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American Annals of the Deaf

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American Sign Language and Early Literacy: A Model Parent-Child Program

Kristin Snoddon

Chapter Four
Research as Praxis

As I planned my participatory action research study of the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program, I considered several factors. One of these factors was the pervasiveness of systemic barriers to young Deaf children and their families’ learning of ASL in an Ontario early intervention context. This issue overshadowed my study’s planning and execution in more ways than I originally predicted. I therefore sought to extend my role as ethnographer to that of “a change agent who is collaboratively developing structures intended to critique and support the transformation of the communities being studied” (Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Squire, & Newell, 2004, p. 255). An action research methodology seemed to best embody Freire’s (2000) concept of praxis, in which participants’ dialogue and reflection occur in tandem with intervention for transformation of their world.

Both action research and participant observation require the researcher to be actively involved in the study. Therefore, a primary concern for my study was balancing participant interests: I had to balance an understanding of my own agenda and my subjectivity as a researcher with a commitment to understanding participants’ own perspectives and goals (Barab et al., 2004). To support the democratic and collegial environment demanded by action research, I had to foster communication between the participants and myself (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2000). Commitment to dialogue and reflexivity on my part, and a willingness to revise the research agenda were needed in order to balance the program design with principles of action research.

I chose the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program for my study of Deaf and hearing children and parents, in part for reasons of access. The lack of support for ASL services in Ontario at the time of my study meant that few sites existed in which I could study young Deaf children and their parents’ ASL literacy practices. In the year 2005, just as its funding and infrastructure for overseeing ASL services terminated, the local Deaf community organization (DCO) received a new, 3-year foundation grant for ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program provider training and materials development. This funding provided the means for the organization’s family ASL literacy program to continue and expand, even in the absence of the previous infrastructure for ASL services.

Research Setting

My study took place at a Deaf service agency (DSA) in the province of Ontario, where local parents with young Deaf children are often referred by a regional Ontario IHP coordinating agency. DSA hosts a biweekly drop-in center for parents and children, and aims at promoting a neutral perspective on the contested domain of language choice for Deaf children. Neither ASL nor AVT is advocated, although agency staff members state that ASL is part of the drop-in center environment and AVT services are offered on-site. The drop-in center is open to parents with Deaf children up to the age of 6. DSA also hosts a preschool for Deaf children and hearing children of Deaf parents, in addition to a number of early-years programs.

Ethical considerations arose as I planned my study, owing to the characteristics of the participant group of Deaf children with hearing parents. I anticipated that at least some of the children in this group would have cochlear implants and/or be enrolled in AVT. I also anticipated some concern on these families’ part that their enrollment with AV therapists would be threatened if it were disclosed that their children were participating in an ASL literature program. However, ASL users were already present in DSA as staff members and clients, and so ASL was part of the DSA environment before our program took place. Our program was offered as a complimentary addition to DSA’s resources for parents of Deaf children.

I had previously worked with the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program Coordinator (who was also our program leader) during participant observation of an 8-week program in the fall of 2005. Whereas the fall 2005 program involved hearing parents with hearing children, for my present study I planned for a participant group of mainly hearing parents and young Deaf children, but several issues prevented me from accessing my group of initial choice. In the urban center that was the setting for my study—located in the same city as one of the children’s hospitals with prohibitions on learning ASL—not many hearing parents of young Deaf children choose ASL as an IHP service option. In the beginning, I faced the prospect of not being able to find any participants for my study. Additionally, the children’s program at DSA where our program was held is intended to be accessible to all Deaf and hearing parents of Deaf and hard of hearing children. Because our program was being advertised and hosted by DSA, it was important for us to be open to all parents registered with the agency who wished to participate.

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