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Learning needs in the deaf education sector

24 November 2016

Professional learning can help teachers to support deaf students’ mental health and wellbeing, so that they may succeed socially and academically. Julie Kos explains.

ACER was in 2012 commissioned by the Victorian Deaf Education Institute to investigate the professional learning needs of teachers of the deaf, and identify any gap between teachers’ existing skills and knowledge and those needed to optimise student learning outcomes.

In 2015, ACER through its Centre for Education Policy and Practice decided to extend that work by capturing the views of parents of children who are deaf and educational support staff who work with deaf students. As well as providing important insights into the needs of others in the deaf education sector, the aim was to identify findings that can inform research into the professional learning needs of those working in classrooms with children who have other special needs.

The extension study involved interviews with five Victorian participants from the stakeholder groups of parents of children who are deaf, teachers of the deaf, educational support staff and members of a professional association. Two participants were interviewed in a dual capacity.

Participants were able to clearly articulate areas of learning need for themselves and for others in the deaf education sector. The findings closely mirror those reported in the earlier study for teachers of the deaf and, importantly, provide an insight into the needs of other school staff, and deaf children and their families.

Mental health and wellbeing

Research shows that hearing impairment can delay progress at school, exacerbate behaviour problems, and lead to deficits in writing, reading and self-expression. It is also known that the trajectory for those with poor academic performance and difficulties communicating with peers is often one that leads to low self-esteem and feelings of isolation or depression.

Students who are deaf often experience social difficulties and isolation at school, rarely form friendships with their hearing peers and can experience poor academic achievement. It is therefore vitally important that the social and emotional needs of children who are deaf are well understood and met.

Teachers interviewed reported needing professional learning in supporting deaf students’ mental health and wellbeing, including dealing with challenging behaviours, and social and emotional needs. An understanding of the impact that other mental and physical conditions have when combined with deafness was also an area of learning need for teachers.

In relation to students, interviewees reported mental health and wellbeing needs focused on social and emotional skill development, but also included other needs such as role models and mentoring. The role of the school in ensuring that students who are deaf have positive experiences and are able to meet their potential was also reported.

Teaching and resources

The professional learning needs reported by teachers are aligned with the National Standards for Teachers of the Deaf. Access to initial and continued Australian Sign Language (Auslan) training was identified as a key need by interviewees, as was teaching speaking and listening skills for children with a hearing impairment, and improving literacy outcomes.

The study also identified a number of other needs in relation to curriculum and assessment, including special consideration provisions. Understanding and implementing technology designed to support students who are deaf, and continued access to national and international research and journals were also highlighted as an area of need.

Relationships with teachers

Crucially, the research found that the quality of the relationship between teacher and student, and teacher and parent, impacts on the child’s experience at school.

From the point of view of parents, relationships with teachers appear to vary depending on the teacher. According to one parent, the stronger the relationship the more successful is the child’s social and academic experience at school.

Very little networking was reported across the respondents. Interestingly, this finding extended to the parents and education support staff interviewed, which suggests that networking may be a sector-wide issue, rather than limited to teachers.

Next steps

While these studies have identified important findings in relation to the needs of students who are deaf, an important piece of the puzzle remains unknown – students’ own perceptions.

Further study with children who are deaf is needed to better understand their experiences and needs, in order to provide the support they require to succeed socially and academically.

Such research would include surveying and interviewing students who are deaf, particularly in relation to identity and belonging, given the impact of social and emotional wellbeing on educational outcomes.

In addition, a larger-scale study with children, parents, teachers and educational support staff from all Australian states and territories, across all school levels and sectors, that investigates the interplay between communication, language and behaviour would be beneficial. ■

Further information:
This study was a part of the ACER Centre for Educational Policy and Practice’s translational research project, which sought to disseminate research findings in an accessible way and engage with those in the community who will benefit most from the research. The project drew on high-quality research into effective teaching and learning practices to develop brief, accessible summaries and syntheses of evidence and approaches designed to improve student learning and enhance equity of educational opportunity.

RD

About the author

Julie Kos is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER’s Education Policy and Practice research program.

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View selected works of Julie Kos

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