January 06, 2011

Bilingual/Bicultural Education

In the early 1980’s, Sweden established the first Bilingual/Bicultural education programs. Biculturalism would be considered as the presence of two different cultures in the same country or region. This implies that there is an understanding of customs, practices, and expectations of members in a cultural group and the ability to adapt to their expectations. Bilingualism is the ability to use two very different languages fluently and successfully. Some people might be stronger when it comes to one of the languages or some people combine the two languages while talking. When people try to combine the two languages they often end up dropping signs or speaking in broken English. This is why it is better to try and stick with either one or the other.

Bilingual/Bicultural education focuses on the balance of the Deaf world and hearing world, teaching children American Sign Language as their first language and English as their second one. This gives the students an opportunity to succeed in both worlds. When a child doesn’t understand there should be an equal balance between their hearing and deaf cultures, it makes learning about one community much more difficult than the other. This type of education recognizes that English and ASL are two completely different languages just like Russian and Italian are different from one another. Deaf Culture also is discussed to teach deaf children more about themselves. This program teaches that ASL is its own language with its own specific grammar structures and rules for interaction. It also treats spoken English and written English as two separate ways of communication. This program promotes children to distinguish that Deaf culture has a common language instead of identifying themselves as deficient of hearing and spoken English. By doing Bilingual/Bicultural education it gives deaf students an advantage over other deaf individuals who learned in a different setting such as total communication, oralism, or sign writing.

Educational Institutes that follow the Bilingual/Bicultural program most often introduce this idea to children at a young age. They work with parents and family members of the deaf student to help them comprehend the special linguistic, educational and social needs of their child. This helps them realize the importance of early language acquisition. Studies show that deaf children who develop language late are less proficient than those who cultivate an early first language. The early aggression on the ability to learn grammar makes the development of a solid language compelling. However, even though many opportunities to learn these special forms of education, many parents and family members do not take advantage of the program. This is common for children who are born to hearing parents.

The Bilingual/Bicultural approach believes that deaf children are not deficient. Instead of being auditory learners, they are visual learners. This program offers a distinctive visual learning environment in which their etymological, cultural, and social needs are met. Because these children are lacking the sense of sound, it is so important to utilize all the other senses. Along with using visuals the teacher will incorporate taste, touch, and smell to help the children gain a clear understanding for each word.

A local charter school, Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is a Bilingual/Bicultural school that incorporates the duel learning method as early as Kindergarten and continues to the twelfth grade. There are about seventy-five students in the Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which makes up 1/3 of the shared learning environment with the hearing students within Sequoia’s campus. There are nine educators for the deaf at Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, K-12 grade. Five out of nine are Deaf, while the other four are hearing instructors. Along with each teacher there is a paraprofessional that works in the classroom. They recruit staff by posting teaching opportunities on their website. These instructional aides must be proficient in ASL to be able to help the students.

At Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (S.S.D.H.H.), both deaf and hearing students are integrated allowing for both the hearing and the deaf students to have a better understanding of the opposite communities. Upon interviewing Kamilah, a kindergarten teacher at S.S.D.H.H., she told us that many of the hearing students try to learn ASL to be able to communicate with the deaf students. This allows for the deaf students to grow more comfortable when they are trying to communicate in the hearing world. We observed the children when they went to play at recess and it was fascinating watching the hearing students as they communicated with the deaf students. Even though the hearing students were not proficient in sign language, you could really see how much the deaf students appreciated the fact they were even trying to communicate in the first place. However, there was one incident that was unfavorable to one of the little boys that was deaf . He had been standing in line to go on the swings and was waiting very patiently but unfortunately the girl he had been waiting for was pretending that she could not see him. The little boy then ran over to Kamilah and started complaining about the little girl not giving him his turn on the swing that he has been waiting for. Kamilah then encouraged him to go over and confront her and tell her that it was his turn to swing. She convinced him to stand in front of the little girl and assert dominance to get on the swing. We stood and watched him go up and tell her that it was his turn. She still continued to ignore him; at this point Kamilah went over and told the girl that she was being very rude and that her behavior was inappropriate. Even though she did not know sign, she understood what he was trying to tell her. We then asked Kamilah if those kinds of incidents happened often and she went on to say that every child is different and they will all have different reactions. However, this was not something that happened very often. The fact that Kamilah encouraged the child to resolve the problem on his own showed how similar teaching is between the deaf and hearing students truly are.

