions for schedule changes for the day. Otherwise she did not interpret every interchange that occurred. She also interacted with other students and the teacher at this time, usually signing any interaction, especially if the deaf student appeared to be watching. She took advantage of this time to prepare for lessons and to discuss with the teacher any logistical considerations for interpreting. For example, she might discuss a test with the teacher in order to find out the teacher’s goals for questions, so that when she interpreted the questions she did not inadvertently use a sign that would indicate the correct answer, thus skewing the test results. The interpreter tried to make herself a part of the classroom environment; both students and teachers were comfortable with her presence and the extent of her interaction in the class. This interaction was always structured around any interpreting duties; everyone understood that interpreting was her first responsibility. She was not asked to take papers to the office, leaving the student without an interpreter, for example.
This classroom was actually a double classroom with a folding wall dividing the rooms when the teachers were working with separate groups. There were two teachers and an instructional aide in this classroom in addition to the interpreter. Each teacher was assigned approximately 25 students; these students were grouped according to ability in different skill areas and might experience either or both of the teachers for any given subject area depending on their achievement in that area.
The deaf student, referred to as Mark in this paper, had an assigned desk in one of the homerooms. This desk was situated in a group of six desks which were located in front of the teacher’s desk. Other groups of desks were located throughout the room. Mark’s desk faced the teacher’s; the teacher’s was located directly in front of a window, which might have caused a problem of glare when the student looked at the teacher. The interpreter was seated to the side of the teacher’s desk and at a slight angle facing Mark.
During homeroom, one of Mark’s duties was to give the microphone portion of his Phonic Ear to the teacher so that she could wear it when talking. Mark wore a chest level receiver during this and most of his mainstream classes. The exception to this was Phys. Ed.
Also occurring during homeroom was the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. The flag was located at the back of the room, requiring Mark to turn away from the interpreter. The interpreter moved so that she was between Mark and the flag rather than near the teacher who was leading the Pledge. After this, students returned to their seats and prepared for the next class, Math.
9:15-10:00: At 9:15 the homeroom teacher closed the door between the two rooms. This required help due to the size of the door, and being asked to help was a positive event. Mark was asked to help with this during one of the observations. The teacher made attempts to include him in activities such as this.
After the door was closed, the students in each room divided into their Math sections and went to the appropriate part of the room. Mark moved to the other side of the room at this time. This side was for the students working at grade level math and was taught by the other teacher; the other class was working at above grade level math. The two teachers took turns teaching both groups, typically alternating after a few weeks. The teacher in this class also wore a Phonic Ear microphone.
This teacher presented information in at least three ways. She used short lecture presentations when introducing new information. This was often accompanied by writing or drawing on the board to illustrate her meaning. She used a question and answer technique, basing the questions on the lecture. She also had students correct their own homework papers in class, reading the answers to the students while they checked their answers on the paper. In addition, she sometimes wrote the answers on the board.
The interpreter used various techniques for handling these presentation styles. During the lecture, she stood near the teacher when the teacher was talking and near the blackboard when the teacher was using it for reference. She stood on the opposite side from the teacher, with the writing between the teacher and her. This was directly in front of the student.
Her lag time was usually short, allowing her to use the board for reference close behind the teacher’s reference. During question and answer, she manipulated her lag time even further by anticipating some of the teacher’s questions. This allowed the student to respond in a timely manner for some questions. An example of this type of anticipation was when the teacher asked how many students got all the problems correct, then how many got one wrong, and so on. By anticipating the question, the interpreter allowed the student to respond at the correct number instead of at whatever number had been reached by the time the normal lag time would have elapsed. She also indicated that a question was being asked and the type of response expected during this type of interaction: she signed the question the first time, raised her hand, then signed each number spoken by the teacher on one hand, raising the other hand at the same time, indicating that at the number missed the student should raise his hand. This strategy allowed the student to have some participation in the class.
The teacher’s style also allowed for his participation. She spoke fairly slowly and her presentations were cohesive. She asked questions of the class, then waited for several students to raise their hands before calling on one to answer. She did not always choose a student with a raised hand, but attempted to call on a variety, including Mark. She waited for the student’s answer and worked with the students to help them produce a correct one. I asked the interpreter if this was an adjustment especially for the deaf student, but she said that this was the usual style of the teacher, and that it fortunately happened to work well for interpreters and deaf students.
