Jacob and Elijah Shaddox are brothers. Jacob is 21 years old and just moved into an apartment with his girlfriend. He graduated from a technical college with an Associate's degree in Computer Maintenance. He works for a school district as a computer technician. Elijah is almost 18 years old. He is hearing impaired, has Tourette Syndrome, OCD and ADHD. He is a junior in high school. Elijah lives with his mom Mary and her wife, his stepmom. Mary has a bachelor's in deaf education and a masters in special education, and is an educational diagnostician. Life is always changing and this blog has chronicled many of these changes and will continue to do so!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I am amazed daily at Elijah and how much language he has acquired. As many of you know I work with hearing impaired students in my school district. Many of them are sign dependent kids. Now, don't get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of sign, but I am also a strong supporter of parental support at home in learning signs. The students I have who have parents who sign do so much better than those that just learn enough to get by.

I don't think many people really realize how children learn language. It all starts at the moment of birth. Babies listen to all the sounds around them for almost 12 months before they really begin trying to put words together. It may even take 18 months. Babies babble, of course, and parents respond and that is how it all starts. For a deaf baby, they don't get that. Sometimes parents don't even know their child is deaf until the child is 12, 18 or 24 months old and then they are playing catch up. I work with so many children who do sign, but still don't really have the language appropriate age. I also work with children with cochlear implants who have not progressed as well as other kids. Sometimes it is that appropriate therapy was not done, or the child just has their own rate of progress, or there is a secondary condition. I also work with deaf ed. teachers who are very inflexible and think their way is the only way. HOW HOW HOW are we to make any progress with these kids if we can't see eye to eye or at least work together.

Anyway, I am off of my soapbox! I went to a workshop at Calliers Center for Communication Disorders in Dallas. It was titled Learning through the years and started with babies through college years on development and not just language and emotional issues for deaf children. Now I have always known vocabulary was important but I couldn't put it in words to explain it well enough to parents. However I learned something in those two days about vocabulary.

There are three tiers of vocabulary. Tier 1 is basic vocabulary that every six year old should know...chair, table, bed, bath etc. Tier 3 vocabulary is academic vocabulary. These are words we don't use every day like isotope, quadrilateral, inclined plane, etc. Tier 2 words are words the "meat" of our vocabulary and where we should focus when teaching children. These are words that can be USED to teach Tier 3 vocabulary. This really got me thinking about how to teach kids. ALSO, that parents need to understand that it doesn't matter HOW WELL a child can sound out words if he doesn't have the vocabulary to understand WHAT is being read.

We have got to UP the ante when working with these kids. We can't just take what they give us, but must demand that they give us more. I'll give you an example of how Elijah used Tier 3 vocabulary. it is that inclined plane story I told a while back. Elijah asked me what something was. I answered it was a RAMP(Tier 2 vocab) and he said NO mom it is an inclined plane. HE had the Tier 3 vocabulary word and used it while I had chosen a Tier 2 word. However, Elijah had known the Tier 2 word...ramp...and at school when taught inclined plane with a definition of ramp he had known it and learned it. SO many of these kids don't have the tier 2 vocabulary to understand the tier 3 academic vocabulary they are being taught.

The other thing we have to do is expect more from them in regards to speaking and using sentences. Don't accept pointing when they want something or accept ONE word. Great they used the word, but "feed" them the sentence and help them practice and expect it every time. I did this with Elijah and didn't even KNOW I was doing it. Now when he asks things like "what is the number today?" I say "What is the date?". He repeats it and we move on. I don't have to spend a LONG time teaching him to repeat what I say and he learns it. It may take several weeks, but he always does. I do this with my students, but they need their parents to do it too!

I am glad to say that even after 19 years of teaching hearing impaired students and almost 10 years of being a parent of a hearing impaired child that I have learned something NEW. I am hoping that when I talk to parents I can turn them on to these ideas. We have to set high expectations and we have to HELP these kids meet these expectations. Elijah uses words like inclined plane, natural resources, chewbacca, darth vader, studs(from the game), character, remote, obstacle course and so on. He still needs me to "teach" him but I don't have to set up a lesson, I just have to be on the look out for those vocabulary words he needs. The newest one has been VILLAN. I heard it the other day and though, wow, we always use the words "bad guys" to explain the bad guys. Lets up the ante and use the words villan. It came up during a Star Wars Wii game and I just started talking about Darth Vader being a villan...a bad the joker is a villan on Batman and so on. I then used the word over several days. He has not used it, but he has heard it and if he reads it hopefully he will relate it to those Tier 2 words...."bad guys".

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