Thursday, March 13, 2008

10: notes from the bilingual, bicultural classroom

...and what's amazing is that out of 17 kids the two who refuse to sign are the deaf ones!

You read that right. The deaf children refuse to sign! I understand why, but it's still marvellous to observe.

I'm proud to say I think I've achieved a fully multicultural classroom. I type this while watching my students act in an anger management and conflict resolution program run by ENACT. The program's goal is to act out common school problems and help students realize better ways to resolve those concerns. We have two interpreters in the room. The Deaf students are new to ASL. They still feel embarrassed about using an interpreter. Their background has been one of being picked on for being different. Here in our school, with deaf teachers and administrators visible, they have begun to have pride in themselves, but there are still barriers. They glance at the terps out of the corners of their eyes and sometimes absentmindedly imitate signs; the hearing students try to sign with them but get frustrated at their embarrassment and instead REFUSE TO SPEAK for the visiting team leaders! Yes, they sign and use interpreters; moreover, the fact that the interpreters cannot tell who is deaf and hearing is very heartening to me... An indication that maybe we're doing something right and can create a real signing community here. Ideally, any student would be able to speak or sign, and be functional on some level in either language, so yes, it would be appropriate for the hearing bilingual student to use ASL interpreters, just as the deaf/Deaf bilingual students do. I do wish I had some indications for ways to ease the distress I see the Deaf students feeling. Should I set up a special class for them? A special group? Do Deaf students need Deaf time? Do they need more structure in their environment to guide language and interaction? And how DO you get boys to be more comfortable with the more extroverted aspects of ASL?

All these questions. And so many answers to find...


Anonymous said...

I think Deaf kids need Deaf time. They need time to interact with more proficient Deaf signing peers in a non-threatening environment like after-school activities and events. They need time to grown and learn about ASL and Deaf Culture from Deaf Mentors as well. Many boys are activity motivated. Interacting in sporting activities with other Deaf peers and mentors can help break the ice and make them feel more comfortable.

Adam said...

this post inspires me!

Anonymous said...

I am LOVING reading your entries, and I want to ask about something that puzzles me in this one. You say "The deaf children refuse to sign! I understand why, but it's still marvellous to observe." You go on to mention their embarrassment and distress in this situation. As someone who learned sign language as a second language in a situation that at the time felt "forced," I can empathize with the students' unease. And I think it's sad that the hearing kids are finding ownership of ASL easier than the deaf kids! Once again the hearing kids have it easier--this time ASL! This does indicate to me that the Deaf kids need something inspiring like a field trip to NYDT or another ASL positive Deaf-positive environment. My two cents!

Oh, oops, what puzzled me? I don't want to mistake your meaning or tone when you use the word "marvellous," which reads to me as somewhat callous. You can probably understand why I read it that way based on my observations above. I admit, I'm puzzled!

JR said...

And I think it's sad that the hearing kids are finding ownership of ASL easier than the deaf kids! Once again the hearing kids have it easier--this time ASL!

When I used the word 'marvellous' I meant in terms of it being a marvel, or something new and different in the world.

I do not think the hearing kids have it easier. I think that this time of life - middle school - is a time when all children go through identity issues and developmental changes. They will continually cycle through identities, trying new things until they find a face that fits.

What is marvellous in this situation is that, for the first time, both Deaf and hearing children saw being Deaf and being hearing as identities and switched in the same classroom. Deaf children acted hearing. Hearing children acted Deaf. Both took pleasure in the pretense.

It is true, I think, that part of the reason the Deaf children preferred to speak and not sign is because of the negative connotations to signing in the past. It is also true that they are going through their own identity exploration. In the environment provided by our school, all such variations on identity are potentially normal and therefore to our students interchangeable (to a degree in any case.)

Thanks for asking this, it was a great question.

Lucky Day said...

Hi JR,
Can you tell me where your school is? I am very interested in this approach to educating our deaf 4 year old.

JR said...


Our school's in Manhattan!


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ecologista don joe said...