Disrupting phonocentricism and teaching Deaf pupils: Prospective physical education teachers’ learning about visual pedagogies and non-verbal communication


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When compared to their hearing peers, Deaf pupils are likely to experience fewer activities and participate less often in physical education (PE), be less physically active, lag in motor skill development, and are more likely to be overweight or obese. While the reasons for these differences are nuanced and complex, established phonocentric pedagogical practices and (mis)communication between Deaf pupils and hearing PE teachers have been identified as key issues of concern.
The purpose of this research is to explore prospective PE teachers’ attempts to disrupt phonocentricism by learning about visual pedagogies and non-verbal communication through: (1) teaching activities to peers who are wearing noise-cancelling ear defenders; and (2) wearing noise-cancelling ear defenders themselves as they are taught by other prospective PE teachers.
A total 75 prospective PE teachers (i.e. those who intended to apply to train to become a teacher once their undergraduate studies were complete) participated in the research, all of whom had attended at least some of the eight, two-hour practical activities dedicated to using ear defenders for pedagogical purposes. Data were generated via practical lesson observations and audio-recorded group discussions about teaching peers who were wearing ear defenders. All qualitative data were analysed thematically and informed the construction of vignettes used to represent data.
Prospective PE teachers learned how to disrupt phonocentric practices by using hand gestures and touch as pedagogical tools to gain the attention of learners and for instructional purposes. In this respect, I identify a need to explore the ethics of using these tools when working with Deaf pupils especially because some of the practices witnessed raised questions about power and consent. There was also evidence of pedagogical experimentation relating to the use of both pictures and text-to-speech smart phone applications for communicating non-verbally. Here, concerns were expressed by prospective PE teachers that these forms of communication were often ‘one-way’, preventing opportunities for more dynamic and interactive forms of communication and learning. It was notable that prospective PE teachers found it difficult to provide meaningful feedback, non-verbally, to support learning and development. I end by acknowledging the difficulty in knowing whether what prospective PE teachers learned could and should be transferred to myriad contexts and situations in PE that Deaf pupils find themselves. Moving forward, this is something for members of our academic community to explore.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Early online date17 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Aug 2020


  • deaf pupils
  • non-verbal communication
  • phonocentricism
  • physical education
  • prospective teachers
  • visual pedagogies


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