Curriculum Development for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

The issue


In many countries deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students increasingly attend regular schools. Special schools for the deaf often deal with students who have more complex needs. Achieving school success, for both groups of learners, requires the delivery of a feasible and sound educational program. Such a program guarantees that specific topics will be taught regardless of the specific teacher, and that there will be sufficient time to teach and learn content adequately. This requires suitable curricula and learning materials. For DHH students, this seems even more important, given the fact that their knowledge bases often are less well developed in both quantitative (number of concepts) and qualitative (cohesion and consistency of the network of concepts) terms. Well-structured curricula and teaching materials, as well as appropriately trained teachers, may accommodate the specific needs of DHH students, who are not simply hearing students who cannot hear. Unfortunately, these curricula and teaching materials are often lacking. This raises questions about the quality of deaf education, the facilitation of continuous development, adaptive teaching, and effective didactic practices to deliver curricular content. A collaborative approach to curriculum development makes it possible to start addressing these questions in a more structured and substantiated way.

What we know

Often, teachers of DHH students develop lessons or adapt mainstream curricula and/or learning materials each on their own (in the U.S., they often have to accommodate state curriculum standards as well). These individual practices are, at best, inefficient, and, at worst, result in badly structured, maladaptive, curricula and materials. Designing and adapting curricula and materials requires a collaborative approach involving both teachers and curriculum experts. In this way, expertise is pooled and shared, focusing on the development of curricula and teaching materials based on relevant educational theories and building on good teaching practices. The expertise that is needed taps on knowledge about teaching DHH learners, but equally so on knowledge about curriculum development, the latter not being automatically available in deaf education. An example of a successful collaborative approach to curriculum and materials development in deaf education is Sprong Vooruit (Leap Forward), the national curriculum development initiative in the Netherlands. This initiative includes linguists, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, sign language teachers, and supervisors from schools of the deaf. Some of them also are involved in research. Together, their knowledge and experience bridges the gap between research and practice. Over the years (since 1999), their efforts have led to the design of curricula for Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN), spoken and written Dutch and Deaf culture, teachers’ manuals and teaching materials for SLN (preschool and grade 1-6), spoken and written Dutch (grade 1-6), and Deaf culture (grade 1- end of secondary school), and of Reading Miles, a toolkit with abundant digital reading materials (grade 2-6). This Dutch initiative shows that collaborative development of curricula and materials is a feasible way to proceed and that it results in products that are judged by teachers of DHH students as highly effective.

What we don’t know

So far, the effectiveness of specific curricula and teaching materials for teaching DHH learners in regular and special schools has been studied primarily by collecting teachers’ introspective judgments. The direct effects of these curricula and materials on the actual learning process, if available at all, also needs to be studied in order to strengthen the evidence base of specific design characteristics or adaptations.


Effective education of DHH students calls for highly specialized knowledge about a relatively small group of learners. This also holds for the development of curricula and learning materials for them. Regular publishers of education materials typically are not interested in developing products for this small group for financial reasons. Thus, there is a need for the field of deaf education itself to fulfill this task. This can only be done in feasible and effective ways through intensive cooperation, preferably in national contexts, building networks of relevant experts from inside and outside the field of deaf education. Partners need to include professional editors, information and communication technology experts, illustrators, and writers, delivering additional expertise needed for curriculum development. Efficient and effective use of curricula and teaching needs to be based on adequate design, but profits subsequently from proper implementation and from monitoring effects on both teachers and DHH learners.

Posted on January 12, 2015 by
Annet De Klerk and Harry Knoors
Kentalis Academy
a.deklerk {at}
h.knoors {at}

Further reading