Special Needs Students: Hearing Disability – A Lesson Observation

Erika Cristina Furtado1
Eduardo Othon Pires Rodrigues2


This paper is based on a lesson observation of a group of teenagers. They are all beginners aged between 12 and 16 years old. This is a group of 17 students and among them there is a student with a hearing disability.

The main aim of this paper was to observe how this particular student learns and interacts with other students. The methodology used by the teacher was also observed and analysed. What works and what doesn’t work within this student was noted and comments were made.

An informal interview was held with the teacher to find out what the difficulties are and what he found interesting in this student learning process.

I would like to mention “teaching demands risk, accepting challenges and rejecting any form of discrimination” (Freire 1996, p. 60).


The work was started by observing a group of 15 students and none of them has any disability, except for this boy named here as Chris. Chris has deep hearing disabilities. He is 92% deaf. 

His mother said he is enrolled in a regular school, but he has an interpreter teacher who explains the subjects to him and he responds quite well. He told her he wanted to study English as a Second Language (in his case as a Third Language) in a language institution, which is what brought him to the school where we work. Wanting to learn no matter what group of students leads us to mention Vygotsky’s ideas: “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life into those around them” (p.88).



In the observed school there is a teacher who studied LIBRAS which stands for Linguagem Brasileira de Sinais – Brazilian Sign Language. Preparing for teaching this particular student would not be something easy. It involved the teacher in an additional process of learning the American Sign Language or Signed English.

A couple of lessons were observed with this particular group and notes were made on how this student interacts and learns as well as how the teacher deals with him in a way to not delay his lesson. An important note to be made here is that, in the school, there is only one teacher who knows how to communicate through sign language. When he heard about Chris, the teacher said it would be good to have someone like him at school because it is time that we offered this option as a language school and showed that there are not barriers for learning. He decided to do the LIBRAS course again to get more familiar with the signs. On the other hand, what I also found a challenge for the teacher as well was the fact of getting the other students excited about the lessons. They are all beginners and needed to have a sense of achievement throughout the units of the book.

It was very important to us that the other students did not have the feeling of being held back or as if they could not manage any interactive activity with Chris. By being late we mean that one of the rules of the school is to follow a schedule made for all books we use in the school within the levels offered. Teachers have this agenda so they can keep a record of what they are teaching and in order to not get behind. Each semester has 34 lessons. As it is not a regular school, but an English as Second Language school, students have to be there only twice a week, between one or one hour and a half – depending on the level.

Step by step we are going to make a description of what the teacher did in class: He started and the first thing realized was that his tone of voice was different and the way he pronounced the words was slower so Chris could understand the commands. It was a Task Based Learning lesson and the teacher started asking some questions about what they knew about London and they were asked to compare some of the things to do in London with some of the things to do in their city. As he asked, he made gestures, using LIBRAS so Chris could understand what the questions were about. At certain moments the teacher turned to Chris only and asked him a couple of questions.

Whenever the teacher was referring to a general question to be asked to the whole class, he was making use of LIBRAS so Chris did not get lost on the topic.

By the time students were answering the questions made by the teacher, Chris looked around to check on them. He was reading other students lips as they were using mother tongue to answer some of the questions.

The use of mother tongue is something we allow in the beginning to get students more involved in the topic to be mentioned during the lessons. English is often used specially with basic learner so they get used to the sounds in these early stages. Beginner students tend to get intimidated by English in the very first lessons as it is a completely different from their mother tongue – which is Portuguese. Although Chris cannot hear, it was not different for him, so in order to make him feel more secure about learning; mother tongue is used at the beginning of his lessons

We would like to add and extract read in an article called Implementing TBL with Young Learners, by Carless (2003). Carless also did lesson observations in ESL classroom and stated that “the mother tongue seems to serve a number of functions such as: an opportunity for pupils to clarify the meaning of what the teacher has said…and a social function, in terms of creating a sense of group cohesion, or reducing students anxiety”.

READING ACTIVITY: as soon as the teacher finished asking the questions, he made some comments on what students would learn about London. He asked them to read the text by themselves and answer some questions related to it.

