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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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The graduation to a higher status level is not an achievement that is under the control of the individual but, instead, is a communal recognition of the individual’s intellectual and linguistic gains. Pupils who achieve this higher status level are then said to be “mindful” (see figure 6).

The sign for “mindful” is made slowly to indicate the process of learning. Alternatively, pupils make reference to this group’s functional signing ability, using a sign that literally means “able-to-sign.” The idea is that the child is now able to think and to converse. Asked to describe their intellectual history, Nipapon Reilly and two older students, Supoj and Supapon, each spoke of initially “knowing nothing,” then a slow learning period, the dawn of understanding, and finally feeling comfortable in conversations by fourth grade (a period encompassing five years or more after they enrolled). Supoj recalled “watching and remembering more and more until, ah-hah, the spark of understanding.” He made the final sign with his head thrown back and his mouth open. Others used the sign that translates as “sign, knowledge got-better,” which is made with a slow motion to represent slow increase in skills. A boy named Patipol recalled his early years:

Researcher: How long did it take you to “become mindful”?
Patipol: A few years, like second grade.
Researcher: You mean that you didn’t understand the signs when you were in first grade?
Patipol: Yes, I didn’t know. I knew only speaking then. I didn’t know the teachers or anybody. I went home in tears.
Researcher: Speaking?
Patipol: Yes, I had hearing which was cut off later, when water got into my ears.
Researcher: And gradually you learned sign and by second grade you understood a little bit and gradually improved?
Patipol: Yes, that’s right, I tolerated it. The teacher taught me signs like “chicken” and “monkey.” In second grade I knew a little. I began to watch the older signers. In third grade I began to converse in signs. By fourth grade I could sign fluently. I was able to defend myself in sign.
Researcher: Well, what did it mean to “become mindful”?
Patipol: I watched signs of older pupils in dialogue and took it in (“learn-through-the-eyes”) and signed privately among my intimate friends. Then I began to sign publicly.
The last sentence by Patipol states the basic strategies of child-child learning: the watching of older children and practicing with peers. Whether in games, stories, or drills, the younger students simply watch, without any accommodation made by the various presenters, who ignore the newcomers or chase them away. Occasionally, there are rare and cherished individuals who like to teach youngsters. Sometimes, they make subtle accommodations.
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