Deaf Studies in a School for the Deaf

Throughout Foundation Stage (Nursery and Reception aged children are mixed together) children are exposed to both English and BSL. Some of the teachers have English as their first language, and some have BSL as their first language, so the children have good models for both languages from the very beginning of their schooling. The children can choose whether to speak or sign – some do both, some neither, but none of them are forced one way or the other. The thinking is that by exposing them to good examples of both languages at this young age, even if they choose not to use them, they will have a better understanding in KS1 when more formal teaching begins.

In Year 1 the children begin formal Deaf Studies. One of the staff with BSL as their first language leads the lesson. In the session I observed, the children first practised their fingerspelling – spelling their own and their classmates’ names. After this, the teacher gave the children a picture story and they took it in turns to sign the story as best as they could. When they had all had a go, the teacher signed the story herself, demonstrating how to add extra details and to use facial expressions. Some of the more confident children then had a go, using some of the additional features they had picked up from the teacher. The whole lesson was taught in BSL.

Storytime in Year 1 takes place in both languages. In the morning the children have a story which is read in English but with a few signs to support understanding. In the afternoon they have the same story but told entirely in BSL.

Higher up the school, Deaf Studies includes playing memory games, and practising lip-reading skills as well as BSL. Children are also introduced to some of the gadgets that will be useful to them in later life when they are old enough to live independently. They are taught about smoke alarms that cause their house lights to flash instead of beeping. They are taught that they can have their doorbell connected to the lights so that they flash when someone rings the bell. They are taught about vibrating devices attached to alarm clocks that they can put under their pillow when they don’t have mom and dad to wake them up anymore.

One of my favourite lessons was watching the Deaf adults teaching the children how to use FaceTime so that their social interaction doesn’t have to stop when they leave the school premises.

Related posts: Numeracy in a School for the Deaf    Deaf Awareness Week – what can you do?

Algebra? It’s Just a Box!

Algebra is a scary word. I know because it scared me when I was younger. I hated maths at school. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t want to understand it and I have no idea how I managed to get my maths O’level! It’s only since deciding, later in life, that I wanted to become a teacher that I have relearned maths and, thanks to family and this brilliant book by Derek Haylock, discovered that it doesn’t have to be hard.

I can remember sitting in lessons, struggling with numbers and then being horrified when suddenly we had letters thrown in as well. That didn’t make sense – letters belonged in English lessons, not maths.

Given all that, I can understand why children panic when it comes to algebra. The best way I have found to reassure them is to tell them it’s just a box.

5 + n = 7 looks impossible to some children, so we take the letter away and replace it with a box.

5 + □ = 7 is the sort of thing they’ve been used to since KS1.

Once they are happy with this it’s only a small step to coping with 5n = 20. They agree that writing 5 x n = 20 would be confusing because it looks like two letters, but it’s still algebra so it’s still just a box, so they just add in the x themselves. So now we have:

5 x □ = 20 . Simple!

I’ve had children go from tears and tantrums to smiles of delight in about 10 minutes, as they ask “Is that it?” From then on if you ask them if algebra is difficult they’ll smile at you and say, “No. It’s just a box.”

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Related posts: Advanced Algebra    Teaching Times Tables    Teaching Telling the Time

REsources – Part 2 (Christmas resources)

selection of children's books about ChristmasChristmas is another tricky time of year – most children know the nativity story by the time they start school but I found some fantastic books, suitable for KS1, which tell the story with a twist. The Grumpy Shepherd tells the story of Christmas from the point of view of Joram, a shepherd who is always moaning about something – sheep are boring and his job is too hard – until an angel appears with news of a very special baby.  Jesus’ Christmas Party tells the story from the point of view of an inn-keeper who gets very cross when his sleep is disturbed first by a man and his pregnant wife wanting someone to stay, and then by a bright star shining through his window. He gets crosser and crosser as he is woken by shepherds and kings looking for a baby, but then he meets the baby for himself. Finally A Christmas Story tells the story of a young girl and a baby donkey who follow Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, meeting angels and shepherds and kings along the way.

For older children, I have found this Advent wreath game a great resource. I have used it in the last week of the Autumn term, when the children don’t want to do any work because it’s nearly Christmas, and by the end of the game the children are able to explain clearly what an advent wreath is for, how it is used and what each part represents. Although it’s quite a simple game, Years 5 and 6 really got into it, and enjoyed it so much they asked if I would leave it in their classroom so that they could play it again later.

