Sheila Lundberg on the Highland Deaf Education Service’s award-winning digital BSL Pack.

When the Scottish Government introduced their 1+2 language learning initiative to help more children learn different languages, our team at the Highland Deaf Education Service (HDES) believed this was a fantastic opportunity to get British Sign Language (BSL) learning into mainstream schools.

After speaking with the Highland Council, BSL was included as one of the languages available for schools to teach. We were delighted, but faced significant challenges. The Highlands has a population of 250,000—the same size as Belgium—and with just one sign language tutor available to cover the area, there wasn’t a course, package or local BSL tutors that could easily support teachers. Despite the difficulties, we came up with an answer: a digital pack that could be easily shared on a USB stick

Developing a language tool from scratch
When we were first approached to develop a language learning tool for a three-dimensional language, it was a challenge because there was literally nothing on the market to base it on. Vocabulary, story and grammar DVDs were available, but nothing that combined it into a coherent language course for children. In addition, it was challenging to connect with deaf adults in a sparsely populated rural area.

We embraced the challenges and a small team, including a deaf sign tutor, an interpreter and teachers of deaf children and young people, set about creating and producing an innovative and low-cost pack with the aim to empower non-deaf specialists to deliver and promote BSL in their classrooms by becoming a learner alongside their pupils. The Highland Deaf Education Service’s unique digital BSL Pack was born.

The pack, comprising a USB stick containing lesson plans, signed video clips, resources, activities and games. has proved to be a flexible and affordable pack that has created fun and inclusive learning experiences for deaf and hearing children across the country.

One Headteacher fed back that the Pack was “the best organised, easiest to use teaching resource I have ever seen.”

It covers the same topics that you would expect from a beginner’s language pack but also includes many of the linguistic features of BSL that make it such a unique and vibrant language. The traditional emphasis on fingerspelling and vocabulary has been removed and instead, pupils are encouraged to ‘think visually’ and make ‘visual sense’.

The class teacher is not ‘teaching’ the class BSL. Instead, they are a learner alongside their pupils, viewing and following the lesson plans and instructions for activities which are given on video by our deaf BSL tutor. Our deaf BSL tutor effectively becomes the teacher.

At first, we weren’t sure whether this approach would work—delivering a 3D language over a 2D medium—but after many trials in schools with teachers who didn’t sign, and some adjustments, a winning formula was found.

The Pack has since been used from Nursery to Upper Secondary in ways that the team could never have envisaged. It has been used:

  • As a language course in both primary and secondary schools
  • With pupils needing an individual timetable
  • Across the whole school, not just specific classes or year groups
  • By pupils to create their own BSL games
  • With IDL (interdisciplinary learning) and Wider Achievement courses
  • To add lessons, for example learning about famous deaf people, technology
  • To upload video clips and activities to Google Classroom
  • To support activity days.

Spreading BSL across Scotland and beyond
The BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 placed a duty on Local Authorities to promote BSL. This, coupled with the 1+2 Languages Initiative, has led to the massive uptake of the pack, with it being purchased by all of Scotland’s 32 local Authorities, driven by word of mouth alone. Hundreds of staff across Scotland have been trained to deliver the BSL Pack via online training sessions and enquiries continue to flood in from Scotland as well as England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

■ The digital pack

While our reach is now nationwide, our commitment to supporting a D/deaf child in Highland has been long-standing. Based in Dingwall Academy where BSL has been a mainstream language option for over 30 years, we have always offered sign tuition to the family and their educational placement as part of their communication toolkit. It is humbling to know that our knowledge and expertise in teaching BSL, together with our dedication to innovation, now means we are supporting even more children and teachers across the country! We are even taking our work one step further, collaborating with a local charity to bring an online evening class in BSL to a wider audience. We have also started working on a second pack and I plan to get this completed before I retire.We are proud of our achievements, and was even recognised at nasen’s recent Awards, but the real proof of our success for me came last November when we were returning from an event in Manchester. The planning group were sitting in Perth station waiting for a train and we were all signing. A little boy kept nudging his mum and pointing at our sign tutor. The sign tutor signed to ask if he was deaf—the boy shook his head. The sign tutor asked how he knew sign? The boy replied in sign “I learned from watching videos of you in school!” The most fantastic praise one could receive.

Sheila Lundberg
Author: Sheila Lundberg

Sheila Lundberg
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Sheila Lundberg is Coordinator at the Highland Deaf Education Service. Sheila has been a teacher for 39 years (37 of them as a Teacher of Deaf Children and Young People).

The Highland Deaf Education Service won the Innovation in the Field of Inclusion award at the nasen Awards.


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