When a Teacher Must Reinvent the Wheel – a Comment

Time to reflect (Naomi's Photos)
Time to reflect
(Naomi’s Photos)

The iTDi  blog is known for the wide range of topics and varied perspectives it offers its audience of EFL teachers around the world. Yet it can hardly be taken for granted that the latest batch of posts included one on teaching a deaf learner in Japan. The topic of teaching students with special needs (SEN) has long been neglected in many international forums and training centers so I’m moved to see issues related to mainstreaming highlighted.

In his post, EFL teacher Mathew Turner describes the challenges he was faced with when integrating a deaf student in his English discussion class, “a class that required the ability to actively listen and respond to other people’s ideas and express opinions”. Turner also writes the following:

“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a learner with any kind of hearing impairment, nor by extension have I really experienced teaching a student with a recognised or self-identified disability. In in-service courses, such as my MA program, my DipTESOL, and even my pre-service CertTESOL, there was never a module, workshop, or focus on teaching English as a foreign or second language to learners with disabilities”.

Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class? Naomi's Photos
Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class?
Naomi’s Photos

First of all, I would like to say how much I admire Turner for tackling the formidable problem of involving a student who doesn’t speak and can’t hear in a discussion class. With no precedent to work from he found ways to both involve the student academically and as a contributing group member of the class. Turner clearly put a lot of time and effort in it. It is also heart-warming to hear how the entire staff and administration collaborated.

As a national counselor for teaching EFL to deaf and hard of hearing learners , it seems to me that the experience could have been a bit easier.

Turner writes: “Firstly, I had to script my teacher talk. Before the lesson, I wrote down all of my planned teacher talk on separate sheets of paper that reflected the stages of the lesson.”

I’m sure that helped the student (who had two student notetakers). However, not only is that incredibly hard work and not always feasible, but good notetakers using a laptop or a tablet  should be able to keep up with a reasonably paced lesson without getting a script in advance and at a much quicker pace than writing. This allows the student to read as the text is being typed and the teacher to go with the flow of the lesson, responding accordingly  (and to have some free time now and then…).  Perhaps some things need to be done by professionals.

There are text-to-speech programs available today. Again, if a computer was being used, the student would not need an additional intermediary to speak for her – her computer would be her voice and the others could get used to that voice. It would be a more direct way to communicate (and again, faster).

I’d like to end with a special note of thanks to Turner for emphasizing this very important fact, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

Talk with the student about how best to help her/him!


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