Hearing impairments

All learners are different and some learners you work with may have a degree of hearing loss. The article below aims to highlight some ways of adapting your sessions to help recognise and work with learners who have hearing impairments.

When you are working with learners with hearing loss it is useful to familiarise yourself with deaf awareness. The Action on Hearing website provides a range of information on deaf awareness. The term “learners with hearing loss” is used to cover all levels of hearing loss, including learners who are profoundly deaf.

Be aware that there are a range of reasons for hearing loss which can happen at different times in people's lives. Consequently there a range of ways people with a hearing loss have of communicating. Some of your learners may lip read, others may use one of many sign languages developed in different countries, others may use a hearing aid. The main sign language used in UK is the British Sign Language (BSL).

As a tutor working with a range of learners it is useful for you to try to understand the different ways of communicating that your learners prefer to use when learning. See the Sign Language Interpreter section on the Open University website for more information on the different communication methods used.

When you are working with students with hearing loss bear in mind some common considerations, ways of communicating and possible teaching and learning strategies. You will see below some suggestions, some may seem obvious to you, some may not. They are a selection of possible ways of working with learners with hearing loss. These are made by tutors who have some experience of working with this group of learners and taken from helpful websites such as those below.  

Common Considerations:

  • When building your relationship with the group ensure you are aware of the learners' language abilities and preferred learning style to ensure inclusion into the group
  • If working with a group of mixed ability of hearing learners try to provide support with sensitivity, try to avoid drawing too much attention to the differences
  • Use a variety of activities during your sessions to enable working between learners with different abilities as well as times for more focused specialist work
  • Consider seating arrangements that allows all learners to see each other – a circle (e.g. in a group) or semi-circle (e.g. in a class) is best.
  • Try to reduce background noise
  • Make sure you have the whole group's attention before starting the session
  • Allow deaf students to sit where they wish. Lip-readers usually sit near the front slightly to one side of the tutor (the optimum distance for lip-reading is about 6 feet)
  • Remember to face the student with hearing loss and speak clearly
  • Try to use BSL interpreters and assistive hearing devices where possible.
  • When working with an interpreter in the class try not to wander in between the learner and the interpreter
  • Ensure that there is plenty of light in the room so the student can clearly see both the signing and facial expressions. Make sure that the light is on your face rather than on your back to avoid appearing as a silhouette.
  • When talking to a deaf student who uses a BSL interpreter for communication support, it is important for you to speak directly to them rather to the interpreter.
  • Do be aware that the interpreter may be a bit behind the tutor with relaying the information. The tutor may need to pause (e.g. after each “paragraph”) or speak more slowly so the interpreter can keep up.
  • Be aware that BSL interpreters are only facilitators of communication between the tutor and deaf students and as such should not have extra responsibility such as explaining or clarifying your instructions.
  • When turning off the lights (e.g. for a presentation), ensure that the interpreter’s face is still illuminated. Otherwise, the student and their peers should seek a reasonable resolution.
  • The student may have a note-taker so they can concentrate on the tutor/lesson or the BSL interpreter.

Ways of communicating

  • Make use of the range of technologies, available to communicate ideas with learners, including interpreters, ICT, email and texts messaging
  • Try to give extra time if speaking and showing diagrams as learners will need to look at the diagram and read what you are saying  to get the whole picture
  • Agree and clarify specialist terminology with your learners. Remember a lot of concepts, especially in maths, may not have a common signs across a range of languages. It is important for you and the learners to agree signs for specialist concepts. This is also a real opportunity for learners to discuss new concepts or reinforce and recap ideas
  • When communicating with the student directly, keep sentences short and reword if necessary
  • Use hand gestures and facial expressions if possible to make students feel more included in the class
  • When asking a deaf student a question, make sure it is open-ended to check that everyone has understood what you are asking

Teaching and learning strategies:

  • Clearly structure your session, and write key words on the board or on flipcharts
  • Provide handouts linked to each activity to reinforce concepts
  • Provide visual representations of concepts to reinforce ideas
  • Clearly link key concepts for each session to learners own learning plans, using terminology and visual clues to reinforce learning
  • Be aware that teaching strategies useful for students with a hearing loss may also be useful for everyone
  • Before a lesson provide a lesson outline, lesson notes, references etc. to the student if possible. Allow the interpreter to look at notes in advance, so they can familiarise with the concepts and interpret more accurately

If you are working with learners with hearing loss it is worth looking at some of the websites listed below where there is more detailed information on how to support your learners. Some resources in visual BSL clips are included.

Strategies for teaching students with hearing impairments (2005)

Effective communication with deaf students (2006) The Open University
Instructional strategies for students who are deaf/hard of hearing

Learning Zone Class Clips
(Enter “signed” on the search box to see all the signed clips. You can also select literacy or maths for subject search)

Maths Glossary in BSL

Science Glossary in BSL

Sign Language Interpreter (Open

Suggested Teaching Strategies for deaf Students at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/assets/documents/Teaching%20Strategies%20for%20Deaf%20students.pdf

Teaching strategies to use with deaf and hard of hearing students - advice for lecturers in Further and Higher Education (factsheet) http://iws.rgu.ac.uk/files/RNID%20factsheet%20Deaf%20and%20Hard%20of%20Hearing%20in%20HE.htm

M Stinson and S Antia
Considerations in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students in inclusive settings - 2011 Oxford University Press

Stephanie W. Cawthon
Teaching Strategies in Inclusive Classrooms With Deaf Students - 2001 Oxford University Press

Opening PDF files
For more information on how to open PDF files, read the BBC Webwise guide to Adobe Reader.