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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Rising of Lotus Flowers: Self-Education by Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools

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written, “assimilation also enhances familiarity effects and accordingly accelerates the appropriate extraction of the critical visual or verbal features of the task” (Clignet 1981, 338). The new students first recognize their names and the signs referring to regular activities such as bathing, eating, and lining up. For the first time, the child was understanding language and, possibly, using it. This breakthrough derived from simple participation in highly structured activities and from unvarying accessible language usage.

The youngest children managed to find a little fun in the most arbitrary and restrictive strictures. This “grin-and-bear-it” philosophy was evident throughout the rural school’s populace. Boys grinned ear to ear while doing push-ups, as if grateful for attention of any kind. One little tyrant had a series of “water tortures” that he put young boys through at bath time. They bore his brutality with stoic courage. The facial expressions of a few boys seemed to show a feeling of appreciation for being there. Perhaps it is a feeling of satisfaction at being treated like everyone else. Deaf children are often treated differently from their siblings at home: being either over-protected or neglected. The strong bonds among members of each cohort in the deaf school may derive from this mutual, intense experience.

Although older pupils anticipate steady language gains by newcomers, they are not willing role models of elaborate language and two-way dialogue. During free time, older pupils ignore newcomers and, thus, give them time to learn at their own pace. They exclude newcomers from participation in older children’s activities. Consequently, the know-nothings form a group among themselves that is based on shared exclusion and common treatment. The newcomers watch a lot, say little, and wander freely, trying to make contact with other people.

Unexpectedly, this shared exclusion results in a communicative environment that supports learning at their level. The class of know-nothings includes both newcomers and students who have been around as long as three years. Newcomers thus are compelled to associate closely with other children who are a year or two ahead of them in terms of sign language acquisition. These comrades are capable of providing language and knowledge within the newcomers’ “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky 1978). The slight variance in age seems to produce motivated, mutual accommodation between “teacher” and learner. Thus, the intellectual banishment that these know-nothings share engenders mutual teaching and learning among them.

During the rare instances when older pupils act as mentors for younger children, the older pupils seem to adopt a specific manner of communication. The videotape of the Scouts exhibition contains an excellent example of mentoring:

“Older Boy” is in second grade. “New Boy” is a newcomer. The two boys tour the xhibit together; Older Boy always has his arm around New Boy or a grip on his wrist. Older Boy points out things and makes comments. He uses simple signs in short phrases. He does not expect an answer; New Boy never says anything. It seems to be a gentle

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