Literacy and English

Garvel supports a great variety of children. Some use their residual hearing and develop speech naturally: they will often be supported in their local schools by peripatetic staff. Some will develop British Sign Language (BSL) as their natural first language: they will usually be supported in Garvel itself and in the Secondary unit. Some will develop both signing and speech and become fluent in both. Oral pupils will have access to the curriculum in the usual way although with added teaching support. Signing pupils will get access to the curriculum via sign language. For these pupils Garvel’s philosophy is one of sign bilingualism. This philosophy recognises the value of linguistic pluralism and so gives equal status to BSL and English. For those children who have BSL as their first language we aim to build proficiency in English upon that first language. For children whose first language is English they will be encouraged to sign in order to communicate with deaf friends. The aim of this philosophy is that each child attains levels of competence and proficiency in BSL and English sufficient for their needs.

This philosophy means that our initial emphasis in the teaching of language continues to be on language acquisition whether signed or spoken. Establishing the pupils’ first language and ensuring that they are secure in it is crucial because the literacy work they do will depend on their first language.

The school uses the Oxford Reading Tree reading scheme. However, our approach is radically different for pupils whose first language is B.S.L. They must access the English through sign language and so produce signed versions of the reading scheme stories. These are put on DVD and become an integral part of reading homework from which parents can learn the signs we use. This gives the pupils access to the stories in their first language which becomes the foundation for them learning English as an additional language. Essentially, we want the children to learn how to transfer from B.S.L. to English and to do this it is important that they work with a deaf adult whose first language is B.S.L. as well as a hearing teacher with signing skills using a mixture of approaches and a mixture of written and visual resources.

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