Looking at Educational Interpreting Theory: Course Content and Rationale Used in a Training Program for Educational Interpreters

Patti Togioka 
Western Oregon State College
I am excited to be here today to share the course content I have developed for the theory portion of our Educational Interpreting Program at Western Oregon State College. I hope that you will continue this dialogue with me after my presentation, so that we can explore in depth this topic, which is of such importance to deaf children across the country today and for years to come. As a member of the Oregon Senate Interpreting Bill #744 Committee, I was impressed by the 1990 interpreter working conditions statistics gathered by Oregon Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf about interpreters in our state. Of the 87 respondents to the statewide survey, 62% (N=54) were working as interpreters in K-12 educational settings. Twenty-two % (N=19) were employed in post secondary educational settings and 16% (N=14) worked freelancing. Only 2 persons surveyed were paid as staff interpreters. The survey was widely distributed throughout the state and the results are considered to be representative. K-12th grade interpreters tended to be non-certified (87%) and had not passed the RID written test (91 %). A large number of freelance interpreters had ten or more years of interpreting experience (71 %) while eighty-two percent of K-12 interpreters had less than 10 years of experience (over half actually had five years or less experience interpreting). These statistics point to the need for qualified interpreters in the educational setting who possess sufficient interpreting skill and experience to be language models for young students who are developing linguistically. As many of you are aware, this continues to be a serious problem. However, another area of great concern is the fact that while so many interpreters end up in K-12 educational settings, there remains a lack of training opportunities for them specifically related to the unique settings in which they are employed. Western Oregon State College is one of only a pair of programs in the country designed to train educational interpreters to work in pre-college programs.
As a certified teacher of the deaf with experience in mainstreamed, itinerant and residential programs; an RID certified interpreter who has worked as an educational interpreter; an experienced college instructor in Early Childhood Education, Educational Aiding and Parent Education, as well as Educational Interpreting and a supervising teacher at the Oregon School for the Deaf, I have been able to meld my knowledge and experience to create a two-term sequence of 3 credit courses. I would like to say up front that I do not feel that the number of credit hours devoted to educational interpreting theory is sufficient. This is a starting point; however, that I would like to present for your consideration.
The first term is devoted to providing general information about regular and special education as well as deafness. It also looks at the distinct role of each member of the educational team including the interpreter, classroom teacher and specialists.
The second term focuses on the “nitty-gritty” needs the educational interpreter will face the following term during internship in a classroom as well as on the job after program completion. By this time, the students are very aware of the fact that they will soon be in a classroom and will need specific skills in order to do a good job.
Students do not use a specific textbook. Instead, they receive a large packet of reading materials with recently published information regarding each topic, including developmental charts, tutoring lesson plans and timely articles and research.
Let’s look, now, at the topics presented each term in more depth.
Since “Educational Interpreting: Classroom Theory and Techniques I” is designed to provide an overview of information regarding deafness and the educational process, it focuses on the following competencies:

  1. Understanding the distinct role of each member of the multi-disciplinary team involved in providing services in a mainstreamed setting.
  2. Demonstrating awareness of the variety of program options available to deaf or hard of hearing youth.
  3. Knowledge of the key features and impact of laws related to deafness and education in general.
  4. Exposure to hearing aids and other assistive communication devices.
  5. Knowledge of the possible effects of hearing loss on educational achievement.
  6. An understanding of the different types of educational records in use, the importance of confidentiality, and practice performing basic record keeping functions.
  7. Knowledge of note taking techniques.
  8. Exposure to the IEP process to gain an understanding of roles within that process and the components of a legal IEP (through a simulated IEP).
  9. Knowledge of to day’s instructional trends in general education and the education of the deaf.
  10. Continuing growth in the understanding of the unique responsibilities and importance of the role played by the educational interpreter/classroom aide.
  11. Practice making an “Educational Interpreter’s Notebook” which contains special sections to record important information and notes.

A unique aspect of the course is the use of specific methods of teaching. Each class session is taught using one of the popular techniques used in today’s classrooms. For example, one lesson uses the discovery approach, another uses Instructional Theory Into Practice (ITIP), another may rely on a cooperative learning strategy. In this way the students are able to “experience learning” through each technique. This information and hands-on experience is then used in two sections of the course: first, when explaining current educational trends; second, and more importantly, when being taught each of the twelve instructional methods used by all teachers. The students analyze each instructional method which has been used with them to determine what interpreting strategies would work best for each teaching technique.
“Educational Interpreting: Classroom Theory and Techniques II” provides the real “meat” of instruction by looking at the educational environment in depth and by providing specific skills to enable students to act as valued members of the educational team. Because the role of an educational interpreter/aide is both interpreter and aide/tutor, special, unique competencies are required. As stated earlier, not only must the E.I./aide be proficient in sign language and the process of interpreting to linguistically developing children, he or she must also possess the same expertise a regular classroom aide/tutor possesses. The unique nature of deafness requires the skilled paraprofessional to understand and mediate cultural/linguistic differences as well as to develop the ability to use techniques tailored for visually-based learning. Whether you may believe that an educational interpreter should act as an aide or tutor; or whether, in fact, an educational interpreter actually does work as an aide or tutor, it is imperative to remember that any professional or paraprofessional working with children must possess strong skills in working with young and growing persons. The objectives of the second term relate to these considerations and include:

  1. A review of various sign systems and philosophies used in educational programs with deaf and hard of hearing youngsters including the concept of bi -cultural/bilingual education.
  2. Discussion of the stages of development for spoken language and visual language.
  3. Linguistic theory regarding the components of all languages, the “Whole Language Approach” and the importance of providing a complete linguistic message.
  4. Knowledge regarding the seven language stimulation techniques parents use to non-judgmentally correct and enhance their children’s linguistic efforts.
  5. An awareness of the work of researchers studying natural signed interactions of deaf youngsters and their Deaf parents to increase awareness of methods of supporting the natural and emerging linguistic development of children.
  6. Exposure to Transformational Grammar and the concept of rewriting written language.
  7. Information related to stages of child development.
  8. Knowledge of additional handicapping conditions and their possible impact on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.
  9. Practice using specific behavior management techniques and effective communication strategies.
  10. Information regarding the twelve methods of instruction teachers utilize, an explanation of the instructional goals for each method , and a description of the most effective methods of interpreting each instructional strategy.
  11. Discussion regarding fundamental tutoring techniques, the tutoring environment and the duties of an educational aide.

Once students have been exposed to educational theory, they are ready to begin working more directly with deaf students. Ideally, these novice interpreters would be able to spend one year with a “mentor” who could help guide them through the rough first year. Knowledge of theory is the base, an understanding in the “heart” regarding children along with technical signing skills adds dimension, while time and practice seasons the interpreter, allowing him or her to become a positive and enriching member of the educational team.