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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
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Kali is a twenty-two-year-old Hispanic deaf woman. Her dad is deaf, and her mother, now deceased, was hard of hearing. She has one brother and two sisters, and one of whom is hard of hearing. Kali is originally from Texas, and her grandparents were from Mexico. Her paternal grandparents speak Spanish, her maternal grandmother spoke English, and her paternal grandfather spoke English and Spanish. In my research I learned that most deaf parents of deaf children use ASL at home with their children and that deaf and hearing children of deaf parents grow up using ASL as a first language. In Kali’s case, her parents used a mix of ASL and English-like signing at home. Since Kali’s mother and sister were hard of hearing, this makes sense, as many hard of hearing people use signs in English word order. Kali reported her parents would also use English-like signing with her hearing siblings. Avid readers, her parents ordered adult-level magazines such as National Geographic, Time, and Life for their children to read. As a deaf child of deaf parents, Kali is different from many deaf students in that she has a firm basis in language that allows her to read at an appropriate level (Mayer 2007). She prefers English-type signing, frequently fingerspells, and prefers interpreters who transliterate word for word so she can get the exact English that the tutor or teacher is using. As she told me in an interview,

I have been a bookworm since I was little. So I really loved reading a lot. But writing was not my strength. Recently I became used to—I’m learning my skill in writing. And so I’m trying to push myself to write more, more than I have before.
In college, Kali is developing an interest in writing.

Kali attended various schools and often missed classes since her dad moved around because of his work as a roofer. She attended both deaf and mainstream programs at Catholic schools, and for a brief time she attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf at Gallaudet University. Because of her financial situation she decided not to go to Gallaudet University. Actually, Kali ended up dropping out of high school altogether when her mother got sick. After her mother died, Kali enrolled in the GED program at Stanhope College. Her success and enjoyment in that program influenced her to continue at Stanhope for her college basics. She is currently living with her sister while she completes her general education requirements and prepares to transfer to a four-year institution. She is considering California State University at Northridge and Northern Illinois University, both of which have well-regarded programs for deaf students. For her major she is thinking of business, pharmacy, or education.

Kali was attending tutoring for the second semester of the freshman sequence, Rhetoric 102, which focuses on writing about literature. In the fall semester she took the first course in the sequence. In an interview, Kali discussed her attitude about writing:

I wanna write, I wanna write well. I know before I came here to the school I never wrote. I didn’t write much at all. And I didn’t . . . I did read a lot, but I didn’t write a lot. So I didn’t have confidence in my writing ability. But now this is my first year experiencing writing and doing essays, everything. So, I wrote an essay in high school, but it was nothing like what I’m doing here. Still, I withdrew from school, and I missed out on so much. And everything in the English course. And that’s why I didn’t have a lot of experience until I came here to Stanhope College. And so I’ve had good experiences and challenges, and it’s exciting, too. I really love it. I love to write. Before, I didn’t have any idea how to write or have anybody to help me with this. And now with the tutoring, it’s helped me so much. So, it’s been good. I hope that I can continue to write more ’cause I really love writing. And I learn how to be more confident in the writing. Before, I didn’t like to show people my writing because I only knew one way. I know that the only way I really can improve my writing is to show people my writing and get different points of view. And to change some of my writing and work on my weak areas.
Gustav, her tutor, said that she was a special tutee because of her talent and her attitude. Like Rae, she is especially motivated and takes control of her own learning. For instance, she makes it a point to tell the interpreter or tutor what she needs, and if it’s not working out, she asks to work with someone else. She valued learning about writing in the tutoring sessions, and she was interested in more than just grammar. In fact, she valued learning about research, paragraphing, development, essay structure, and focus. She also appreciated the clear, specific feedback she got in the writing center.
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