Critical Thinking and Reflective Practice in Deaf Education

​​​This British Academy funded collaborative project aims to plan and develop ways of developing reflective practice and critical thinking for teachers of the deaf in training across the national provision for Teachers of the Deaf (ToD). The five ToD training providers in the UK will work together to identity and evaluate M-level teaching and learning activities which promote the development of teachers' critical thinking and reflective practice to enhance the effectiveness of their work. This will involve a review of the research which will inform the analysis of selected learning and teaching materials across all the provision. A series of workshops will enable the programme providers to share their ideas and analysis and agree principles and practice. The two key outcomes of this project provide the basis of a larger study: The first is an agreed set of skills and experiences that ToDs require to be reflective practitioners and critical thinkers. The second comprises a set of learning and teaching activities identified to promote the above skills to be trialled and evaluated across the different provision.

Providing Masters Level courses for teachers implies the need to develop critical thinking and reflective practice (Moon, 2008). Uniquely, this study applies these principles to teacher of the deaf training (ToD) which currently happens in 5 centres in the UK, drawing evidence from the existing literature. Whilst the main focus is in developing research informed teaching and learning for ToD students it is also envisaged that there will be two other major benefits.

  • The reduction of professional isolation for the course providers and
  • the grounding of career trajectories for ToDs which will include research and/or further study and leadership potential.
  • All 5 institutions that provide ToD training in the UK are participants in this project. Each programme has its own method of delivery (campus, on-line, distance, blended) and area of specialism (e.g. audiology, sign bilingualism, early years) but all providers work to a common training framework with specified and externally identified outcomes, which are based on professional understanding, knowledge and skills (British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, 2010).

    As a group of providers we have identified that although we work to the same competencies we also share a much broader training agenda which is to enhance the abilities of our teachers in training to engage in reflective practice and critical thinking. ToDs are often the lone specialist in multi-disciplinary settings and need to be able to analyse and develop educational practices which draw on the unique resources that deaf children bring to the learning context to enhance their educational achievement.

    This implies the ability to reflect on their work in classrooms and develop the academic assertiveness required to question thinking and approaches in deaf education, to challenge established views and to and innovate. Thus are ToDs appropriately equipped to meet the challenges of working within this field. This includes the ability to engage with and address both the social and medical models of deafness (Swanwick, 2010a); to adapt to the very fast pace of changing audiological technology and the subsequent changing communication needs of deaf pupils (Mayer and Leigh, 2010) and to critically navigate the often polarised deaf education research from allied fields (psychology, linguistics, audiology) and apply this to the educational context (Swanwick, 2010b).

    Our challenge therefore as trainers is to combine the development of teacher 'know how' and expertise with these critical and reflective skills. This has engaged us in critical reflection on our own training practices which we plan to take forward in a more systematic manner with the support of this planning and development grant.The planning phase of this project will involve a review of the literature to establish a framework for identifying learning activities across the 5 programmes which have potential to promote these skills. Through a series of three workshops we will then i) analyse these activities against the framework, ii) improve and develop the activities and then iii) agree a set of common activities that that we will embed in 5 programmes to evaluate in follow-up work.

    Ideas into Practice

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    Articles and Conferences

    In July 2010 at the 21st International Congress of Education of the Deaf, Ruth Swanwick (University of Leeds, UK ) and Marc Marschark (National Technical Institute for the Deaf, USA) presented this paper about research and practice in deaf education. This paper talked about the questions that we have in deaf education about learning and achievement and analysed the gap between the researcher question and the practitioner questions. The authors explore some of the reasons why research in deaf education does not always have the impact that it should in the classroom and why practitioners themselves are not more often the agents of the research that they need to enhance their practice.

    Ruth Swanwick and Marc Marschark,'Enhancing Education for Deaf Children: Research into Practice and Back Again', Deafness and Education International, 2010, (12) 4 pp.217-235.