[sw-l] Re: Thesis -- more than anecdotal- research on SW as a tool to learn

James Shepard-Kegl, Esq. kegl at MAINE.RR.COM
Sat Feb 26 23:12:51 UTC 2005


In order to learn a language, the student must understand certain concepts,
such as:  context, sentence syntax, parts of speech, rules of grammar.

We find that hearing people who are not taught the rules of Nicaraguan sign
language have a terrible time learning it.  Many signs have wildly different
meanings, and must be interpreted in context.  Since many hearing people
seem stuck on the notion that a sign can have only one meaning, they quickly
become confused.  Also, we find that hearing people have a terrible time
with classifiers, locative verbs and demonstratives as they are used in
Nicaraguan Sign Language, to say nothing of the serial verbs.

So, when teaching hearing people, we try to exploit their knowledge of the
rules of Spanish to better enable them to understand how Nicaragua's sign
language is similar and where it is wholly different.  Of course, these
hearing people were taught grammar and writing in grade school -- over a
period of years, not months.

I respectfully suggest that to teach Deaf children to read Norwegian Sign
Language, you will need to teach them about their language's structure: its
syntax, its rules of grammar.  What's proper and what's awkward and what's
just plain wrong.  You can dissect the stories that you have written,
turning those stories into grammar lessons.  For younger children, just
reading the stories is both fun and highly productive.  (Of course, you have
to produce a sufficient body of children's literature, in decent NSL
grammar, for this to work.)

Goldilocks is a start.

Here's a sampling of what we use:  Curious George, Babar the Elephant,
Madeline, The Pied Piper, David and Goliath, The Three Little Pigs, Olmo and
the Blue Butterfly, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Trojan Horse, Odysseus
and the Cyclops, Odysseus and Circe, Odysseus and the Cattle of the Sun,
Caps for Sale, The Mouse and the Lion, Anansi the Spider, Little Red Riding
Hood (accessible on Valerie's website, by the way), Pasteur and the Rabies
Vaccine, Flight of Charles Lindbergh, The Ant and the Grasshopper, Tailypo,
Columbus, Balboa, Taily-Po, I Want My Banana, The Pirate Queens,  The Frog
That Could Fly, The Day It Snowed in Nicaragua, The Girl in the Green
Ribbon, Rip Van Winkle, The Headless Horseman, The Little Engine That Could,
Jack and the Beanstalk, and so forth  --- enough material to keep the
children entertained and interested; enough material so that basic reading
skills can be mastered.

We also have two years worth of intensive Spanish lessons for students who
are foreign language ready:  1) mature enough to dedicate themselves to
study; 2) natively fluent in their sign language; 3) already literate in
their first language.

A typical beginning lesson focuses on a single grammatical concept in
Spanish and compares and contrasts the rule to its counterparts in
Nicaraguan Sign Language.

Eventually, we present short stories in Spanish.  A typical reading lesson
is divided into four parts:  1) list of new Spanish vocabulary words, with
their meanings in sign language; 2) the text itself, with new vocabulary
words in italics; 3) questions to test comprehension; 4) questions or tasks
pertaining to grammar and syntax rules presented in the text.  These tasks
would include, for example, identifying nouns and adjectives, or converting
active voice to passive voice, or changing passages from the present tense
to the past tense.

And, I would be very eager to research the efficacy of all this, but we are
operating so much into the red as it is that we simply cannot afford to take
the next critical step.

Anyway, it is not enough to design the curriculum.  You have to implement it
over a period of years before you begin comparative testing.  Premature
testing will lead to invalid results and could make your SW program appear
less effective than it actually might be.  To illustrate my point: some
programs focus upon lexicon.  The goal is to get the Deaf child to recognize
as many spoken words as possible.  On the other hand, we want our students
to be able to write correct sentences.  We would prefer simple sentences
that are correctly put together over complex jumbles of words.

Our results so far are not entirely satisfying, to be sure -- progress is
slow, but steady.  Our students are far, far ahead of students coming from
other schools for Deaf in Nicaragua (in my experience, anyway), but that
fact alone is not worth boasting about.

-- James

on 2/26/05 2:45 PM, Ingvild Roald at iroald at HOTMAIL.COM wrote:

> As you say, to do a proper scientific study we would need lots of time, not
> only to prepare material, but also to get a large enough student body here
> in Norway. The grants that are available, will only run for three to four
> years. So we will have ot settle for less than a conclusivie study - but
> neverthe less it would be possible to draw some conclusions.
> What we have in mind are:
> 1: Use SignWriting of NSL as the first writing/ language in one of the
> schools, and wait for a few months/ half a year before giving them Norwegian
> reading and writing. We then plan to match the students there with students
> attending other schools using different methods (matching as for language
> used at home and in school, hearing status, gender, general abilities etc.)
> 2: We plan to assess the language proficiency in Norwegian spoken/ written
> language only, by classroom observations and foramlly after year two, when
> all Norwegian students are supposed to be so assesed.
> 3: As for material, we know we have alot to do. The material tha tis used
> for teaching Norwegian to deaf students in the school we are thinking of,
> already exist in Norwegian Sign language, and can be transcribed into
> SignWriting. There also exist a small body of 'games' where one handshape is
> used for different signs to make up a story. Goldlylocks is also recorded in
> Norwegian SIgn Language. But we will have to work hard both to do the
> transcribing, to evaluate the material as for fitness for the purpose, and
> to teach the teachers SignWriting.
> Even if we can do this, the student number will be small ( a maximum of ten
> in the experiment group), and no firm conclusions can be drawn from such a
> small number. But it will be somewhere to start, and by doing a research
> such as this we are showing the parents, the Deaf community, and the
> authorities that we are taking the goal of true bi-lingualism seriously, and
> that we will not enter into a new way of doing things without any real
> knowledge basis.
> Ingvild
>> From: "James Shepard-Kegl, Esq." <kegl at MAINE.RR.COM>
>> Reply-To: sw-l at majordomo.valenciacc.edu
>> To: sw-l at majordomo.valenciacc.edu
>> Subject: Re: [sw-l] Re: Thesis -- more than anecdotal
>> Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 13:18:04 -0500
>> Ingvild,
>> But it may well be that in order for us to be
>>> sucessfull in that argument, we will have to show that this system also
>>> gives deaf chioldren better literacy in the majority language. - We are
>>> plannin gto do a study in Norway along those lines, but I do not know if
>> we
>>> will be able to get the funding yet.
>> In order to do this study, it seems to me that some Deaf students will need
>> to master SignWriting, then use their skills to learn Norwegian.  You will
>> then need to objectively compare their abilities with those of
>> traditionally
>> educated Deaf students.
>> In Bluefields, Nicaragua, it took us years to produce sufficient literature
>> in SignWriting and to develop Spanish grammar books and reading lessons
>> intended for Deaf students who are literate in their native sign language.
>> In addition to designing our curriculum from nothing, we then had to train
>> our teachers (recruited from our students), before working with the younger
>> students.
>> This study you are proposing in Norway -- what did you have in mind for a
>> timeline?
>> On an overlooked tangent -- SW is integral to teaching math, as well.  This
>> assumes that someone has taken the time to design math textbooks with
>> verbal
>> problems presented in sign language.
>> -- James

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