10:00-12:15: Mark was in the contained classroom for language. The interpreter either tutored in the contained classroom at this time or she filled in for any interpreters who might be absent.
12:15-1:15 (Lunch): Deaf and hearing students attended lunch together. No observations of lunch times were made, partly in order to leave the student alone and partly to have time to talk with the interpreter and teachers in the teachers’ lunchroom. This time was valuable for the researcher, but observations in the student cafeteria and on the playground would be valuable to future research. The interpreter was assigned lunch duty, which involved supervising either the cafeteria or the playground for a portion of the time on some days. Given a longer time for the observations, the interpreter could have been accompanied on these duties as well. At these times she was considered an adult employee with responsibilities similar to any other adult’s in a school: supervision of students. She was not considered to be an interpreter in these settings.
1:15-2:45: After lunch the schedule was not regular. A segment of time was allotted daily for a Social Studies/Science class. Other courses occurred depending on the day: Phys. Ed., Music, and Art.
Social Studies/Science: Mark was mainstreamed for the rest of the day, returning to his homeroom for these classes. The Social Studies/Science portion alternated between the two courses, with each portion lasting several weeks. Two Social Studies classes but no Science classes were observed in this grade. The two homeroom classes were divided in the afternoon, some students going to P.E. at one time and the others going at another. Most of the Social Studies classes consisted of independent work at the students’ desks, with them reading and answering questions based on the readings. The teacher called individual students to her desk to discuss problems or assignments with them during this time.
The interpreter stayed in her usual place, interpreting when Mark showed interest in the conversations or when important information was being provided to the class. She occasionally went to other students’ desks to help them. She also spent one class reading to a student who had just moved to the U.S. from Japan and who did not speak English well. This student was also “main streamed” into this class. The teacher demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity to both this student’s needs and to Mark’s, as well as to everyone elses’. The interpreter’s decision to work with all of the students was based on her feeling that this would make her presence less obtrusive and strange to the students. By working with all of them, she believed that they would accept her as a person rather than as an attachment to the deaf student. This in turn made the deaf student’s presence less special and more normal.
The interpreter and deaf student interacted in another way during this time. Mark would ask her questions about the readings and about the assignments. If the purpose of the question was information, she directed his question to the teacher; if the purpose was to understand the English, she would interpret the written form into signs. Then Mark would continue with the assignment himself. This appeared to be an acceptable solution to everyone. One concern of the interpreter was that the teacher might not become aware of the deaf student’s English proficiency if the English questions were not also directed to the teacher, but she had discussed this with the teacher and felt the teacher was clearly aware of the problem. This problem was discussed with the teacher. She was the one person who expressed some concerns about the progress that Mark was making. Although he could understand the concepts and material via the interpreter, he was not able to read well enough to understand much of the information in the books and tests. She was concerned that in the following grade this would cause greater problems for Mark than it did in fourth grade and that the problem would become greater every year.
During one observation, the class met as a group and the teacher talked with them about the lesson. The presentation style was slow and clear, with chunks of information being short and being marked by pauses both before and after.
Music: Mark was mainstreamed in this class with several other deaf students. The music teacher had made great efforts to integrate the students into music. She had learned sign language in order to achieve this goal; she taught many of the songs with signs as part of the performance; and she paired deaf and hearing students for exercises requiring group production, such as playing different instruments. During singing, the deaf students were asked to use their voices as well as signing; they did this with various degrees of enthusiasm, but so did the hearing students. The students had participated in a concert with several other schools the week before my observation. The teachers were discussing the behavior of the deaf students; they were apparently the only students who were not signing parts of the songs. The hearing students were cooperating well, but not the deaf students.
During the times that students were paired for playing instruments, the deaf students were not all facing the interpreter and could not always follow the directions. While they played along with the music, with their partner signaling when they should play, their participation was often off by a beat or two. Many of the hearing students were cooperating with this system enthusiastically, as were some of the deaf students; some of the deaf students, however, were not. Not all of the hearing students were observed for this type of participation, but the impression of the researcher was that not all of them were following either.
The music teacher had also begun a group called “The Fabulous Flying Fingers”, a group which signed and sang. The researcher was not able to observe this group, but the teacher and the interpreter were enthusiastic about its success.
