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Background—The Transition to Auslan Project
Auslan (TTA) Project commenced in June 2007. The Queensland State Government in
Australia allocated $30 million to the Department of Education (Education
Queensland) to be used over a four-year period. The purpose of the TTA was to
assist staff (i.e., teachers and teacher aides) who work with students who are
deaf and who use Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to enhance their skills in
the use of Auslan and the application of sign bilingual pedagogy.
were employed to fill two important roles in schools: (a) Teacher Aide:
Educational Interpreters (TA:EIs) and (b) Teacher Aide: Auslan Language Models.
In this article, I focus on professional development initiatives for TA:EIs.
required to fulfill the role of interpreter in the classroom, facilitating
communication between the classroom teacher and the student who is deaf as well
as communication between the student who is deaf and other students in the
regular classroom. In addition, TA:EIs may be required to undertake tasks
expected of any teacher aide, such as resource production and one-one-one
activities with students. 
The TTA was
devised to encompass a range of initiatives and activities, including
professional development and training, policy development, and significant philosophical
and infrastructure change in schools throughout Queensland.
intention of the TTA—announced by the then Minister for Education, Training,
and the Arts—was that by 2012, the Department of Education, Training, and the
Arts (now known as the Department of Education and Training [DET]) would
systematically phase out the use of Signed English  and adopt Auslan as the language of instruction for those students who are deaf
or hearing impaired who require or request access to schooling that uses signed
communication. Such a significant change in philosophy and approach required
extensive, ongoing training for all staff (particularly, teachers and TAs)
General training initiatives
At the commencement
of the TTA, DET employed a staged process to improve workforce capacity in the
area of Auslan instruction and sign bilingual pedagogy. A range of professional
development strategies relating to Auslan was implemented for staff working
with students who are deaf or hearing impaired. Some of the initiatives
included the following:
A three-semester, part-time course (offered
online ) in Auslan delivered by Griffith University at remote sites in Nambour
Two consecutive programs leading to a
Graduate Certificate  in Auslan Studies delivered by the Mount Gravatt campus of Griffith University.
This two-year, part-time program was first conducted with a cohort of students
in Brisbane, Townsville, and the Gold Coast, and the second was conducted with
a cohort of students in Brisbane, Cairns, and Toowoomba.
A three-semester Certificate II course
in Auslan conducted through Southbank College of Technical and Further Education
(now Southbank Institute of Technology) in Queensland.
A broad range of additional professional development activities have been created
and delivered in the four years since implementation of the TTA, focusing on
topics such as The Auslan to English Continuum, Bilingual Pedagogy, The
Language Experience Approach, Signing Mathematically, Deaf Culture and
Community, Deaf History, and Introduction to Auslan Linguistics. These
activities vary in duration from two hours to a full day.
Targeted training initiatives
Since the beginning of the TTA, TA:EIs have been able to access
these professional development activities to improve their skills, knowledge,
and understanding of Auslan and sign bilingual pedagogy. In November 2009, the
DET hired a Project Officer (i.e., the author) who was given specific
responsibility for the development and delivery of targeted professional
development activities for TA:EI staff around the state, commencing in January
2010. The nature of this program is described in detail in the section that
The Professional Development Program
speaking, Queensland is a very large state—in fact, it is the second largest
state in Australia (Western Australia being the largest). The distance from
Queensland’s southern border with New South Wales to Bamaga on the northern tip
of Cape York is 2,785 kilometers (1,730 miles). The total area of Queensland is
1.7 million square kilometers (1,056,331 square miles), making it seven times
larger than the United Kingdom.
The total population of the state of Queensland is 4,574,797 (Queensland Government Office of Economic and
Statistical Research [QGOESR], 2011a). Most of the
state’s residents live in Brisbane (population of 1.06 million in the
metropolitan area; QGOESR, 2011b), with the remainder
living in the major coastal centres of Cairns (pop. 168,251), Townsville (pop.
185,768), Gold Coast (pop. 527,828), and Sunshine Coast (pop. 330,934) as well
as the inland centres of Toowoomba (pop. 162,057) and Mount Isa (pop. 21,994; QGOESR,
2011b). The large size of the State and its comparatively small population
create challenges in the delivery of professional development for a range of
people, not only TA:EIs.
the purposes of planning and funding, Education Queensland has divided the
state into seven regions: Far North Queensland, North Queensland, Central
Queensland, Darling Downs South West, South East, North Coast, and
Metropolitan. Figure 1 shows the boundaries of the education regions and the
location of Brisbane and other major regional cities and towns.
