Part 1: Teaching Practice

I am currently working on a series of papers entitled Developing Effective Learning, Teaching and Assessment Practice through Sign Language, which aims to:

  • examine and reflect on teaching and assessment practice and their effect on student learning;
  • consider how the involvement of British Sign Language (BSL)/English Interpreters in teaching delivery impacts on learning, teaching and assessment practice; and
  • explore the learner journey and students’ experience of the involvement of interpreters.


As I am profoundly Deaf (“Deaf” with a capital “D” refers to those born Deaf or deafened in early (sometimes late) childhood, for whom the sign languages, communities and cultures of the Deaf collective represents their primary experience and allegiance, many of whom perceive their experience as essentially akin to other language minorities (Ladd, 2003, p. xvii)) with limited confidence in my spoken English, I find myself in an unusual predicament; I have to rely on a third party, namely BSL/English Interpreters, to act as a medium through which to deliver my teaching sessions to hearing (“hearing” refers to non-Deaf people (Ladd, p. xviii)) students.

Therefore, the aim of this paper is to explore the development of my teaching and assessment practice and how such practices have influenced and/or been influenced by the experience of teaching through a third party.


A basic Google search suggests that there is little or no evidence of a Deaf person teaching through BSL. A literature review reveals that most of the research conducted of this nature is focused on the experiences of d/Deaf students being taught by hearing lecturers at higher education level, as opposed to the experiences of hearing students being taught by Deaf lecturers.

Of pertinent relevance is Campbell, Rohan and Woodcock (2008) who focus on academic and educational interpreting from the other side of the classroom, that is to say, from the point of view of Deaf academics, which provides an illuminating insight into how Deaf academics should work with their designated interpreters (“designated interpreting” is defined as a marriage between the field of interpreting and the Deaf professional’s discipline or work environment (Hauser and Hauser, 2008, p. 4)). As the BSL/English Interpreters are, in effect, designated interpreters, they will be referred to as such henceforth.

Due to the limited amount of research in this area, I intend to firstly conduct a series of informal surveys at a later date with Deaf individuals who are teaching hearing students (or may have taught hearing students in training) – identified through my contacts in the Deaf community – to ascertain what experiences they have had in teaching through BSL/English Interpreters, so that I may compare these with my own. Secondly, I will direct a series of questions directed at my three designated interpreters based on their experiences of interpreting for me in an academic context. These views will be considered in Part Two of the series.

The Learner Journey

Laurillard makes it quite clear that it is the lecturer’s responsibility to create conditions in which understanding is possible, and the students’ responsibility to take advantage of that (2002, p. 1). In order to do so, consideration has to be given to the concept of ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ approaches to learning which originated in Sweden with Marton and Säljö’s studies at Gothenburg University (cited in Ramsden, 2003; Biggs and Tang, 2007), which I examine.

I plan to conduct a further informal survey aimed at students who are currently enrolled on modules/courses that I teach to glean their perspectives of being taught through BSL and designated interpreters for Part Three of the series.


Before examining teaching style, it is necessary to consider the language that I use during lectures. In general terms, I use BSL. BSL is a full human language, just like any other (Sutton-Spence and Woll, 1998, p. 20). However, when teaching, and in particular as I am teaching law, oftentimes I will find myself using Sign Supported English where I sign the key words of a sentence with the main vocabulary being produced from BSL but much of the grammar is English on the mouth (Sutton-Spence and Woll, p. 16).

For instance, when referring to phrases such as “the veil of incorporation”, “as far as reasonably practicable” and “failure to make reasonable adjustments”, it is not possible to relay these in BSL without distorting their originality which could lead to the students becoming confused as to what it is I am referring to. The situation is further compounded when referring to Latin phrases such as res ipsa loquitor or volenti non fit injuria. As a result, I will use Sign Supported English instead. Therefore, even if no lexicalised sign exists (lexicons are the signs that form the mental vocabulary of a language, which everyone agrees has a certain meaning (Sutton-Spence and Woll, p. 8)), I might choose to borrow the English word into BSL and fingerspell the lexical item, as well as paraphrasing with explanation, to ensure that the audience is accessing the subject-specific vocabulary and its meaning (Napier, 2002, p. 3).

The impact of using BSL (and how the complexity of legalese is dealt with in this context) and designated interpreters will be explored further in Part Two, and has been mentioned here by way of an introduction to the potential issues that may crop up through teaching and assessment practice.


This section considers what teaching is and the role of lectures and discussion/workshops in my teaching practice.

Biggs and Tang state that one step towards improving teaching is to find out the extent to which lecturers might be encouraging surface approaches in their teaching (2007, p. 44). I therefore explore how I encourage surface approaches in my teaching so I can then take the necessary steps to reduce or avoid altogether students adopting surface approaches.

Interestingly, Eble advises lecturers not to lecture (1988, p. 68), which is somewhat ironic given that the verb “lecture” is from whence the title of lecturer is derived. Available research consistently concludes that lectures are one of the least effective methods of conveying information (Lowman, 1995, p. 133). Nonetheless, given the popularity of lectures as a forum for the teaching of a subject, with Light and Cox (2001, p. 97) stating that the “lecture and lecturing is almost synonymous with what higher education is all about” and “assuming adequate space, voice and technology, the lecture can ‘teach’ the student multitudes”, it will come as no surprise that most of my teaching is in the form of a lecture.  So, how do I avoid boring lectures?  I explain how I use illustrations in Powerpoint slides that provide an overview of the entire topic at a glance to assist students in grasping the context of each of the various elements involved in that topic, flagging, reviews, buzz groups (Gibbs, Habeshaw and Habeshaw, 1987) and problem-based learning to name a few.  I therefore argue that lectures need not be a lost cause.

I concur that discussions in workshops etc. can be, at their worst, painful and frustrating for all involved (Lowman, 1995, p. 160) and explore the different methods of leading discussions with mixed results.


To conclude this examination of teaching practice, it is quite clear that Eble’s succinct quote, “one learns by teaching; one cannot teach except by constantly learning” (Eble, 1988, p. 9), and that learning to be a lecturer means learning about “one’s own values, self-theories, thoughts and identities as well as gaining other forms of knowledge needed to encourage that valued, complex learning which can involve the student as a whole person” (Knight, 2002, p. 24).

It is contended that the aims of this paper: to examine and reflect on teaching and assessment practice and their effect on student learning, has been achieved. Now that we have established the effective learning, teaching and assessment practices that I employ in my role as lecturer, we are now in a position to move on to a consideration of how the involvement of designated interpreters in teaching delivery impacts on these practices in Part Two.


Deaf, hubby to Rachel, dad to Corey, Libby and Emily, Solicitor, Lecturer in Legal Practice at University of South Wales, PhD student at University of Leicester.

1 Response

  1. hankwelluk says:

    Reads well. Is clear and concise. What a great topic. Look forward to the findings.

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