SignWriting In USA Directory

Assessing Deaf Children Learning SignWriting
Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico

Ongoing Research
starting Spring 1999

Cecilia Flood

Teacher & Counselor
for the Deaf and
Hard of Hearing
Public Schools

Ph.D. Candidate
University of New Mexico

Research Project Description
A Report To The SignWriting List

by Cecilia Flood

Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999 17:29:03 -0700
To: SignWriting List <SW-L@ADMIN.HUMBERC.ON.CA>
From: cmf <cmf@GATEWAY.NET>
Subject: Introduction and SW literacy projects

To SignWriting List members,

I have been a member of the SW list since last Spring but have not formally introduced myself. Since I am just about ready to begin two sign literacy research projects, DAC's SignWriting Literacy Project and my own Ph.D. graduate school 'action research' at the University of New Mexico, I thought that I would briefly clarify each project and explain the relationship between the two. I know that casual communication is the usual norm for the list so I apologize in advance for 'too much information'!

First, about the researcher...who am I?

I am a transplant from New York to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Six year ago, I came to UNM to study linguistics because I knew I needed to know more about language if I wanted to remain in a field that educates Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. Bilingual Bicultural education had begun to take root in the small school for the Deaf in which I began my professional career. I have been communicating with children as teacher and counselor for 26 years, 24 of them with children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In the early Total Communication years, ASL was the name of a language used by adult Deaf people. The teachers I worked with had no way of knowing at that time, that there were many ASL features in the language our students were using everyday.

As time went on, in our small school for the Deaf, ASL moved out of the shadows and into a bright spotlight. ASL, the language that I taught to second language learners at a community college for 13 years, was now perceived as a language of empowerment, prestige, and distinction by the younger learners I had been communicating with daily since 1974. Where do you go and whom do you contact to learn more about linguistic validity, literacy empowerment, and bilingual education? You call Sherman Wilcox at the University of New Mexico who tells you about a Ph.D. program in Educational Linguistics. This program allows graduate level students to design a program of studies that will address a professional 'burning issue'. Mine is literacy in ASL. UNM has departments that specialize in linguistic investigation of sign languages and bilingual education. With my partner in life, we re-nogotiated life circumstances, had a garage sale, packed up a dog and cat, and moved to New Mexico.

Second, about the participants in the SignWriting Literacy Project sponsored by the DAC (Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting)

I presently work with Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in Albuquerque Public Schools. I am a school counselor and meet with 50 students from two elementary schools and one middle school. There are 10 district goals for the school year 1998-1999. Literacy is number two on the list. There are many different cultures in New Mexico with the highest variability and concentration of diversity found within the city of Albuquerque. The district has attended to the linguistic needs of English second language learners by mandating all teaching and support staff to attend LEP (Limited English Proficiency) training. There is no formal acknowledgment within the district that Deaf and Hard of Hearing students would also benefit from linguistically motivated educational accommodation. The district program coordinator responsible for the teaching, sign language interpreting, and audiological services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students was very supportive of my proposed participation in the SignWriting Literacy Project. While she could not assure researcher nor participants (students, families, and teaching staff) of any necessary technical equipment, materials, or monetary support, a letter of commitment to the project was sent to DAC back in October. There are three groups of people (stakeholders) involved in the SignWriting Literacy project, 32 Deaf and Hard of Hearing students ages 5-14, 32 families, and 6 teachers. As lead instructor of SignWriting, I will attempt to neutralize power relationships that exist in the everyday school literacy learning environment and hope to promote shared power, one that will encourage students and teachers to alternate between teacher and learner roles.