Art: Mark was not observed in Art class, but a fifth grade Art class which had five deaf students in it was observed. The students were working on projects which allowed them independent time for their work. The deaf students were very excited to have the video camera and took the researcher on a tour of the classroom and the projects, explaining the class on videotape. During this tour they pointed out all of the deaf students’ projects, but they also included a few of the hearing students’ projects. The tour guide at one point approached a hearing student who was working at a table, signaled to the interpreter to voice for him, and began a mock interview with the hearing student about his project. This type of class seemed to provide some interaction between hearing and deaf students, and the interpreter served an important function in this socialization.
P.E.: Mark was mainstreamed in this class with four or five other deaf students. On the day the class was observed, the students had three activities to choose from: a group hockey game, swinging on a rope which required waiting in line with other students, and independent play with hula hoops. The deaf students participated in all the activities, some preferring the group game, others swinging on the rope, and others independent play. Mark played on the rope, for the most part communicating with another deaf student and with the researcher, but also occasionally with one of the hearing students in line with him. This interaction consisted mostly of gestures indicating that the hearing student should try a specific feat or should watch Mark perform one.
The interpreter positioned herself in various parts of the gym, depending on the activities and the amount of communication required. When a fight broke out during the hockey game, she approached and interpreted the argument, in which some of the deaf students were involved. She also interpreted any instructions from the teacher to specific students, and any conversations the deaf students requested her to do. The students had the option of calling the interpreter when they wanted her but also had the option of communicating on their own.
2:45-3:00: At 2:45 the students returned to homeroom and prepared to leave for the day. Mark was a member of the school patrol and was allowed to leave at 2:45 with the other patrols. This ended the day for him and usually also for the interpreter.
Occasionally, the schedule was interrupted by patrol meetings. Mark attended these meetings with all the members of the patrol. These meetings were run by students and supervised by fifth/sixth grade teachers. Interpreters were also provided. All the deaf students wore Phonic Ears and the student speakers were very careful to pass the microphone to each other. The teachers, who lectured the students at various points, did not use the microphone. The lectures during these meetings were of a different nature than the fourth grade lectures. They were lengthy, often continuing for twenty minutes at a time. They included brief interjections by three different teachers; at times one would make a short comment about the first teacher’s remarks which became a second 10 minute lecture. The vocabulary of the teachers was laden with English idioms and complex sentences. These teachers were observed in other classes as well, and their teaching and lecture styles were consistent. It appeared that up to fourth grade was considered elementary; fifth/sixth grade appeared to be a transition time. Students were treated as responsible adults preparing to go to the middle school the following year. The lectures were often not understood by the deaf students. They watched the interpreters but understood little and did not respond when given specific instructions. The researcher asked if the perception about the difference between the two levels was correct; the interpreters felt that the difference was real, as did the fourth grade teacher. However, no one was sure if the difference was a wide-spread difference between the two levels or if it was simply a difference in teaching style. All agreed that the style of the fifth/sixth grade did not lend itself to interpreting to students who did not already have a mastery of English and some understanding of the subject. A lack of grade level skills would (and apparently did) cause problems for students mainstreamed in these classes.
3:00:  End of typical day.

Analysis and Discussion

The mainstream classroom was the focus of this research project. The original goal was to analyze the setting in terms of the interpreting required and the number of tasks required of the deaf student in comparison to the hearing students. The format of the class and the teaching style had a great effect on the participation and success of the student. In this section there will be a discussion of some of the observations and comments about the classroom, then a discussion of the format in terms of its interpretability. This is a very narrow aspect of the phenomenon of mainstreaming, yet it is the one which most directly concerns the interpreter and the one which, all other factors being ideal, will still determine the success of the mainstream placement.
Nature of the classroom: There are several points about the mainstreamed classroom which seem obvious but which deserve mention. The first is that the classroom environment is designed to accommodate learning through both visual and auditory channels. The deaf student has access to only one of these channels and that access, through the interpreter, is indirect and incomplete. This is a fundamental difference between the environment of the deaf student and the hearing students. Placing an interpreter in a classroom with a deaf student does not make everything equal; there is a basic difference in accessibility to information between the deaf student and the hearing student which should not be overlooked. There are many parts of an auditorily-centered classroom which cannot be made accessible (these will be discussed in the next section). Providing sign language and an interpreter is not an automatic solution to the education of these children. The teacher’s style is also of great importance in the mainstream setting. The interpretability of classroom activities is influenced by the teacher’s willingness to work with an interpreter. In the past, most teachers have been led to assume that the interpreter was the solution to any communication problem; this is not the case.
