SoundSpace Online

Supporting deaf learners in Educational Settings

Providing the best possible support in an educational setting takes into account three main considerations – the learner, the environment and the technology.

1) The first consideration should always be the needs of the learner. Each deaf student is unique. They have a range of hearing losses, learning strengths and challenges, and may also have additional needs (e.g., vision loss, cognitive delays). It is important that the support provided meets these needs. One size does not fit all! Please visit this Ear Foundation e-module website page for more information.

2) The second consideration is to design the environment to take into account these identified needs. There is a range of supports that can be provided in this area to ensure the best situation for learning. Please visit this Ear Foundation e-module website page for more information. Also visit this Advanced Bionics (AB) website page called "Tools for Schools" for helpful information. 

Making it Easier to Hear

Classrooms are noisy places, but there are many things that can be done to improve the listening environment for deaf learners and create an acoustically friendly classroom. These include:

  • Ceilings with acoustically treated tiles
  • Bulletin boards softened with sound-absorbing material
  • Carpeting on the floor
  • Turning off computers when not in use - they make noise on standby mode 
  • Putting rubber stoppers or tennis balls on chair and table legs

Please visit this Ear Foundation e-module website page for a video by the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) on noise demonstration in the classroom, and for a checklist for thinking about the classroom listening environment, please visit The Ear Foundation website page.

Making it Easier to See and Hear 

It is important that deaf students have the best possible opportunity to both see and hear what is going on in the classroom. This is especially important if they are relying on speechreading or signing as well as listening. There are a number of strategies that can be put in place to support them.

  • Making sure that there is good lighting in the classroom
  • Seating at the front of the classroom nearer the teacher or the interpreter
  • Sitting at a round table or in a “U-shaped” arrangement when working in small group to see everyone more easily.
  • Sitting away from noise sources like the door to the hallway or the window
  • Being flexible with seating arrangements depending on the task
Making it Easier to Follow Classroom Discussions and Instructions

It can be very hard for deaf students to follow a class discussion if the conversation moves too quickly, they are not sure who is talking, or if people are talking at the same time. It is also easy for them to miss instructions and information from the teacher especially at busy times such as getting ready to leave at the end of the school day. This can be made easier in the following ways.

  • Speakers Identifying themselves before talking (e.g., raising their hands)
  • Being more aware of conversational turns - wait for one speaker to finish before the next one begins talking
  • Facing deaf students when talking to them
  • Providing written backup for any instructions (e.g. homework assignments, announcements of upcoming events etc.)
  • Introducing or giving the topic before a lesson or a discussion
  • Repeating key points and ideas

Please visit this National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) website page for a video on facing deaf students whilst in conversation. 

Putting the Right People in Place

The people supporting the deaf learner are also part of designing the optimal learning environment. This most often includes a teacher of the deaf, but for some students there are additional support staff that should be involved. These include:

  • Speech language teachers
  • Auditory verbal therapists
  • Audiologists
  • Note-takers
  • Captionists
  • Sign language interpreters
3) The third consideration is putting the right hearing technologies in place. With recent advances in this area (e.g., cochlear implants), almost all deaf learners benefit from the use of hearing technology to participate more fully in the classroom. And more than ever before, there are deaf students, particularly those taught in mainstream settings, who rely primarily on their hearing for learning. Therefore it is extremely important for all deaf learners that this technology is working well and used consistently. This includes personal hearing technologies such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and bone conducting hearing implants (BCHIs), and group FM systems.