SoundSpace Online

Educational Options

The range of educational options for deaf learners can be most easily described by focussing on two key aspects – where they will be educated and the nature of the communication and language used in that setting.  There is no one option that is appropriate for all deaf learners and the decision as what is the best choice for any student should be based on an assessment of their individual needs. ([14])


Deaf learners can be educated in either separate (congregated or specialist) settings or integrated with hearing children.

In congregated or specialist settings deaf children are grouped together, and are usually taught by a teacher of the deaf. Examples of these types of settings are:

  • schools for the deaf
  • classes, units or resource rooms in the student’s local or neighbourhood school

In integrated or mainstream settings – also referred to as inclusion – deaf students are taught in the same classrooms as their hearing peers. They attend their local or neighbourhood school and are taught by the classroom teachers in that school. In addition they often receive support from a peripatetic or itinerant teacher of the deaf. These are teachers who travel from school to school and provide services for deaf students on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.

In the past the majority of deaf learners were taught in congregated or specialist settings, most often schools for the deaf. However with the introduction of newborn hearing screening and advances in hearing technologies such as cochlear implants, most deaf learners are now being educated in mainstream settings alongside their hearing classmates

Communication and Language

Choices include the use of spoken language, signed language or some combination of both. If the option were spoken language, it would be the language of the majority hearing community (e.g., French in France, English in the UK and the USA). If the choice were signed language, it would be either the natural signed language of the Deaf community (e.g., British Sign Language in the UK, American Sign Language in the USA), and/or the use of signs to support the spoken language (e.g., Signed English). 

Educational approaches with respect to communication and language are usually described in terms of how spoken and signed language are used, and whether an emphasis is placed on the use of hearing technologies. Historically these approaches have included:

Auditory Oral Approach

  • In an ([11]) the emphasis is on developing spoken language and learning through speaking and listening. The use of hearing technologies is central to this approach.

Bilingual Bicultural or Sign Bilingual 

  • In a Bilingual Bicultural or Sign Bilingual approach, a natural signed language (e.g., BSL) is developed as the first language and used as the main language of instruction. Spoken language (e.g., English) is developed as a second language ([12]). There is less emphasis on the use of hearing technologies as you are not speaking when you are signing.

Total Communication

  • Total Communication is an approach that encompasses the use of both signed and spoken language, either alone or in combination to develop language and for teaching and learning ([13]). Signed language in a TC approach is most often some form of the sign supported spoken language (e.g., Signed English), but may also include the use of a natural signed language (e.g., ASL). Consistent use is made of hearing technologies as you are most often speaking, even while you are signing.

These brief, introductory descriptions provide a starting place for thinking about educational options for deaf learners  - but the reality of implementing them is much more complex. For further information communication choices and placement decisions, please go to SoundSpace Online - Educational decisions (in progress).