One of my first classes as a teacher included a number of deaf children and pupils with hearing impairments. It filled me with fear because, even though I was totally committed to inclusivity, I wondered how I could give everyone a fair deal. I couldn’t sign, I had never taught children with hearing impairments and I was told that I’d only get specialist support for 60 minutes a week. Ridiculous. I knew it was going to be a steep learning curve. And it was.
One of the first things I did in my summer holidays was to learn how to sign; it was one of the best pieces of pre-planning I’ve ever done. The fear started to dissolve and, as I became more proficient, I began to see opportunities opening up. After all, I had three Polish and two Somalian children to cater for, too.
Every teacher should learn British Sign Language. It should be part of teacher training in every teaching institution in the land. Whilst we worry about whether a teacher can recognise a prime number or string a sentence together, we should also be worrying about making sure teachers can actually make inclusion work.
If you have no experience of signing, I would not hesitate in directing you to the fantastic resources available online – in particular those available from british-sign.co.uk
Following an online course can’t compare to learning from a real person, but don’t dismiss the online route. The lessons are still invaluable and you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn and what you get out of it. For a start, evening lessons might not suit you – especially if, like most teachers, you’re short on time. An online course can give you an enormous amount of flexibility because you study when you want to.
The course on offer from british-sign.co.uk is £19.99, which seems remarkably cheap – especially as youget access to all the material for 12 months. Typically it takes eight weeks to complete the course, so having the resources for a year means you can keep going back to refresh your skills when signing for real. The advice is to complete no more than one or two lessons a week, and you’re aiming to get at least an 80 per cent pass rate for each lesson.
The online course contains seven lessons and covers deaf awareness, introductions, numbers, colours, days, months, seasons, food and drink, conversation, family, descriptions, time, money, hobbies and leisure. The lessons on offer are bite-sized, enjoyable, challenging and offer just enough difficulty to be ‘doable’ without being off-putting.
Lesson one details what BSL is and the important difference between Deaf people with a capital D and a deaf person with a lower case d. Alongside the introduction of 48 new signs, there’s advice on hand dominance, and a number of resources are shared – including images of the two-handed manual alphabet and a finger-spelling printout.
An assessment takes place once each section of the course has been completed, but this is presented in a very friendly format that feels more like a quiz – there are written questions, and video footage is used to test your knowledge of signing. If you don’t get the minimum pass mark required you can sit again at no extra cost. At the end of all seven lessons there is a final assessment with a certificate to show you have completed the course.
Subsequent lessons go on to teach new signs and phrases for everyday scenarios you’re likely to encounter beyond the classroom. (If only there was a separate course for teachers with content suitable for classroom exchanges and school-life contexts.)
For the price, I don’t think we can expect 1:1 webcam tutorials, but in an ideal world this would be a great addition so that users could check they are signing correctly. I would, therefore, use this online course as a starting point, or in conjunction with, say, an evening class.
Signing is a life skill and you never know when you will need it. It’s something we should all have in the bank ready to use. Even with a hearing class, I teach signing because it’s something everyone enjoys doing and it’s an important language to promote. Discounted rates are available for a groups – time to sign up, I’d say.