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?

A Pantomime with a Difference

There’s little that says “Christmas” more than a pantomime (except Noddy Holder shouting “IT’S CHRISTMAS” of course) and last night I went to a pantomime for the first time in years. This though, was a panto with a difference. It took place at my local deaf club, and all the cast were deaf so the whole thing was done in sign language.

Ian and I were really unsure what to expect when we bought our tickets and our biggest worry was that we wouldn’t understand any of it. We needn’t have worried: the cast were brilliant. Their comedy timing was much better than many trained actors, and because pantomime and BSL are both so visual, the combination worked really well and we actually understood very well.

They also seemed to have thought about the fact that lots of people who went would be people like us, who were learning BSL and who thought this would be a great opportunity to practise. They included some elements of teaching/explaining new vocabulary, but because they built it so cleverly into the plot it didn’t seem contrived at all.

There was a group of interpreters there for non-signers, but we found them to be more of a distraction than a help – sometimes their words didn’t match the signs; sometimes their words didn’t even match the signer for example they were saying the Queen’s words  while the King was signing.

I can’t criticise them because it takes years of training to be a BSL interpreter, and interpreting a play is a very specialised area within the field of BSL interpreting, and these were just volunteers. To make their job even more difficult, I think that only the plot of the play had been decided; the performance itself had a very ad-lib feel to it so they wouldn’t have known the exact signs they had to interpret until they saw them. Taking all that into account, I think they did a great job.

If I could offer a little constructive feedback, it would be this:  often less is more.  Interpret the signs by all means, but facial expressions and actions can be understood by everybody so statements such as “I’m opening the door now to see if anybody is listening”, and “I’m sitting in the chair and wriggling about a bit because it’s not comfortable” could be dropped, giving more time to decide how to interpret the actual signing parts.

We really enjoyed it though, and would definitely go to another one. However, next time, I would take ear-plugs for a more authentic experience. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking for something a bit different to do. There’s another chance to see it on Tuesday 11th December in Dudley.