The curriculum for Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is the same as any public school that is based on the AZ State Standards. Heather Laine, the assistant principal and 1st and 2nd grade teacher for S.S.D.H.H. told us how they allow for certain modifications for the students acquiring their high school diploma. However, they do not allow for low grade point averages to graduate. In order to graduate they need at least a C average, which is the same for hearing students. A major difference between the deaf and hearing schools is that all deaf students are allowed to stay in school until they are the age of twenty-one. As compared to a typical hearing high school student they usually do not exceed five years. The only exception is if the hearing student is in special education. The reason for this is that 90% of children who are deaf need to learn sign language as their second language because they either have hearing parents or caregivers. As children mature, their brain organization becomes increasingly rigid. By puberty, it is largely complete. 84% of all parents of deaf students do not know any sign language at all. These students who learn language late because of their little to no contact with deaf people when they are young need more time to establish communicative competency. These statistics are very heartbreaking; unfortunately there is nothing the schools can do to change that other than by offering workshops for parents. Upon hearing Heather explain that, this made us wonder if the students ever have trouble deciphering the difference between ASL and English grammar. Surprisingly they have absolutely no problem deciphering between the two. The only other thing she mentioned about it was the fact that when the deaf students grow up they tend to not use their English grammar as much, they will write in ASL format, where as putting full sentences together with words such as is, am, were, and it.

Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers free Workshops that are provided throughout the school year for the parents or caregivers and relatives, who wish to learn ASL and MVL. MVL stands for manipulative visual language which is a technique that S.S.D.H.H. uses and is popular with other Bilingual/Bicultural education schools. This is a great program because it focuses on the visual learners, which is successful because ASL is a visual language. “S.S.D.H.H. is one of the only schools in Arizona that uses Manipulative Visual Language progressive program that teaches Deaf students the rules of English through visual input. MVL makes English grammar visual for deaf students so they can see if a sentence's structure is correct or incorrect.” This program provides a unique visual learning environment in which their linguistic, cultural, and social needs are met. These programs exist separate from the mainstream education building and agencies.

The way MVL works is they use triangles with different symbols on each one. Each symbol on the triangles stands for something different. This is how teachers can give the deaf students a better understanding of helping verbs such as, the, it, were, and am. Kamilah would have the students put each triangle in the correct order, then she would have them pick a word that applied to each particular triangle and form it into a sentence [i]. When they came up to one of the words that did not have a sign for, they would use finger spelling to complete the sentence. Kamilah told us that they continue to use this technique all the way throughout high school as well. She also told us that it is very difficult to teach the deaf students these helping verbs because there is really no solid definition for them.

It was intriguing sitting in the classroom and observing the children because even though ASL is their native language, they were very slow and still learning most of the signs that were being used in the classroom. This relates back to the fact that the majority of the students are not using ASL fluently in their households. Since young deaf children have parents that are hearing and they do not know any ASL these children have either very little to no contact with deaf people or the deaf culture. However, there was one little girl who was much more advanced than the other students. We observed her and another little boy interacting over a cute little cat watch. The little girl kept doing the sign like she was drooling over the object, yet the little boy was confused and did not know what she was saying. After Kamilah was done teaching we had the opportunity to ask her about the little girl. She then explained to us that both of the little girl’s parents were deaf and this is where she knew to use the sign like she was drooling.

We also had the chance to interview two new parents, Jed and Ann, deaf parents to deaf twins. Jed attended an oral public school without any sign language. He did not even learn English or how to read until he was in the fourth grade. He finally learned some sign language when reaching the fourth grade but just taking a basic ASL class. While Ann grew up having both deaf parents, her mom homeschooled her from kindergarten until eighthgrade. Though she just learned to read in the eighth grade, she started attending a deaf high school. This high school was grades eighth through twelfth; it was an all ASL school without any oral communication. When asked what kind of education they would like for their twin boys, Jed and Ann stated that they would wish to look into a Bilingual/Bicultural education school. The reason they gave was because it would be the best of both worlds, bring ASL and English together and such a young age would benefit their sons for their future.

There are several benefits of the Bilingual/Bicultural education. Early Access to coherent language nurtures early intellectual development. This development in turn promotes increased literacy and greater academic achievements. Pupils who attend this program are experienced in two languages. The emphasis on early language attainment and establishing a first language provides a base upon which English is consequently taught. Students in Bilingual/Bicultural education has increased self-esteem and self-assurance due to the healthy view of deaf children. They now have an acceptance of who they are as individuals and increased confidence to function in Bilingual/Bicultural environments.

Personally our group came to the mutual decision that Bilingual/Bicultural education is an amazing opportunity for deaf children to learn in a hearing and deaf community. We decided this because it allows children to grasp a better understanding of English and ASL grammar, children can integrate with both hearing and deaf children at a young age, and helping verbs can also be explained in a context that young and older deaf children can understand. The one and main thing that disappointed us about Bilingual/Bicultural education is the lack of parent involvement. If we had deaf children in the future we agreed we would all encourage our close family and friends to go learn it at one of the free workshops. For us we find that it is a hard thing to understand not wanting or being able to have communication with your child. If parents took the opportunity to learn ASL and MVL they could help their child succeed in school so much more.


  1. Awesome post Katie! I linked your blog to mine in the following article entitled "10 Reasons Why Deaf Cherish ASL"---hope you don't mind ;)


    1. Thanks Destiny! Hopefully my post will provide understanding for some of your readers. :)


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