Web Report #1
Saturday, February 13, 1999
1. Why do you want to learn SignWriting?
Sign Language has been a part of my life for 30 years. It started
with one sign at a time when I first worked with Deaf children
at a summer camp. Fluency has not been easily acquired but I
have occasionally been asked if my parents were deaf. They are
not, but communication in a family of 11 required a lot of persistence.
I want to learn SignWriting to teach/learn it with the Deaf and
Hard of Hearing students with whom I work in a mainstreamed public
education program. As a school counselor I have become keenly
aware of the impact school based reading and writing competencies
has had on Deaf and Hard of Hearing students' self-esteem. Motivation
to investigate a sign literacy stems from a comprehensive exam
that explored literacy development within Deaf bilingual bicultural
educational contexts. The potential written literacy in students'
everyday language, the language that meets their communicative
needs, warrants further investigation. SignWriting, a way to
read and write signs, may not only enhance second language literacy
learning of English but may also assist Deaf and Hard of Hearing
students to self monitor the 'affective filter' regarding English
literacy development. Learning to read and write signs may produce
more 'smiles' (evidence of weakening the affective filter) in
biliteracy educational contexts. SignWriting will be the focus
of my Ph.D. dissertation, a community based action research that
will describe how Deaf and Hard of Hearing students experience
learning to write using SignWriting.
2. What have been some of your past frustrations when teaching?
"I rarely meet a friend or colleague (in deaf education)
who is happy in the service these days" (Stringer 1996 p.149).
Explanations for this 'unhappiness' run the gamut; lack of administrative
support, inequitable economic compensation, minimal participation
and discipline backing from parents, discounting of previous
accomplishments, criticism of sign proficiency, blame for student
academic failure, over abundance of report writing, IEP goals,
end of school reports, parent conferences and so on. Perhaps
the more current educational paradigm shift, bilingual bicultural
education, has generated the most ambivalence or 'crisis' (opportunity
for change or a 'dangerous wind') among deaf educators. Throughout
my professional career as teacher, parent educator, instructor
of Sign Language and counselor, I too had to deal with bouts
of relational and philosophical conflicts which caused a lot
of stress. What can be expected is that relational stresses experienced
among and between adults will eventually spiral down to the relationships
with the students. What is inherently frustrating about working
with Deaf and Hard of Hearing students is the belief system that
they have been socialized to believe, that learning to read and
write is too hard and they'll never be really good at it.
3. Are you hoping that SignWriting might help? If so, in what
I propose that Deaf and Hard of Hearing students learning to
write the language they use for everyday interaction, that is
learning to read and write signs using SignWriting, will enhance
their literacy experiences in academic contexts, will effect
their self-esteem development, will make them smile more, will
promote a cultural and linguistic empowerment, will heighten
their awareness of the power of the written word, will increase
their metalinguistic awareness and abilities, will contribute
to their expressive language development, will validate the language
they use everyday, will strengthen and reinforce bilingual skill
development, will motivate students in their ongoing English
literacy development, will provide opportunities for collaborative
biliteracy experiences and will offer insight and provide an
informed perspective into the academic literacy experiences of
Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. While the above account generates
a long list of proposed 'hopeful wishes', my primary hope is
that SignWriting will help Deaf and Hard of Hearing students
recognize and acknowledge their language making capabilities
signified by real true smiles with fully engaged cheek muscles.
4. How would you like to use your web page?
Initially, the web page would be used to post brief descriptions,
provide a picture, of what transpires during SignWriting lessons.
As we, the project stakeholders (students, teachers, families,
researcher/ teacher/observer) become more engaged in the spiraling
LOOK, THINK, and ACT research routine (Stringer 1996), we will
democratically negotiate how and what will be contributed to
the APS SignWriting Literacy Project web page. Contingent on
our developing proficiencies in SignWriting and our technological
computer-'ease', posting the products of our SignWritng literacy
events would be a hoped for contribution.
5. Some additional information about APS sign literacy learners.
Even though Albuquerque does not rank among one of the largest
(geographically) cities in the country, it is one of the fastest
growing urban communities in the southwest. A community of Deaf
and Hard of Hearing students does exist in spite of geographic
separation between one elementary program (on the west side of
the Rio Grande) and the two other program sites. Most of the
students met each other at New Mexico's state school for the
Deaf preschool satellite program located here in Albuquerque.
The students affectionately refer to those early school experiences
beginning a conversation with an opener like, 'remember the little
red school?". The trim of the building happened to be red
sometime in its history but even with paint upkeep, no matter
the color, the school remained, 'the little red school'. The
satellite program is now housed in a beautiful new building specially
designed for the communication and learning needs of Deaf and
Hard of Hearing preschoolers. It is located in the 'backyard'
of an APS elementary school where the two current APS elementary
Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs will combine and be reestablished
as one entity. Demographically that will situate all mainstreamed
programs servicing elementary, middle and high school Deaf and
Hard of Hearing students into the same district cluster which
will enhance program continuity and the delivery of professional
services. More significantly, bringing all the programs together
geographically will allow for the strengthening of a community
of sign language users. Perhaps as the SignWriting literacy project
progresses within APS, the inquiry focused on the how of a writing
learning experience will evolve into 'a search for understanding
in the company of friends' (Stringer 1996 p.160).
Stinger E. (1996) Action Research a Handbook for Practitioners.
Thousand Oaks, CA.: SAGE Publications, Inc.