Cath Smith publishes British Sign Language teaching resources on TES as author, deafbooks. Learn more below about her motivation and the challenges that deaf learners face.
Tell us about your professional experience
My background was originally in social work with the Deaf community, working with families with deaf children and sign language interpreting.
When the local deaf school changed its policy from ‘oralism’ to ‘total communication’, which included the use of sign language, I was appointed to work in schools to introduce signing classes for teachers and parents and to work with pupils who needed additional support.
Why did you begin to create resources to support the teaching of BSL?
Deaf education at that time implemented ‘oral’ policies which did not allow the use of sign language and there was virtually nothing available in terms of books and dictionaries. The head of the school, Dr Terry Morris, decided to set up the ‘Sign Dictionary Project’ and my responsibility was to lead and coordinate this, culminating in a dictionary of sign vocabulary that led to the development of other booklets and materials. It made a huge difference to learners at that time.
Attitudes were also greatly changed during the 1980s and 90s as the work of researchers established BSL as a language proper.
I left the school at the end of the 1990s to set up the Let’s Sign series of BSL guides, dictionaries and resource publications.
In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that teachers face when working with students with hearing needs?
The incidence of deafness is not high and most deaf children are now educated in mainstream schools with varying degrees of resources to support them. The biggest challenge is likely to be achieving good two-way communication in addition to finding or creating teaching materials for children with such diverse language needs.
Children can easily become isolated. They may have little or no contact with adult native BSL role models and also miss out on the ease of peer group interactions that shared language and communication methods allow.
Their needs are highly individual and it takes an effort of imagination to appreciate the profound effects deafness can have on early language development and communication.
What would you like teachers and students to experience when using your resources?
Many of my resources are early years-focused and designed to interest and encourage teachers to introduce all children to some sign language basics from an early age.
Engaging, age-appropriate materials can be difficult to find for older students with language delay and I try to create materials that look professional and well-made and which appeal to young people too.
As an author on TES, what advice would you give to someone who was thinking about sharing their resources?
If you‘ve spent time and effort creating materials that have helped you, your students and their families, they can help others too.
Well-informed and well-produced materials are invaluable; they can change attitudes and make a real difference.
Whether these are paid-for items or free, seeing your work out there and being used by others is tremendously rewarding and can inspire others to create things too.