University of Edinburgh

Language and Deaf Education: Into the 21st Century

March, 2006

Steve Nover

Language Planning in Deaf Education and a Model of ASL-English Bilingual Professional Development

Date:  25.03.06


Good morning – no-one dug that hole for me because I am over 6ft tall. I guess Scottish people are small.

It is an honour to be here this morning. Mary Brennan was special. For you Mary and her work contributed greatly to raising the awareness for Deaf people of themselves like Stokes in the USA.

In the USA language planning has not been addressed; the concept is old and it has been done at a governmental level in the past but not filtered down to individual level.

I can't discuss things in great detail - just give you a sense of language planning in deaf education in USA today.

Why do language planning?

Language planning is empowering - a tool to help us make better decisions. Historically we have the same problems in deaf education - we don't have the appropriate tool which is language planning. It helps us identify the problem to reflect on it and to take actions to resolve it. The method we use is - name, reflect and take action.

These are the key points: name, reflect, describe and act. If we don't use these as a framework we can't make the changes. Yesterday people talked about all the contradictions that exist. Some of these are created by people on the outside.

In the past decisions were made by outsiders - those who have external beliefs that can't change us on the inside. The changes have been made from an outside perspective. The problem is language; people have not discussed the power of language. The world is mediated through language. Deaf children's experiences are mediated by language.

My interpretation of the world is not reflected in the literature. There is little about the insiders view of culture. I as an individual in this culture can describe it - that makes it more valid. I asked how many Deaf scholars there are doing research - we need inside data based research. Too often I see as an outsider the world making decisions for Deaf people - it is very powerful - the power of print and spoken language is powerful. Does sign language have status and power?

Every day we go on because it can't be avoided. Often it is overlooked - the role of Deaf researchers.

The decisions impact on children, it shapes parents’ views too.

I was raised orally - 12 years of mainstream education. I then went briefly to a school for deaf and then Gallaudet. There is very little about the deaf child's perspective of being deaf - there is a lot about spoken language. We were talking about the child as a thing yesterday - not the whole person. Deaf children are viewed as something to be fixed - implants, etc. Deaf people feel this - it is institutionalised - the focus on spoken language. we know when cochlear implants began the Deaf community were angry. This was because of the cultural perspective. People don't understand what it means to be a Deaf person.

Spoken language is powerful, written language too. Where is the status for the signed word? - there is none. If I go with a hearing professor my colleague is given more status because he speaks and I sign. As professionals are you honest with deaf children and adults. do we give the idea that being hearing is better than being deaf. Do we give the child that message - if they are implanted they will be a better person.

The Deaf community wants equality and status - they don't feel they have that because the cochlear implant business is growing. This leaves me wondering how the deaf child feels. So in language planning - there are three orientations - problem right and resource.

Doctor Ruiz talked a lot about language orientation, my goal is that you will have a better idea of language planning.  The language as problem orientation has been the main orientation from the beginning. Stokes contribution was that sign language has helped us to improve. BSL and ASL in education has helped.

Deaf people became too aggressive in their demand for language as a right. Universities offer ASL as a language to learn but not within deaf schools. Keep in mind your beliefs and where they fit.

This is common the pathological view vs the social cultural view of deafness. Think about where we are in terms of resource vs planning.

This picture is out of context but if we view the whole child holistically. Here is a Deaf mother and child using ASL. People view this as a hearing and speech problem. How often do the public see this beautiful image - natural communication.

We impose our system of beliefs onto the deaf child. It is our outside perspective looking for a solution. Do we look at children as whole human beings or as something to be fixed.

Language planning - this field is growing, from the government to the individual there are a lot of programmes. In the USA there is an English only movement. There are some English plus movements too.

Language planning must understand all of these and provide a solution - a plan. This is part of our work at CABER.

The most important thing is - who makes the decisions - teachers or school-wide on whether to use English or BSL, parents, organisations, the English only movement, the government, national and state institutions make these decisions.

We would like to change behaviours through language planning. It’s about the language acquisition function, corpus and status. In the USA each state is now voting to pass laws - status planning at state level. Nationally they tried but it is now at state level.

Schools decide whether to allow BSL or ASL, they have written policies - some have total communication policies - these are status planning efforts. In the USA - are you familiar with total communication? Well in 1967 this was proposed by Holcomb and it took off like wildfire - it was bad language planning because someone raised an idea and everyone ran with it. This led to the various artificial sign systems to teach English.