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Related post: REsources – Part 1 (General Resources)

REsources – Part 1 (General resources)

Last year I taught a lot of RE. It’s not my specialist subject (I’m an MFLer), it just worked out that way. When I was looking at the schemes of work for various year groups, I noticed that some stories seem to come up year after year. So how do you hold a child’s interest when you know that they’ve done this every year for the last three years? Equally to the point – when you’re teaching the same lesson in several different schools, how do you stop yourself getting bored so that you can present this to the children as something fresh and exciting? Ideally, you do something else, but as we all know – sometimes it’s a case of “It’s in the Scheme of Work therefore it MUST be done!” And if you’re self-employed it’s best not to argue with that.

One story in particular from last year was the Good Samaritan. I can remember hearing this story as a child – in school, in Sunday school, in church…. The teachers would choose some children to come and act the story out and the first time it was fun. The second time was OK. The third time it was boring and by the fourth time I just didn’t bother listening any more. With this in mind I knew I had to find something a bit different to cover the story. That’s where youTube came to my rescue. I know that in some schools YouTube is banned, but fortunately I’ve been working in schools that are forward-thinking enough to allow it. I found this lovely Lego story which the children really enjoyed – especially when all the lego men starting singing Kung Fu Fighting!

Another YouTube RE resource that I have to share is David and Goliath. I haven’t had the opportunity to use it, but I wish I had because it really made me laugh when I came across it. It’s the story of David and Goliath sung to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Related post: REsources – Part 2 (Christmas resources).

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Summer Reading

It’s the summer holidays. Hopefully everyone is enjoying the time off, but if you or your young ones are getting bored, why not have a look at these books?

For KS1: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Williams. This is an old book now – I remember reading it when I was a child myself – but it’s still just as appealing now as it was then. You can’t help but feel sorry for poor Gobbolino who really doesn’t want to be a witch’s cat. The story tells of his adventures as he searches for a home where he can be just a normal cat.

KS2: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Poor Percy Jackson doesn’t realise that he’s a demi-god until one of his teachers tries to kill him. After that his life gets seriously turned upside-down when he discovers that his best friend is a satyr and that the god of war really has it in for him If, like me, you have an interest in Greek mythology these books are even more special, but even if you’ve never been a fan of classical history the Percy Jackson series is a great read that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and just keep going! I’ve finished this series, but on my summer reading list I have the second series: The Heroes of Olympus.

KS3: The Everlost Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. What happens when you die if you don’t end up where you are supposed to be? You end up in Everlost, and the only ways to avoid sinking into the centre of the earth are to keep moving or to find a ‘dead spot’ (a place where somebody else has died) to stand on. Everlost is divided into those who want to help the lost souls find their way to where they should be, and those who want to stop them. With a cast including pirates, ogres and people who can take over the bodies of the living, there is quite a battle. For younger readers it’s just a good read – for older readers it has quite an existential feel – Jean-Paul Sartre would have been proud!

KS4:Unwind (also by Neal Shusterman). This one covers some quite gritty issues. Imagine a world where it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy, but when your child reaches the age of 13 you can change your mind. If you decide that having your child was a mistake you can apply to have them ‘unwound’, which involves every single part of their body being used in transplants to save other people’s lives. How would you feel if you had grown up believing your family loved you until the day the authorities come to unwind you? How would you feel if you had grown up in a family that believe in donating 10% of their possessions to charity, and you are their 10th child? This book follows the lives of some children who are on the run to save their lives. To escape the ‘unwind order’, they must stay alive until they are 18.

Young Adults: There probably aren’t many people who haven’t already read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, but if you are one of them – what are you waiting for? It’s set in the future after there has been some sort of uprising, and the divide between the rich and the poor is very clearly defined. As a punishment for the uprising, the various districts are forced to enter two of their young people, one boy and one girl, into a contest where they have to fight to the death in the name of entertainment. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark may be teenagers, but the action is tense and fast-paced enough to keep adults turning the pages as well. I have heard a few critics say that this book is just a rehash of Stephen King’s The Running Man, but to me this seems a bit harsh. It is true that The Running Man was probably more visionary at the time, because reality TV wasn’t the bulk of entertainment in those days, but The Hunger Games is more than just reality TV taken to extremes – especially as the plot unfolds further in the second and final books.

These are my recommendations for summer reading. What are yours? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.