I.A. Sokolyansky and his methods of teaching children with hearing and visual impairments

General Information

Keywords: conditioned reflex method, motor reactions, deaf-blind-mute, teaching, lip-reading, reflexology, training, skills, joint action

Journal rubric: Theory and Methodology

For citation: Basilova T.A. I.A. Sokolyansky and his methods of teaching children with hearing and visual impairments. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2006. Vol. 2, no. 5 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

It is well known that in 1924 Lev Vygotsky, when asked about the area of the highest usefulness of his ideas, named the development of blind, deaf and mute children. He knew about the success in teaching blind and deaf children in USA, he often referred to the famous Helen Keller in his works. He was well-acquainted with I.A. Sokolyansky’s experience in teaching blind and deaf.

Sokolyansky and Vygotsky were contemporaries and colleagues, but not team-mates. At about the same period they experienced enthusiasm for the theory of conditioned reflexes as the base of human mental development. But later Vygotsky moved away from reflexology towards cultural-historical understanding of psychology, while Sokolyansky remained a reflexologist all his life, even though he denied it many times.

Sokolyansky received education on defectology in the Psychoneurological Institute in Saint Petersburg in 1908—1913. At that time the Psychoneurological Institute under the guidance of the prominent psychiatrist V.M. Bekhterev combined the most advanced researchers in physiology, linguistics and pedagogy. A method of strictly objective observation of a child’s behaviour, mimics, and speech in accordance with external stimuli, a child’s moods and hereditary predisposition was being founded at the Psychoneurological Institute, a method new for that time. Along with studying at the Institute, Sokolyansky completed a course for teachers of deaf and dumb children and got highly interested in developing methods of teaching the deaf and started teaching at the Alexandrovsky Educational Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in the South of Russia. He taught there until 1919 with a three-year interval, when he was drafted to take part in the First World War. Methods of work with the deaf, especially methods of teaching them how to speak, were a source of much distress to him. At that time the prevailing Russian method was oral teaching, and Sokolyansky realized that no great effort of his led to any significant success in his students.

After the Soviet regime was established in the Ukraine, Sokolyansky became one of the most active promoters of education for people there. His first results of the research in teaching the deaf and the deaf and dumb were published during his work in Kharkov in 2030s. He was the author of the so called chain method of teaching lip-reading, a fully reflexological method. For deaf students of the first or second year a chain of well-known school actions was chosen compiled in such a way that at its end children could find themselves at its beginning. There was a particular command given by the teacher for each action in the chain. After the students were seated the teacher showed them with a sign that they were to look at her lips, then pronounced the first command in the chain (“Stand up, students!”) and showed them what they had to do. Then she pronounced the second command, also combining it with the gesture (“Come up to me, students!”), and so on (“Stand up one by one in turns!” or “Stand up in pairs!” etc.) until the students were seated at their desks again. Then more complicated combinations of actions were required, each repeated several times, and after a break the chains were repeated but this time without gestures. The results were noted down, and the average time and number of repetitions required to learn lip-reading were set up.

The next stage was to teach deaf students to read written instructions from the wall posters. The teacher showed with the baton the instructions for the students to follow, first combining it with the gesture, and then without this support. Comparison of the results revealed that written instructions were learned by the students faster than the oral ones for lip-reading. One chain of commands for lip-reading was taken in by children in 12 minutes on average, while the same chain was learned from the poster in 6—7 minutes.

Good results achieved in teaching the deaf by Sokolyansky impressed Vygotsky so much that in 1925 he included Sokolyansky’s method in his individual plan of testing ‘the most interesting contemporary synthetic systems of teaching communication” to the deaf.

At the same time I.A. Sokolyansky was experimenting with this method in the new institution which he established in 1923 for the blind, deaf and dumb children on the basis of the Kharkov School for the blind. Over a few years of his work there with a small group of like-minded colleagues Sokolyansky managed to develop a thorough method of teaching completely blind, deaf and numb children to take care of themselves and to carry out simple everyday tasks.

Methods of work with children at the first stage in teaching, according to Sokolyansky, are “direct-goal” methods. Depending on the individual development of a child, interaction and mutual positioning of an adult and a child are established. A teacher stood behind a child, with the child’s palms on the back of the teacher’s palms. In this position the adult acted using some objects, while the child accompanied the adult’s actions with the movements of his/her own hands, first passively, and then more and more actively. Gradually the adult moved his/her hands above the child’s hands, with the adult’s hands controlling the child’s movements less and less, and the child’s hands becoming more and more active. Finally, the adult’s hands moved away from the child’s hands but the adult went on standing and moving close by in order to help, catch and direct the child’s actions.

All actions in routine behaviour of a blind, deaf and dumb child connected with satisfying his/her physiological needs (eating, sleeping, keeping warm, a need for movements) were organized as a system consisting of “basic skills” interacting as a chain of purposeful links, in which the main elements of routine behaviour are included. The final element in a chain leads to the beginning of a new chain of actions. Mastering the main elements of routine behaviour, a child starts getting orientation in his/her living space, learns how to deal with the objects around. In this process the first means of communication — gestures — were formed.

This method was found highly successful in teaching the basic skills to blind, deaf and dumb children suffering from pedagogical neglect. However, trying to reach independent, purposeful and conscious routine behaviour in these students, Sokolyansky came across extreme inflexibility of behaviour in some students. This discovery led him to the understanding that no skills should be formed as ideal. It was necessary to practice overcoming and finding the way out on the way to reaching the goal. To win over the passive attitude of some students, competitive games were introduced.

Not all blind, deaf and dumb students in Sokolyansky’s school required such dramatic efforts. Some came to study in the school fully ready to be taught how to take care of themselves, with active desire to improve their behaviour, with immense interest in everything around them. For such students, Sokolyansky set forward other priorities: they were expected to “see” as often as they could others around them in the process of carrying out everyday routines. Sokolyansky taught them to observe carefully the actions of people around, helped them form first the notion that everybody is involved in some activity at any time, and at the next stage the goal to learn to read and write. Such a child was then carefully encouraged to observe those children and adults who read using Braille books, and also they were helped to touch those books, to “look” through them. After that the children got help in mastering the alphabet of the blind and reading and writing with it.

That was the most active period in Sokolyansky’s life, and it lasted up until his arrest in 1933. Although he was released from prison after only three months, he was a parolee for three years, and his life changed tragically. In 1937 he was again taken to prison, where he stayed until he was released in 1939. By that moment the building of his school had been confiscated, almost all his students had been moved to the asylum, where they did not get any proper attention and were thus gradually degrading. After his release from prison Sokolyansky was very unwell for half a year and did not leave home. When he got better, he immediately left for Moscow to work in the Research Institute for Specialized Schooling.

Sokolyansky was exculpated and rehabilitated only in 1957. A few years before his death he wrote, “I have never suffered from personal loneliness, but for a long time I have suffered from professional isolation. Naturally I do not blame anyone. Even the so called “circumstances” are not to blame. When I started teaching the blind, deaf and dumb and managed to organize a very decent clinic, I was confident it would attract much attention of the “big” pedagogical science, with which I wanted to get in touch, even tried to impose myself there. Nothing came out of it.”

However, he attracted the attention of the “big” psychology, and the influence of Sokolyansky ‘s pedagogy can be traced in many researches.

Information About the Authors

Tatiana A. Basilova, PhD in Psychology, Professor of the Department of Special Psychology and Rehabilitation, Faculty of Clinical and Special Psychology, Member of the editorial board of the journal “Psychological Science and Education”, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1228-1359, e-mail: bassilova@yandex.ru



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