Figure 1: Department of Education and Training (DET) regional
boundaries (Queensland Government DET, 2010)
the beginning of 2010, 96 TA:EIs were employed by Education Queensland. At the
time of writing (March 2011), 144 TA:EIs were working in early childhood,
primary, and secondary settings around the state, from Weipa in the north to
Miami in the south and Mount Isa in the west. All of these staff members work a
variety of hours each week: Some work full time, whereas others work part time
(on only some days of the week). In addition, although many TA:EIs are
“clustered” in schools in Brisbane and larger regional cities and towns or are
within a regional area that is close to other colleagues, a significant number
(14) work in isolation—that is, that particular TA:EI is the only person within
his or her school (and, probably, the only person in the entire town or region)
with sign language skills.
Considerations and challenges in designing the program
Examination of research literature on professional development for
educational interpreters (EIs) found that even when job tasks are clearly
delineated, EIs frequently experience difficulties managing the boundaries of
their role in ways that community interpreters do not. Antia and Kreimeyer
(2001) reported that there is some debate about whether an educational
interpreter’s facilitation of communication between parties in a classroom
involves only the process of interpreting between a spoken and manual language
or also involves additional responsibilities such as language modeling and
encouraging communication with peers who are not deaf or hard of hearing.
Stewart, Schein, and Cartwright (1998), Potter and Leigh (2002), Winston (2001),
and Shaw and Jamieson (1997) also found that interpreters teach, tutor, and
decide what information is and is not important to be relayed to the student.
A number of researchers have attempted to
define the actual tasks that educational interpreters undertake in the course
of their work. Stewart and colleagues (1998), Bowman and Hyde (cited in Potter
& Leigh, 2002, p. 49), Yarger (2001), Stinson and Liu (1999), and Jones,
Clark, and Stoltz (1997) found that interpreters reported having performed a
broad variety of jobs in their role. Such jobs included interpreting in
academic and vocational classes; interpreting for after-school activities;
filling “gaps” and clarifying with the student who is deaf; reinforcing
material covered in class; taking notes for students who are deaf; tutoring;
grading class papers; helping students with homework; caring for hearing aids
and FM systems; implementing speech lessons; adjusting to requirements of
specific situations (e.g., changes in classroom dynamics); teaching study
skills; preparing instructional materials; guiding students in the completion
of work; and motivating the student. Story and Jamieson (2004) added additional
responsibilities to that list, such as classroom supervision while the teacher
is away from the class, grading work, and arranging classroom or hallway
displays (p. 54).
A further issue
to be considered was the self-perception of the TA:EIs for whom the workshops
were intended. It appeared, from
informal conversations with them, that the TA:EIs did not see themselves as
interpreters. Many had moved into the interpreting role after having originally
been employed as a teacher aide with no requirement to use signing skills. It
was decided, therefore, that at least part of the first workshop would be
dedicated to ensuring that all the TA:EIs were aware of the elements of their
position description and to covering strategies for defining and negotiating their
interpreter roles in their specific setting, as well as focusing on the further
development of their interpreting skills.
important issues were considered when planning the first workshop. One was to
determine a means by which to deal with geographic distance and the spread of
the TA:EI population. The sheer size of Queensland created challenges in the
logistics of delivering professional development. If workshops were conducted
outside the local area, travel time needed to be considered in order for TA:EIs
factor considered in the design and delivery of the program was the target
audience’s years of experience. Some TA:EIs had only been in the position for a
few weeks or months, whereas others had as much as 10 years’ experience working
as an interpreter in an educational setting. A third consideration was the
range of settings in which the TA:EIs were employed: from early childhood
through senior secondary level.
the time to engage in professional development was a significant issue for the
TA:EIs. As teacher aides, every minute of their working day is accounted for in
providing support to the student(s) and the teacher. This workload leaves
little time to access online or other training activities, and this lack of
paid time to attend professional development also serves as a disincentive to
working outside of school hours. Similar
to the plight of community interpreters, TA:EIs find that the schools, and Education
Queensland, often have trouble recognizing the importance of their role. This
lack of recognition occurs both inside and outside the profession—that is, educational
interpreting is often perceived by community interpreters to be work of lesser
skill and importance (Potter & Leigh, 2002).
The professional development program
As far back as 1996, Stewart and Kluwin noted the following:
acknowledged, the critical nature of the role that interpreters play in the
education of deaf students has not met with efforts to nurture the growth of
that role professionally. Instead, as their numbers have grown rapidly,
educational interpreters essentially have been left to their own devices in
trying to adjust to the interpreting demands of each student and ensure their
effectiveness in facilitating the exchange of information. (Stewart &
Kluwin, 1996, p. 29)
The importance of
a tailored program of professional development for TA:EIs cannot be overstated.
