Students tackle real-world challenges in project based learning assignment

Imagine for a moment that you have excellent hearing and audible speech. Your list of errands for the day includes stopping at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and a conversation with the pharmacist about possible side effects and interactions with other medications.

<p>Char Purchas, playing the role of a customer, points to the universal Information Symbol to indicate to a cash register clerk, played by Brianna Gillett, that she needs assistance. This is one of the scenarios depicted on a DVD that Mexico High Schools students created with Oswego County BOCES Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Tammy Seymour to educate and help local businesses better serve the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired population.</p>

Then it’s off to the mechanic to explain some problems that you have been experiencing with your vehicle. Hungry? You head to your favorite eatery to order the house special minus one of the toppings.

Now, imagine accomplishing the same tasks as a person who is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. How would the same businesses and their employees communicate with you? Do they have a nonverbal communication plan in place for such interactions?

How could such a plan be implemented and/or improved to accommodate the needs of a customer who is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired (DHHSI)?

These were the driving questions behind a Title IID* project based learning assignment coordinated by Oswego County BOCES Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Tammy Seymour for four of her students at Mexico High School.

<p>Mexico High School student Joshua LaCelle introduces himself to the owner of Mexicali Rose, Jeannie Ballard-West, during a visit to her floral shop to talk about her interaction and experience with customers who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. LaCelle and three of his classmates are working on project based learning assignment with their teacher, Oswego County BOCES Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Tammy Seymour, that would help local businesses better serve the deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired population.</p>

Starting in mid-December students Cody Cowen, Joshua LaCelle, Brianna Gillett and Char Purchas personally visited over 40 businesses in the Mexico community. The team spoke to employees, managers and business owners to learn how businesses are serving the DHHSI population. Each business was asked to complete a brief survey and describe an experience when an employee felt frustrated because of a communication breakdown with a customer.

The team documented their journey and found that many of the businesses surveyed did not have a nonverbal communication plan in place, wanted to know more about basic nonverbal communication etiquette, and nearly all had a story about an experience with a DHHSI customer.

The students, often on the flipside of a frustrating communication breakdown themselves, saw an opportunity to produce a multi-part project that would answer commonly believed myths about people who are DHHSI and also serve as a training tool for the local businesses.

Component one of the project was the creation of a nonverbal communication etiquette reference brochure. The brochure detailed some of the methods in which DHHSI people communicate including American Sign Language, gestures, finger spelling or texting. Mobile devices and cell phones are in nearly everyone’s purse, pocket or backpack and are a fairly effortless way to facilitate a person-to-person conversation. The brochure also emphasized the importance of maintaining eye contact during a conversation as well as the importance of speaking clearly and at a normal rate. Over emphasizing words, shouting, blocking your mouth while talking or chewing gum can inhibit the understanding of words and cause a communication breakdown.

The second component of the project was the creation of a DVD where the students acted out some of the correct and incorrect ways to communicate with a customer who is DHHSI. Simulating the scenario of ordering lunch, the skit illustrated how having a printed menu available could help with communication. A customer could easily point to the item he/she would like to order and clearly indicated what they do and do not want with that order. Another skit introduced the universal Information Symbol. Affixing this symbol to a cash register or customer service counter gives a DHHSI person an opportunity to clearly indicate that he/she needs assistance.

<p>NVCE stands for Nonverbal Communication Etiquette. Mexico High School students, left to right, Cody Cowen, Joshua LaCelle, Char Purchas and Brianna Gillett are working on a project based learning assignment with Oswego County BOCES Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Tammy Seymour that would help local businesses better serve the deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired population. One of the components of the project is a NVCE brochure that the students created to help debunk some of the myths associated with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired as well as some tips to foster communication with a person who deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired.</p>

For the third component of the project the group looked to member Char Purchas. Purchas has a natural affection for art and drawing and turned a sketch that she created of the ‘I love you’ American Sign Language symbol into a notepad for each business participant. Offering a DHHSI customer a notepad and a pencil is an easy way to provide him/her with the tools necessary to foster a conversation.

The students packaged each component, along with some pencils and pre-printed Information Symbols, to create a personalized “Kit To Go” for each business that participated in their project. The kits will be distributed at a presentation that Seymour and the students will be hosting on Tuesday, March 6 at 6:00 p.m. in the BOCES Mall. Local businesses have been invited to this public presentation and residents of the community are welcome to attend to preview the student-produced DVD and learn more about communicating with someone who is DHHSI.

For more information about the project or to obtain a copy of the DVD contact Tammy Seymour at [email protected] or (315) 591-0657.

Side Bar:

The 2011-12 school year represents year three of a three-year Title IID Grant awarded to Oswego County BOCES through a Federal Enhancing Education Through Technology Grant. The primary purpose of the grant is to improve student achievement and enhance instructional strategies through the use of technology.

The following technologies have been purchased for teachers at Oswego County BOCES and six of its nine component school districts: webcams, cameras, SMART technologies, clickers, ELMOs and video cameras such as the one utilized by Tammy Seymour’s students for their project based learning assignment.

The technology, support and professional development training to incorporate the technologies into the classroom is administered through the Research and Data Informing Instruction, Curriculum, Assessment and Leadership (RADI2CAL) service at Oswego County BOCES.