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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Tell Me How It Reads: Tutoring Deaf and Hearing Students in the Writing Center

Rebecca Day Babcock


Deaf Tutees

The stories of the various participants in this study are interspersed throughout the chapters. First I present the profiles of the deaf tutees. The rest will follow in the remaining chapters. For this study I took a cultural rather than a clinical view of deafness. For instance, I did not gather information about studentsí levels of hearing loss and residual hearing, as these are audist concepts that regard hearing as the norm and deafness as a deviation from that norm. This is a medical model of deafness. Instead, I took the cultural view that deaf people are neither deviant nor deficient and that it is unnecessary for them to become more like hearing people. Rather, they constitute a cultural and linguistic minority whose only disability is that our society is geared toward hearing people. However, one cannot simply assume that every deaf person uses ASL or is a member of the Deaf community. There are many ways to be deaf, and not all deaf people are culturally Deaf.


Rae[3] was a tutee at Davis College at the time of the study. She is a twenty-five-year-old deaf white woman. Since her participation in the study, Rae has left college, changed her career plans, and decided to become a stuntwoman or a wild animal trainer. Rae is a small woman who shops at the Whole Foods supermarket, reads Organic Style, and considers herself an environmentalist. She appeared to be popular among the college students and staff; the assistant director, Brock, recommended her as my first observation, I believe, because of her easygoing yet plucky personality.

Rae characterizes her language use as Pidgin Signed English (PSE). She explained to me that she had first learned to sign in English word order and was later exposed to ASL at the state[4] school for the deaf (SSD), which she attended from 1992 to 1996. Her signing now incorporates elements of ASL and English, which is called contact signing (and is also referred to as PSE). Attendance at a residential school is an important factor in Deaf acculturation (Lane, Hoffmeister, and Bahan 1996). Rae enrolled at Davis as a film student and first came to the writing center to get help with her learning disability.

In the 2003 spring semester, Rae had a standing, weekly two-hour appointment with John, her tutor. They began working on her film class assignments, but after she dropped that class, most of their tutoring focused on her Spanish history class. Rae and John made a good match for the effectiveness of the tutorial. Rae knew what she needed and told John what she wanted to work on in the sessions. In the first tutorial I observed, she said the following to John:

So, what Iíd like you to do is just to check out my paper, just to, you know, edit it, make sure it makes sense. Iím not totally finished with it. I do have a lot more to go, but Iíd like to get your feedback about what I should do next, what more information I should add to it.[5]

3. The participants either chose their own pseudonyms or asked me to choose one for them. The more interesting and unique ones are those they chose.

4. I withhold the name of the state for confidentiality reasons.

5. All of the deaf peopleís words are as voiced by an interpreter. Therefore, the reader should pay attention to general sense and meaning rather than particulars of grammar and word choice. Some of the material has been edited for readability.

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