|SignWriting List Forum|
Valerie Sutton |
Date: Fri Jan 28, 2000 10:31 pm
Subject: Teacher's Web Report, South Africa
SignWriting Literacy Project
Web Report #1
Fulton School for the Deaf
Durban, South Africa
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 - which is
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 with
total 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 - the
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 to ASL.
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 way?
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, to use in any way you wish, just as long as it
relates to SignWriting. How would you like to use your web page?
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 write any other information about your group that you
would like to share.
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 exercise.
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,
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 with Sign
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
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
Private Bag 9002