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From:  cmf
Date:  Tue Feb 16, 1999  12:29 am
Subject:  Introduction and SW literacy projects

To SignWriting list members,

I have been a member of the SW list since last Spring but have not
formally introduced myself. Since I am just about ready to begin two
sign literacy research projects, DAC's SignWriting Literacy Project and
my own Ph.D. graduate school 'action research' at the University of New
Mexico, I thought that I would briefly clarify each project and explain
the relationship between the two. I know that casual communication is
the usual norm for the list so I apologize in advance for 'too much

First, about the researcher...who am I?

I am a transplant from New York to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.
Six year ago, I cam to UNM to study linguistics because I knew I needed
to know more about language if I wanted to remain in a field that
educates Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. Bilingual Bicultural
education had begun to take root in the small school for the Deaf in
which I began my professional career. I have been communicating with
children as teacher and counselor for 26 years, 24 of them with children
who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In the early Total Communication
years, ASL was the name of a language used by adult Deaf people. The
teachers I worked with had now way of knowing at that time, that there
were many ASL features in the language our students were using everyday.
As time went on, in our small school for the Deaf, ASL moved out of the
shadows and into a bright spotlight. ASL, the language that I taught to
second language learners at a community college for 13 years, was now
perceived as a language of empowerment, prestige, and distinction by the
younger learners I had been communicating with daily since 1974. Where
do you go and whom do you contact to learn more about linguistic
validity, literacy empowerment, and bilingual education? You call
Sherman Wilcox at the University of New Mexico who tells you about a
Ph.D. program in Educational Linguistics. This program allows graduate
level students to design a program of studies that will address a
professional 'burning issue'. Mine is literacy in ASL. UNM has
departments that specialize in linguistic investigation of sign
languages and bilingual education. With my partner in life, we
re-nogotiated life circumstances, had a garage sale, packed up a dog and
cat, and moved to New Mexico.

Second, about the participants in the SignWriting Literacy Project
sponsored by the DAC (Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting)

I presently work with Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in Albuquerque
Public Schools. I am a school counselor and meet with 50 students from
two elementary schools and one middle school. There are 10 district
goals for the school year 1998-1999. Literacy is number two on the list.
There are many different cultures in New Mexico with the highest
variability and concentration of diversity found within the city of
Albuquerque. The district has attended to the linguistic needs of
English second language learners by mandating all teaching and support
staff to attend LEP (Limited English Proficiency) training. There is no
formal acknowledgment within the district that Deaf and Hard of Hearing
students would also benefit from linguistically motivated educational
accommodation. The district program coordinator responsible for the
teaching, sign language interpreting, and audiological services for Deaf
and Hard of Hearing students was very supportive of my proposed
participation in the SignWriting Literacy Project. While she could not
assure researcher nor participants (students, families, and teaching
staff) of any necessary technical equipment, materials, or monetary
support, a letter of commitment to the project was sent to DAC back in
November. There are three groups of people (stakeholders) involved in
the SignWriting Literacy project, 32 Deaf and Hard of Hearing students
ages 5-14, 32 families, and 6 teachers. As lead instructor of
SignWriting, I will attempt to neutralize power relationships that exist
in the everyday school literacy learning environment and hope to promote
shared power, one that will encourage students and teachers to alternate
between teacher and learner roles.

Third, about the Ph.D. dissertation action research

I am in the final stages of formalizing my research proposal at the
University of New Mexico. The focus of the research is on understanding
a life experience of DHH students, becoming literate in ASL. The
research question is as follows; how do Deaf and Hard of Hearing
students experience learning to write using SignWriting, a way to read
and write signs? A Bilingual Bicultural education paradigm provides the
justification for using two languages, ASL and English, in programs for
DHH students. While this bilingual context is expected to be more easily
implemented in schools for the Deaf, two language use in mainstream
public education in which a 'critical mass' of DHH students exits (20 or
more), can also be a viable bilingual context for biliteracy
development. The inquiry addresses some problematic assumptions
regarding a specific bilingual theoretical construct, Cummins'
interdependency theory. This theory originally constructed in linguistic
contexts where two languages had spoken and written representation was
borrowed and adopted by proponents of bilingual education for Deaf
students. The two languages used in Deaf bilingual programs, American
Sign Language and English, differ in modality nd written representation.
Contrary to the 'common sense' opinion of the majority of sign language
users here in the U.S., there is a way to read and write sign languages,
SignWriting. The final handshape of the sign for 'common sense'
resembles a closed or clenched fist. Within that metaphorical container
there are resources of this visual-gestural language, ASL, not yet
explored. A written representation for signs, when made accessible, will
enhance DHH students' literacy learning experiences.
Academic literature will be reviewed and revisited in order to unpack
sociocultural bias that supports only monoliteracy development in the
school language, English. Critical literacy theorists and investigators
of the worlds writing systems provide arguments that support the
investigation of a sign literacy. Sociocultural literacy models
emphasize co-constructed literacy events, literacy practices, and
literacy acts where meaning is negotiated between literacy partners. A
complementary framework, biliteracy, which emphasizes a unified
understanding of biliteracy context, development, and media, invites
exploration of the potential written sign language may provide DHH
bilingual students.
This community based action research aims at building a collaboratively
constructed description and interpretation of DHH students' experience
of learning to write using SignWriting. Triangulation, a construct
unique to ethnographic naturalistic inquiry, will be utilized. Three
sources of data, videotaped SignWriting sessions, student, teacher, and
family interviews, researcher observation and reflective notes will
provide verification of inquiry findings. The collection of data will be
divided into two phases. The first phase, lasting two months, will be
used as a pilot to 'test' the climate and plant inquiry motivation. The
second phase, that will last four months, will reposition and redirect
participants and reorganize the inquiry process so that stakeholders
experiences while learning to use SignWriting will be accurately
reflected. Collaboration and negotiation are key to understanding a new
meaningful and respected literacy for DHH students, a sign literacy.

I would like to express my gratitude to Valerie Sutton for guidance in
establishing contact with the Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting and
the SignWriting Literacy Project. Sponsorship to carry out the
SignWriting Literacy project at Albuquerque Public Schools for the
Spring semester 1999 has been made possible by the San Diego Foundation,
the Dr. Seuss Fund. I am grateful to Mrs. Audrey Geisel for providing
the monetary support for the SginWriting materials. Similar to the
rhyming verse of the more familiar Dr. Seuss storybooks, I can envision
Deaf and Hard of Hearing students becoming creators of SignWriting
rhyming stories. And why not?
My previous conversations with Valerie about both sign literacy projects
(DAC and UNM) have been very encouraging. If ever there was a single
person that radiates a 'can do' energy, it is Valerie. She has been
equally generous with her technical assistance especially related to
computer communications. She responded to my request for 'hands on, face
to face, SignWriting instruction offering three days (Dec 29, 30, and
31) of intense SignWriting immersion including SignWriting history, deaf
perspectives, clarification of troublesome symbols and an overview of
the SignWriter computer program. Valerie was able to commission Darline
Clark Gunsauls, a native ASL signer, a DAC committee member, and an
international instructor of SignWriting (Nicaragua) to tutor me for one
full day. I returned to New Mexico feeling like, I 'can do' this
SignWriting teaching/learning project with the continued support of DAC
and in the company of my friends here in Albuquerque, the Deaf and Hard
of Hearing students, their families, and our collaborative staff.

Cecilia Flood
Counselor/Teacher f/t DHH
Albuquerque Public Schools
Ph.D. candidate
University of New Mexico

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