Teachers’ Quick Reference Guide

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This Quick Reference Guide is designed to assist teachers who have a deaf or hard of hearing* student in their class. It defines some terminology as well as providing useful tips on effective teaching strategies applicable to deaf students. It also includes advice on working with interpreters and notetakers and explains the additional support and resources offered by deafConnectEd to teachers, trainers, interpreters and notetakers.

* The term ‘deaf’ will be used throughout this guide to represent anyone with a hearing loss.

About deafness
Understanding the impact of deafness
English literacy
A deaf student in my classroom?
Education standards and inclusive classrooms
Information Technology solutions and tutorial support
Working with an interpreter
Professional development


About deafness

What is the difference between ‘deaf’ and ‘hard of hearing’?

  • ‘Deaf’ refers to those people who share a language (Auslan) and culture and who identify as belonging to the Deaf community.
  • Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is the language of the Australian Deaf community. Auslan does not have a written form, but it is just as rich and complex as any other language.
  • ‘Hard of hearing’ is used to refer to people with a hearing loss who do not consider themselves as deaf or part of the Deaf community. Most use residual hearing, lipreading and speech to communicate.

Tip: It may be worth thinking about a deaf student as someone who effectively has English as a second language.

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Understanding the impact of deafness

Some important things about deafness:

  • Deafness is invisible – it cannot be seen.
  • Deafness impedes access to information and communication.
  • Awareness about a subject may be disjointed – at least some of the time deaf people can miss crucial information. Early life deafness can result in significant barriers, especially when undertaking a course of study.
  • A child with a significant hearing loss will need to be consciously taught not only English literacy, but also about other aspects of the world around them (for example, some things make noise while others do not). For some, developing native-like fluency in English can be a significant challenge.

Tip: People with a hearing loss can vary significantly not only in relation to the degree of hearing loss but also the frequencies that are affected.

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Listen to examples of what a person may hear at various degrees of hearing loss and a simulation of what a person with a cochlear implant may hear.


English literacy

  • Early life deafness (known as pre-lingual deafness) has significant effects on English literacy.
  • Reading and writing are not one and the same – each requires the development of different skills.
  • Many deaf people will have a good English vocabulary, but their grasp of grammar may be less well developed. They may know what each word in a sentence means, but struggle to connect that information to understand the overall meaning. They may also not understand the use of idiomatic English
  • While many deaf people achieve sufficient literacy skills to successfully interact in the world, few achieve native-like usage. The average deaf person leaves school with a mid to upper primary school level of literacy. This is not a reflection of their intelligence or ability to learn. Rather, it demonstrates how difficult a task it is to learn the written form of a language when a person has little or no access to its spoken form.

Tip: When reading a deaf student’s written work, try to focus on the intended meaning. It may also help to visualise what the student is trying to express.


A deaf student in my classroom?

The following tips may be useful for any class that includes a deaf student:

  • Allow the deaf student time to read handouts and PowerPoint slides before the start of the class where possible, or at least a few minutes for discussing them in class.
  • Talk about a task, demonstrate it, then talk about it again.

When writing on the whiteboard, finish writing and then turn back to face the class before discussing what you have written.

  • Group discussions should allow for ordered turn taking so that the deaf student knows which student is speaking.
  • It may also help to repeat or rephrase any questions raised in the classroom before you answer them. This ensures student who is lipreading you can see the question that was asked.
  • When selecting videos for a class, look for videos that are captioned. Many YouTube clips for example, now come with closed captions.These may be useful for other students as well as a student who is deaf or hard of hearing.

If you are teaching a class with a deaf student for the first time, it is recommended that you contact deafConnectEd. deafConnectEd is able to deliver free, on site and targeted training to teachers, administration support staff and trainers.

We are also able to give advice about:

  • the support available for you as the teacher and for the student
  • teaching in different learning environments (workshop, lab, outdoor, classroom, etc.).

Tip: A student who is deaf will be using their eyes to take in communication and they can only look at ONE place at a time.

