Award for University project that teaches the world to sign

Sharon Tonner-Saunders

Children and student teachers from more than 30 countries have taken part in Hands of the World, using hand signals and modern technology to allow them to share their love of music. Its success has seen the initiative honoured with the top prize at the British Council’s eTwinning Awards Ceremony, where it has been named Project of the Year.

The brainchild of Sharon Tonner-Saunders, a lecturer in the University’s School of Education and Social Work, Hands of the World has championed the use of Makaton, a simplified sign language, to encourage classes of children to contribute video clips of themselves singing and signing along to popular songs.

“The popularity of Hands of the World has been incredible,” said Sharon. “When it started I never thought that it would travel as far as it has.

“This year has emphasised just how important a sense of community is. Everyone involved in this project has overcome many challenges and barriers to create something that is inclusive and yet celebrates the differences in identities and cultures.

“To be recognised by the British Council is a tremendous honour and a fantastic achievement for all involved.”

Hands of the World has brought together learners of all ages and student teachers in schools from across the globe. Classes of pupils sing along to popular songs while using Makaton hand signals, with the resulting video clips edited together and shared on YouTube.

The videos have amassed thousands of views, with pupils from countries such as Canada, China, Israel, Lebanon and the United States signing along to globally popular songs, such as This is Me.

Hands of the World has been facilitated by the eTwinning programme, which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and is managed in the United Kingdom by the British Council, for which Sharon is an ambassador. The eTwinning portal facilitates online relationships between international educational establishments so they can collaborate on projects that promote cross-cultural understanding.

Karen Cleland from the British Council, said, “Hands of the World has motivated connection and community spirit across multiple countries throughout lockdown.

“The project is truly innovative, inclusive and exemplifies the collaboration which the British Council schools ambassador network supports to drive education forward on a global scale.”