My aim and passion was to spread knowledge of (and confidence of using) British Sign language and Deaf awareness across the community and break down communication barriers in the future for Deaf people, starting with the teaching of children in mainstream schools. I later introduced teaching basic British Sign language to adults initially as part of my involvement with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. I ran weekly classes for other Hearing Dog volunteers and also for those who were Hearing Dog recipients.
I now have several BSL classes running in the local mainstream schools, a number of adult groups, private students (1:1) and I have been fortunate to work with some fantastic organisations and charities delivering BSL to staff, memebrs and beneficieries. My classes are based on inclusivity and several of the people attending my groups are deaf themselves.
The curriculum and individual session plans that I have created allow the learners ( children and adults) to learn this new skill in a relaxed, practical and fun way. There are no exams and no formal qualifications awarded, however 1:1 assessment and end of stage certificates are awarded. I have the flexibility to spend as much time as is required on different subjects and skills because there is no formal element to my programme of learning. My goal for my learners is that they learn BSL skills in such a way that they have the confidence to use them in everyday life when meeting Deaf people in our community. As such I regularly revisit topics and themes to ensure that the basic skills and vocabulary are retained, even as we move onto more advanced topics and use of more complicated linguistic skills. I have developed a wide range of resources including BSL bingo for all topics, which are the highlight for all learners, whatever their age! I build games and revision tasks into every session.
In the classes for children,the children are encouraged not only to learn BSL, but also to develop other skills and behaviours. Every session each child has the opportunity to be awarded points for signing skills, behaviour/ concentration and helpfulness/ attitude. The children take this seriously and are keen to build up their points scores. At the end of the academic year the points are totalled and prizes are given to the children in each group with the most points in each category.
I also ask the groups to choose teams (children and adults alike!). Each session the teams are given opportunities to win points in fun games and exercises. I have a range of colourful, noisy buzzers which we use in the team games and some sand timers that I deploy to add an element of time pressure/ panic/ competitiveness! These are very popular aspects of my sign classes, and they really do help to cement vocab and linguistic knowledge.
I have observed, over the past eight years, the impact that learning BSL has on children’s confidence, body language and eye contact skills. These are essential lifelong skills. It is impossible to communicate in sign language if you are not looking at the person you are communicating with. When we speak in communication, we can achieve full understanding even if we are not looking at the other person/people. It is not a very satisfactory experience though, because without holding eye contact it is easy for either party to feel “not properly listened to”. Eye contact shows the person that you are fully engaged in what they are saying. In sign language, if you are not holding eye contact, you are not communicating. Full stop. But in my classes, I teach the importance of eye contact from the very start. I have seen shy children and teenagers struggle with this for some time, but slowly the eye contact confidence builds until it is second nature, and the result is a child or teen who presents themselves with confidence. It’s brilliant to see.
There is very little writing when learning British sign language. This means that it is accessible to all learners regardless of their academic ability. My school groups are mixed ages and mixed abilities. I ensure that all learner’s learning needs are met and that no one feels “left behind”. The children, teens and adults are actively encouraged to ask questions, suggest new topics and digress from the current plan if it facilitates learning.