Learner diversity and learner pathways

Learner diversity and learner pathways


There is diversity in the background of learners of Auslan. Learners may be deaf, hard of hearing or hearing, and may be learning Auslan as a first language or as a second language. To cater for distinct learner backgrounds, the Auslan curriculum has two pathways:

  • First Language (L1) Learner Pathway
  • Second Language (L2) Learner Pathway.

Learner diversity

The rationale for providing a L1 pathway is that native signers do not usually have an opportunity to formally study their natural first language in a classroom context. Such exploration and development of their L1 affords these students a more sophisticated understanding of their L1, and scaffolds their acquisition of English as their second/additional language. Formally studying Auslan at school provides L1 learners with powerful recognition of the value and status of their language and helps strengthen their sense of identity. The impact of this is healthier self-esteem, greater resilience, better mental health, an improved concept of self and a greater engagement with language, community and culture. In addition, formal learning of their L1 may give students increased opportunity to develop understanding, knowledge and valuable life skills across the curriculum.

The L1 pathway typically caters for deaf students whose native language is Auslan (that is, deaf children of deaf adults, or deaf children from hearing families who use Auslan at home); hearing children with signing deaf parents; and deaf students who are introduced to Auslan at school, for whom it is a highly accessible language and likely to be their future preferred or primary language. This latter group of deaf children might not have access to Auslan at home. Developing a strong L1 via this pathway from Foundation to Year 10 will particularly increase the educational capabilities of deaf children, encourage functional bilingualism in Auslan and English, and will improve learning and future employment opportunities.

The L2 pathway typically caters for students who are not members of the Deaf community; most often, hearing students learning Auslan as a second or additional language. It may also include deaf or hard of hearing children already fluent in another language, such as a different signed language in the case of a recent immigrant, or spoken English for some deaf and hard of hearing children who have residual hearing or access to speech. These children are being introduced to Auslan for the first time as an additional language to add to their existing linguistic repertoire.

Due to a range of complex factors, it is recognised that these two pathways may not be able to meet the complete learning needs of all students. For example, native signers of Auslan who are hearing (such as hearing children from deaf families) may not be adequately accounted for in an L1 pathway, due to the teaching and learning emphasis on the primary target group, deaf children. In addition, a deaf migrant already fluent in a native signed language from another country, such as American Sign Language, may not be entirely suited to an L2 learning pathway for Auslan as so many age-appropriate L1 features and linguistic competencies will already be present in his/her use of another signed language, making a second signed language easier to learn compared to other L2 learners being exposed to learning a signed language for the first time. Congenitally deafblind children, or other students with disability, may also present unique challenges with regard to determining language learning pathways.

Both L1 and L2 learners of Auslan are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning programs that address their individual learning needs. In teaching Auslan in Australian schools, it will be necessary to account for the diversity of learners of Auslan, including accommodating:

  • students with a disability
  • gifted and talented students
  • students with English as an additional language or dialect
  • students from regional and remote contexts
  • students with diverse personal or cultural or religious backgrounds
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • students with a combination of equity and diversity needs.

Ultimately, this dual-pathway approach recognises that the key variable in the language learning experience is the diversity of the learners. It acknowledges that students bring specific backgrounds, diverse linguistic and cultural experience, individual knowledge and skills to their learning of Auslan, and that the programming and implementation in schools by teaching teams will need to reflect this, differentiating for learner diversity accordingly and drawing on the L1 or the L2 pathway and accommodating for individual learners as appropriate.

First Language Learner Pathway (L1): F–10 sequence

The first language learner pathway is pitched at two of the many types of potential learners in the Auslan cohort:

  • native signing children from Deaf families who have fluent language models to interact with at home and have been exposed to the language since birth
  • deaf children from hearing families with parents or older relatives who have learnt to sign and exposed their children early to rich signing models, such as in bilingual preschools.

There is another significant group of children in the L1 pathway: deaf children who arrive in a signing program in their first few years of schooling. These students begin learning Auslan with limited prior experience of any language, and may have additional disabilities that are hidden because of their language delay. The L1 pathway is appropriate for them since they will be using the language for more hours a week than just in the subject, thus making faster progress with language acquisition; and they have little experience of other language to make reference to, as in the L2 pathway. Teachers working with students with delayed access to Auslan will need to adapt and differentiate the curriculum extensively to scaffold their learning, particularly in their first years of study. Additionally, hearing children from deaf families who have Auslan as a first language may also benefit from the L1 pathway of learning.