Third, about the Ph.D. dissertation action research

I am in the final stages of formalizing my research proposal at the University of New Mexico. The focus of the research is on understanding a life experience of DHH students, becoming literate in ASL. The research question is as follows; how do Deaf and Hard of Hearing students experience learning to write using SignWriting, a way to read and write signs? A Bilingual Bicultural education paradigm provides the justification for using two languages, ASL and English, in programs for DHH students. While this bilingual context is expected to be more easily implemented in schools for the Deaf, two language use in mainstream public education in which a 'critical mass' of DHH students exits (20 or more), can also be a viable bilingual context for biliteracy development. The inquiry addresses some problematic assumptions regarding a specific bilingual theoretical construct, Cummins' interdependency theory. This theory originally constructed in linguistic contexts where two languages had spoken and written representation was borrowed and adopted by proponents of bilingual education for Deaf students. The two languages used in Deaf bilingual programs, American Sign Language and English, differ in modality and written representation. Contrary to the 'common sense' opinion of the majority of sign language users here in the U.S., there is a way to read and write sign languages, SignWriting. The final handshape of the sign for 'common sense' resembles a closed or clenched fist. Within that metaphorical container there are resources of this visual-gestural language, ASL, not yet explored. A written representation for signs, when made accessible, will enhance DHH students' literacy learning experiences.

Academic literature will be reviewed and revisited in order to unpack sociocultural bias that supports only monoliteracy development in the school language, English. Critical literacy theorists and investigators of the worlds writing systems provide arguments that support the investigation of a sign literacy. Sociocultural literacy models emphasize co-constructed literacy events, literacy practices, and literacy acts where meaning is negotiated between literacy partners. A complementary framework, biliteracy, which emphasizes a unified understanding of biliteracy context, development, and media, invites exploration of the potential written sign language may provide DHH bilingual students.

This community based action research aims at building a collaboratively constructed description and interpretation of DHH students' experience of learning to write using SignWriting. Triangulation, a construct unique to ethnographic naturalistic inquiry, will be utilized. Three sources of data, videotaped SignWriting sessions, student, teacher, and family interviews, researcher observation and reflective notes will provide verification of inquiry findings. The collection of data will be divided into two phases. The first phase, lasting two months, will be used as a pilot to 'test' the climate and plant inquiry motivation. The second phase, that will last four months, will reposition and redirect participants and reorganize the inquiry process so that stakeholders experiences while learning to use SignWriting will be accurately reflected. Collaboration and negotiation are key to understanding a new meaningful and respected literacy for DHH students, a sign literacy.

I would like to express my gratitude to Valerie Sutton for guidance in establishing contact with the Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting and the SignWriting Literacy Project. Sponsorship to carry out the SignWriting Literacy project at Albuquerque Public Schools for the Spring semester 1999 has been made possible by the San Diego Foundation Dr. Seuss Fund. I am grateful to Mrs. Audrey Geisel for providing the monetary support for the SginWriting materials. Similar to the rhyming verse of the more familiar Dr. Seuss storybooks, I can envision Deaf and Hard of Hearing students becoming creators of SignWriting rhyming stories. And why not?

My previous conversations with Valerie about both sign literacy projects (DAC and UNM) have been very encouraging. If ever there was a single person that radiates a 'can do' energy, it is Valerie. She has been equally generous with her technical assistance especially related to computer communications. She responded to my request for 'hands on, face to face, SignWriting instruction offering three days (Dec 29, 30, and 31) of intense SignWriting immersion including SignWriting history, deaf perspectives, clarification of troublesome symbols and an overview of the SignWriter computer program. Valerie was able to commission Darline Clark Gunsauls, a native ASL signer, a DAC committee member, and an international instructor of SignWriting (Nicaragua) to tutor me for one full day. I returned to New Mexico feeling like, I 'can do' this SignWriting teaching/learning project with the continued support of DAC and in the company of my friends here in Albuquerque, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing students, their families, and our collaborative staff.

Cecilia Flood

Teacher & Counselor
for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Albuquerque Public Schools

Ph.D. Candidate
University of New Mexico

...related articles....

The Albuquerque Public Schools
SignWriting Literacy Project
Letters & Web Reports

Classroom Experiences Teaching SignWriting
in the Albuquerque Public Schools
Excerpts from email messages by Cecilia Flood

Samples of Student's SignWriting
handwritten notes written in ASL
Fernando and Dathan write thank you notes ;-)


Silent News Article:
A New Controversial Approach to Literacy:
SignWriting: Will It Work? Alexandra Han....
Silent News, November 1999