Signing on at last: The development and implementation of a formal Auslan curriculum in WA schools

Presentation from #MLTAWA2014 by Karen Bontempo

We are grateful to Karen for sharing this presentation with MLTAWA members. She is very much in-demand as a speaker on Auslan Curriculum issues and will be giving further presentations and versions of this paper, and of her research, in Perth and interstate. Please contact her at Shenton College if you wish to find out more.


Dr Karen Bontempo has nearly 25 years experience working with the Deaf community. She has a PhD (Linguistics) from Macquarie University where she is a part time interpreter educator and a researcher. Karen also teaches Auslan students and interpreters at the Central Institute of Technology in WA.

In her role as a teacher at Shenton College Deaf Education Centre, Karen is responsible for curriculum leadership surrounding the development and implementation of Auslan as a language option in three WA schools in 2014.

This presentation will describe an action research project undertaken over the past year, resulting in the development of the first formal curriculum and the implementation of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as an official language in Western Australian schools in 2014. As a methodology, action research is commonplace in education settings, with practising classroom teachers ideally placed to identify a problem requiring further exploration, planning action, implementing a solution, evaluating outcomes and reflecting on progress. In this particular case, an action research approach was a powerful way to introduce innovation in WA classrooms, upon identification of the pressing need for formal Auslan teaching to a mixed deaf and hearing cohort of students in three specific mainstream primary and secondary schools. The process undertaken to achieve this outcome exemplifies the theme of this conference – review, revise, revitalise. Actions taken included the establishment of a stakeholder steering committee, extensive consultation, a research and development phase, the design of a new curriculum for teaching Auslan across several year groups to both deaf and hearing mainstream students at the three schools, the delivery of quality teaching in the classroom, systematic reflection, and an ongoing research process.

In this presentation Karen will share information regarding the content and structure of the Auslan program, the data collected to date in relation to student outcomes, and program evaluation. Reflections on successful pedagogical practices, as well as the challenges faced during both the curriculum development and the program implementation stages of this novel project will be addressed. Recommendations regarding the resourcing of Auslan programs, the management of deaf and hearing students in the same language class, the development of suitable classroom materials, and best practice teaching and learning models will be shared in the spirit of collaboration amongst educators, irrespective of spoken or signed language modality and language interest group.

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