Corpus planning - developing a dictionary, creating an archive etc - powerful work with materials to disseminate - like Mary's work and Stokes - we need this research. However they are in print and that is why people noticed this research. In the USA we are now establishing national standards for ASL. We do not have ASL standards - we have no curriculum. It will take 5 years to standardise this in the schools.

In the 60s Stokes work was published - Deaf people came to realise who they were as Deaf people at that time. Maybe its the same here with BSL. In the early 90s the dictionary of BSL was produced - corpus planning then began in 1984.

  1. Acquisition planning is key
  2. Status planning - the policies
  3. Corpus planning - the materials

now its about teaching people how to use these.

ASL teachers association - they need a standardised method of teaching - acquisition planning. For students learning ASL lots of material is around but for a deaf child learning ASL there is not much. CABER has been set up and from my research at the University of Arizona I developed data based tools. we received federal funding and went from there.

The 4th type of planning is attitude planning: what is the public attitude and the educators - what is it and what needs to be changed?

These are brief examples of Americans with Disabilities Act - recognising that people have rights - deaf children not necessarily well provided for in this Act. ASL is the language of instruction (English too). I don't know about BSL but are hearing children doing BSL courses in universities?

I wanted you to have a sense of what it is like in the USA. And a sense of language orientation.  Now some language planning happening in deaf education.  I often go to schools for deaf as an evaluator and can see what orientation these Deaf professionals have.

From my observation in the USA there are not enough clearly written policies regarding ASL. English is there. Through my training we now have materials (training) - we need to look at the real issues - the limited resources, the emphasis, people believe if you sign that is good enough - believe bilingual means - oh yes in English. But not a deep understanding of what it means to be bilingual.

In USA we have ASL literacy (often called this) - the phrase concerns me. Everyone has gone with this. When I ask what it means there seems to be confusion. Oracy planning has been in the field - it is in our curriculums. Literacy - no child left behind - much research into literacy - I propose signacy. I would like to propose signacy as a term. A more equivalent term with its own identity as a body of work in signed language.

Language planning typically - we have oracy planning. Linguistics - the phonology, structure of spoken languages. A problem typically that needs to be resolved - then we bring in planners - also for literacy - but do we have a plan for signacy? In schools? In the USA we do not. People say: the kids sign, that is good enough!

When we say the child signs well enough - how does the deaf child feel? There is a hidden message the child internalises. You may have seen deaf children talk of their signing as being less. Teachers of the Deaf talk about how these things happen even in spoken news, in publications - Marc is a publisher of his Journal - there are rules about the types of language used. We have the rule books for how we use written language.

We have instruction in written language - for each of the different genres. But what for signacy? Nothing. Or status? Nothing. A system with no power. We need the ability to teach teachers and administrators - administrators are shocked when going back to schools they have no policies.

I mentioned these. Do you know Colin Baker? From the UK?

New Speaker

New Speaker
Colin Baker has written a lot about oracy and literacy .

I want to propose signacy as a clear 3rd category - a distinct element. We talk about ASL phonology a sound system? We don't look at these things. We don't think of them as we put them into practice?

We have another linguist - Baron - he proposed this model. I would like to signed part expanded upon. From 1981.  I would like to see the signed part exploded out a bit. To see us add these new parts. If you add someone to sign something they can't typically. We have now the technology to make signed materials.

We can write something and we can see ourselves in that writing. You cannot cut off your hands and have them as a durable material. We can video tape ourselves and analyse our own signing. We don't focus on our first language. If we understand ourselves we can know others better.

Perhaps sign writing is a graphic expression. Some examples we currently have. I have been encouraging schools to use these - some have been resistant and said it was not appropriate within schools for the deaf - not natural. Video tapes all have the potential to be such a powerful tool for developing language proficiency, cognitive development.

My daughter is 3, deaf - I started using video tapes with her - she watched one again and again - Peter Cook - Emily loves Peter Cook because of the way he tells stories. In his videos he talks to Emily - she feels she is being talked to. She watched these for months - from being a 1 year old. She developed cognitive skills through her interactions with Peter Cook. Her attention skills also developed. She had her identity self esteem and independence developed.

How do deaf children feel when their language is not focussed on. The opening picture of mother with baby - is this type of thing celebrated? Is it balanced? Canada has created many materials - the USA are a bit behind in materials for deaf children. Materials are there for hearing children to learn sign. We have several inches of video tape for my daughter but not much material generally in the USA for deaf children.

Signacy development is very important - focussing on the sign form - often overlooked. We focus on written and spoken form. We don't give kids feedback on their signing. Do we? Not much. Think about hearing children - are video tapes the potential for creating that durable material. My daughter watching the tapes - my daughter has a language planner for a father. I watched for the ones she liked. She loves certain ones, asking for them always. She plays with signs she saw in the tapes.