Learning takes place within the total classroom environment. An interpreter can provide only a part of this environment for the deaf student; much within the environment is not available to the deaf student. He is required to receive and process all information in a completely different fashion than the hearing student; this is required during any interaction which is not a one-to-one interaction with another signer. Even this type of interaction is different, since it requires visual rather than auditory processing. The deaf student has little of this one-to-one interaction except in contained classrooms if they are available. This type of educational experience needs to be weighed carefully before placing a student in a mainstream class. The question of a least restrictive environment (LRE) is one which has not been considered carefully enough. The only way to determine a LRE is to view the environment from the deaf student’s perspective; no other perspective can provide an accurate assessment of the setting. It is necessary to observe and analyze those placements which succeed in order to learn which types of settings are least restrictive; it is also necessary to learn from deaf teachers of the deaf who understand the visual needs of deaf students. Observing deaf teachers interacting with deaf students provides a  much clearer understanding of what a least restrictive environment means when learning is visual.
Interpretability of the classroom: Interpreters often assume that, all factors being ideal, interpreting in the classroom poses no problem. This assumption does not appear to be correct. There exist factors in the classroom which cannot be effectively interpreted for the student. Several types of presentations were identified within classrooms; these varied among teachers but several were fairly consistent through all. Types which were consistent included lectures, question and answer periods, and independent work. Types which varied somewhat included reading aloud with the class and group work. The analysis consisted of determining the types of presentation in each class, the amount of time spent on each type, and the number and kinds of tasks required of the deaf student as compared to the hearing students. The interpretability of each task was based on the number and type of tasks required of the deaf student.
1) Lecture: This type of presentation is generally interpretable (given adequate language and academic skills in the student). The deaf student receiving information during this type of presentation is required to perform only one task-that of processing information via the interpreter. (The question of the practical difference between visual and auditory processing is not considered here. It is however, a very important consideration to make in terms of mainstream placement.) This type of presentation is used in different amounts by different teachers; seldom did it continue through an entire class.
2) Question and Answer: Two basic types of Q&A were observed, that based on the lecture and that based on paperwork, such as homework, tests, or finding information from a reading. Effective interpreting for any of these is dependent on the teacher’s style of teaching: in order for the deaf student to participate, the teacher must control the speed of the interchange in order to allow for the extra time required for interpreting the questions. This time is a constraint of interpreting; it cannot be avoided and if the deaf student is to participate it cannot be ignored. An interpreter can shorten this time and can even occasionally anticipate the question, but this is rare. Anticipation can also lead to incorrect interpretations, causing more confusion. An interpreter can also ask the teacher to allow for this time, but this does not usually have any lasting effect on the teacher’s style. The teacher must be willing to monitor and adjust the style in order for the deaf student to participate. (3) This type of presentation represents a large proportion of teacher-directed activities in classrooms.
Given this general difficulty with interpreting Q&A, the two types mentioned above present differing degrees of interpretability. Q&A based only on previously presented information, which requires the student to recall this information from memory, requires the same number of tasks of both the deaf and hearing students. Each must process the question and try to recall the answer. Q&A based on paperwork presents a different situation. Whenever the deaf student is required to retrieve information from a written source while simultaneously receiving information from a signed source, the student is at a disadvantage. The hearing students perform the task of reading and listening at the same time, using two different channels. An example of this during an observation was the correction of a homework paper in a class. The students were expected to correct their own answers by reading their papers and listening to the correct answers being read by the teacher. This simultaneous task presents little problem for the hearing students. For the deaf student, however, it is an entirely different situation. He is expected to watch the interpreter for the correct answer, find the correct question on the paper, and correct it. It is physically impossible to perform these tasks simultaneously; he cannot read his paper and watch the interpreter at the same time.
Effectively interpreting this type of presentation requires either a change of style by the teacher, which might include writing the answers on the board, waiting for the deaf student after each answer, or using an overhead; or some sort of deletion of information to the deaf student. The interpreter must choose between simply signing along, whether the student is watching or not, in order to keep up with the teacher; or she must delete the bulk of the information and provide the most vital information-the question number and the answer-waiting for the student to correct the paper before proceeding to the next question. This deletion results in a loss of the incidental information which is often provided by teachers when they are explaining the questions and answers. Either choice by the interpreter results in a situation which is less than that provided for the hearing students. This type of information presentation is interpretable only to the extent that the teacher style can be adjusted. In making this observation to the interpreter, she added her opinion that all aspects of interpreting in the classroom were highly dependent on teacher style. This was one of the most important aspects of any mainstream setting from her perspective as an interpreter.
