BSL Go! | About
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About

BSL Go! has been created as a result of my four years of running British Sign Language clubs in schools and my local community centre under the title Dianne Lawrence Sign Clubs. I am based in Fareham, Hampshire. BSL Go! Takes my sign language clubs further, by introducing the communication support service element and the curriculum based element.

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 5 BSL clubs running in the local mainstream schools and 3 adult groups. My groups 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.

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 four 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.

I am now able to offer my Communication Support Service to Deaf BSL users to provide communication support in BSL in a variety of settings and situations.

Links with the Deaf Community

It has always been important to me that the children I teach understand the context of why they are learning British Sign Language. I am very fortunate to have strong links with my local Deaf club, where the children visit twice a year to perform signed songs, poetry and sketches in BSL to the Deaf community. They also have the opportunity at these events to meet and have conversation with deaf people and to meet the very lovely Hearing dogs there.

Value of Learning British Sign Language

Communication Skills

Learning BSL naturally improves communication skills – body language, facial expression and eye contact. It’s great for confidence.

Deaf Awareness

Throughout the curriculum I explore issues surrounding communication, Deafness, alerting equipment, the role of Hearing Dogs and barriers Deaf people have faced and continue to face.

Understanding of the differences in people

Through learning to sign and understand Deafness and issues surrounding this, learners are more aware of the differences in other people. I hope that this will lead to increased understanding, awareness and a positive attitude to difference.

Value to schools of including the teaching of BSL in the curriculum or as a club

Fortunately for the children and the community, schools are now encouraged and expected to include subjects in the curriculum which facilitate and improve inclusive attitudes and enable equal access to the curriculum for all learners.

Previously many Deaf children attended schools specifically set up to teach Deaf children. However this happens less and less now as Deaf schools have reduced dramatically in number and mainstream schools are expected to provide education to all children.

It could be that there are deaf sign language users in your school. There might be in the future. Encouraging the learning of BSL in your school will not only facilitate better communication in this respect, but it will enable friendships to blossom between hearing and deaf children; not only today but in the future, at work and in the community.

Through the teaching of British Sign Language, schools are facilitating the improved knowledge and understanding of not only Sign Language, but also of the importance of good communication skills generally, the awareness of people who have different abilities with regards to communication, confidence in communicating with different people, opportunities to learn about different sun-cultures within our communities and opportunities to share and develop this knowledge throughout their lives.

Learning BSL allows children to foster a desire to communicate clearly, be aware when barriers to communication might exist and learn strategies to overcome some of those barriers.

As British Sign Language is a practical (manual) language, there is very little writing required. In fact there is no writing until the learner has reached quite an advanced level, when they are required to record vocabulary themselves using their knowledge of the rules which govern the production of signs. This results in providing a new skill to all children regardless of their academic abilities. In the time that I have been running my clubs I have noticed how well children and students with additional needs have responded to learning BSL.

The learning of BSL will provide lifelong skills and awareness. BSL is currently not available as a GCSE subject, however campaigns are continuing to press for this. By providing some teaching of Deaf awareness and BSL now, your children will be well equipped to communicate, not only with Deaf people, but with people generally through improved awareness of successful communication.

Opportunity for gaining formal qualifications in BSL

I am a qualified tutor and assessor through BSL Courses, so if you would like to find out more about gaining a qualification, please let me know.

However, in reality most of my adult learners seem to enjoy learning the informal way. I have a group of lovely people who booked on to a 10 week course three years ago and are still coming weekly! Their dedication and commitment is apparent in the clarity and confidence of their signing, and they have made friends along the way.

Returning Students

Because I have adult groups which cater for different levels of ability (beginners, improvers and advanced), if someone has previously studied BSL either formally or with me, and they want to polish up on their skills, I am able to slot people into the appropriate group.

How long are the courses?

The courses start initially as a 20 week beginners course. This usually gives enough time to cover the basic and learn some conversation skills using different topics. At the end of the 20 weeks, people are given the option of continuing. The uptake for continuing is high. If I don’t have enough people to continue, I will start a new course and then invite the people who wanted to continue, to join that group at the 20 week point so that their signing journey can continue. As I mentioned in a previous section, a 20 week course which I started three years ago is still running!

Children's Views

The children and teenaged students have excellent attendance at Sign Club. They also participate with enthusiasm in the various performances we do.

The children/ students seem to enjoy the games and quizzes that are mixed in with the more focused learning.

Some of the children/students I teach have been with me from the start four years ago and continue to be enthusiastic to learn more.

Last term I supported some of the children/ students to complete the skills required for Brownie, Scout and Guide badges. Eight of the older students have also used their Sign Language skills as evidence for their Duke of Edinburgh Awards and School Leadership Awards.

The school management themselves are very supportive and enthusiastic about BSL being taught in their schools. We are now regularly invited to take part in music concerts and summer fetes (signed songs). This is not only a great opportunity for the students to showcase what they can do, but it also helps to spread Deaf awareness by exposing people to BSL who would otherwise not experience seeing it.

Methods of Teaching

My lessons are carefully planned and prepared for. They always include an explanation of the learning goal, various learning activities, opportunities for reflection and questions and usually a game.

Initially learners are given vocab sheets to support their learning. Following the completion of the “Beginners Course” the learners are able to buy a work book from me. Moving forwards they use this to record all new vocab and linguistic skills and information.

Learners are given opportunities to have 1:1 conversations with me . These happen at the end of a new topic. I will give either written or verbal feedback.

For my children’s groups, I use points charts, whereby the children can win points for great signing, good behaviour and concentration and helpfulness. Next term I will be introducing a new element to this – Peer support. At the end of the academic year the winners are revealed. However all children receive certificates to reflect their achievements over the year.

I would like to think that my teaching style is informal and relaxed and yet effective to the development of the learner. I teach at the pace appropriate to the group and, not being bound by formal curriculum or exams, I am able to do this effectively.