21 February 2000
Dear Valerie & SignWriting List Members:
I thought to post this onto the SignWriting List in order for others
to be able to read this as well but I don't know how to post onto the
SWL so thought I'd do it the easy way and send it to you.
Well, today was the first day of SignWriting at Fulton School,
Durban, South Africa.
I showed the introductory videos to Grade 9 and 10. The whole group
makes up about 30 learners who are between the ages of 14 and 18.
The vast age differences in the same classes is a reality in South
Africa due to the educational imbalances of the past. Some classes
in the primary school have kids who are 6 sitting alongside teenagers
of 14, etc. However, each school does its best to solve such
An appreciation of where the learners are coming from in order to
understand their INITIAL reaction to the video is needed. This group
of 30 learners basically represent South Africa's diverse population
in terms of race, culture, religion, language, upbringing, etc -- the
unifying factor being that they are all Deaf (an human of course!).
In the class, there are kids who come from squatter camps, wealthy
suburbs, rural areas, urban areas, townships, etc. There are also
kids who practise different religions: Christianity, Roman
Catholicism, Jehovah's Witness, African Religions, etc. Furthermore,
the language differences are also vast (Sign Language NOT being their
`mother tongue' due to the repression of SL in the past): Zulu,
English, Xhosa, Pedi and so forth. Now, if a class of 30 kids can
contain such an array of populations groups, you may now understand
why they call us the `Rainbow Nation'? My point here is that this
also shows that it is to be expected that degrees of awareness /
exposure to anything `Deaf' is also varied. And, lastly, but not
least, there is our apartheid past.
Upon starting the video, the kids reacted first, not to the
SignWriting, but to the `human interest factor'. E.g. where do the
presenters come from? Where are their clothes from? (and a
discussion between their clothes and ours in SA), Are the presenters
Deaf? (and a discussion on the fact that the kids think that Cindy
doesn't look `Deaf' but Kevin does -- which ensued in a fascinating
discussion on my trying to find out what `looks Deaf' and what
doesn't!!! -- a mind boggling topic in its own right! Nothing
concrete could be found but just that there was a 'look' -- does
anyone want to pick up on this?) How the white presenters look
different from the white people in SA (which inevitably led to a
discussion on how the black people in USA look VS the black people in
SA) Is Cindy married? How many children does she have? Where does
she live? (same goes for Kevin -- I, of course, couldn't answer
these but told the learners that I would forward the questions -- who
can answer these?) How old are the presenters? Where did they go to
school -- oral or sign? Have they been to SA, etc etc. So there you
have it and you can guess the gruelling questions session that we
went through. However, these are the things that I find typical with
the learners here at Fulton (I can't say about the rest of SA) --
they are more interested in the people in the video or movie
(initially) than what the video or movie is actually trying to say /
or storyline. I do find this very touching and it is a way of
looking at film that I have never done before. Anyway, once their
curiosity was satisfied, I had to rewind the tape and start at the
beginning, this time looking at the SW factor!
Of course, they took to it like ducks to water! And here, they were
differentiating between SASL and ASL. Pauses in the video allowed us
to change the signs portrayed on the video into SASL on the
chalkboard. This was fairly easy to grasp. By the end of this, the
kids were all following the handshapes shown on the video in unison.
I had to rewind it back again (on demand). The learners all reacted
very positively to this, showing concern about the complexity of
being able to actually `write' the symbols and then arguing about who
is a good artist and who is not!!! Just before the end of the third
run of the video, the TV was abandoned and all the kids rushed to the
chalkboard, writing signs to each other -- of their own making but
incorporating the basics that they had got from the video. And let
me say this: a lot of the signs that they wrote included lots of
symbols that are part of SW but that they have never seen before (or
been taught yet). The learners found it strange that SW was read
from top to bottom and not from left to right. They want to know:
did Cindy make a mistake in the SW of `Deaf'? That is because `Deaf'
has two contact points and not one as shown on the video. I would
also like to know this. During the last few minutes of the lesson, I
asked the kids how they think they can use SW from what they have
learnt. They expressed as follows:
1. Translation of subject notes to SW (e.g. Biology, Geography,
Maths) which would make revision, studying easier
2. Writing private letters to each other that teachers wouldn't
understand (except Ingrid!)
3. Writing stories
5. Songs (from Puff Daddy, church, Michael Jackson, etc, etc.
My next step is to show them the SW video 2. From what has happened
so far, the road ahead looks very exciting and challenging! I
personally feel that this has initiated a whole new field of learning
and experiencing the world.
Watch this space!
Deaf teacher of Deaf students
Fulton School for the Deaf