presented at the
Impact of Deafness On Cognition
AERA Conference

April 13-14, 1998, San Diego California

...discussing two research projects...

Literacy In Nicaraguan Sign Language
"Written Sign" Recognition Skills
At The Escuelita De Bluefields
Janice Gangel-Vasquez
California State University
Dominguez Hills, California

The SignWriting Literacy Project
Teaching Deaf Children To
Read & Write Sign Language
Valerie Sutton & Members of the DAC
Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
La Jolla, California

The two research projects discussed here both use SignWriting to teach Deaf children to read and write. SignWriting is a way to record the movements of any signed language. It is a series of visual symbols that writes facial expressions, handshapes, movements, and gesture. The system can be very detailed, recording signed languages and gesture phonetically, or it can be used in a simplified form that is now becoming the world standard. In 1998, SignWriting is used by hundreds of Deaf people and research groups in 14 countries. The Deaf researchers and educators who make up the DAC, the Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting, are all native to American Sign Language (ASL). They, and other Deaf people all over the world, have had a profound influence on SignWriting's development.

This is the beginning of a new era. Signed languages are not just signed, they are becoming "written languages" too. As signed languages become written languages, what does this mean to Deaf education? Will reading and writing the movements of signed languages improve Deaf children's reading skills in English and other spoken languages? Is "sign language literacy" possible? What influence will this new development have on the Deaf Community?

Research Project #1

Assessing "Written Sign" Recognition Skills At The Escuelita De Bluefields
by Janice Gangel-Vasquez

The work of Dr. Judy Shepard Kegl and James Shepard-Kegl motivated Janice Gangel-Vasquez to travel to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua to observe and participate in the organizing of a new school for Deaf children called the "Escuelita de Bluefields" in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Janice's thesis documents a study conducted in August, 1997 on the reading skills of Deaf children at the school. SignWriting literacy levels of Deaf children were studied and the results point to success in reading signs. Quoting from the thesis: "The test results support the hypothesis that even beginning signers can be taught to recognize written sign language. Further, there is evidence that achievement of sign language literacy may open the door to literacy in an oral language."

Research Project #2

Teaching Deaf Children To Read & Write Sign Language
by Valerie Sutton & The DAC

The Deaf Action Committee started the "SignWriting Literacy Project For Deaf Students"in 1998. It is a free program for schools for the Deaf - an exchange of materials and technical support for written documentation. Schools which choose to participate will receive donations of textbooks and videos plus the"SignWriting Children's Stories Series" including three stories written in ASL: Goldilocks & The Three Bears, Humpty Dumpty and Cinderella, written in SignWriting by Darline Clark.

An example of feedback from an elementary school teacher, Patti Togioka: "I did a story time with the elementary school students at the Oregon School for the Deaf last Friday using Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It was one of the most awesome experiences I've ever had with kids!!! The kids not only read the signs, they fixed up one of the signs I had read incorrectly, they put periods next to the darkened lines, they added commas at the double lines and they READ the story. We then transferred it to written English and they labeled the SignWriting and wrote in English." The teachers will be filling out detailed forms documenting their results. It may take several years to collect all the documentation, which will be published on a new "Teacher's Forum" on the SignWriting Web Site.