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One Teacher’s View : Deaf Students At College

Article publié le Monday 1 September 2008.

Author : Andy Kohn, photography lecturer at Killester College of Further Education in north Dublin

Published by Irish Deaf Kids August 14, 2008


Many teachers or lecturers who are assigned a deaf student in their classes, can only see potential disadvantages and no way to circumvent these.  

Andy Kohn, who taught a deaf student at a VEC (Vocational Education Committee), believes otherwise.

” A deaf student in a mainstream college class has, for me, advantages rather than disadvantages. Admittedly, I teach photography, a visual subject in which deaf people have a natural advantage.

KCFE, where I teach, embarked on the ISLE project in 2002, which includes people with disabilities into  mainstream college courses.

My first experience of this program was a deaf student. My initial reaction was “photography after all is a visual subject, so why should I depend on written and verbal language to teach this subject?”. 

What I did was to evaluate the verbal content of all the subjects of my course. How much was I relying on formal lectures, verbal explanations of various techniques and processes?

This exercise was an advantage as it improved my approach to teaching.  My first mistake was to assume that I could back up the verbal content of lectures with class ‘handouts’. 

The ISLE project ensures that all deaf students come to class with a sign language interpreter, who translates all words spoken in the class into ISL ( Irish Sign Language).

Straightaway I realised ‘handouts’ were not the solution. English is a second language for most signing deaf people. The interpreter has to translate the handout into sign language for the deaf student.

If, as advised, the interpreter gets the handouts before the class, this would restrict the spontaneity of my teaching and inhibit the interaction of all the students in the class.

In other words, the class would be boring. What I needed to do was to rely less on the spoken word and make my ‘lectures’ more visual.     This was not too big a stretch for me as I have a lot of success with learners with literacy issues. The CP1 Commercial Photography course from inception was designed not to have any academic barriers for students.

I trained as a literacy tutor. I have also had success with language students and even ran an English through photography course for asylum seekers.

There is much talk of Preferred Learning in education: Auditory, Visual, and Tactile. A deaf student in a class makes the teacher understand and use all aspects of Preferred Learning.

In my opinion, a deaf student in my class makes me a better teacher. It cleaned up my teaching act. When a signer interprets everything you say, you become concise and economic with your words. You don’t waffle! 

The use of Information Technology (IT) in the classroom has opened up advantages for all the students. Access to the internet has enabled me to use websites over textbooks and handouts. At KCFE, we have an e-learning system. All students can access information and class work through the web at either a college or their home computer. In my opinion, it is very unlikely that teachers would explore and use these tools if they didn’t have to adapt their teaching style to accommodate students’ hearing issues. The one issue for deaf students was examinations. This was solved with the use of a simple video camera. The interpreter translates the questions for the deaf student, who signs the answers into the video camera. The interpreter translates the answers onto paper for the teacher to mark. There is an advantage for the other students in the class, other than the teacher’s improved teaching style and improved facilities. It can be necessary to repeat or explain aspects of your lecture or demo for the interpreter so he/she can translate. These explanations are useful for all the students as they emphasise the point the teacher is trying to make. One of my criteria in teaching is to get my students to interact and work as a group. In my experience, a deaf student in my class promotes this process. The best example of this was when the deaf student taught the other students sign language.  It is a visual way of speaking, after all. ”

Note: Deaf students require different supports to suit their hearing ability and way of communicating - this may involve an interpreter or transcriber

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