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purple arrow (1137 bytes) A Strategy to Improve Deaf Students' Writing Through the Use of Glosses of Signed Narratives

REFERENCES: Mozzer-Mather, S. (July 1990). A strategy to improve deaf students' writing through the use of glosses of signed narratives. Gallaudet Research Institute working paper, 90-4. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University.

CONTEXT: American Sign Language tends to be the first language of many deaf children, even those whose parents are native speakers of English. ASL is significantly different from English. Numerous studies have documented the deviations from standard English that tend to become part of deaf students' writing. There may be a practical explanation for the writing difficulties deaf students experience -- students may be overburdening themselves with an effort to articulate thoughts in ASL and English at roughly the same time. Even if students know all the grammatical rules to be applied to an English draft, writing process theory suggests that preoccupation with language constraints in the early stages of writing can create a cognitive overload, adversely affecting the writer's ability to manage such other important writing concerns as what the writer wants to say. The writing process for deaf students is further complicated by the need to code-switch.

DESCRIPTION: The author devised and tested a strategy to separate the tasks of formulating and expressing ideas in students' first language, ASL, from the task of translating those ideas from ASL to written English. Students signed narratives in ASL and recorded them on videotape. The investigator prepared a gloss of each signed narrative (a gloss is a list of English words that symbolize discrete signs and appear in ASL word order). The students then wrote their narratives in English, first without the glosses and a week later using the glosses as memory prompts. The investigator analyzed and compared the first and second versions of the written narratives.

The subjects were three fifth-grade students who had native-like competency of ASL. They were avid readers but had difficulty elaborating text or writing clearly and had negative attitudes toward writing.

The investigator found that the students' second drafts were substantially better than their first drafts. The narratives were longer and more elaborate, as might be expected with the glossed memory aid. However, the second narratives also had more correct grammatical structures and showed greater use of subordinate clauses, more sophisticated vocabulary, more idioms and more complex verb forms--items that were not directly prompted by the glosses.

In discussing this study, the investigator notes that when writing their first narratives, the students were so preoccupied with the constraints of writing in a second language that their attention to knowledge and rhetoric--usually the center of concern when writing a first draft--was overwhelmed. When writing the second draft, the glosses reminded the students of the content, freeing them to more systematically inspect their writing for grammatical errors and to recall and use appropriate complex structures not used in their first narratives. The author points out that when deaf students' writings deviate from the conventions of standard English, it does not necessarily mean the students are unaware of those conventions, but that they are not able to pay adequate attention to them.

The author notes that she has found that the combined tasks of replaying a videotape while writing narratives tend to overwhelm children of this age (nine- and ten-year-olds); thus, she decided to use glosses rather than the videotapes themselves to remind the students of details of their signed narratives. However, at the time this article was written, the author was in the process of exploring the strategy described here with older deaf students who, instead of working from glosses created by someone else, would create glosses themselves from their own videotaped narratives.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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