Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Cognitive/Social Development and Educational Interpreting
Preschool and Kindergarten Years – Ages 4-5
By the time children are 4 years old they know a lot about the world and how people behave. Although children at this age do not typically have interpreters, there are aspects of cognitive development that serve as an important foundation for later learning.
Theory of Mind – Understanding How We Think
One important development is an understanding that we all do not think alike. Before age 4, children have difficulty distinguishing what they know from what someone else knows. They approach the world from a somewhat egocentric perspective. If I saw mommy spill the milk, then daddy must know about it too – even though he never saw it. But by age 4 to 5, many children have figured out that what they think can be very different from what someone else thinks. This concept is critically important for social development and for understanding even preschool storybooks.
Often researchers call these skills a Theory of Mind, because children finally have an idea, or theory, about how the mind works. They understand that other people’s minds can be different from their own. When children develop a Theory of Mind, they are better able to interpret, predict, and influence other people’s emotional responses and behaviors.
Interactive Play – Learning to Play With Others
At 4 and 5, children also begin to play with peers interactively. They can play cooperatively with a peer, using language to orient to a common goal, such as pretending that they are playing house. They direct each other, “You be the mommy, and I’ll be the daddy.” Children at this age love dramatic play where they engage in make-believe. This type of play is particularly valuable because it supports cognitive and social development
These two sets of skills help children develop social understanding. During this age, children learn to negotiate and play with peers. They learn to solve conflicts with peers. They begin to move from ineffective problem-solving skills, such as hitting or ordering other children, to more effective negotiation and interaction.
Interpreter or Direct Communication
Many professionals question whether children at this age should have an interpreter, advocating that the interpreter, or another fluent signer, should act more as a teacher shadow. The interpreter listens to the teacher, but conveys the communication first person. Instead of interpreting the teacher, the interpreter uses direct communication with the child.
This approach may be far less confusing for a young preschooler. Rather than understanding that the interpreter is just a surrogate, the preschooler sees the interpreter as another “teacher” in the classroom.
Of course, most educational interpreters do not have the training to be the actual teacher. They are just shadowing the general education teacher. In order to do this, the interpreter must be familiar with the teacher’s goals and how she fosters cognitive development. The “shadow teacher” should present a parallel version of the classroom curriculum.
An educational interpreter should shadow a teacher only with direct supervision from the teacher. In no circumstances should the interpreter develop his/her own lessons and objectives.
Understanding the Interpreter is Not the Speaker
Language, communication, and interaction are all essential for a child to develop Theory of Mind skills and to be able to play interactively with other children. However, a child at this age may have difficulty understanding that the interpreter is actually communicating what other people are saying. It is hard for the child to understand that although the interpreter is talking, it is really what her friend Mary is saying.
Interpreters should be clear about who is speaking. Often interpreters assume that the child knows that the teacher is talking – after all, the teacher is speaking and the other children are looking at the teacher. But this may not be apparent to a young child with hearing loss, especially if he/she has emerging Theory of Mind skills.
Educational interpreters also should make it clear when other children are speaking. If the interpreter does not say who is speaking, it may be impossible for the child to understand that it is another child talking and not the teacher or interpreter. The educational interpreter should have name signs for the other peers in the class, or fingerspell names. Pointing to the speaker is often not sufficient and forces the child to look away from the interpreter to see who he/she is pointing to.