It can often seem as though a deaf student has an entourage.  Depending upon the needs of the student as well as the learning environment, you may find that your deaf student comes with one – indeed, sometimes two – interpreter/s as well as a notetaker.  This can feel intimidating, may seem like “overkill” or may seem like somehow the deaf student is being afforded an unfair advantage. [click here to view a clip from one TAFE teacher talking about her experience]

Depending on the needs of your deaf student – including his or her communication needs – these additional people in your classroom are necessary to provide access to the learning environment.

Deaf students who use Auslan [see more] as their primary language will require an Auslan/English interpreter to enable classroom discourse and interaction to be accessible to them.  Depending on the length of the class as well as the intensity of the class dynamics, two interpreters may be used and they will alternate interpreting.

Interpreter’s role

For a student who uses Auslan as his or her primary language, an interpreter is necessary to enable communication between the student, yourself and the other students in your classroom.

The interpreter’s job is to – somewhat obviously – interpret between two languages, in this case Auslan and English.  This means that all information and conversation between the deaf student, yourself and the other students will be interpreted.

However, this is not as simple as it sounds.  Auslan and English are not the same language; and Auslan is not a visual form of English.  This means that the interpreting process requires listening to (or watching) the source language, understanding its meaning, remove the source language (words or signs) and then rebuild the message in the target (other) language.  This is done in real time, rapidly.  It is not just the lexical items (words and signs) that need to be deconstructed and reconstructed, it is also the grammar and syntax that need to be as well.  Additionally, interpreters working between any two languages must consider cultural norms of the two language groups when they render their interpretation.

Obviously, this is a highly complex process that requires time and a good deal of cognitive activity on the part of the interpreter to make for a successful interpretation and you can perhaps begin to see how this is a demanding task that does not equate to the notion of a word-for-word (or word-for-sign), exact transfer of meaning.  It is an approximation of meaning between the two languages.  And even though this will be happening in real time, it is not instantaneous.  You will find as you watch and listen that, at times, there is a gap of time whilst the interpreting process occurs.

Interpreters are ethically bound to undertake the task of interpreting faithfully and confidentially.  An interpreter does not participate in your class; rather, it is his or her job to make it possible for the deaf student to participate as fully as possible.

Click here to download a deafConnectEd information sheet on working with interpreters.

Notetaker’s role

Notetakers are used by deaf students with varying communications needs.  A deaf student who uses lipreading with or without residual hearing is said to communicate “orally” [see more].  S/he will use a notetaker to allow for his or her full concentration to be placed on trying to follow what you are teaching as well as what other students are saying in the classroom.  This is a very difficult task and it is fatiguing.  An oral deaf student will use the notes to support what s/he has understood and, sometimes, will even use them during the class time – reading over the notes as they are written – in order to access the classroom.  A deaf student who is using an interpreter will use the notes to support the information that s/he has gained through the interpreter.

A notetaker is used because regardless of how your deaf student communicates – by lipreading English or using Auslan – it is not possible to maintain the eye contact with yourself or the interpreter and take notes [see more].

In either case, it is the notetaker’s role to write notes as fully as possible and, when possible, using full sentences.  These notes are far more than the type of notes that most would take in a classroom setting; they are far closer to a full transcript of what has been said as well as what has been written on the whiteboard or what has occurred in a DVD or video.

This is an extremely demanding task which requires the notetaker to concentrate fully and write – or type if a laptop is being used – as quickly as possible.  You can assist the notetaker significantly by providing him or her with copies of any handouts as well as hard copies of any PowerPoint presentation you may be using.  As well, some notetakers find it useful to have copies of your notes.

Click here to download a deafConnectEd information sheet on working with notetakers.


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