Web Report #1
Fri, 28 Jan 2000
1. Why do you want to learn SignWriting?
I have only recently learnt of this method of teaching literacy
to Deaf students. It is very exciting to see a method of writing
Sign Language in a way that makes sense, especially if one considers
the complexities of Sign Language itself. After being a teacher
for three years and only recently introducing Sign Language as
a school subject, the kids and I are rather tired of everything
being represented by the English word - and many will know -
sometimes a nightmare for many Deaf students because English
is a language based on phonetics while SignWriting seems to be
based on the visual-spatial aspects of language. I normally respond
to something based on the reaction of my students. When I showed
them the information on SignWriting that I had obtained from
the Internet, the response was very inspiring. I had three pages
of information and the students spent two and a half hours studying
them! They could, after some time, make out what was being said
through the SW - even though they have NO previous knowledge
of the method. I kept the English translations and by the end
of the two and half hours, the students had translated a fair
amount of information already!
What was wonderful was that they were able to argue with me withtotal
confidence - to be able to point out that I may be wrong. They
begged me to teach them SW and they still ask me if we are going
to do it this year. This made me decide to get involved in SW
students never react to English lessons in this way. It was so
inspiring to see this.
2. What have been some of your past frustrations when teaching?
For the last three years, I have been teaching many subjects
but over this time, my focus has narrowed down to English and
Sign Language. Fulton School is the second school in South Africa
to introduce Sign Language as a subject. We are still awaiting
the government's approval to have this subject recognised as
a matriculation (grade 12) subject. This recognition is in the
government's green paper on education and training but it is
yet to be passed.
With Sign Language, my main frustration is the fact that there
are little or no resources on South African Sign Language (SASL).
SASL remains largely uncharted territory in South Africa. What
I have had to do is use ASL books and translate the signs / information
to SASL context. SASL has a very similar grammatical structure
Another frustration is that in South Africa, educational methods
of teaching the Deaf are varied. There is no consensus between
educators. We are only starting the transition from oralism and
Signed English/Signed Support English to Sign Language. However,
because I am Deaf myself, I use SASL in 100 % of my lessons.
Due to the legacy of Sign Language being viewed as an `ape' language,
it is still a struggle to get educationalists, the general public,
teachers, etc to recognise the importance of Sign Language as
a fully fledged language in its own right. However, this is a
catch-22 because there is no formal infrastructure for teaching
Sign Language to hearing people, teachers, etc. Normally, volunteers
from the Deaf
community do this -- without training. BUT....this should not
be seen in a pessimistic light because there is a lot of fertile
ground here and lots of challenges to face -- a time of change
and learning and growth. Also, I began teaching Sign Language
to Deaf students this year.
The curriculum also includes aspects of Deaf Culture, Deaf History
(totally uncharted here in SA), etc. All this is given in written
English form -- a form that many students here have little or
no access to. SW might bridge this gap between English and Sign
Language? If I give a `lecture' on Deaf History, the students
might be able to make notes in SW? Students might be able to
write their SL examinations in SW?
Furthermore, I also teach English. I use SL to do this. The
students have responded well to this but still find many problems
when it comes to the written English word. I do not know enough
yet but I feel that SW will help very much -- for example with
vocabulary. English words are explained on paper using English
words! What if they were explained using SW? I may be wrong but
it would be nice to try. I welcome any feedback, advice.
3. Are you hoping that SignWriting might help? If so, in what
I have mentioned how I hope SW might help in question 2 - the
main thing is a bridge between English and Sign Language. A bridge
that I have been looking for, for years. In other countries,
people I have spoken to have told me that they write Sign Language
using English words. I could never understand how this was possible
(try writing French using English words???). In addition, SW
is more accessible to Deaf people, I believe, especially those
with very little access to English. Let me remind you that literacy
levels of Deaf students in SA are NOT good -- this is a fact
(due to a variety of reasons).
I believe that SW will give students (from pre school to high
school) relaxed, interesting, exciting and equal access to information.
When I showed the few SW pages I had obtained from the Internet
to my students -- I KNEW what the introduction of SW would make
a big difference to them, by watching their reactions and level
of interest. SW might also help in other subjects e.g. in science,
students might like to make `margin notes' using SW to help them
remember what a word/concept means?
4. The SignWriting Teacher's Forum has a free web page
for you and your students. How would you like to use your web
I would very much like to use the web page as has been suggested
above. The web page can be used for the students, too. Once I
have learnt of a way to post student's assignments onto the web
page, I will do so (e.g. typing SW, scanner???, etc). I would
like for students themselves to also write on how SW has benefited
them. In this way, we would have the students' and teacher's
perspectives. It would be wonderful if the students could write
their feedback on the web page in SW.
5. Please share other information about your group.
I would like to introduce SW to grades 8 -10. In the primary
school, I would like to train Deaf assistants to use SW with
the pre schoolers and primary schoolers. Alternatively, I could
train the junior secondary schoolers first and then they could
train the primary schoolers? This would be a wonderful assignment
As for human interest, here are some of us:
Ingrid (teacher, Deaf): Grew up in Johannesburg, became deaf
at the age of 7 in a car accident. Became "Deaf" at
17! Attended University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg
for 4 years to become South Africa's second qualified Deaf teacher
(this number still remains!). As for schooling, attended St Vincent's
School for the Deaf in Johannesburg and then Fulton School for
the Deaf in Gillitts, near Durban.
Jenna (student, 16): Jenna has been at Fulton all her life.
Jenna lives in Hilton, near Pietermaritzburg. Jenna is a very
good academic student and loved reading The Hobbit for Grade
9 setwork. Jenna wants to be a vet when she leaves school and
hopes to attend
Gallaudet University in Washington DC.
Llewellyn (student, 15): Llewellyn is also from Pietermarizburg
and has a Deaf sister, Leigh who is also at Fulton. Llewellyn
is a good academic student and has a very good command of written
English. Llewellyn believes that this is because his parents
sign and that he has a Deaf sister and a Deaf teacher! Llewellyn
wants to be a Game Ranger when he leaves school - a latest due
to a class trip to the Kruger National Park in September, 99.
Lindsay (student, 17): Lindsay is from Cape Town. His mother
is also Deaf and she works in the DEAFSA offices in Cape Town.
Lindsay came to Fulton because the schools in Cape Town do not
really encourage Sign Language. Lindsay feels more comfortable
Language. He is not sure what he wants to do when he leaves school.
Lindsay was recently chosen for the Springbok Cricket team which
will represent SA in the Deaf Cricket World Cup in April in Johannesburg.
Sibu (student, 16): Sibu is a sporting dynamo and excells
in all sports. He believes that keeping fit is the secret to
a long life. Sibu is not sure what he wants to do when he leaves
school but has said that he wants to go to Gallaudet.
Lauren (student, 15): Lauren wants to be a teacher when she leaves
school. Lauren loves asking questions about how lesson material
is prepared, how much time it takes, how marks are worked out,
etc. Lauren would like to study at Gallaudet.
These are examples of some of us. With time, more of us will
be introduced on the web pages. The group that will be introduced
to SW is made up of 30 students. Students in the group come from
all over South Africa, urban and rural areas which does make
an interesting combination.
6. We agree, as a group, to complete three Web Reports in
return for the SignWriting materials and technical support you
donate to us.
We understand that this report and all other reports will become
public information and will be posted to the SignWriting email
list and on the SignWiting Web Site. You have our full permission
to use the information as needed.
Please send Sign Writing materials for 1 number of teachers
and 30 number of students.
Thank you for considering us for your project.
Fulton School for the Deaf