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Singleton and Crume pursuing study of visual engagement strategies

For deaf children, visual engagement with teachers and peers is critical for successful language development and classroom learning. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, VL2 researcher Jenny Singleton and her graduate student Peter Crume are seeking to understand the nature of visual engagement and how it develops.

In particular, they have examined the strategies that Deaf preschool teachers use to support four year-old deaf children’s development of visual attention and participation in a visual learning community. The researchers documented the teachers’ use of linguistic and nonlinguistic strategies to gain and direct the attention of their deaf preschool students. In these visually complex interactions, the expected focus of students’ attention rapidly shifts among multiple targets (e.g., from the teacher’s signing, to a picture in a book, to a peer’s signing, and then back to the teacher again). Also important were teacher-provided cues that appeared to help students understand the importance of turn-taking in conversation and behavior expectations for a group setting that relies on visual communication. Singleton & Crume’s research aims to help researchers understand how a biological system like visual attention can be influenced by cultural and linguistic practices. This work also has important implications for educators working with deaf children and how they can optimize visual engagement in their classroom practice. In future work, Singleton and her research group will examine the relationship between particular strategies and children’s visual attention and the developmental trajectory of eye gaze functions in classroom discourse.