3) Independent work: This type of presentation appears to be ideal for the deaf student. Little interpreting is required, and the student can have independent interaction with the teacher (except, of course, for the interpreter’s presence) which moves at his pace. However, analyzing this setting more closely shows that it is not the ideal it appears to be. It is true that the work at the desk is comparable to that of the hearing students. It is usually visual for all. The difference is in the incidental information which is being provided throughout this independent work time. This incidental information includes such things as interruptions by outsiders, during which the hearing children can continue working while overhearing the interruption. While it may seem that not having to pay attention to this type of interruption would be helpful, it is this type of interaction which provides the hearing children with models for language use in every day settings. They learn from this how to interrupt appropriately in English. Other incidental information includes comments such as “Bless you,” when someone sneezes, teacher jokes with one or another student, and even brief language lessons. Once, during the observations, the teacher asked a student if he knew what “Por favor” meant. She then explained it, providing information about Spanish to the student which could be overheard by the entire class. This type of interaction and exposure to language use in natural settings is one of the goals of mainstreaming. Yet it is often during independent work time that interpreters are taken from classrooms or are asked to perform other duties.
Even when an interpreter is present, such situations are problematic. If the student is working at his desk, it is necessary to interrupt that work to interpret the information or the interactions. It is not possible for the deaf student to continue working and “overlook” this incidental information in the same way that hearing students overhear it. This constant interruption is not usually helpful to the student in terms of completing desk work. The other choice is for the interpreter to not interpret this type of information, depriving the student of this important exposure to language and socialization. During the observation, the interpreter usually interpreted when the deaf student looked up, but not otherwise. The student was aware that he was not required to watch the interpreter at this time unless he wanted to. He was, however, being forced to decide between two aspects of the classroom, a choice which hearing students are not asked to make. While a balance may be achieved, everyone in the situation must consider that any balance still excludes deaf students from the total learning environment. It is not the same kind of complete environment provided for hearing students. This is the important point to realize in the mainstreaming of deaf children. It is not the same environment that is provided for hearing children. Given that a deaf child in fourth grade is already exhibiting a lack of mastery in English language skills, it is important to ask if this is the right kind of environment for deaf students.
4) Reading aloud: This type of presentation does not occur in all classes, but when it does, it can present major difficulties for both the interpreter and the student. Reading aloud forces the deaf student to choose between watching the interpreter attempt to sign everything that is being read or reading from the book himself and ignoring the interpreter. He cannot, as is expected of the hearing students, read along and listen to the reader at the same time. Either choice presents problems. If the student watches the interpreter, the signed message does not match the reading, either in form or in content. If the student chooses to read for himself, he misses any incidental information which is added by the teacher to supplement the reading. Even if the interpreter interrupts him to interpret this, the information may not be relevant to the section that the student is reading. This type of presentation is not effectively interpretable.
5) Group work: Group work was observed in one class only, and in this class the deaf student was allowed to work alone. From the researcher’s experience it is often difficult for the group to communicate with the addition of an interpreter and the constraint of time lag which accompanies it. This type of activity is interpretable depending on the dynamics of the group and the willingness of everyone to work at communication.
The type and frequency of classroom presentation has a direct bearing on the adequacy of interpretation in these classrooms. These factors should be given priority in any discussion about the appropriate placement of deaf students. These are the kinds of factors which are important on a daily basis to those most directly affected by the placement, the deaf student and the interpreter. The deaf student’s visual and learning needs are and should be given the highest priority, with the understanding that meeting these needs through the use of an interpreter necessarily becomes a second-class education. Any other approach is backwards and will only result in successful mainstream placements by chance.
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These observations must open the discussion of the meaning of LRE and undoubtedly demonstrate the need for extensive inquiry into the nature of mainstream education. Education in a mainstreamed classroom is a learning experience which, for the deaf student, is different from that of hearing students from the moment the student enters the class until he leaves. It is not, as has been assumed, the same type of experience with the simple addition of an interpreter and sign language. This type of difference is not merely a superficial difference, it is a difference of both quality and quantity. The extent of its importance demands further study.
