Phonics in a School for the Deaf

As a teacher who has been learning sign language (BSL) for the last few years, I have often wondered how you would teach a deaf child to read. Recently I was lucky enough to find out, when I spent a few days observing and teaching in a school for deaf children.

The first lesson each morning was visual phonics.

Each sound has a sign associated with it which is related to the relevant fingerspelling sign and to whereabouts in the mouth the sound is made.

The children do have time each week with a speech therapist, but as they obviously spend more time in class, the class teacher also has responsibility for this aspect of their learning. She gets them to touch her throat so they can feel how the sound is made, and then they touch their own throat to see if the movement is the same. They also put their hands in front of the teacher’s mouth to feel whether or not air is expelled for that particular sound, and they concentrate on the shape the lips make. All this means that even if they can’t make the sound properly, they can replicate the lip patterns, which is essential for BSL.

There are a range of hearing abilities in the class – some of the children are profoundly deaf and have been from birth; others wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants and have some hearing. Before lessons begin each morning, all hearing aids and cochlear implants are checked to make sure that they are working correctly.

Just like in a hearing school, the children practise the sounds they have already learnt before learning a new one, and the phonics lesson is split between oral practise and writing words containing those sounds. They find blending the sounds to form whole words difficult, especially those who are profoundly deaf. The children in this school will do the same national phonics test as their peers in hearing schools. However, because it is harder for them to learn, their phonics lessons continue into KS2.

The teachers and teaching assistants ‘listen’ to the children reading – the children read their books and sign each word to show that they recognise the word, and in a guided reading lesson the other children in the group are expected to follow, just as they would be in a hearing school. As you would expect, the teachers will question the children to check understanding, and they are expected to predict, make inferences etc just the same as their hearing peers in mainstream schools.

Related posts: Deaf Awareness Week  Singing in a School for the Deaf   Literacy in a School for the Deafx

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4 Responses to Phonics in a School for the Deaf

  1. Mavis says:

    This just shows what dedicated teaching can do. I just wish I’d had all the skills I now have, to help the hearing impaired and profoundly deaf children I used to to teach in mainstream. But at least I’ve been able to help hearing children with speech difficulties to learn to speak clearly with my G-Ps System, because of what I observed when watching the specialist deaf teachers in our attached Unit.

    • Sally-Jayne says:

      Thanks for your comments, Mavis. I think Teachers of the Deaf are amazing – they do so much more than teach, and it has such an impact on the lives of the children. I’d like to do the training one day, but I just don’t have the time to commit to it at the moment.

      What is your G-Ps System and how does it work? Would love to hear more!

      • Mavis says:

        Thank you for commenting and for your question Sally-Jane. G-PS means ‘Grapheme-Phoneme Synchronization’. It’s a training system that incorporates mind-body concepts into learning to ‘Spell Write and Read’ (This is the name of my System). It helps children to focus more efficiently when learning, because it not only trains teachers in the mechanics and understanding involved in spelling, writing and reading, it helps them to pick up on verbal and non-verbal communication that might be blocking progress.

      • Sally-Jayne says:

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. It sounds fascinating, and just goes to show that no matter how much we learn there are always new things that we can learn to help our students.

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