December 6, 1998
And thank you, Kathy, for your feedback, which is pasted below. You are the
first to complete all three SWLP forms. I am writing the first SignWriting
Literacy Project Report now, which I hope to have completed sometime in
January, and I am including everything you wrote :-)
Plus I have completed a small flyer, called "What Schools & Teachers Say",
and I included your feedback there. So I will send you copies of that flyer
shortly. If there are others on the SignWriting List who would like that
flyer, I will be happy to send it to you. It is only 8 pages, with a
synopsis of feedback.
OK....This is what I learned, after reading your input (pasted below)....
1. Your group was a mixture of Deaf children and Deaf adults...For a
teacher, that is a different experience than if the class were all children
or all adults...You were essentially teaching a "one room schoolhouse".
2. The children learned faster than the adults.
3. Both Deaf adults and Deaf children gained self-esteem from learning to
read and write their own language.
4. Deaf adults learned things about their own language that they hadn't
ever thought about before.
5. The children enjoyed and benefited from learning side-by-side with their
6. You allowed and encouraged the children to color and write all over
those "pretty books" - I am glad you did that! That was the point of the
coloring book - to encourage fun and creativity, coupled with learning to
write basic symbols.
7. You didn't overwhelm them with the details - I am learning now from
other feedback as well, that reading intuitively, without too much
explanation, seems to work the best. This point is backed-up by your
mentioning that the flashcards were a "low-pressure" way to teach reading -
which is also what Michele Lewis said - that reading signs as "units"
rather than becoming "too detailed" was best.
8. Facial expressions were hard for some students, and they didn't realize
they used facial expressions when they signed - that sounds like an adult
talking! Were the children any different, when learning facial expressions?
*Just a side note here...we do have experience teaching Deaf adults and
have done so for years, but we do not have as much experience teaching
children. In a previous message, Kathy told us of some of the Deaf adult
issues in class, which sounded very familiar to me....adults tend to base
learning on their past experiences, and since Deaf adults didn't learn
SignWriting in school when they were children, they tend to be more
analytical and worried about understanding every detail, where children
tend to accept and absorb in a less judgemental way...at least that is my
personal experience...do you agree with that, Kathy?
Thank you once again for giving us so much information to "chew on", Kathy,
and I look forward to sending you the more advanced literature early next
year - Please say "hello" to your students for me :-)
On Sun, 8 Nov 1998 Kathy Akehurst wrote:
>The students were very pleased with the book although it took some talking
>to get them to believe they were free to mark and color as much as they
>wished in such a nice book. Some of the children started into it as soon as
>they got it in early October and then we went through it methodically as a
>group. The children really enjoyed the coloring part, and even colored the
>signwriting symbols. Everyone did their best to write rows of symbols and
>signs although we all agreed it (quite naturally) made our hands tired!
>Still, done in a group it was fun and interesting and some of the more
>diligent ones practiced on their own until our next meeting.
>It was very clearly presented and easy to understand. There were no
>questions presented that were hard for me to answer, only questions for
>which it was hard for me to remember the answers! I found the Textbook and
>Workbook to be really comprehensive and it was just up to me to know it well
>enough to be sure of where to go to find the answer to a student's question.
>The answers were always there.
>I think, for a basic SW course, this is a wonderful way to proceed. I found
>it best not to actually show the students how detailed SW could get (in the
>workbook I had) because I could see that might seem a bit overwhelming - not
>so much for the children, but for the adult students.
>d Did you use the accompanying flashcards and what did you think of them?
>They're great and we did use them. It was an interesting, low-pressure way
>to expose all of us to this new writing system. They helped jog our
>memories at various points in the lessons. I think we could make use of any
>amount of these cards.
>I believe, considering the range of ages in this group, that they were as
>ready as could be expected. The only thing (and I wouldn't call it
>'lacking', I'd just say we hadn't dwelt on it much...) was that they had
>some difficulty with the facial expressions in the story. The hand shapes,
>etc. they could dissect and decipher (if they didn't remember them at first)
>but we all rather got mixed up on the faces. That will come with practice.
>Actually, it was interesting to note that some of them weren't even aware
>that they MADE facial expressions when they signed certain things,
>underlining the point that when one begins learning to write, one becomes
>much more aware (or should do) of how they are actually 'speaking'.
>It wasn't hard for my students to read complete sentences, and they seemed
>to enjoy it and get a good deal of satisfaction out of the experience. It
>was hard for the adult students to remember to read down the page (they were
>raised orally), and not across, however. They liked it once they got the
>hang of it, though.
>The dictionary was well received. We ALL found it helpful. The
>pictures helped a lot and having the cross-references of SW, picture,
>English made it really easy to find either the symbol OR the word you for
>which you were looking.
