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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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American Sign Language and Early Literacy: A Model Parent-Child Program
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Violet and Donna. Violet and her mother Donna attended our program regularly. Donna learned about the DSA program from a family member who was also an IHP employee. Donna’s family background is Chinese-Canadian, and her hearing relatives speak Chinese in addition to English with Violet. Donna is a kindergarten teacher at a provincial school for Deaf students and is trained as an ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program leader.

The ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program Leader

At the time of the study, the program leader, Jonathan, was one of only two certified trainers of ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program leaders (having received training and certification from the founders of the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program). Jonathan is a senior ASL and literacy consultant and a university ASL instructor. He also teaches ASL in community college and service agency settings.

Jonathan’s role in my study as a key agent and action-taker was crucial for co-constructing (along with the other Deaf adult participants) a Deaf cultural space in which an ASL discourse was embodied. Through his guidance of our collective action and dialogue, Jonathan’s participation illustrated both the importance of collaboration to action research and how the tension among a range of participant perspectives, common to action research, emerged and was resolved.

Researcher as Participant

At our program’s first session, Jonathan introduced me to the other participants as a former program coordinator for DCO (where he was now employed as ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program Coordinator). I also told the participants that I was a PhD student. While I mentioned other aspects of my background and identity in passing during our program—such as the fact that, unlike the other Deaf adults present, I grew up attending mainstream schools where I was the only Deaf student—I did not disclose everything that might have become a point of interest to the hearing adult participants. For instance, I did not share the fact that I had received a cochlear implant when I was 15, or that I had stopped using it after 4 years. This was partly because I did not want curiosity about my experiences to overshadow our program or influence participants’ perceptions of my role and agenda as a researcher. However, because I am a member of the Deaf community and a former colleague of several Deaf participants, these latter aspects of my background and identity were known by the Deaf adults in my study.

As a Deaf late second-language learner of ASL, I agree with the notion of social identity as a site of struggle and as multiple and contradictory (Norton Peirce, 1995, p.15). Although learning ASL and claiming membership in the Deaf community have greatly enriched my adult life, neither process has been brief or free of difficulty. My multiple, contradictory social identity, as well as my professional experience, has given me a window on the perspectives of not only other Deaf individuals, but also of other bilingual ASL and English learners and educators, and of Deaf and hearing parents of Deaf children. As befits an action research study, I make no claims to neutrality or disinterestedness in my position as researcher. Instead, my approach to the subject of ASL and early literacy is one of critical inquiry, which, as Maria José Botelho writes, “is an open space for people to take risks and learn from each other, knowing that our take on the world is partial. This partiality is shaped by how we are privileged and targeted by our social identities” (2006, personal communication). The diversity among participants in my study—including hearing and Deaf adults, and first- and second-language learners of ASL—meant that such an open space for risk-taking was possible. Throughout my study, there were several instances when I was compelled to revisit my prior assumptions about other participants and their respective interests, and reexamine my own agenda as a researcher.

The Role of the ASL Interpreter

Our ASL interpreter played a crucial role in facilitating communication between the Deaf and hearing participants in our program and making the program’s use of ASL literature more accessible to the participants who were ASL learners. The interpreter whom I chose for my study is highly skilled and experienced and is certified by both federal- and provincial-level signed language interpreting associations. During my study, the interpreter occasionally approached me to discuss her role in communicative situations involving hearing parents who lacked significant experience with learning ASL. For some of these situations, she added certain information about the meaning and structure of ASL words, and she intervened by telling Jonathan or myself when hearing parents needed additional help with learning ASL rhymes. In these situations, the interpreter was conscious of having potentially overstepped her role and of relying on her own judgment of when it was appropriate to intervene. However, I felt that in discussing the issue with me, the interpreter and I reached a better understanding of our practice and shared interests. A proactive approach on the interpreter’s part also seemed appropriate for an action research study aimed at fostering collaboration and practical outcomes.


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