Shakespeare made accessible for deaf students

Published: 7 May 2024
Reporter: Steve Orme

The witches in Macbeth: allowing deaf students to explore the characters

Teaching packs to make Shakespeare more accessible for deaf students are being sent to every deaf school and major deaf unit in the UK.

The teaching resources are part of the Signing Shakespeare project which began in May 2023. It was developed through a partnership between the University of Birmingham and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Dr Abigail Rokison-Woodall, deputy director (education) and associate professor in Shakespeare and theatre at the Shakespeare Institute, which co-led the Signing Shakespeare project, said, “there are more than 50,000 deaf children in the UK and Shakespeare is the only named author that all children are required to study in the National Curriculum. But the fact is there aren’t many resources for deaf students studying Shakespeare in school.

“Signing Shakespeare is an educational resource programme which brings together visual and active learning for the study of Macbeth so we can try to address this gap between the teaching provision for hearing and deaf students in school.”

The packs sent to schools contain resources which accompany films of scenes from the play performed by deaf actors using British Sign Language.

This allows deaf students to explore the story, characters, relationships, themes, imagery, rhythms and literary devices in the play. The programme features collaborative activities and writing tasks which support students to develop an understanding of the different perspectives and layers within the text.

Dr Rokison-Woodall added, “I’m thrilled that we can send these resources directly to all 22 deaf schools and every major deaf unit in the UK. Such an integral part of the curriculum and our national cultural identity should be readily available for all students to study and enjoy. Signing Shakespeare is a step in the right direction.”

Teachers can access Signing Shakespeare through the Royal Shakespeare Company web site.

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