St Johns Deaf School Deaf Awareness Day

St John’s Deaf School is one of only two oral deaf schools in the UK. Pupils are taught by specialist teachers of hearing impaired children. There is great emphasis on supporting the development of pupils’ spoken language as well as reading and writing. St John’s Deaf School wanted to run an event that gave young deaf people an opportunity to mix positively with young hearing people.

MTa’s Solution:
As part of St John’s Deaf School Deaf Awareness Day, we used MTa PASS to run fun and engaging experiential activities which helped deaf and hearing children learn how to work together.

The day sought to;
+ Give deaf children an opportunity to interact with hearing children in a supportive and familiar environment. Through engaging team activities we provided deaf children with a positive experience to increase self-confidence and self-belief.
+ Provide an opportunity for hearing children to work with deaf children. For many of the hearing children this was the first time they had worked with or spoken to a deaf child. We hoped our activities would help the hearing children discover that deaf children, in many ways are just like them.

Preparing the deaf children for the day:
The deaf children at St John’s are confident and articulate communicators amongst their peers but feedback from staff suggested that the students were a little apprehensive about the prospect of working with hearing children. It was felt that the deaf children may be reluctant to take the lead and would wait for a hearing child to take the initiative in group tasks.
To prepare the deaf children we devised a 45 minute sessions using the same MTa PASS materials that the children would be using on the deaf awareness day. This prior experience with the materials would give the deaf children a tangible skill to demonstrate to the hearing children and help them establish themselves positively within the teams.

For the preparatory sessions we decided that each group would complete two tasks, each task followed by a brief period of review and reflection.

1) The first activity we chose is called “Threading Needles” from the MTa PASS manual. It appears to be a simple threading activity but an often overlooked constraint adds an element of problem solving.

The activities had been chosen with deliberate care. ‘Threading Needles’ is a difficult and ambiguous brief to comprehend; participants (adults and children alike) typically jump in without taking the time to fully understand the implications of the constraints. We planned to repeat this activity on the deaf awareness day and felt that even the most reticent of deaf children would find it impossible not to engage with and help a hearing child who was making incorrect assumptions that might impact the performance of the team. All the teams completed ‘threading needles’ with varying amounts of external help.

2) For the second activity we ran different tasks with different groups:
– For a group of year 7’s and year 8’s, we chose ‘Boxed In’. This activity requires children to plan, discuss then work together to successfully deliver a ‘box’ made from the components. The second activity we used to prepare the year 7/8 deaf children was ‘Boxed In’. If the deaf children knew how to do ‘Boxed In’ they would be well equipped to contribute to an activity we planned to run on the deaf awareness day ‘Wheelbarrow’.
– For a group of year 9 and 10’s we chose “Tall Stack” which is a more demanding activity. To be successful participants must overcome initial frustrations and setbacks and then capitalise on the results of their experimentation to build a viable structure. To prepare the year 9/10s we used the activity ‘Tall Stack’. Initially children found ‘Tall Stack’ challenging and we let frustration and tension mount. When progress seemed to grind to a halt we used a very simple but useful technique to help the children unblock the barriers to successful completion of the task. Children were asked not to touch the materials for 5 minutes, but to simply think and discuss the task. The effect was immediate and each group was soon involved in lively discussion regarding the merits and pitfalls or proposed solutions and courses of action. Once it was clear that viable solutions were being proposed we let the task continue to a successful conclusion.

At the end of each session we posed the question:

When you are working with the hearing children next week what are you going to have to remember?

This gave us a brief opportunity to help the deaf children think about some the key skills and behaviours that would allow them to be effective and help them visualise working with the hearing children. It also provided a natural opportunity for any concerns or worries to be brought out in the open and discussed.

The Deaf Awareness Day

The visiting students came from three local hearing schools (Boston Spa School, Wetherby High School and West Oaks School) and were mixed with pupils from St Johns School to form 15 teams of 4 -5 pupils. In the first activity, “Threading Needles” it was pleasing to see the deaf children getting stuck in and immediately establishing a lead role in the groups. The majority of the deaf children were keen explain the constraints of the brief to the visitors. To complete ‘Threading Needles’ all team members must squash themselves into a small circle on the floor. This provided a fun way of getting the students to enter each other’s personal space was a quick way to build rapport and remove inhibitions.

Once students had completed the task a teacher facilitated a review with each student, aided with review questionnaires from the MTa PASS manual. Teams were asked to reflect on and answer question such as:-

“Did we all listen to each other?”

“Did we all agree on a plan?”

At the end of questionnaire students were asked to suggest ideas for improving their performance in the next task.

We followed ‘Treading Needles’ with ‘Wheel Barrow’ a two part activity that starts with a simple construction task and ends with a race between teams. There was a noticeable increase in the amount of communication between pupils and plenty of animated discussion across ‘school lines’ as students prepared and refined their ‘racing wheel barrows’ ready for the grand finale!
The sessions ended on an energetic high, but did they achieve their objectives?

Sally Thomas a teacher at St John’s Deaf School thought it was a great success:
“For many of our kids it was their first time working as a team with hearing kids watching them at lunch time, kids who had been in teams together for the MTa activity spoke to each other and hung around together in the canteen and the playground, which is better than I had dreamed of!”

If you would like to know more about MTa PASS and how to use it with young people with special needs, please get in touch, we’d be delighted to talk to you about how we can help you.