One of the fundamental differences is that all information reception is through a physically demanding and fatiguing process of watching, not the less demanding process of listening which is expected of hearing students. Hearing students, when tired or bored, can stop listening without appearing to do so; deaf students who stop watching are clearly not paying attention. In addition to the physical stress this adds to the task of the deaf student, it precludes the simultaneous completion of many ordinary tasks in the mainstream classroom.
Another major difference is that all information received through the interpreter is second-hand information. Nida (1976) claims that, given two native speakers discussing a familiar topic, only about 80% of the information is conveyed successfully. Some information is misunderstood even in this context. Adding a third person can only add to the amount of possible miscommunication. This is one of the constraints of an interpreted message. Even that communication which is achieved through speech and speechreading or limited signs is limited and not the normal, free communication which is expected in one-to-one interactions in school and which is an essential part of the educational process.
From the original focus of this project, the interpretability of mainstream classroom settings, to the broader question of LRE and the education of deaf children, it is clear that the primary focus of study and research must be the deaf student’s experience in the setting. If this perspective is the primary one, the question of the appropriateness of the environment to visual learning is an essential one. The possibility of providing this visual learning solely through an interpreted message must also be seriously questioned. With all the factors being ideal, mainstreaming can succeed in providing an alternative educational experience. When all factors are not ideal, placement in a mainstream setting for the purpose of providing an education must be seriously questioned. One aspect of the deaf student which was not dealt with in this analysis is the residual hearing of the deaf student. The more he is able to use this hearing to function in an auditory environment, the easier the adjustment to a classroom that assumes the use of both vision and hearing. In this project, the focus was on students who relied on the interpreter for information rather than on hearing with some support from the interpreter. This was to focus on the interaction of the student in a situation where the interpreting was an essential factor.
There has so far been a great deal of attention to the theoretical factors involved in interpreting in the mainstream but little analysis of the actual setting. Longitudinal studies of students in mainstream settings and questioning of those students about their experiences, feelings, and opinions about mainstreaming are essential to a clearer understanding of the phenomenon. Studies of classrooms and schools for the deaf which are structured for visual learning can provide insights into those aspects of education which are essential in educating deaf children. For a long time the assumption has been that providing an interpreter could solve all the problems of education. Thus, it seems a first priority is to determine the limitations of interpreting an education, as well as the possibilities, in order to analyze the appropriateness of mainstream education.
Observations in mainstream classrooms, especially during this project, have supported this opinion. Even in a classroom in which most of the issues about interpreting had been considered and resolved, there were problems which could not be solved simply by interpreting. The problem of the number of tasks and the types of tasks required of deaf students in comparison to the hearing students have been only briefly described in this study but provide a means for determining the kinds of questions which need to be asked about the mainstream environment. The importance of the teacher’s style in the classroom is an issue to be considered fully. In addition, these are issues which must be understood, and resolved by all persons involved, not only by the interpreter in the setting.
Many more studies of mainstream classrooms are needed. Qualitative studies focusing on the daily life of the deaf student in these settings can provide a perspective which is essential to a better understanding of mainstreaming and its effect on deaf children. Statistics and demographics are helpful and needed, but information about main streaming as it actually happens is an immediate need, especially for those people dealing with mainstreaming on a daily basis. This should be the direction of future research about main streaming in deaf education.


1)This research is part of a broader discussion of mainstream interpreting which was written as a Master’s research project at Gallaudet University, May, 1988 in the department of Linguistics and Interpreting. The project was directed by Carol Erting, with feedback from Scott Liddell and Cindy Roy. Their help and direction is greatly appreciated. The participation of the interpreters, teachers, and students in the mainstreamed setting was invaluable to this project, and I thank them for their contributions. (Back)
2) It is only through the help and cooperation of the interpreters, the students, and the staff of the school system which I observed that this project was possible. I want to thank them for their enthusiastic support and interest. And special thanks to the interpreter and student in the fourth grade, both of whom gave me a great deal of time and help during my observations, as well as valuable feedback about the findings. (Back)
3)During a meeting with Gertrude Galloway, she expressed the opinion that if a teacher made this type of adjustment, requiring the hearing students to wait, she would, if she had a hearing child in the classroom, be concerned for the effect of this on the motivation of the hearing student. Being continually forced to wait could end a student’s enthusiasm for answering and could create attitudes of resentment in the hearing children. (Back)


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