story by Claire Miller
Every year, College of Education & Human Development Learning Sciences Assistant Professor Jessica Scott connects with other researchers who study bilingual deaf education at a workshop before the Association of College Educators of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s annual conference.
In these sessions, Scott and her colleagues share their experiences, resources and best practices for bilingual deaf education programs, which incorporate both the deaf community’s signed language and the primary spoken/written language, such as English, in their instruction.
“As part of our discussions, we reflected that there are few published and publicly available resources for programs that are trying to either change to a bilingual approach or adopt new practices within their existing programs,” she said.
Scott has collaborated with a group of both deaf and hearing researchers to write and publish a new e-book entitled, “Guidelines for Multilingual Deaf Education Teacher Preparation Programs,” the first in a series of digital, short-form publications from Gallaudet University Press offering research and guidelines for faculty in university-level deaf education programs. Her co-authors include Christopher Kurz from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Debbie Golos from the University of Minnesota, Marlon Kuntze from Gallaudet University and Jonathan Henner from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
This e-book examines teacher preparation for the deaf community at a time when more researchers are studying how various communication approaches – such as Signed English, an invented signing system which follows English grammar and signs every word in a sentence, and American Sign Language (ASL), a natural signed language which uses a different grammatical structure than English – impact students’ language and literacy learning.
“For about 100 years, the use of sign language was effectively banned and abandoned in schools for the deaf, and it was only in the 1980s and 1990s that we began to see more schools recognize the importance of natural sign languages for deaf children,” she said. “There has been a growing body of research showing that a natural sign language, like American Sign Language, is related to improved outcomes for deaf children.”
The authors outline seven important elements for creating successful bilingual deaf education programs, which range from incorporating effective, multilingual instructional strategies in at least two languages (ASL and English) to understanding deaf students’ identity development and well-being.
Their research-based recommendations offer important changes that can help future educators create inclusive classrooms. For example, teachers typically assess deaf students in their second language, English. Instead, they could get a more accurate picture by assessing deaf students’ content knowledge in their primary signed language and their proficiency in English.
“As the body of evidence continues to increase, more schools are changing approaches to become bilingual, which will increase the need for preparation programs that have a strong bilingual foundation,” Scott said. “I feel so strongly about improving our teacher training programs. There is a critical shortage of teachers of the deaf, and to be able to contribute to the field in this way is very meaningful to me.”