“Children listening to each other, talking to each other, sharing, having arguments, expressing opinions confidently and holding on to them, displaying a sense of humour, appreciating the spoken and unspoken feelings of others, using figurative language creatively.”
This is what we strive for in our aim to develop a living, spoken language for the deaf children we teach.
The Maternal Reflective Method is an approach to language teaching which was pioneered by an educational psychologist Father Van Uden, in St. Michielsgestel, a school for the Deaf in Holland.
For many years, staff in St. John’s searched to find a way of teaching a living, spoken language to deaf children. There was the belief that language must be real to have any meaning, that it must be a vehicle to convey fact, idea and emotion from one human being to another and that it must be used as a means to an end.
Human values are deeply enshrined in the process which begins to take place when there is real conversation e.g. awareness of another, the wish to communicate with another, the willingness to listen to another, the willingness to take one’s turn with another, and a real interest in what another has to say, in short, the quality of empathy.
Close links with St. Michielsgestel, enabled us to appreciate the consistency, continuity and commitment which was needed to develop the approach at St. John’s. Whilst the philosophy and principles of the method have been maintained, it has been adapted over the years to accommodate the complex needs of our population and changes in educational policy.
The Method takes into account the value of the most natural and universal language learning process i.e. that of the parent and child.
It also provides the opportunity to prolong this phase of language learning, by creating meaningful conversation experiences which can be reflected upon in written texts and in subsequent lessons. The text is written by the teacher. As profoundly deaf children have less opportunity to listen to language and to hear it in daily life, to the same level as hearing children the language can be too fleeting for a deaf child to internalize and acquire the rules of language.
To enrich and reinforce the linguistic development, texts are written by the teacher based upon conversation in class. This immediately gives a greater transparency of meaning as the child will know/recognise the content of the text, making it meaningful, motivational and relevant.
The text can also be written to the linguistic level of the pupils and vocabulary language structure can be reinforced in each text. This becomes the reflective element to the MRM when the children develop their reading skills and learn to understand and compartmentalize the rules of language in a more conscious way and so the child’s understanding of language is being continually developed text upon text.