Action Research in the Classroom with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

The issue

Recent U.S. legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), calls for educators to use student performance data and evidence-based instructional strategies to guide individual instruction. Student performance data comes from language, literacy, and content area assessments. One way that educators can accomplish this mandate is through action research. Action research is a process that uses teaching and student performance data to provide effective and efficient instruction. A “teachers-as-researchers” framework has emerged as a frequent approach to action research within the classroom.

What we know

Within this approach, teachers identify areas of educational need for specific students based on Individual Education Program (IEP) goals and objectives, student performance data, observations, and input from other educators and research-based literature. First, teachers identify a student’s level of performance in a specific area , such as vocabulary identification, addition with regrouping, or time on task using a baseline assessment. These data tell the teacher how the student performs without a specific intervention. Next, the teacher introduces an evidence-based instructional intervention, such as pairing printed vocabulary words with signs, fingerspelling, and student-drawn pictures or student self-monitoring and self-graphing of time on task. The teacher collects data on how effective the intervention is based on the student’s performance when the intervention is present. Based on student performance data, teachers can adjust their instructional strategies as needed to make learning more efficient and effective for individual learners.

A teacher might begin action research with assessment to determine how to teach Sammy grade-level sight words. She might:

  1. Assess Sammy’s performance on a list of 50 grade-level, high-frequency sight words
  2. Document words he currently does not know
  3. Construct a learning objective like “Sammy will correctly sign 10 sight words with 80% accuracy across 2 out of 3 trials” based on her experience with Sammy’s learning rate
  4. Divide the remaining 40 unknown words into sets of 10
  5. Provide direct instruction with examples, non-examples, student-created drawings, and repeated practice for each word
  6. Assess Sammy’s knowledge of the 10 sight words every day before and after instruction by quickly documenting words he signs correctly when presented with each in print
  7. Show Sammy how to self-graph his correct number of words each day so he can self-monitor his learning progress.

This process provides data on words Sammy already learned so that instructional time is maximized for his current unknown words. It also uses Sammy’s daily data to determine when he has mastered each set of 10 words (i.e., signed 8 of them correctly at least two out of three opportunities). Finally, it includes Sammy in monitoring his own learning through self-graphing.

Action research may involve a team of teachers and stakeholders, such as the child’s parents, members of the child’s IEP team, and/or members of the Deaf community who can provide insight on effective instructional practices. For example, deaf teachers might bring their instructional experience to action research, including the communication, language, literacy, and instructional strategies they used as students or that they use when working with deaf students to meet those students’ individual needs. Additionally, co-researchers can bypass geographical and linguistic barriers via technology such as videophone, video relay, online video-chat options (e.g., Zoom), or instant messaging. Finally, confidentiality related to the action research study must be maintained across co-researchers.

What we don’t know

While some publications are available that highlight action research in the classroom, questions remain. These may be related to the most effective action research study designs to obtain desired results, how to find qualified co-researchers, co-researchers’ defined roles on the team, how to identify evidence-based instructional strategies for specific academic or behavioral objectives, etc.


Action research presents a readily-applicable road map to document students’ present levels of performance and their rates of learning once an intervention is implemented. These data can be shared with IEP team members when discussing each student’s strengths and needs. Finally, action research adds to the evidence base for effective instructional strategies across diverse deaf learners.

Posted on October 2, 2018 by
Jennifer S. Beal
Valdosta State University
jsbeal {at}


Further reading