In the 2010 school year, four full-day workshops were offered to TA:EI staff in
January, April, July, and October. These workshops were offered on declared student free days (SFDs), which are days set
aside by Education Queensland so that staff may engage in professional
development activities when students do not attend school. Traditionally, there
is at least one SFD in each school term of the year.
were deemed to be the most effective time to deliver training, considering that
(a) it is not appropriate to withdraw a TA:EI from the classroom when the
student who is deaf is present and (b) it is generally impossible to find
replacement staff member. This limitation meant that the total amount of
face-to-face training that could be offered in the 18 months remaining in the
TTA (from January 2010 to June 2011) would be six days.
workshop, in January 2010, was offered on two consecutive SFDs, with half of
the TA:EIs travelling to Brisbane on each day. In total, 80 TA:EIs attended—40
on each of the 2 days. Travel from the home region was fully funded by the TTA,
along with accommodation and a daily allowance. Given the self-perception of
many of the participants that they were not “really” interpreters, some of the
workshop time was set aside to explore the nature of their role and to relay
the seriousness of its responsibilities. Subsequent to the workshop, all TA:EIs
were given electronic access to a copy of the position description for their
role, as a reference document to ensure that confusion about role boundaries
and responsibilities did not continue.
also informed about the Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association
(ASLIA), were directed to the ASLIA website, and were encouraged to become
members. Other aspects of this workshop included an examination of the mental
skill of prediction (to help them prepare for interpreting tasks) and a
scripted process for dealing with various ethical dilemmas. The day ended with
practical activities in which the participants used their prediction skills to
prepare for and then interpret a math and science lesson. The “lessons” were a
series of specially designed, prerecorded vignettes, which emulated classroom
content at early childhood, primary levels, and secondary levels. Participants
were able to choose the vignette that best matched their current employment situation.
workshop, in April 2010, focused on examining the process of interpreting and
the steps involved in producing an accurate interpretation. The participants
learned about and practiced the mental skills of chunking and content mapping as
preparation for interpreting and explored strategies for gaining clarification
when needed. The cognitive and metacognitive skills of language analysis,
conceptualization, memory, and pragmatic analysis are considered by Schick
(2004) to be of critical importance for interpreters. Participants were given
the opportunity to practice these skills with specially produced materials in
both Auslan and English. Examples of Auslan were also taken from YouTube to
provide practice at interpreting from Auslan into English.
As only one SFD
was available in April 2010, TA:EIs were grouped according to the region in
which they worked, and the workshop was delivered simultaneously at four sites
around the state by four qualified, experienced presenters. These presenters
are also employed by the TTA in the role of Project Officers or Regional Auslan
Support Officers. All are qualified teachers of students who are deaf, and all
are accredited interpreters. This model of simultaneous presentation was used
for the three remaining workshops.
The sites used
for this second workshop were Cairns, Hervey Bay, the Brisbane Central Business
District (CBD), and a southern suburb of Brisbane. TA:EIs from Far North
Queensland and North Queensland attended in Cairns, and those from the North
Coast region attended in Hervey Bay. TA:EIs in the Metropolitan region attended
the Brisbane CBD workshop, and those from the South East and Darling Downs
South West regions attended the workshop in the southern Brisbane suburb.
workshop, in July 2010, focused on basic Auslan linguistics—in particular,
sentence types. The day began with a discussion of the basic elements of
Auslan: phonology and morphology. Discourse analysis was introduced as a topic, including its definition
and purpose. Most of this workshop comprised an examination of grammatical
rules related to the following sentence types: declaratives, imperatives,
negatives, topicalization, questions (yes/no, wh–,
and rhetorical), and conditionals. Again, participants were given the
opportunity to complete activities in which they compared these sentence types
in English and Auslan and then interpreted from Auslan to English and English
to Auslan using specially produced materials related to educational settings.
The sites used for this activity were Townsville, Caloundra, the Brisbane CBD,
and the same southern suburb of Brisbane. The same regional groupings were used
for this and the final workshop.
workshop of the year, in October 2010, examined discourse analysis as it
applies to educational interpreting. A great deal of time was dedicated to
discourse analysis and interpreting practice from Auslan to English and English
to Auslan, using specially filmed footage as well as footage from TeacherTube
(an online resource that operates in a similar fashion to YouTube) which
related to educational themes and concepts. Schick (2004) states that an
educational interpreter may need to scaffold the student’s learning by modifying
content, repeating key concepts, or emphasizing new vocabulary. Therefore, it
is essential that the educational interpreter understand not only the process
of interpretation but also the child him or herself, from a developmental and
educational perspective. Getting this understanding across to the interpreter
is imperative in order to assist him or her in making informed, appropriate
decisions about the modifications that he or she may need to make to the teacher’s message. These
decisions must facilitate the teacher’s desired outcomes and be in the best
educational interest of the student who is deaf.
