SignWriting In Canada Directory


& private tutor
Kathy Akehurst
in Tara,
Ontario, Canada,
reports on
her students,
and what they
think of SignWriting.

consisted of
native signers,
five Deaf
children &
two Deaf adults.

  Private Tutor With Seven Students
Ontario, Canada

Kathy Akehurst
D824, #057832, R.R. #4
Tara, Ontario, NOH 2NO,
Phone/Fax: 519-376-0520

Kathy Akehurst
Confirmation Letter

Web Report #1:
Why Do You Want To Use SW?

Web Report #2:
What Do You Think of SW Publications?

Web Report #3:
SignWriting Classroom Diary

Web Report #1

From: "Akehurst" <>
To: "SignWriting" <>
Subject: Re: Web Report #1
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 1998 10:45:28 -0400

1. Why do you want to learn SignWriting?
We feel that it will add a rich dimension to ASL, as well as contribute research to a subject which will dignify and complement ASL as a complete language. We feel that, one day, this will be a widely accepted form of communication and we are pleased to be in 'at the beginning' of its emergence on a larger scale.

2. What have been some of your past frustrations when teaching?
In order to expand my students' horizons, I have often suggested that they 'read' certain things. Obviously, these things have been written in English. In order for them to benefit fully, their command of English must be very good or they are reduced to 'waiting' until someone is around to help them understand the written material. It is as if they must be extremely proficient at two complete languages in order to function. This has proved difficult for them and, while I (and they) feel it is helpful for them to learn English, I do feel that it should be in its proper place as a 'second' language.

3. Are you hoping that SignWriting might help? If so, in what way?
It will help the students in that it adds a concrete dimension, of which they can be proud, to an already dramatic and forceful language. It will certainly be a way for them to record and share their own thoughts, feelings and observations in their own language, and it will help those who are hearing skeptics to take ASL more seriously as a language - complete in its own right and worthy of respect and due consideration. If they wish to communicate with hearing people who do not sign they must write and I have noticed that, because their English grammar is not perfect (and who's is?), they are, on occasion, treated as if they were of lesser intelligence. I believe that, when SignWriting is accepted, people will realize that the d/Deaf are very good at writing their own language and only slightly less good at writing their second language - and since this is true of by far the majority of most people who learn a second language, it will be accepted as nothing to be looked down upon and certainly will not be taken as the 'last word' on their true intellect.

4. How would you like to use this web page?
I imagine it would be helpful to post notes about our progress and any questions or concerns we might have as we proceed with the Project. As the instructor, I will be grateful for this forum to seek out advice and suggestions if I find that my teaching methods are not having the desired effect or if I encounter an area I find difficult to present in a easily understood fashion.

5. Please write any other information about your group.
Two of my students are older adults and were raised and educated at a time when signing was frowned upon, if not completely forbidden. They were both sent to oral schools and were lost and alone in that system. It is only now, all these years later, that they can begin to express their feelings about those early years and about their sense of discouragement and abandonment at how the hearing world then treated the deaf. They both learned a sort of sign language in secret, and are grateful (and proud) of the opportunity to now learn their 'own' language and be seen and admired for their proficiency with it. I'm grateful to be a part of that process. The exposure ASL has had in the media, etc. over the past years has helped open up many doors for them and they are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Of course, their own experiences in the past have helped them develop, in their cases, great compassion for others who are misunderstood or left to their own defences and they are widely respected and admired in their neighbourhood for their kindness and gentle, good humour.

The other deaf students are younger adults and have benefited greatly from the strides made in the Deaf community over the past years. They are of great help to all of us as regards the history, etc. of their culture and they are enjoying 'refining' their signing skills in ASL as they, too, learned a type of pidgin sign since there were no schools or anything in this area offering ASL instruction.

The codas do not sign although they receive sign very well. Their parents thought they would be doing them no favour by teaching them to sign since this was so looked down upon at the time and they did not want to expose their children to ridicule. Now they realize that they were in error and the children (varying in ages from 23 to 12) are quite intrigued with what they are learning. As well, because (as mentioned above) of the sign language exposure in the media of late, they are enjoying some attention for how 'cool' it is that they are learning to sign! While it was not really our intent to be 'cool', it is a means to the end of having American Sign Language receive the respect and consideration now so long overdue.

27 April 1998

  Web Report #2
SignWriting Publications

We want to improve our publications. We need your feedback and suggestions.
The following publications were donated to your classroom.
Please give us your opinions, which we value. Write as much as you wish.

