Developing a Theory of Mind
Brenda Schick, in a chapter in the book, Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed, explains how the developing of a Theory of Mind (ToM) is related to educational development for students and how that can be impacted by receiving schooling through an interpreter. Theory of Mind is defined by Wikipedia as “the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.”
Schick argues that an important part of children developing this ability is to see how people talk about certain topics – recognizing that different people will display different emotions. Receiving information through an interpreter can distort the ability to see/hear how other people are conveying information. Based on the EIPA scores of approximately 1,3000 interpreters, she notes the average prosody score for elementary interpreters was 2.8 for elementary interpreters and 3.0 for secondary interpreters. (Many states recognize 4.0 as an overall score denoting being qualified to work in classrooms.) Schick writes of this situation:
Ironically, elementary-aged deaf and hard of hearing children with hearing families, who are likely to be delayed in their Theory of Mind skills and who are still developing their understanding of how minds work, may have the least amount of information in the classroom interpretation to figure out register and identity of the speaker. (pp 77-78)
Interpreters working with students developing a ToM need to be particularly aware of identifying who is speaking in the classroom and providing information about how someone is talking about the topic and what might be the underlying meaning to the message conveyed by the prosodic nature of the discourse. Schick gives the example of a teacher “issuing a warning to finish seatwork by saying ‘It’s getting close to reeecceeesss,’ meaning ‘you may not get to go out if you don’t finish.'” Note that in this example, the teacher’s pronunciation of the word “recess” is elongated giving it a different meaning than is contained by the word on its face. If an interpreter doesn’t include that prosody, then a student would not have access to the actual meaning of the phrase.
So, another important thing for interpreters in educational settings to attend to in helping support the educational development of students who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing.
Schick, B. “Learning through an interpreter,” (pp 73-87) in
Edited by Elizabeth Winston
See a more extended consideration of Theory of Mind and its implications for educational interpreters in a blog post I wrote for MRID. Click here to see the post.