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Education standards and inclusive classrooms

The Disability Standards for Education (2005) supplement the Disability Discrimination Act (1992).All educational organisations, including the VET sector, must comply with the legislation. There are five areas covered in the Standards:

Enrolment – Covers issues such as students with a disability inquiring about a VET course or studying in your organisation, attending an information session or filling out an enrolment form.

Participation – Involves making sure a person with a disability can be involved in all aspects of the course, in the same way as any other student .. This includes, but is not limited to, access to all information sessions, orientations, excursions and classes.

Curriculum development, accreditation and delivery (teaching) – Covers issues such as:

  • the development of a course curriculum (teaching materials used to teach a course)
  • the way the course is taught by a classroom teacher
  • gaining a qualification.

All of the above must be made accessible to people with a disability.

Student Support Services – All students, including those with a disability, must be allowed to participate in activities or programs organised by the Student Services Department in your organisation.

Harassment and Victimisation – Other students, teachers or staff in your organisation cannot bully, harass or victimise a person with a disability.

Tip: ‘Getting to know you’ activities at the beginning of a course are important. Allow enough time for the students to tell each other about themselves. The deaf student should be seen as ‘having a voice’ in the class. Be conscious of including the student in discussions.

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Information Technology solutions and tutorial support

deafConnectEd can liaise with the IT services team in your institute to facilitate the services listed below:

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) provides student access to an interpreter via video over the internet.

Live Remote Captioning (LRC)* provides live captioning of classes, meetings, etc. and is accessed via the internet.

deafConnectEd can also advise on Tutorial Support including:

  • face-to-face tutorials or video* based tutorials
  • literacy support
  • subject matter support, working with a deaf tutor form a relevant field of study.

*NB: Access to support services involving technology is dependent on technological capabilities at end-user sites. There are costs associated with these services.


Working with an interpreter or notetaker

As a teacher or trainer working with a deaf student, you may find you have notetakers or interpreters working in your classroom. Consider the following strategies to maximise the effectiveness of these forms of support:

  • Encourage the student to consider allowing the notetaker to sit next to them. This will allow them to look at notes as they are being written. However, not all students will want this.
  • Interpreters will stand at the front of the classroom (ideally next to the teacher). This makes it clear that the teacher is the person conducting the class. The deaf student will look between the interpreter and the teacher, which allows them to grasp the content of the class more effectively.
  • If possible, create a circular or horseshoe seating plan so that the student can see all participants in discussions.
  • Provide notes, overheads or a lecture plan to the interpreter and notetaker to help them prepare for the class.
  • If there is only one interpreter in your class, provide them with regular breaks. The number of breaks needed will depend on three factors: the interpreter’s knowledge of the subject matter, the speed of delivery and the complexity of the content. It is recommended, where possible, to discuss working arrangements with the Disability Liaison Officer and the interpreter before the class.
  • Be prepared to repeat or explain information to an interpreter if they seek clarification about anything that was said.

The interpreter or notetaker is neither a teacher nor a trainer and so should not assist the deaf student if they need help with class work. If you are concerned about a student’s progress, speak to the student directly, or speak to student support services about additional support mechanisms for the student.

Note: Interpreters may initially be distracting for some other students. However, as the novelty subsides, the distraction will become minimal.

Tip: Get to know the interpreter – a short chat before the class can be useful in understanding their role and the needs of the deaf student.

Tip: After explaining a concept, ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” Allow enough time for your question to be interpreted (there is a time lag of between 5 – 10 seconds) and for the student to consider whether they have anything to ask.

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Professional development

deafConnectEd can provide free, tailored professional development to all staff in the VET sector working with deaf students. Face-to-face, over the phone and online tailored support is available for:

  • teachers and trainers
  • program coordinators
  • disability support staff (e.g. DLOs, managers, administration support etc.)
  • support staff (e.g. library, front-of-office, cafeteria etc.)
  • interpreters
  • notetakers

Training may cover:

  • information about deafness and its implications
  • advice on inclusive teaching practices and adapting assessment to comply with disability legislation and educational standards
  • access to online professional development resources
  • opportunities for interpreters and notetakers to further develop their skills.

Tip: If you have any questions, or simply want to talk through a few ideas, call us! We understand that working with a deaf student and interpreter may be a new experience for many people.