As students read, they came up with some doubts on vocabulary. The teacher wrote down the new vocabulary on the board and associated some of them with pictures from the book. Some words were translated into the mother tongue so Chris could understand them. This is done so that he would associate the words in Portuguese with the English vocabulary being taught. The teacher said he does that to make it easier for Chris to understand and that he does not do it with all the words only for those which are new.  Then the teacher used British Signed Language so he could learn how to express those words in a foreign language.

LISTENING EXERCISES: After being exposed to the main topic of the lesson, students were given the instructions to listen and read and complete the next exercise using the words given before in the vocabulary section of the book. Chris was told to read the text and do the same. The teacher, however, gave an example of what he expected to be done in that exercise. He went to Chris desk and solved the first exercise to show him what to do and checking if he had understood.

At this moment we could realize that the teacher could perfectly balance one of the exercises we thought would be one of the most difficult to execute in class considering Chris’ needs as well as the other students’ needs.

GROUP WORK ACTIVITY: At this stage of the lesson we were to observe the interaction among students and how Chris would work well in a communicative task. So far they had been studying There is / There are for affirmative, negative and interrogative. All of them were given some pictures. Students were divided in As and Bs. The teacher was asked if Chris would work with students he usually works with and he said that whenever he has communicative / interactive exercises, he does not work with the same students. He explained that even having some limitations it is important for him to get used to other students so it will work for real situations as he will have other people to communicate in English.

In the activity, they have a picture of a map of a town’s city center. They had two different maps. They should ask each other about things they had in their maps (stores, people, buildings, etc.) using the grammatical structure given previously. They were given some time to think of the questions about the places they would like to ask.

Chris had to write down his questions. As the group is an odd number, Chris worked with two other students and all of them could do the task asked.

During the task, he showed his papers to make the questions to the others and they answered by making gestures or nodding positively or negatively. What I noticed at this moment is that Chris was not being asked any questions. It occurred to me that his partners didn’t know how to ask him anything.  So at this point he became an observer, just watching the other students finish the activity proposed.

We came to the conclusion that he might be used to people avoiding to ask him anything because they simply do not know how to do so. It seems that what we try to do is to integrate him into our routine but we do not make any effort to do the same.

As far as we are concerned, what is missing is, at least for the lesson, to try to find out a better way for him to communicate in class especially in spoken exercises. 


“We need to learn to understand the meaning of a silence, or a smile…” (Freire 2011, p. 85).



In this assignment, we had the chance to observe how a lesson is balanced when there is a student with a different learning ability. Although it might demand a different strategy in the use of resources and activities, I could notice that the lesson can be held along students who don’t have the same disability. The ideal, however, would be having this student in a group in which the teacher could give him special attention so he could be a hundred percent sure he would be learning everything which is being taught.

In this observation I could realise in fact how unprepared most of the schools are to have disabled students. I have asked in other schools, from this city and a couple of other ones how they deal whenever they have special needs students. I have also checked with publishers about special material and books and they had nothing (at least the ones we work with) in terms of teaching English as a foreign language. The most we could get was a questionnaire used in the same branch of the school we work. This questionnaire is more informative as it is a type of interview made with parents by the moment they enroll the child at school. We found it very useful and we are adopting a similar instrument to help us to know how these students learn better, their difficulties areas, what keep their attention and so on.



Carless, D 2002, Implementing TBL with Young Learners, ELT Journal Oxford University Press, Hong Kong.

Frankfurt International School 1996, A guide to learn English, FIS, accessed 24 June 2012 <http://esl.fis.edu/teachers/fis/scaffold/page1.htm>

Freire, P 1996, Pedagogia da Autonomia: saberes necessários a pratica da autonomia, EGA, São Paulo.

Kojima, C., Língua de Sinais – A imagem do Pensamento, Escala S/A,  São Paulo: Editora Escala, s/a.

Puchta, H 2011, English in Mind Starter, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University – Br, São Paulo.

Strobel, K. 2008, As imagens do outro sobre a cultura surda, Editora UFSC, Florianópolis - Br.



1Erika Cristina Furtado is graduated and pos graduated in General Management by Universidade Federal de Roraima. She has been teaching ESL since 2005 and has also presented workshop student-related in several conferences in Brazil. She is in charge of the Academic Department at a language school.

2 Eduardo Othon Pires Rodrigues has degree in Sociology by Universidade Estadual de Roraima and has been teaching English as Second Language since 2011.