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American Annals of the Deaf

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Working Text: Teaching Deaf and Second-Language Students to Be Better Writers
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Be careful to create questions that are not too big (“What is the significance of Suel’s rejection?”) or that cannot be answered until more details about the text are known. Start with small questions that assist students in understanding the flow of ideas in the reading (who, what, where, when, how), and, if you are asking a question that requires students to do some inferring—a question that calls for their opinion or some reading between the lines—tell them that you will signal that by adding the phrase “do you think” to the question, as in “Do you think la Prieta will continue to pursue Suel?” If you ask, “Will la Prieta continue to pursue Suel?” some students might think the answer lies in the text.

Marking Text

Another writing-into-reading activity that I encourage of my students is marking text: underlining key ideas, writing side responses or paraphrases about ideas, adding questions that come to mind, writing dictionary definitions of unknown words right onto the text, and using arrows to connect related ideas. As Mary Fjeldstad (2006) explains in The Thoughtful Reader, students need ways of actively engaging with text to help them remember what they’ve read. Marking text makes visible what good readers do to help them understand text. However, students require extended practice in marking text, so teachers must model the process many times. In classrooms with hearing students and teachers, students follow along in their books as the text is being read aloud or discussed. Deaf students cannot watch text and teacher simultaneously; they need their eyes to follow the teacher’s signs. But a teacher signing about text is not enough. Students need to literally see how more able readers take text in and let it out, in ways that help them understand it better.

Therefore, to level the playing field, it is essential that classrooms for Deaf students be equipped so that text can be projected and teachers can write on and next to it. The text can be projected onto a whiteboard either through the use of transparencies and an overhead projector or a document camera connected to a projector. (Document cameras allow teachers to project any text—either single sheets of paper or open books—without having to make transparencies.) Of course, digital files of text can be viewed on a whiteboard by connecting the computer to a projector. Deaf students can thus focus their attention on both the projected text and the teacher, who stands and signs directly next to the projected text, working the text.

Here is an example of a marked-up excerpt from de Maupassant’s (1907) story “The Necklace” that I go through with my students as they watch. I tell them that I first need to read this section without marking anything, to get a feel for what it is about. After reading it silently to myself, I mention that the excerpt is a dispute between a husband and a wife. With this initial understanding of the text, I can now read to find out more details about the conflict:


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