Partnership helps to make NZSL more widely available

Issue: Volume 93, Number 12

Posted: 14 July 2014
Reference #: 1H9ct2

New achievement standards should see New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) more widely available in New Zealand secondary schools.

The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Deaf community and NZQA, is currently developing achievement standards and assessment resources for NZSL, starting with the standards for NCEA Level 1.

By 2017, standards for NCEA Levels 1 to 3 will be available to all secondary schools.

The achievement standards will align with The New Zealand Curriculum and further enable students to gain the NCEA credits needed to study NZSL at university or develop a career using sign language.

NZSL – an official language

Ministry of Education senior adviser Francie Benge is leading the project with input from an NZSL achievement standards advisory group.

The group has representatives from Kelston and van Asch Deaf Education Centres, Deaf Aotearoa, Victoria University, the New Zealand Association of Language Teachers, the NZSL Experts’ Group, the NZSL Teachers’ Association, NZQA and others within the Ministry’s special education strategy and curriculum teams.

Francie says the NZSL project is timely.

“The Ministry has only recently completed a major project, aligning all achievement standards with the curriculum – so this work fits nicely with that direction.”

She says a Human Rights Commission (HRC) report, called A New Era in the Right to Sign, published last year, provides important context for the project.

“The HRC report focused our attention on the importance of NZSL to the inclusion, participation and achievement of deaf students and it reaffirmed NZSL as an education priority for the Ministry,” she says.

“This work complements that priority and gives secondary schools an opportunity to broaden the range of language options they provide. In time, I’d like to think we’ll see many more schools offering NZSL as a second language.”

Francie says the project will follow a rigorous process, involving key stakeholders, subject and curriculum experts from schools, NZQA and the Ministry.

“Consultation, feedback and quality assurance at each stage of the project will be essential before the standards are accepted for registration and the assessment resources are approved as fit for purpose,” she says.

Implementing the NZSL unit standards – teacher insights

Kelston Deaf Education Centre senior teacher Sarah Cameron and assistant head of school Robyn Neil have spent nearly four years developing an NCEA NZSL programme for their school, using the existing unit standards.

The pair has developed teacher evidence and judgement sheets, student check lists, teaching notes, lesson plans and student exemplars – all the paper work needed to teach NZSL as an NCEA subject.

Sarah says: “We’re keen to share what we’ve learned with the Ministry’s project team. For example, we’ve found students are given a lot of opportunity to develop their expressive language skills, but we need to develop more receptive language resources for assessment. This is the main gap at the moment.”

The teachers have also gained insight into the additional time required to assess a visual language such as NZSL.

Robyn explains: “There’s a lot to analyse in NZSL because it is a visual language. Students need to use hand formation and facial expression in full coordination to convey meaning. All of this needs to be observed closely and taken into account. It’s definitely not like marking a paper test.”

Sarah says another key learning they’ve picked up from the past few years is how much NZSL appeals to both deaf and hearing students alike.

“Feedback from hearing students in our wider community – from neighbouring Kelston Girls, as well as schools such as Papatoetoe High School and Ormiston Senior College – showed us that NZSL isn’t just for deaf students. All students see NZSL as a fun, cool language to learn.

“It’s theatrical, it’s creative and it involves the whole body – it’s a pleasure. Some students love the secret language aspect of it. They can use it in situations where you can’t use spoken language. Others feel like they’re playing around and learning at the same time.”

A student’s perspective

For Year 12 student, Lisa Thompson, it was the desire to have a meaningful friendship with a deaf friend that got her started with NZSL.

“I learned the majority of my sign from my friend, Zoe. Going to night classes helped me polish up my skills and added to my vocabulary,” says Lisa.

Nowadays, the Kapiti College student is hooked on NZSL and thinks more schools should offer it as part of their language programme.

Last year Lisa successfully won a council ‘Think Big’ grant to run a project of her choice, a project to promote NZSL in schools.

She went on to develop a Facebook campaign aimed at raising awareness of NZSL and getting more schools interested in teaching the language as a subject.

“It’s a fun language to learn. And my ‘Think Big’ project showed me there are lots of students who are really keen to learn it, given the choice. But there’s more to it for me.

“Learning sign gives people a valuable life skill. So many people will parent deaf children and by learning it at school, these future parents will be better prepared and better set up to communicate with their children when the time comes.

“Also, a lot of careers involve sign and most of us will come across and work with deaf people at some point in our working lives.

“Ultimately, I think schools should teach NZSL to make New Zealand a more inclusive society,” Lisa says.

Kelston Deaf Education Centre principal David Foster agrees: “Right now, New Zealand society is missing out on the talents of a lot of bright young deaf people, because there’s simply not enough opportunity for them outside of deaf education or the Deaf community.

“We’ve got deaf law graduates heading off to the UK for work and others taking their knowledge and skills to the US.

“Having a society where NZSL is well used and regarded can turn this around and provide the opportunities here in New Zealand – schools have a huge role to play in this transformation.”

Teach NZSL in New Zealand high schools – like it on Facebook

Check out Lisa’s Facebook page(external link) and keep up with her latest news.

Teach NZSL – resources to help Thumbs Up!

Visit Te Kete Ipurangi(external link) to check out an online NZSL teaching and learning resource called Thumbs Up! An Introduction to New Zealand Sign Language. 

New e-books launched – Ready to Read

The Ministry of Education has launched six new e-books from the Ready to Read series. All e-books can be followed or read in English (text), audio and NZSL.

In the series:

  • The King’s Birthday, by Dot Meharry
  • I Want to Fly, by Judy Lawn
  • Late for the Race, by Dawn McMillan
  • Tim’s Costume, by Eleanor Hughes
  • Talking to Nanny, by Jo Carson-Barr
  • A Special Visit to Koro and Nanny, by Herehere Titoko.

More books from the Ready to Read series will be available over time.
The e-books are available for free from iTunes (for Apple devices) or GooglePlay (for Android devices. Search using the phrase ‘Ministry of Education New Zealand’.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:03 pm, 14 July 2014

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