Assess for progress: Writing and assessing content vocabulary

by Amanda Dunaway, MSDE, CED, LSLS Cert. AVEd

When it comes to teaching content classes such as math, science or social studies, teachers of the deaf teach students how to think about ideas. Students must learn how to think through and visualize advanced academic concepts such as friction acting on gravity or the impact of technology on agricultural economics. The comprehension of concepts adds a definitive layer of complexity to a listening and spoken language curriculum. While rote learning can be a good starting ground, students should not be allowed to solely memorize language and vocabulary.  Students must use listening and spoken language to describe math processes, explain science concepts and retell history.

Content-driven language lesson plans combine language, vocabulary and academics at students’ language and academic level. It is critical that new concepts and/or new vocabulary are taught at the student’s expressive language level. For example, Billy’s expressive language consists of simple sentences of 4-6 words. To teach Billy about the water cycle, consider these 2 options:

  1. Heat from the sun causes water in lakes and oceans to evaporate. Liquid water turns into a gas called water vapor.
  2. Heat from the sun evaporates water. Liquid water turns into water vapor. Water vapor is a gas.

Both options teach the same content, but option 2 is a better target for Billy because it is within his expressive language level: simple sentences of 4- 6 words.

Some children who are deaf or hard of hearing become skilled in reciting memorized definitions in response to familiar questions.  If you are unsure if a child has comprehension try rephrasing a familiar question to see if the student can still provide a grammatically correct answer. Some other comprehension strategies include letting the student play “teacher” by teaching the class about the topic, giving a presentation without notes, making a video of a science experiment or creating a comic strip describing a historical event.

Because it is important  to ensure the students are learning the content and not just memorizing it, take extra care to assess their comprehension through talking, writing, and creating. But it can be challenging to assess if students comprehend a concept. Using the chart below, teachers can assess and describe how a student uses the targeted language and vocabulary.

  1. Does the student demonstrate receptive comprehension of the concept, vocabulary word or language target? Talking through experiments or other activities, writing about a process, and creating a project can help you assess whether the student comprehends the target.
  2. Can the student imitate the target with all the appropriate grammatical markers? If not, this is a good time to reassess your targets to make sure they are at the student’s expressive language level.
  3. Can the student be prompted to talk about the target? Is the student expressing the concept correctly, but using incorrect grammar or omitting key words?
  4. Does the student use the word spontaneously and correctly in a discussion about the topic? Can the student provide a grammatically correct answer to a question about the topic?

In the small boxes next to each target or in the comments section, you’ll want to note if each vocabulary target is emerging or mastered.  Download your blank copy of this form on our website to use with one student.  Create a similar one using this example to use with more than one student.

Amanda Dunaway has worked in the Virginia J. Browning Primary School at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) for over 10 years currently serving as the Instructional Facilitator. In 2009 she became a certified Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS Cert. AVEd). Amanda teaches Math and Content Instruction for Children who are Deaf/HH for the Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine. Her professional interests include elementary content curriculum, executive function skills in students who are deaf/hard of hearing, teacher preparation, and educational technology. She is a CODA (child of a deaf adult) and a SODA (sibling of a deaf adult).

4 replies
  1. Nidhi
    Nidhi says:

    Hello Ms.Dunaway,

    I am currently developing a science unit on animal diversity for first graders in a school for the Deaf. I am a student teacher, and have been thinking about how to ensure all my students are mastering the content vocabulary they need to be be able to comprehend the content. I think an important piece of this is making sure I am supporting them to build content vocabulary in developmentally appropriate ways, and meeting them where they are at.

    I agree that students need to engage with the vocabulary in several different hands-on ways to be able to build up to producing the words correctly and spontaneously. I think your chart will be very helpful to use to document student progress, and to be able to design lessons to respond to how they currently use the specific targets.

    Thank you for sharing this valuable assessment resource!


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