>b. Was the Sign-Symbol-Sequence clear? Did you have problems finding a sign
>in the dictionary?
>Yes, it was clear and we had no problems in finding the signs. Again, at
>times we had to stop and actually examine how, precisely, the sign was made
>so we could get the proper symbol but that's good. As I said before, it's
>improving the quality, in general, of the signing of the group.
>Everyone (children and adults) viewed the videos. The parents kept them and
>viewed them again on their own after we started the lessons, as a reminder
>of what was what. They were very useful. Easy to follow, well put
>together. The videos are really well done, and having voice-over, captions
>made them really easy to undertand and accessible to everyone everywhere.
>Nice music, too!
>b. What were some of the questions you needed to answer?
>"What's that squiggly line mean?", "Why is that arrow bigger near the body
>than away from it?", things of that nature. Mostly having to do with
>movement and dynamic markers.
>What part of the textbook have you referred to most?
>Axial movement, dynamics and punctuation, facial expressions and head and
>c. Do you have any suggestions for improvements of this textbook? Do you
>feel it is a useful tool for the school to have for reference?
>To date, I can't conceive of how to improve this textbook because I'm so
>amazed at the detail you've come up with in the first place. It is
>extremely useful and very well-thumbed by all. I don't think we would
>really have been able to proceed on this project without it. At times,
>questions would be asked and it was important to have an answer to them
>right then in order to hold the interest of the group and keep the flow.
>Even though the question might not have had any relevance to the specific
>lesson we were on, being able to find the answers in the textbook really
>7. Overall, what is your general impression of our materials? Do you feel
>they have been a positive influence on your students and their parents?
>Very. The concept of SignWriting is so new and different for my students
>that they needed to be able to grasp some aspect of it quickly in order to
>hold their interest and motivate them to continue. The layout of the
>materials did that. Some are more motivated than are others, of course (as
>is true of learning to write any language) but all in all the materials are
>well, laid out, easy to understand and not so complex that people new to the
>idea despair that they'll ever get it.
>The concept of writing ASL seems to take many people by surprise. My group
>seems to enjoy learning it (I think it makes some of the children feel like
>Harriet the Spy writing in code, which is fun!)(me too, actually!) and it
>impresses other people who don't understand it but can see that it is a
>viable writing system. The publications do present it in a positive and
>optomistic light and underscore that anyone could learn it and would find it
>useful for many things (not just ASL). In my group, the only issues that
>came up were that my rebel, sloppy signer (I say it with all fondness!)
>feels the facial expressions and dynamic markers should be 'understood' by
>the context so he doesn't have to bother learning them. I imagine that
>would be a choice he could live with (or not) just as many people who write
>English opt out of grammar and punctuation at whim and must bear the
>consequences of not being understood as well as might be possible if they
>would apply themselves to learning the intricacies of their language. I
>think what proves to me that SW is as real a writing system as is that of
>any other language is watching people's responses to it. As with any other
>language, some are very good at it and very interested, some are eloquent
>and some don't make any sense at all! Your cause is alive, Valerie! It's
>got all the ups and downs and quirks of a real, living written language.
>Keep up the good work and thanks from all of us.
On Sat, 28 Nov 1998, Kathy wrote:
>2. What do you feel the students gained from learning SignWriting?
>A good feeling about their own language for one thing! Seeing the
>possibilities for writing in sign did good things for the adults self-esteem
>(most of them coming from a time when even sign was considered primitive,
>somehow...)and, for the children, starting this young is an excellent way
>for them to see themselves and their language as varied and different but
>certainly equal to anything around them. They also 'cleaned up' their
>signing a bit as now they have to be conscious of it to 'write it down'!
>3. How do the parents feel?
>As above. Add to that - very pleased to see their children have an
>opportunity early on that was not available to them. The children seemed
>quite delighted, as well, to work right beside their parents on something
>they are attempting to learn together as a family.
>4. Do your students want to continue learning SignWriting?
>6. Did you enjoy teaching SignWriting? Overall, are you glad that you
>participated this fall?
>I did enjoy teaching it. I can see that there is so far to go and so much
>to learn, I don't feel at all qualified as a teacher, but I'm willing to
>share what I can and help where I can so we can all improve together. We
>are glad to have been part of the Project this fall.
>7. Did you notice any improvement in student's reading skills?
>In general, yes. It depended upon the degree to which they applied
>themselves. The children seemed to pick that up a bit more quickly than did
>the adults (having no preconceived notions as to what they 'should' be
>seeing, I imagine).
>9. Do you think that written ASL can become a part of Deaf education in the
>Definitely. It only seems logical that there be some manner of recording on
>paper this living language.
>Private Tutor, Ontario, Canada
Valerie Sutton at the DAC
Deaf Action Committee for SW
Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA