University of Edinburgh

Practical Support Strategies for Deaf Pupils involved in SQA National Qualifications

Presented on Thursday 25 January 2007

Workshop: Signing the Question Paper


question paper

Workshop A
Question about heart and lungs

Should the teacher fingerspell or sign terms like HEART?
We felt the solution should reflect what happens in the classroom normally.
Visual clues like the place of HEART gives the deaf candidate an advantage. However, the fact that the exam is produced for hearing pupils puts the deaf candidate at a substantial disadvantage. In general this group felt that the correct BSL sign should be used in the exam, regardless of the fact it gives the occasional advantage to deaf candidates.

Question about hay fever
It is difficult for the candidate to refer back to the text. This question places heavy demands on the pupil’s concentration. Exam skills could be taught in advance, eg; using highlighter pens to identify key words, practising skim reading, knowing that question one will refer to paragraph 1, asking for paragraph 1 to be signed again.

For candidates who use speech with sign:
Can the questions be modified to suit the English level of the candidate? Can we use a different spoken word with the sign?
What different arrangements do we need to make for candidates who use English, BSL, or a mixture?

Would hearing candidates understand this text? Is the question testing the candidates’ English skills rather than their knowledge of science?
Are the teacher of deaf children’s BSL skills good enough to sign this text?
Who can we ask about the signs we don’t know?
Is half an hour long enough to prepare to sign this question?

General issues about signing questions and translating answers:
Can we sign sources and diagrams?
Do we have to ask for the candidate to ask for a question to be signed?
How many people do we need for translation? Do we do it in the exam or afterwards?
Sometimes the deaf candidate writes AND signs their answer. Which one should be put forward? We should train pupils in exactly what to do.

Other subjects:
Can papers be signed in BSL in a French exam?
The DRG group has a 7 day turnaround to review tapes and translations; should holidays be included in the 7 days?

Are teachers soon going to be filmed signing the questions? If so, we need training.

Sometimes answering in BSL disadvantages the deaf candidate because the answer could be copied straight off the exam paper, e.g. Foundation Modern Studies.

Workshop B
Question about heart and lungs

The sign for HEART / LUNGS could be signed away from the body in neutral space. Or give the sign for the organ first then ask the candidate to place it correctly on a diagram of the body.

Layout issues with this question:
Omit questions (i) and (ii).
There is confusion about capital letters in Diagram and in Part B.
Move the instruction: Underline the correct answer to the top.

Hayfever question
There is too much information. The English version would be better in bullet points for all candidates. By the time the teacher has finished signing it the pupil will have forgotten the start of the passage. Change the layout, presentation and font. This matches what happens in the classroom with deaf learners on the course.

Pupils should be examined on their knowledge of the subject, not their English. For some SVS papers there are two pages of English to read through at 3 levels.

There is a problem for some candidates who have 2 exams on the same day: extra time can make it very long.

A DVD with the correct BSL subject terminology to use throughout Scotland is very important.

Modern Studies and History are not very accessible because of the amount of reading

Workshop D
Question about heart and lungs

The translation should not give the meaning away. In the sample question if HEART is signed then the place in the body is shown, thus answering the question. Other solutions discussed:

  • Fingerspell HEART
  • Sign HEART in neutral space in front of signer
  • Point to a diagram ( no text) and ask for the sign for that

There are many other examples where the sign visually gives the meaning from different subjects, eg MEANDER.

If the sign for HEART in neutral space is going to be established then pupils need to be taught how to recognise these modified signs well before the exam.

Subject specific vocabulary is particularly important for exams. The SSC Science Signs Glossary project will establish signs and definitions for up to 250 science terms in 2007 but many projects like this are needed to cover the whole curriculum.

We discussed the use of individual signs for individual candidates which could be OK until standard signs established with Deaf science teachers informing us.

We discussed responses from students and how to record them:

If the student uses an initial letter and doesn’t know the full fingerspelt pattern, then the teacher records S ______ or whatever the student signed. If the student is using speech with sign and the sign doesn’t match the spoken word, then both should be recorded and the translation annotated to show the ambiguity.

For teachers who are new to translation it may help to write a literal word for sign translation first then a standard English translation based on the meaning.

We discussed the right of pupils to ask for a signed exam paper: was there a right or should the pupil first have been using BSL in the classroom. If it is the right of the child, and if the local authority doesn’t have staff who can sign to the right level, then surely the local authority should fund an interpreter.

We looked at the Hayfever sample question which is heavily text based.

We thought this question was testing reading comprehension rather than science.
We realised that extra time would be needed, but found that the amount of time requested to SQA varied from 20% to 100%.
We thought that if there is a long English text then SQA should provide a DVD of the BSL translation so that the deaf candidate can review it, go back and check, and find the answers from it just in the same way as a hearing candidate would scan and rescan a written text.
Another approach would be to sign part of the text live, then sign the question which matched that section. However, this would provide more information to the deaf candidate than the hearing candidate had.
If the translation is going to be done live in front of the candidate, the interpreter should have longer than an hour to prepare. This text has features of cohesion which need to be in the BSL version and will take time to translate accurately.

Asking for extra time:
We should have evidence built up over the years about the special arrangements requested for each candidate. This can be used to work out how much extra time to ask for at Standard grade, for example. Students should get used to working with video cameras from S1 onwards.

Quality of teachers’ BSL
If the student asks for a repeat, they should be given a second chance because perhaps the translation was not clear first time.
Put a note on the translation if there is a very long gap when the teacher seems to be signing off camera – explain if the teacher has repeated here.

Candidates who use speech, listening and BSL
Some participants felt that where deaf pupils used a mixture of speech and sign, the teacher using their voice could give additional help to these candidates. But remember that if voice is used the hearing members of the Deaf Review Group will be able to hear the sound track and judge if there has been significant rewording or too much help.

Science multiple choice question
We thought that question 5 was complex and again made heavy memory demands on the deaf candidates.
There are several solutions:

  • Use a language modified paper for all candidates
  • Include diagrams for this question
  • Prepare candidates for multiple choice, eg use of elimination
  • There is a strong argument for SQA producing one central DVD of the question paper so that pupils can control the DVD themselves and rewind.