Deaf-friendly online learning
Online education offers a different learning experience for pupils including access to a range of learning tools, a more personalised learning experience and a flexible learning approach. However, remote online learning can also throw up barriers and challenges for deaf pupils because of their communication and technology needs. Here are some things you may want to consider when thinking about delivering your learning and lessons online.
Deaf pupils have individual requirements and learning preferences which you will need to consider when preparing and delivering remote online learning. Make sure that you are familiar with a pupil’s learning needs by talking to the SENCO (or equivalent) and Teacher of the Deaf, sharing content with them and seeking feedback.
When planning remote online lessons, consider the following questions.
- Does the deaf learner feel comfortable with and understand how to maximise the functions of the platform you are using?
- How will you provide deaf pupils with a connection to each other and with yourself so they don’t feel isolated or disconnected?
- Is your teaching content suitable for delivery through a remote online platform or will it need to be repurposed? You can find more information on making online learning accessible here.
- Have you balanced pre-recorded or pre-formulated learning with real-time face-to-face online learning?
- Does the pupil have the tools and resources they need to learn independently? If not, what support do they need to access learning in the same way as their peers?
- Is this going to be a positive learning experience for the pupil? If not, consider other approaches.
The adjustments you make when teaching online will be the same as those you make in your face-to-face teaching.
Be deaf aware
- Is your communication style accessible to deaf learners? A simple test is to turn down the sound and ask a friend or colleague how easy it is to understand the content of your lesson or presentation.
- Make sure that when you are speaking your face is well lit and can be seen clearly. Avoid covering your face or mouth with your hands or turning away from the camera. Deaf children use visual clues as well as auditory information to help them learn.
- When reading a story, position yourself so that the deaf pupil can see the book/page and your face.
- Provide pupils access to lesson content or a lesson overview before the session, so they can familiarise themselves with new vocabulary and learning.
- Mute microphones and check there is no background noise before you start to talk.
- Pace your lesson – talk slowly and clearly and build in natural pauses.
- Try not to deliver too much information too quickly and avoid abrupt changes of pace or content.
- Use clear language and avoid jargon. Give explanations of new, unfamiliar or key vocabulary and repeat or show a written version of the word.
- Speak in clear, straightforward sentences and avoid using complicated language structures or drifting from the point.
- Repeat instructions and support them with visual information if appropriate.
- Don’t ask pupils to complete a task while you are still talking.
Break up content
- Divide your lesson into clear sections.
- Avoid long periods with just you talking. Break up learning with different activities.
- Build in learning breaks – listening for long periods of time is very demanding on deaf pupils.
Make group work accessible
- Ask classmates to turn on their videos before they speak so the deaf pupil can see their face.
- Encourage pupils to signal before they speak.
- Repeat or paraphrase pupils’ answers.
- Use the chat function or create a group chat.
- Provide communication support
- If pupils are fluent readers, use closed captions, subtitles or live transcription.
- Some students will need some signed support or content interpreted. Make sure you have put that provision in place before delivering the lesson.
- Provide lesson content to the communication support worker (CSW) or interpreter well in advance.
Use all available technology
- Check in with deaf pupils before you start the lesson and test that hearing technology and devices such as hearing aids, headphones, streamers and radio aids are working.
- Make sure that you and your deaf pupils are aware of the accessibility options on your online learning platform across all technology, including computers, laptops, tablets, and phones.
- Check that your platform provides good sound and picture quality.
- If you are showing video with audio content make sure that it is accessible, eg by enabling subtitles.
- Record your lesson and allow learners to access the recording so they can watch it back at their own pace.
Use visual support
- Use visuals which support spoken information but don’t add in unnecessary visual information.
- Keep PowerPoint slides clear and informative.
- Build in time for pupils to read information on screen before talking.
- If you are using new vocabulary in a presentation, allow pupils to click on the word and read the meaning through a pre-populated glossary.
- If you are using content from other providers, check that it is accessible to the deaf pupil.
Seek feedback from your pupils. Ask questions about:
- how easy they found it to understand what they had to do
- the pace of delivery
- accessibility of images and videos.
Before you decide on whether to live stream your lesson from the classroom, here are some things to consider.
- Does the deaf learner need to lip read and see your face at all times?
- How are you going to share visual information?
- Can the deaf learner still see your face when you are slide sharing?
- Is the pupil able to hear you clearly and at all times? Microphone options will be dependent on your classroom set up and how you teach.
- Does the pupil also have access to technology at home that can help them to access audio content?
- Live captions in Teams can help, particularly if the student has good auditory processing, but are they accurate enough?
- Live captions used over a prolonged period of time can be very tiring. Is there another way you can provide key information prior to the lesson?
Online assessments can be challenging for deaf pupils. Care must be taken so that pupils are not unfairly disadvantaged because they cannot understand what they are being asked to do. Here are some things to be aware of.
If the assessment is not testing listening, then audio content could disadvantage the deaf pupil. If audio content is required – either to assess listening or because the child cannot read instructions easily – then consider using a live speaker or interpreter.
- Are instructions clear and straightforward?
- Is the language used familiar to the child?
- Are sentence structures simple with the most important information put first?
Are the visuals helpful or misleading? Deaf pupils are more likely to seek information from visuals and could become distracted by competing information.
Assessments can be stressful for all pupils but deaf pupils may become more anxious because of perceived or real difficulties accessing and completing tests. Make sure pupils feel well-supported through careful preparation and planning.
Safeguarding and welfare of learners is paramount and takes precedence over all other considerations. At all times you should follow your school’s safeguarding policies. All issues relating to online safeguarding should be dealt with in the same way as during face-to-face teaching.
Planning will be critical to ensuring a safe and successful live streaming lesson.
- Consider availability of pupils, and the numbers of pupils that can be included successfully for a safe lesson.
- Ensure the length of live streamed lessons are appropriate for deaf pupils.
- Consider the technology needs of the deaf pupil. If there is likely to be inequality of access due to technology issues, you may wish to consider alternative lesson formats.
- Ensure the lesson is planned in advance and give sufficient notice to pupils, parents/carers and support staff as required.
- Check all content is appropriate and for any tasks requiring online research, check the suitability/accessibility of the websites prior to the lesson.
- Be mindful that if the lesson includes tasks, some deaf learners may require more time than others.
Location and camera settings
- Choose a neutral location that is appropriate and safe, with no distractions. For example, Microsoft Teams enables you to change or blur your background display.
- Encourage deaf pupils to work from a suitable shared home location where there are low levels of background noise so they don’t miss vital information to keep them safe.
Make sure pupils have clear and unambiguous information about acceptable behaviours and expectations and reinforce these frequently to avoid misunderstandings. You may need to share these in more than one format and with parents and carers.
If you're creating new resources, our advice about making resources accessible to deaf children and young people may also be helpful.