January 2016

January 2016

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It’s hard to believe that I am already into 6th month of Bush Fellowship. 

Considering the first semester as a full time PhD student I would say it has been nothing short of a very positive and successful experience. 

I had an opportunity to get to know my cohorts as well the professors in my Educational Psychology program. Beyond that, I also had an opportunity to expand my academic and professional network outside of my academic web of contacts.

The professors in my Educational Psychology program are true experts and well versed with current and realistic pedagogical scholarships. Most of them had on-hands experience working with children in academic environments. I am utmost fortunate to be professed with the erudition by those exemplar scholars. Not only are they armed with the ammunition of their specialized expertise, but they also offer emotional support. 

Rewind to the first three months of my fellowship. I’ve read a few articles that are laden with research pertaining to my studies and research. I was curious to know if implicit and explicit learning does in fact impact the literacy among Deaf and Hard of Hearing young children. One article that was published in Cognitive Science in 1998, written by Axel Cleerman who brought this question into the light: “Can we learn without awareness?”1 While the current consensus answer is more likely to be ‘no,’ there is, however, considerable ongoing debate about the role that consciousness plays in cognition and about the nature of consciousness itself. In this article, we review recent advances in the field of implicit learning, based on three perspectives: empirical findings (including neuropsychological evidence), methodological issues, and theoretical positions (including computational models). The overall picture that emerges is complex and reflects a field that is very much in flux: While it seems undeniable that cognition involves some form of unconscious processing, it is as yet unclear how to best separate conscious and unconscious influences on learning, and how to best think about the status of ‘cognitive unconscious.’ It is suggested that implicit learning is best construed as a complex form of priming taking place in continuously learning neural systems, and that the distributional knowledge so acquired can be causally efficacious in the absence of awareness that this knowledge was acquired or that it is currently influencing processing; that, in the absence of metaknowledge. 

With these aforementioned findings, I am wondering if one has an opportunity to do the research to parallelize how the consciousness plays in the cognition of Deaf children and most importantly how do Deaf children learn implicitly if there is no access to American Sign Language (ASL) at home. More than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents.2 It is unsurprisingly known fact that a majority of those hearing parents do not know ASL. 

Fast forward to the last three months. I learned two important views about teaching.  

The first view states that content knowledge is more important for the expert teacher. According to this view, detailed and thorough knowledge of the area they teach is what makes teachers experts. This detailed knowledge enables teachers to plan creative lessons that motivate and illuminate the subject matter for their students. 

The second view points out that the knowledge about teaching is more important for the expert teacher. This view states that no matter how well a teacher knows the area being taught, the teacher will be ineffective if he or she lacks direct knowledge about how to teach, also called pedagogical knowledge. 

However I have a third view, a synthesis. In low incidence classrooms, especially in Deaf education I find that both views are equally essential because deaf children learn new materials in a spatial and visual environment; therefore the teaching style as well as the expertise are different from regular classroom settings.  

To support the visual spatial learning style research, two weeks ago, I got my new iMac along with Panasonic Lumix GH4. I have been practicing editing using the Final Cut Pro. I videographed a model signer using the Chroma background/screen then afterwards using this editing software I removed the background by using the keyer feature and replaced with relevant visual/textual information. In the screenshot below a signer is signing “majors” and I added this picture containing different majors in the background to reflect her sign. In the future I will be doing more serious and complex work to integrate explicit learning pertaining to deaf children.

 Also, I had a share of some frustrations. One is in regards to my PhD endeavor, the sailing has not been a smooth one. I had to weather some storms. The major storm that I’ve been battling is nailing down the research question. Since I have started the doctorate seminar course, I found myself swaying back and forth from my original research question. The challenge is going from a broad topic to a focused topic. Despite the fact that I have been told numerous times that it is to be expected, I found it frustrating because I thought I had everything mapped out. So I met with my advisor and I learned of these steps.

  • Be aware that there are uncertainties and anxieties that you cannot avoid.
  • Get control over your topic by writing about it along the way. Don’t just retype, cut-and-paste, or photocopy sources: Write summaries, critiques, and questions. The more you write as you go, no matter how sketchily, the more confidently you will face that intimidating first draft.
  • Understand the whole process by breaking it into manageable steps, but be aware that those steps are mutually supporting. Once you find a topic and formulate a good research question, you’ll draft and revise more effectively. Conversely, if you anticipate how you will draft and revise, you can more effectively find a problem.
  • Count on your Instructor and classmates to understand your struggles. This Instructor wants you to succeed and you can expect his/her assistance.
  • Set realistic goals. You do something significant when you wind up each step feeling that you have changed what you think and that your readers think you did it soundly, even if they don’t agree. Most importantly, recognize the struggle for this learning experience. Press on, confident that it will turn out OK – perhaps even better than OK.

I was also warned that narrowing my topic is not done by following a step-by-step formula. It is integrated with research. One way to narrow my topic is to learn more about it -- expose myself to background information. Hopefully, as I begin to understand more about my topic, I will see better where I might want to go. Patience is the key, too. 

1.  Cleeremans, A., Destrebecqz, A., & Boyer, M. (1998). Implicit learning: news from the front, 2(10), 587-590.
2.  Mitchell RE, Karchmer MA. Chasing the mythical ten percent: Parental hearing status of deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States. Sign Language Studies. 2004;4(2):138-163.