Thursday, April 14, 2005

HiP Chat Pals

Website/Project Review: HiP Chat Pals

Found at: http://www.hipworks.org/hipchatpals/index.html


The above website is produced by HiP Publishers, a nonprofit organization that develops print and electronic material for deaf and hard of hearing students. This particular website offers information on how to start a "Chat Pal" program between your classroom and another classroom of deaf and hard of hearing students. The site offers information on how to get started, specific information for teachers, and information on available chat programs. Although it is aimed at middle school aged children, I believe it could be used for upper elementary school children as well. However, if used with younger children the teacher would have to be more specific about what was required, expectations, and strictly monitor its use.

The idea behind this website is that students will partake in a thirteen week long "Chat Pal" program in which they communicate via Internet resources with other students across the country who are deaf and hard of hearing. Through interaction with other students of the same age and reading/writing level, students will be able to discuss specific topics (assigned by teachers most of the time) while enhancing their reading and writing skills in an authentic atmosphere. My personal experience with teaching deaf and hard of hearing students leads me to support the use of authentic reading and writing. Many times deaf and hard of hearing students are presented with literacy instruction that tries to drill into their heads the rules and mechanics of written English; deaf and hard of hearing students (for the most part) have very little authentic experience or meaningful interaction with language. Furthermore, using the "Chat Pals" can increase motivation to write well because students know that someone other than the teacher will be reading their responses and if they want their "Chat Pal" to understand their responses, students need to be very careful to make their writing clear. Printing out the chats also allows teachers to directly address individual needs in writing, because the printed chats can provide an ongoing record of student improvement--both strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, student vocabulary words can be chosen from the writing of their "Chat Pals" by using individual words from their partner's writing students did not know. This makes learning literacy, reading and writing, meaningful to both sets of deaf and hard of hearing students.

However, in order for an activity like this to occur safely and be meaningful, both teachers involved would have to have a high level of communication, high level of monitoring of student chats, and support from administration and parents. Furthermore, teachers would have to have set aside time in their day (at the same time if it is to be real-time chatting) for chats to occur, be covering similar topics to make discussion meaningful and educational, have the appropriate technology available (which the website lists), and have technical support for when things go wrong (they always do). Moreover, this activity is not necessarily an innovation in the making. This is an everyday use of technology for the mainstream being adapted to use with deaf and hard of hearing students. For further information on how to set such a program up or more detailed ideas on its integration one could visit the website above or probably other "keypal" type website on the Internet. This is an educational use of technology that is easily adaptable to use with deaf and hard of hearing students, but it is important to remember that it would require a great amount of time and dedication on the part of both teachers for it to work to its fullest potential.

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