In the first part
of the final workshop, participants discussed the use of fingerspelling as well
as the pedagogical tools of chaining and sandwiching  and
practiced both expressive and receptive fingerspelling. In the second part of
the workshop, participants discussed and practiced interpreting numerical
information, including cardinal and ordinal numbers, age, height, time, sport
scores, money, fractions, percentages, decimals, word problems, nonspecific
amounts, and number incorporation. The content of this workshop was decided
upon primarily because many TA:EIs had reported difficulties in interpreting
numerical information—in particular, Maths. Participants first discussed with
the facilitator how to interpret these particular numerical concepts and were
then given the opportunity to practice interpreting pre-recorded activities
from Auslan to English and English to Auslan.
In the final part
of the workshop, participants discussed and practiced using a series of
interpreting evaluation forms. They were encouraged to use these forms analyze
and evaluate their own interpreting performances. The sites used for this final activity were Cairns, Hervey
Bay, the Brisbane CBD, and the south side of Brisbane.
by-product of these face-to-face workshops is that TA:EIs who are from remote
and regional settings have had a valuable opportunity to meet with colleagues
from other schools across the State and discuss issues relevant to them. Workshops also tended to be as much about
informal encouragement, support, and mentoring as they were about formal
content. They also enabled participants to engage in productive group
discussion about negotiating their interpreting role in school and
As mentioned previously,
attendance at all
workshops—regardless of location—was fully funded by the TTA. This funding
covered flights and accommodation as well as a daily allowance. Activities were
diversified and extended to cater to varying skill levels in each group and in
recognition that TA:EIs work in settings that range from early childhood to
senior secondary. A range of source material options was made available (early
childhood, primary, and secondary content and delivery) for all activities,
which enabled the participants to work at a level that best matched their
A great deal of time was invested in the
preparation of resources for all of the workshops. Materials were produced by
either filming and editing specific activities that focused on an aspect of
Auslan or searching online resources such as the Education Queensland Learning
Place (an online repository of curriculum resources for Education Queensland
staff) or other related sites such as TeacherTube for suitable stimulus
After each workshop was completed, the content was made available on a Blackboard site
that has been established specifically for TA:EIs. The Blackboard site was established
via the Education Queensland Learning Place website, a professional development
site for all Education Queensland staff. Follow-up quizzes and activities as
well as links to relevant readings have been generated and placed on the
Blackboard site after each workshop; this enables TA:EIs to engage in further practice
of the skills learned in the face-to-face workshops. They can also deposit
completed written activities in the drop box (a feature of Blackboard that
allows for electronic submission of work) for assessment and feedback. The
Blackboard site also contains external links to the ASLIA website, useful
YouTube videos, and a discussion board to encourage interaction with
The addition of the discussion board was considered a valuable way for
TA:EIs in regional and remote areas to make contact with colleagues. Yarger
(2001) states that interpreters in rural areas are isolated from the support of
other interpreters and tend to have a difficult time establishing and
maintaining a clear concept of their position. Story and Jamieson (2004) note
that isolation occurs when there is no face-to-face contact on a regular basis
with other competent users of the same language. This isolation is amplified
when interpreters work in remote rural locations apart from other interpreters
or members of the Deaf community (Story & Jamieson, 2004). Langer (2004),
in a study of Internet usage among a population of American Sign Language interpreters,
found a great deal of benefit in the use of the Internet for social and
collegial purposes. A very large percentage (95%) of interview participants in
her study reported that discussion groups served a valuable purpose—being a
resource for information exchange. In addition, 95% of the respondents also considered
the list a forum for discussion of issues relevant to their jobs, such as comparing
and contrasting interpreting work in different environments, exploring the differences
between urban and rural settings, and about how other interpreters handle
similar problematic situations (Langer, 2004). Eighty-four percent of Langer’s
respondents reported that they view the list as a non-threatening, non-judgmental
“support group”—a safe place that offers camaraderie.
completed an evaluation after each of the four workshops. Comments were
overwhelmingly positive in nature, both in terms of the extent of the learning
and the relevance of the information and activities. A selection of typical
responses to the final evaluative question from each workshop is shown in the
The comments from participants indicate that
many of them appreciated and enjoyed the workshop series and broadened their
understanding of their interpreting role as well as the skills that they need
to perform it effectively. The TTA project ended in June 2011; however, it is
hoped that professional development for this group of staff will continue
beyond this end point.
