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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) persons are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). One of the major barriers to STEM careers is DHH students’ extremely low college graduation rates. While social and literacy barriers play a critical role in this phenomenon, student autonomy has also been cited as a major contributor. DHH students have been characterized as dependent learners, a learning style possibly reinforced by reliance on adults for disproportionate amounts of information, as well as a tendency of deaf educators to teach in highly structured, explicit manners. Dependent learning styles can impede autonomy at the college level and also run counter to current conceptualizations of scientific inquiry. For DHH students to succeed in science, they must develop habits of mind consistent with those of practicing scientists and demonstrate high levels of inquiry. This study utilized frameworks of learning style and science inquiry to identify the salient features of autonomy and inquiry in deaf science classrooms with the goal of isolating pedagogical strategies to foster these skills. Applying a general inductive approach, this instrumental cross-case study looks at three earth science classrooms located in three high schools for deaf students. Videos of instructional periods were taken and analyzed for each classroom. Findings suggest that teacher facilitation of inquiry plays a major role in DHH students’ apparent learning style and ability to negotiate scientific problem-solving. A model describing teacher facilitation of autonomy and inquiry is developed and recommendations for fostering inquiry and autonomy are identified.