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Sound education: An ethnographic exploration of power relations in high school classrooms with mainstreamed oral deaf students

Arlene Hijara, University of Massachusetts Amherst


How do oral deaf high school students experience Least Restrictive Environment policies as they participate in mainstream classes with hearing teachers and peers? This study focused on three oral deaf students who did not use sign language. In classes that privileged uses of spoken language, the focal participants communicated with their hearing teachers and peers by speaking, speechreading, and listening with their aided residual hearing. Ethnographic data were collected during semester-long participant observations of two math and two English classes. Data collection methods included audiotaping and videotaping classes, informal interviews, and Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR). During IPR meetings, the researcher and the focal participants analyzed "rich points"—moments when "normal" discourse practices were interrupted, allowing hidden tensions to surface. These rich points were identified by the focal participants themselves and/or by the researcher. The construction of classroom power relations was analyzed using Microethnographic Discourse Analysis (Bloome et al., 2005). This study revealed that the focal participants had learning experiences that were qualitatively different from those of their hearing peers. In particular, they faced challenges that were overlooked by their hearing teachers and peers. During class discussions, the oral deaf students' participation was restricted because they had to visually access verbal exchanges. To make sense of interactions, they had to interpret a series of incomplete signals using speechreading, aided residual hearing, and visual/written prompts. Thus, their participation in discussions was limited. However, when the oral deaf focal participants had opportunities to interact directly with their hearing peers in small group work, they demonstrated their ability to communicate and learn by using personal and contextual resources to engage in language and literacy events with their hearing peers. This study concludes that mainstream classrooms do not automatically become Least Restrictive Environments when oral deaf students are placed in classes with hearing students. Rather, the creation of Least Restrictive Environments for oral deaf students requires the active collaboration of their hearing teachers and peers. Otherwise, mainstream classrooms may become settings where oral deaf students' differences are highlighted, and the goal of mainstreaming—to respect and bridge differences in a diverse classroom—is not achieved.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Hijara, Arlene, "Sound education: An ethnographic exploration of power relations in high school classrooms with mainstreamed oral deaf students" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3337026.