This article summarises an initiative which
aimed to provide targeted professional development to a group of interpreters
who had previously not had a great deal of opportunity to access such
activities. It is hoped that the outline provided here will be of use to other
professional development planners who work with EIs.
Antia, S. D., & Kreimeyer, K. H. (2001). The role of interpreters in
inclusive classrooms. American Annals of the Deaf, 146, 355–365.
Jones, B., Clark, G., & Stolz, D. (1997). Characteristics and
practices of sign language interpreters in inclusive educational programs. Exceptional
Children, 63, 257–268.
Langer, E. C. (2004). Perspectives on educational interpreting from
educational anthropology and an Internet discussion group. In E.A. Winston (Ed.), Educational
interpreting: How it can succeed (pp. 91–112). Washington, DC:
Gallaudet University Press.
Potter, L., & Leigh, K. (2002). An investigation into issues
surrounding the efficacy and use of educational interpreters for deaf students
in the mainstream setting. Australian Journal of Education of the Deaf, 9, 47–60.
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boundaries.Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/projects/educationviews/news-views/2009/nov/regionalboundries-091120.html
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(2011a). Queensland population counter. Available at www.oesr.qld.gov.au/products/briefs/aust-demographic-stats/qld-pop-counter.php
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2010. Retrieved from www.oesr.qld.gov.au/products/tables/erp-lga-reformed-qld/index.php
Schick, B. (2004). How might learning through an educational interpreter
influence cognitive development? In E.A Winston (Ed.), Educational
interpreting: How it can succeed (pp. 73–87). Washington, DC: Gallaudet
Shaw, J., & Jamieson, J. (1997). Patterns of classroom discourse in
an integrated, interpreted elementary school setting. American Annals of the
Deaf, 142, 40–47.
Stewart, D. A., Schein, J. D., & Cartwright, B. E. (1998). Sign
language interpreting: Exploring its art and science. Boston, MA: Allyn
Stewart, D. A., & Kluwin, T. N. (1996). The gap between guidelines, practice
and knowledge in interpreting services for deaf students. Journal of Deaf
Studies and Deaf Education, 1, 29–39.
Stinson, M. S., & Liu, Y. (1999). Participation of deaf and
hard-of-hearing students in classes with hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies
and Deaf Education, 4, 191–202.
Story, B. C., &
Jamieson, J. R. (2004). Sign language vocabulary development practices and Internet
use among educational interpreters. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf
Education, 9, 53–67.
Winston, E. A. (2001, Winter/Spring). Visual inaccessibility: The
elephant (blocking the view) in interpreted education. Odyssey, pp. 5–7.
Yarger, C. C. (2001). Educational interpreting: Understanding the rural
experience. American Annals of the Deaf, 146, 16–30.
Participants’ evaluative responses after each
workshop in response to the stimulus “The most useful ideas or techniques I
have learned during the workshop are …”
I really enjoyed the ethics part and
The importance of an interpreter’s
It was interesting to hear others’
Asking the teacher key questions at
Content mapping —having a plan to
Practicing chunking helped me
Having the technical terminology to
Wait and determine meaning before
New terms and better understanding
To deliver the content of the lesson
The importance of fingerspelling. The
That I need to do more self-analysis
As of the time that this article was written, the role of TA:EI in
Queensland has no specific requirements in terms of education or qualification.
Accreditation as an interpreter (accreditation is the term used in Australia for qualification or license as it pertains to
interpreting practitioners) is listed as a desirable attribute on the position
description, and TA:EIs are encouraged to pursue accreditation.
Signed English is a system of manual communication that was
contrived to represent all elements of spoken English in a manual form.
At Australian universities, a Graduate Certificate is the lowest level of
postgraduate qualification that can be achieved. Typically, an individual
initially would study at the Bachelor’s degree level and then pursue further
specialist studies at the Graduate Certificate level. In the program described
here, students possessed a Bachelor of Education degree prior to entry. Graduate
Certificate programs are usually 1 year in duration if studied full time, 2
years in duration if studied part time.
Chaining refers to the use of
multiple representations of a word—for example, fingerspelling the word, then
signing it, pointing to the written form of the word, writing the word, and
then signing or fingerspelling it again. Sandwiching refers to the practice of fingerspelling, signing, then
fingerspelling a word. These techniques are used to bridge or connect Auslan