This is the framework we use to help teachers become more aware in their teaching that they have 2 roles - one for content , one for language planners in the classroom. We think about content and forget about the language - if we do it is English, English , English. We need to put it at the forefront.

These are 11 potential skills . Hearing children have clearly defined skills - their oracy development, their literacy development - what about signacy support - kids are on their own. Teachers become more aware of language use in the classroom through training. You have to be aware of the methodologies.

Through training I give we emphasise two languages or potentially more - not just English but the development of ASL too. It requires lesson planning. Teachers love this. Before coming to our training, I ask them what bilingual means - they find there is more to it than they thought - they find out various new strategies.

There are 2 separate ways: ASL approach, the other language with a different purpose. Concurrent vs separate approach. Often we do a concurrent approach - focus is literacy. What children internalise is that English is superior - ASL OK for talking to friends with. What Caeber is - we provide 2 training - bilingual education training. Literacy and signacy development.

We worked with 20 deaf schools in the USA. My role is - we talked about research and how we get this to practitioners - my job is to transform this for use in the classroom - to train teachers to be Teachers of the Deaf, including retraining current teachers. I have seen teachers coming away with completely new perspectives of what they do in their jobs.

We have seen them interview their students about how their classrooms have changed. It is powerful. Goal of Caeber is to promote ASL as a language resource - to elevate the status and legitimacy of it.

Corpus planning is one of the means of elevating it. To advocate for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing children, even by the parents. We encourage schools to use 2 languages as languages of instruction. I have seen change in the USA.

We have a summer training we offer - 2 week training - first two levels in first summer, second two in second summer. Two mentors - level one, level,  two, level three, level four - these mentor teachers then go back and set up these models in schools. I have seen these trainers become such great leaders.

Every couple of years we have new teachers going through the training. The schools pick two that they believe are the most experienced. That has such an impact on their schools once they go back. Two mentors are responsible for taking the 2 year training and having 12 seminars for two hours each time. They read the materials we provide and then dialogue as a group what they do in the classroom.

Number of participants is growing. This is us New Mexico.

Third grant - a new 5 year one - hope to raise the level of awareness. Comparing 9 years ago to now we see a very different approach. Level of understanding has increased. Language planning is not just a government level approach. Teachers have such a huge impact on children's lives. Through training we find teachers can think about their own language use and beliefs in the classroom.

We see the pre-service training we need to revise quite a bit. It is heavily focussed on audiology and speech - is that the teacher's role. We think the curriculum needs to be revised.

Done - in a nutshell!

New Speaker
A thank you. I always come to the conference to learn something. I will take back the term signacy. I now have a new term I will use all the time. Thank you for that.

Marc Marschark
In your map you showed the programme spread through schools for the deaf - can you introduce this to mainstream settings? How can you have the same impact in the mainstream ?

Stephen Nover
What we call training - is called star school training - mentors come, they feel administrators don't support. Now there is a leadership training programme - language planning for school administrators. While mentors come for their training, mentors have their own training - both then have similar experience and knowledge.

Students from universities are going in and finding old thinking in schools. Star On Line from universities. We need to look at schools for the deaf and their role. Should they be state wide service providers? I am encouraging them to take on that.

Recently I have worked with one state - their department of education - signed a contract - where J Innis as a leader, Eddie Laird and myself will meet board of education to do language planning at a state level. We will have 3 meetings in the coming months - a great example of language planning.

We know there are administrators learning it at summer training - now we need to include department of education - so that it becomes a comprehensive plan. Hope later it will not just be mainstream programmes, but also affect the perception of the public.

New Speaker
Clarification please - English/American English clarification - administrators - do you mean Heads of Schools. Administrator here can be more of a clerical role.

Stephen Nover
Talking about the superintendents, principals. Schools send 2 teachers who will potentially become the mentors. The superintendents have to go to the training. I have seen some resistance from them but after 5 days they become so excited. Level of awareness is amazingly raised - they come in with old information.

New Speaker
How you are monitoring what the differences are with the children when going round doing the training that you are doing. How are you monitoring attainments and experiences of the children to show what you are doing is effective.

Stephen Nover
On our website we have our 5 year reports. Fifth year one is a report of analysing the data collected. Test scores etc - we are finding significant improvement in test scores. We hope to get a new grant to get even more data collected. We now have anecdotal evidence. I was recently in a taxi with parents talking of their own feelings about their kids. My kids love their teacher now they say - because of the training.

We are seeing this but we need more funding to do achievement research.