Saturday, January 5, 2013

Connecting Fingerspelling to Writing

While under the tutelage of Kristin DiPerri, I learned valuable information of how deaf children use ASL handshapes and fingerspelling in their writing.  I have used her techniques over the years and have seen students' writing confidence increase because of it.  I also read Dave Schleper's article about fingerspelling in the Odyssey issue mentioned in my previous fingerspelling post.  He mentions the same information as Kristin.  Hmm... 2 respected figures in Deaf education sharing the same information and seeing the same results.  Now I will share that information with you.

AS we know, when hearing children are writing, they tend to sound out words they do not know how to spell.  When they are young, they may put the letter for the first sound they hear then add random letters.  Then they may write the letters for the first and last sounds, and so on. 

When Deaf children are exposed to fingerspelling and loan signs, they will write the letters that they see when the sign to themselves these words.  For example, if they signed #BACK to themselves, they may write 'BK' because those are the letters they see.  They may add in a few extraneous letters in the middle because they know the word is more than 2 letters long.

When a students asks me to spell a word, if I decide to spell it for him, I never spell 1 letter at a time.  That is not the natural way to fingerspell.  instead I spell in my normal speed (for younger children I may slow down a bit).  The child then writes whatever letters they catch.  Then I spell it again and again until he finally has all the letters written.  After students are trained long enough, they will start catching most if not all the letters at once! 

Notice I said "if I decide to spell it for him".  I RARELY will spell a word for a student.  Deaf children are way too dependent on adults to save them from the unknown.  I teach them how to be more independent; and in this way, in their writing.

Deaf children who have a good linguistic foundation in ASL also use phonologically based techniques as they write words they don't know how to spell.  Young Deaf children have been seen to write the alphabetic or numerical representation for the handshape of the word they are trying to write.  For example, if they want to write the word 'cat', they will probably write 'F' (for the handshape) followed by a string of letters.  If it is a 2-handed sign, they will write 2 letters or numbers: 'YY' for 'play'.  Over time these "ASL representations' will be replaced with the standard spelling, just as hearing children will eventually replace their 'sounded out' spelling with the standard one. 

Now you may be asking, so how is this helpful in teaching writing to kindergarten through college students?  We all know that one of the reasons Deaf children get stuck as they write or may write a very small amount is due to their limited mastery of written vocabulary.  Deaf children will only write sentences that include words they confidently know how to spell.  Otherwise they are always saying "how do you spell...?" 

In order to break through this and allow Deaf children to write freely and without fear, teach them to write those words they don't know how to spell phonetically in ASL.  Have an entire lesson modeling writing sentences then intentionally get stuck on spelling a word - 'football'.  Now ask the students what strategies you could use to spell the word.  Afterwards, tell them that all of those just take too long.  You might forget what you are wanting to write.  Then through a think aloud, demonstrate how you would use what you know about ASL to spell (temporarily or permanently depending on the intent of the writing) 'football': '55'.  Then continue writing, noting to them that using ASL to write did not break your train of thought and allowed you to write more than you normally would have.  I usually ask the students to underline the 'ASL writing'.

Now, if this was journal writing or any other form of writing that wouldn't require all standard spelling, I would leave the writing like that.  When you read it, you can just ask the student what the word said.  The ASL writing would be similar for a Deaf child as a hearing child's sounded out spelling.

If the writing intent was to eventually be all standard spelling, I would demonstrate to the students how I use the ASL Handshape Dictionary to find the correct spelling of the words I wrote in ASL.  It should be emphasized to students that the dictionary should be used only during the revision or editing stages of writing.  If it is used during the draft, it will take them 1 hour just to write a few sentences.  Of course since this dictionary is organized by handshape and not the English alphabet, you will need to do a minilesson on using the dictionary.

I guarantee that if you started today teaching your students at any grade level to use ASL-based spelling, you will see their writing confidence grow!

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