From: "Akehurst" <>
To: "Valerie Sutton" <>
Subject: Web Report 2
Date: Sun, 8 Nov 1998 09:30:29 -0500

1. Goldilocks & The Three Bears
SW Level 1, Workbook & Coloring Book

Did your students like this book? Were they eager to open it and use it? Did they color in it? Did they write rows of symbols and signs?

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.

Was the information clear? Were there specific questions that were hard for you to answer?

Yes, 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.

What improvements would you suggest? Would you add or subtract anything?

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.

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.

Do you want more copies of this book, and the flashcards, for your future classrooms?

Yes, please.

2. Goldilocks & The Three Bears,
SW Level 2, Basic ASL Storybook

Were your students ready for this book, when they finished SW Level 1? If not, what was lacking in their knowledge, that made it too advanced for them?

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'.

How did the students react to reading complete sentences in ASL? Was it hard for them, or was it an easy experience for them?

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.

Did your students use the dictionary in the back? Did they have problems finding a sign in the dictionary?

They all used the dictionary and did not have problems finding the signs. It was very helpful.

At SW Level 2 we gave your a storybook with sentences, but we did not give you a workbook. Would you like a workbook at Level 2 as well? Would a workbook teaching the writing of sentences in ASL be useful?

Yes, I think a workbook would be helpful. Depending on the learning style, some of my students do best with a cumulative approach leading to a complete sentence while others seem to approach it from the other end and decode a complete sentence into it's individual parts.

What improvements would you suggest? Would you add or subtract anything?

None. No. It's astonishing the amount of work and detail to which you have gone in this writing system.

Do you want more copies of the storybook for your future classrooms?

Yes, please.

3. Sutton's American Sign Language
Picture Dictionary For Children

Did your students like this dictionary? Were they eager to open it and use it? What did they think of the pictures? Did the pictures help?

Yes, 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.

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.

Would you want us to expand this dictionary to include more signs? If so, what are some of the signs you would like us to add?

I'm sure we would like that and find it helpful, simply because it's good to have as comprehensive a reference as possible. For some reason, we got hung up on the word 'hope' at one point and couldn't quite figure it out. A lot of the other words we were looking for we did find in your other publications, though.

Do you want more copies of this dictionary for your future classrooms?

Yes, please.

4. Lessons In SignWriting
Video Series & Booklets

Did parents view these videos? What did they think? Was it useful for them?

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.

Did the teachers view these videos? What did they think? Was it useful for them?

The videos are really well done, and having voice-over, captions and signing made them really easy to undertand and accessible to everyone everywhere. Nice music, too!

Do you have any suggestions for improvements of this video series?

No. The videos were excellent.

5. Lessons In SignWriting Textbook

Have you referred to this textbook to answer specific technical questions?


If so, 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 body.

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 helped.

6. Do you want to receive new, different materials?

Yes, please.

If your answer is yes, what would you like to receive first, second, third, fourth?

___1___Cinderella, SW Level 1 (Beginners)

___2___Cinderella, SW Level 2 (Beginners)

___3___Goldilocks & The Three Bears, SW Level 3 (Intermediate)

____4__Goldilocks & The Three Bears, SW Level 4 (Advanced)

How many copies of the above publications do you need, and when will you be ready for them?

Four copies and we'll be ready when they are!

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.

Please feel free to express your feelings about this. SignWriting is a new idea and sometimes new ideas can be complicated. Did our publications give a positive and optomistic impression about writing ASL? What issues, if any, came up? Any suggestions for making the road smoother in the future?

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.

November 8, 1998

Kathy Akehurst

Private Tutor
Tara, Ontario, Canada

Web Report #3
SignWriting Classroom Diary

This is the final report for the Fall, 1998 SignWriting Literacy Project.
We need to know if the project should continue or not? Was it worth it?

From: "Akehurst" <>
Subject: Web Report 3
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 08:18:03 -0500

1. Did you keep a daily diary of experiences in the classroom? Are there any experiences you can share with us?

We did not keep a daily diary as we did not meet, as a group, on a daily basis. Our sessions were usually about once a week, which did not give us a lot of time to work 'together' on SW, but did show the motivation of the students as it required them to work on things on their own throughout the week. The parents helped their children, and themselves, through the week and contacted me if they had questions.

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).

8. Do you want to continue the project?

Yes, please.

If your answer is yes, when do you want to continue?

__X__Winter-Spring 1999

______Fall 1999


9. Do you think that written ASL can become a part of Deaf education in the future?

Definitely. It only seems logical that there be some manner of recording on paper this living language.

November 26, 1998

Kathy Akehurst

Private Tutor
Tara, Ontario, Canada

SignWriting In Canada Directory