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Constructivism and

Schema Learning Theories

in Deaf Education

Kelly Trozzo

Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

The purpose of this paper is to compare learning theories in the area of deaf education. Well
look at the behaviorist, constructivist, and schema learning theories; specifically, how they apply
to educating students with hearing loss. There are four main questions were going to answer:
How does learning occur? What are the learning outcomes? How is learning applied to other
areas? And, is the theory applicable in a bilingual/bicultural learning environment?
This is a very important topic due to the fact that there are now many options available for
educating students with hearing loss. In the past, these students have been contained to schools
for the deaf, or resource rooms in their home school districts. In the schools for the deaf,
education was delivered strictly in spoken English or strictly in American Sign Language. Now,
students with hearing loss are integrated in the mainstream classroom with their hearing peers, or
in schools for the deaf where instruction is provided using a bilingual/bicultural approach in
which instruction is provided in both American Sign Language as well as spoken English. The
students are exposed to both hearing and Deaf cultures.
The question is: How do the constructivist and schema learning theories fit into deaf education?
Literature Review
Deaf bilingual-bicultural education is defined by Mason and Ewoldt as the incorporation of
native sign language and the written majority language as the principle languages of
communication and instruction. (Mason & Ewoldt, 1996). The objective is to promote relations
between education and real life experiences and values as well as to help deaf students appreciate
that they are different rather than deficient (Mason & Ewoldt, 1996). The deaf bilingual-
Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

bicultural education recognizes the Deaf and hearing cultures as distinguishable and definable
phenomena and enhances mutual respect between deaf and hearing people (Mason & Ewoldt,
1996). To be ASL-English bilingual, a student doesnt have to be fluent in both languages.
The reading abilities of students with hearing loss are well below that of their peers.
Approximately half of all students with hearing loss graduate below a fourth grade reading level.
This may not be caused by lack of ability but from instructional weaknesses. In order to solve
this problem, one must first understand working memory and short term memory in students
with hearing loss. In addition to having processing speed deficits, students with hearing loss
have more difficulty with sequential memory processing tasks in regard to digits, printed words,
pictures, American Sign Language, spoken English, fingerspelled words, and spoken English
words (Hamilton, 2011). Another concern is attention. Students with hearing loss are highly
attuned to information in peripheral vision causing movement on either side of the student or the
teacher to be distorting (Hamilton, 2011). However, these students strength is in recalling
information presented in static visuospatial format, or presenting a visual array such as blocks on
a table or objects on a grid (Hamilton, 2011).
The constructivist theory states that learning occurs when ideas are constructed through
collaboration and social interaction. Students have to understand themselves and others around
them before they can start learning the curriculum (Powell, 2009). Communication is key and
everyone must be on the same common ground. The outcome is for students to learn about
themselves, and then apply what they have learned in real world situations. This is also how
learning is applied to other areas. This theory is applicable in a bilingual/bicultural learning
Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

In the schema theory, learning occurs by relating what you are teaching to something that is
meaningful to the student; something they already know. The outcome is that it provides the
underlying structure for organizing problems which leads to effective problem solving. Learning
is applied to other areas by supporting multiple ways to solve problems. This theory is also
applicable in a bilingual/bicultural learning environment.
What does this all mean? The research shows that students with hearing loss are at a serious
disadvantage. The bilingual/bicultural approach is used to bridge the gap between education and
real life experiences. The constructivist and schema learning theories fit right into this approach.
Constructivism looks at cultural differences, and helps the students learn about themselves and
the people around them. These are the same cultural differences that students with hearing loss
face every day. When they attend school, they are submersed in Deaf culture. They
communicate using American Sign Language. After graduation, they go out into the real world
where they are expected to read English (which is completely different than ASL), communicate
with people who communicate using spoken English (they do not know ASL), and live and work
with them in harmony. The bilingual/bicultural approach helps s\these students to learn about
hearing culture and learn English while they are still in school, so they can have an easier
transition into the hearing world. Constructivism also uses scaffolding to help students learn.
They are given the extra support they need at the beginning, and as they learn, the support is
slowly removed until the students can perform the task independently.
The schema theory plays a large role here as well. It can also be used in conjunction with the
constructivist theory. The schema theory involves connecting the lesson to something the
Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

student already knows. Cultural differences are key here. For example, I grew up, and attended
college, in an extremely rural area. I did my student teaching in the inner city. I was in culture
shock. One student told me that he left his homework in the jitney. I had to ask another teacher
what a jitney was. The same holds true for a student. If a student is from the inner city, he will
most likely suffer the same type of culture shock if he is placed in a rural school. His learning
needs to be individualized to fit his cultural needs; what he already knows. We can now transfer
this over to Deaf culture. The language of the Deaf is very visual. The lessons need to be
presented in a visual manner and applied to what the student already knows.
In conclusion, the constructivist and schema theories fit quite nicely into deaf education.
Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

DeLana, M., Gentry, M., & Andrews, J. (2007). The Efficacy of ASL/English Bilingual
Education: onsidering Public Schools. American Annals of the Deaf, 152(1), 73-87.
Retrieved February 20, 2013 , from
Hamilton, H. (2011). Memory Skills of Deaf Learners: Implications and Applications. American
Annals of the Deaf, 156(4), 402-423. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from
Jitendra, A. K., Star, J. R., Rodriguez, M., Lindell, M., & Someki, F. (2011). Improving
Students' Thinking Using Schema-Based Instruction. Learning and Instruction, 21, 731-
745. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
Jitendra, A. K., Star, J. R., Starosta, K., Leh, J. M., Sood, S., Caskie, G., . . . Mack, T. R. (2009).
Improving Seventh Grade Students' Learning of Ratio and Proportion: The Role of
Schema-Based Instruction. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34, 250-264.
Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
Mason, D., & Ewoldt, C. (1996). Whole Language and Deaf Bilingual-Bicultural Education -
Naturally! American Annals of the Deaf, 141(4), 293-298. Retrieved February 20, 2013 ,
Matthews, W. J. (2003). Constructivism in the Classroom: Epistemology, History, and Empirical
Evidence. Teacher Educatoin Quartely, 30(3), 51-64. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from
Miller, M. S. (2010). Epistemoloy and People Who Are Deaf: Deaf Worldviews, Views of the
Deaf World, or My Parents Are Hearing. American Annals of the Deaf, 032(3), 479-485.
Retrieved February 20, 2013, from
Final Paper
Kelly Trozzo

Powell, K. J. (2009). Cognitive and Social Constructivism: Developing Tools For An Effective
Classroom. Education, 130(2), 241-250. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from