Prof. Connie Mayer leads international research on advancing literacy for deaf children

Professor Connie Mayer in York U’s Faculty of Education has launched an international research initiative to enable deaf children to develop better societal understanding and more advanced social negotiation skills, leading to more intuitive written skills.

Connie Mayer
Connie Mayer

Mayer, a world-leading expert in developing literacy in deaf children, launched the program during a teaching conference for deaf education specialists organized by The University of Manchester, in England. Teachers of the deaf from seven local authorities in the North West are to take part in the initiative.

The aim of the program is to translate the ground-breaking work the University of Manchester’s Deaf Education team is doing on Theory of Mind (ToM) into practical development of deaf children’s written narrative skills.

Theory of Mind explores the way children develop a sense of perspective to negotiate social situations – such as tempering criticism, or even the truth, to safeguard the feelings of others. Deaf children sometimes find the usually innate skills of ToM difficult to understand as development often hinges on language exposure which provides access to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Mayer was attracted to the project following the well-received work the University of Manchester’s Lecturer Helen Chilton and Professor Wendy McCracken have conducted into ToM, particularly in the deaf education setting.

“I have been following the truly remarkable work of Helen and Wendy for several years; their understanding of the practical development of Theory of Mind is so advanced I know we will be able to bring our collective skills together to create an order of magnitude change in deaf education and the development of skills deaf children need to be successful going forward,” Mayer said.

The project will enable the teachers of the deaf across a pilot group of seven local Manchester authorities to learn practical ways to introduce both Theory of Mind-based teaching and the advances Mayer has made in developing children’s written narrative skills.

The results of the pilot group will be shared with other local Manchester authorities, leading to an expected England-wide roll-out of the resulting combined teaching theories.

Helen Chilton said, “Our project to understand how deaf children can demonstrate and grow their Theory of Mind skills in their written work is the first of its kind in the world. The fusion of Theory of Mind and Dr. Mayer’s written narrative teaching will result in vital opportunities for enabling deaf children to develop better social negotiation skills – a developmental area almost entirely overlooked by the traditional teaching establishment.

“At the University of Manchester we believe that the only limitations for deaf children are those that are placed on them by others in society,” Chilton said. “This study will enable teachers to use deaf children’s writing opportunities in unique and novel ways. The training and research will enable them to identify deaf children’s starting points and developmental progression in this often ‘fuzzy’ but absolutely vital area of social cognition.”

The deaf education specialists taking part in the conference are from The Wirral, Staffordshire, Trafford, Salford, Tameside, East Riding of Yorkshire and Cheshire East councils in England.