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.
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