Teaching in a laboratory environment often presents its own very unique issues that you will need to manage. The most important thing to remember is that your deaf student will not be able to “listen” to your descriptions and/or instructions and look at what they are trying to do at the same time, regardless of the type of lab (computer or science labs).
The challenges that you face in this learning environment include:
- most labs have fixed workspaces for students; the seating cannot be altered
- often teaching involves both explanation and demonstration
- often teaching also includes explanation whilst the students replicate the requisite action on their computer or lab bench
- there can be significant safety issues in science labs
It will be necessary for you to adapt your delivery in order to make the information accessible to your deaf student. You will need to make a clear separation between what you say about the demonstration and the actual demonstration itself. This is best managed by first explaining the process, then demonstrating it without speaking, then re-capping to note any specific points requiring clarification. This may be a strategy that you already use as it supports the learning of all students, especially when introducing new information, materials or concepts.
A tip to assist you in letting you know that your deaf student is following is to watch his or her eyes. If s/he is lipreading you, follow his/her eyes as they move from eye contact with you to the demonstration and back to eye contact with you.
If your deaf student is using an Auslan/English interpreter [see more], then watch for him or her to break eye contact with the interpreter to look at the demonstration. A very important factor to keep in mind here is that an interpreter is always at least a few words behind and so a few extra seconds are needed after you stop talking and before you start demonstrating.
In addition, for a deaf student who is lipreading and/or using technology to access your spoken words, please be mindful that you:
- need to face the students whenever you speak (that is, you cannot make notations on a whiteboard whilst speaking – complete all writing before turning back to the students to elucidate; however, but it is not necessary to constantly maintain eye contact with your deaf student)
- may need to wear a special transmitter (similar to a microphone) that interacts with the technology used by the deaf student
- may need to re-phrase something you have said, if the student asks for clarification
Also be aware that background noise can significantly interfere with a deaf student’s ability to access the spoken word.
Another important tip is to present as much information about the lesson in writing (for example a step-by-step instruction on a laboratory procedure), thereby minimising misunderstanding and reinforcing the lesson objectives.
Safety information is critical in environments like science laboratories and workshops. Strategies to ensure all students understand safety procedures include providing instructions in writing, holding a quiz to check for understanding, asking students spot questions at the start of each class and planning classes so students work in pairs to monitor each other’s practice.
Make sure you understand how emergency alarms work in the learning environment. Does a light get activated or only an auditory alarm? Flashing emergency signals help everyone in an emergency. Talk to your facilities department about installing a visual warning system [see more].