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ESL REDEUX: when sign lanquage is first.

Thirty-two deaf and hard of hearing students in Albuquerque, N.M., are learning literacy skills by writing in their native language--American Sign Language. The Hodgin Elementary School students use SignWriting, a written script of American Sign Language created by Valerie Sutton. Sutton, director of the Center for Sutton Movement Writing, developed the written form of ASL in 1974 and has expanded it to 27 other countries.

Cecilia Flood, SignWriting Literacy Project Director for Albuquerque Public Schools, says deaf students often struggle with reading and writing English because they've never heard the words aloud. But they're able to grasp SignWriting symbols because they have been communicating in that language all their lives. ASL, while used in the U.S., uses word orders and grammatical constructions not found in English.

"The written component of ASL has so much power," says Flood. "I had a fifth-grade deaf child who spent four or five years struggling to acquire written language. School was not a happy place for her. When I introduced sign writing this girl just blossomed."

Not everyone in the deaf community agrees that deaf students should spend their time learning SignWriting. Albuquerque is the only U.S. school district using the script in their curriculum for deaf students. Similar to debates about bilingual education, some experts say deaf students should be spending the time they have at school learning to write and read English.

Flood maintains deaf students can't fully grasp English--which is really their second language-until they can fully read and write in their native language. "Unless you have a strong language base you can't assume kids that are deaf can acquire the written component of a language they cannot hear," she says.

According to Gallaudet Research Institute in Washington, which studies literacy among deaf students, deaf high school seniors score, on average, just below the fourth-grade level on standardized reading tests.

Along with the written script of ASL, Sutton has helped develop a new SignWriting dictionary called SignBank, which is available as a free download. A FileMaker Pro database, SignBank allows students to search for a sign or a word in any of 27 sign languages, including ASL.

www.signwriting.org www.signbank.org/signbank.htm
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Title Annotation:Curriculum update: the latest developments in math, science, language arts and social studies
Author:Silverman, Fran
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:366
Previous Article:Literacy's hot (and cold) spots.
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