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Teaching Guide: Exploring Nineteenth-Century Schools for Deaf and Blind Students

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Nineteenth-Century Schools for the Deaf and Blind, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the sermon by Gallaudet, the eulogy for Gallaudet, the report on “Education of the Deaf and Dumb,” and the address by Clerc, as well as outside sources, discuss the main figures influencing education for deaf people in the United States in the early nineteenth century and how their role impacted education methods for deaf people in the United States today.
  2. Using the portrait of Samuel Gridley Howe, Laura Bridgman’s writing guide, the account of the New York Institute of the Blind, identify and describe the various means of communication and instruction of individuals identified as deaf, mute, blind, or deaf and blind. Why were some of these methods considered controversial?
  3. Using the report on “Education of the Deaf and Dumb,” The Lost Senses, the address by Clerc, The Education of Deaf Mutes: Shall It be by Signs or Articulation, Laura Bridgman’s writing guide, the account of the New York Institute of the Blind, James Gall’s book, and the illustration of Laura Bridgman, explain how the teaching of blind people differed from the teaching of deaf people. How were instructional methods and schools similar and different?
  4. Using The Education of Deaf Mutes: Shall It be by Signs or Articulation and the illustration of Laura Bridgman, explain how Braille impacted the education of blind people.
  5. After reviewing the primary sources in this set, consider the barriers faced by children who were blind and/or deaf in the nineteenth century and earlier. Do those same obstacles exist today? Why or why not?

Classroom activities

  1. Divide the class into two groups and assign one group “yes” and one group “no.” Ask the groups to use the primary sources in the set, along with internet resources and database articles, to debate whether residential programs in the nineteenth century provided a better education for students who were deaf, blind, or both than local public schools. Follow up with a discussion about why residential programs were a popular choice in the early nineteenth century, whether residential programs are a popular choice in the education of individuals with disabilities today, and the probable reasons for any changes.
  2. Divide students into small groups and ask each group to gather examples of how technological advances of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have influenced the life and education of people with a sensory disability such as blindness or deafness. Come back together into a full-group discussion about the changes in education made available by technological changes. What differences might these resources make?

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