Exactly what is Academic ASL? Academic ASL includes the study of the structure and grammar of ASL through various mediums. It provides the foundation that is needed for students to achieve success in literacy of both ASL and written English. Academic ASL instruction targets specific skills development in areas of ASL such as use of space, register, and classifiers and much more. Academic ASL is connected to Deaf culture and history that promotes every Deaf child’s healthy identity, empowerment and ownership of their language that they get to immerse into ASL poetry and ASL literature. It is also connected to core subjects such as using Academic ASL when talking about math problems, live class presentations, sharing ASL essays and telling stories in webcams, science experiments, historical content through guided viewing using ASL and much more. As Academic English emphasizes the use of print and the use of technology to type such as the computer and , ASL emphasize the use of conversational language and the use of technology such as laptops with webcams, iMovie, iPads, camcorder, LCD screen, etc.
For Deaf students, the ideal route to bilingualism is to acquire Social ASL from birth then Academic ASL when enrolling in a bilingual school for the Deaf making it easier to learn Social English and Academic English. It is not intended for Social English and Academic English to be on hold until one masters in Social ASL and Academic ASL as they can be exposed to English simultaneously however Deaf students need to develop a full foundation in ASL as a first language before mastering in English as a second language.
Unfortunately, most Deaf students tend to go directly from Social ASL to Academic English omitting the foundational skill development of Academic ASL.
Hearing students don't have this dilemma as they tend to be completely immersed in Social English before taking Academic English leading them to greater success in language proficiency.
Deaf children who use cochlear implants or hearing aids don't acquire Social English at the same level as hearing children do since it is not 100 percent accessible making it more challenging to succeed in Academic English. Deaf children who don't have a full foundational development of Social ASL and Social English are already being set up for failure. That is the reason why Deaf students often graduate with lower grade level because the way the Deaf Education including teacher preparation program is set up.
The bottom line is that Deaf children have to have a strong foundation in Social ASL and Academic ASL so that learning the second language, Social English and Academic English, makes it much more feasible. Having a strong L1* background will allow them to comprehend Social English better and then by the time they are taking Academic English, they are already on a road map to success in language proficiency.
Once a Deaf student has a strong foundation of Academic ASL, the bridge to Academic English becomes shorter and easier. When Deaf students read multiple meaning stories or idioms, they are able to translate them into ASL to convey clear meanings using appropriate sign choices and word order. This is an interchange of both languages in an academic form. Learning new vocabulary is enhanced through the incorporation of fingerspelling including lexicalized fingerspelling and loan signs from English, signing of the concept, and further explanation of the definition through the use of ASL. The more the students use Academic ASL, the better they are able to make the transition to Academic English in reading and writing. It is crucial for all students to have strong ASL literacy skills so that they are able to inquire, answer critically, and offer solutions to the problems they encounter. In other words, they are to have learning access to a variety of avenues that help them express ideas explicitly.
According to research findings from Star Schools Project Report No. 4 (2001), it was found that schools that offer Academic ASL tend to have better student retention.
If your school doesn’t provide ASL Arts classes from K-12 for L1 Deaf students, it is strongly recommended to establish an ASL curriculum map. It will provide countless benefits for students that they will become more proficient in both languages, ASL and English. American Sign Language Arts should be infused in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) by evaluating a Deaf student's ASL performance level, identifying needs and setting up goals. To get started or continue to develop an ASL curriculum, start considering about attending ASL Round Table (ASLRT) Conference that is offered biannually. Going to ASLRT conferences was very beneficial for me that it helped me to better prepare for teaching ASL classes and developing network with other teachers. As a result, I could see a growing number of students becoming more proficient in both languages.
*L1 refers to Deaf children who acquire ASL as their primary language.
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