The population of children who will follow the L1 pathway therefore has great variation in Auslan proficiency. Some will have had extensive access to a range of mature language users in early learning programs, in school and at home. Others will have limited quantity and quality of input in Auslan at home and sometimes even in school, and may not have attended an early intervention signing program prior to school. This pathway is primarily pitched at those students with exposure to Auslan prior to Foundation level; delayed language learners will require extra support to participate in the learning experiences outlined in this pathway.

Typically, L1 programs occur with constant involvement from a variety of fluent signers drawn from the Deaf community. A key expectation in the L1 pathway is that students will have opportunities to interact with elders and the Deaf community to consolidate and enhance their learning of the language and culture, ideally face to face, although accommodations via technology may need to be made in regional and remote areas.

First Language Learner Pathway (L1): 7–10 sequence

The nature of education of deaf students is such that some learners arrive at high school with a very limited knowledge of English, and little, if any, Auslan. These learners may have come from other countries where they have had no access to schooling for deaf children, or from educational programs overseas or in Australia from which they have learnt only rudimentary speech and language and have not had access to quality signed language models. This group of learners, therefore, comprises students who are learning their first language well beyond the age of typical language development.

As a result, this group of learners is very different from the similarly aged cohort from the F–10 sequence, who have had exposure to quality language since birth or early in life, and who approach high school learning with established fluency in Auslan, which enables them to focus much of their Auslan class time on the development of higher-order skills such as analysis and evaluation. Learners in the L1 pathway, 7–10 sequence begin learning Auslan with limited prior experience of any language. They may have additional disabilities, sometimes hidden, often caused by their language delay. Auslan is nonetheless considered their first or primary language, due to their lack of fluency in any other language. Learners require intensive support and extensive input from rich language models, especially at the initial stages. These learners are unlikely to reach native-like levels of fluency in any language, but will benefit greatly from the explicit teaching of Auslan as a subject to support their language acquisition and development.

First Language Learner Pathway (L1): Learner experiences

The experience of first language learners of Auslan will include:

  • opportunities to expand domains of use in their first language and to develop skills in registers and genres not necessarily encountered in their home context, particularly in the case of delayed L1 learners of Auslan
  • enhancement of essential skills that underpin other learning, including critical thinking and literacy in both Auslan and English
  • reflection on their own identities, awareness of the values and beliefs that underpin their communication practices, and exploration of their expression of identity in Auslan and in Deaf culture and of how this can be extended to English and other languages and cultures
  • understanding of the systems of Auslan and sociolinguistic variation of the language in context
  • development of the capacity to translate and interpret activities that provide insights into cultural and linguistic differences and similarities between Auslan and English and between communicative practices in the two languages
  • reflection on their linguistic environment at local, regional, national and international levels, including exploration of the status of Auslan and other signed languages, of ways in which it can be expanded to meet the needs of their own developing linguistic and cultural capabilities and their identity as a member of the Deaf community
  • understanding of the history of deaf people and of their own ability to effect positive social change.

Second Language Learner Pathway (L2): F–10 and 7–10 sequences

The second language learner pathway caters for students learning Auslan as a second or additional language. This will typically be hearing children, but may include hard of hearing or deaf children who already have an established first language. These children are being introduced to Auslan for the first time as an additional language. The teaching team will use the curriculum to cater for L2 learners of different backgrounds by making appropriate adjustments to differentiate learning experiences for these students.

The first language of most L2 students will be a spoken language, and this pathway provides them with an opportunity to study a language that is very different from a spoken language. If L2 learners are learning in a school attended by deaf students, they will have a unique opportunity to use their new language on a daily basis in an authentic context. Deaf students located in schools that offer an L2 Auslan program have increased opportunity to expand their peer networks, potentially supporting transition between schools (from primary to secondary school, for example), and increasing their resilience and social networks, decreasing their risk of isolation, and increasing their sense of inclusion.

Typically, L2 programs occur with constant involvement from a variety of fluent signers drawn from the community. A key expectation of the L2 pathway of learning is that students will have opportunities to interact with elders and members of the Deaf community. This provides learners with the chance to develop a deeper appreciation of the nature and diversity of languages and cultures, and requires the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills necessary to learn and understand Auslan in its cultural context.

Second Language Learner Pathway (L2): Learner experiences

The experience of second language learners of Auslan will include:

  • developing knowledge of Auslan needed to interact with others and to communicate personal information and ideas in a widening range of contexts
  • observing and interacting with Auslan users and Auslan texts and beginning to recognise the culture-specific ways in which communication takes place
  • reflecting on their own linguistic and cultural practices and beginning to apply this new understanding in their communication with others
  • understanding of linguistic, historic and cultural trends and developments in the context of national and international Deaf communities and signed languages.