January 06, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.