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Writing Workshop With Deaf Students. Charlotte J. Enns University of Manitoba, CANADA CASA 2008 Albuquerque, NM. Purpose of Larger Study. Problem: What disables Deaf people is not that they cannot hear, but that they cannot read and write.

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Writing workshop with deaf students l.jpg

Writing Workshop With Deaf Students

Charlotte J. Enns

University of Manitoba, CANADA

CASA 2008

Albuquerque, NM

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Purpose of Larger Study

  • Problem: What disables Deaf people is not that they cannot hear, but that they cannot read and write.

  • Guiding Question: How can a literacy curriculum be adapted for Deaf students to incorporate visual language processing, meaning-based strategies, and bilingual teaching principles?

  • Goals: Develop, implement, and determine the effectiveness of a refined language arts curriculum for bilingual Deaf students.

C. Enns

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Language Base is Critical

Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment and pedagogy.

San Diego, CA: College Hill Press.

C. Enns

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Benefits of a Bilingual Approach:

  • Exposure to an accessible first language (American Sign Language - ASL)

  • Visually-based teaching strategies

  • Emphasis on knowledge base (acquired through first language)

  • Connection to meaning (linking print with signs not sounds)

  • Exposure to “real” literature - interesting and engaging children’s storybooks

C. Enns

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Differences Between Deaf Bilingual Programs and Spoken Language Bilingual Programs

  • Language modalities (spoken, signed, and written)

  • First language without a written form (American Sign Language does not have a conventional written form)

  • Variety of language backgrounds (many deaf children have limited exposure to an accessible language during the preschool years)

    Evans, C.J. & Seifert, K. (2000). Fostering ASL/ESL bilinguals. TESL Canada Journal, 5(4), 1-16.

C. Enns

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Issues and Concerns in Deaf Bilingual Programs: Language Bilingual Programs

  • Similarities and differences between Deaf bilinguals and hearing bilinguals

  • Empirical evidence to support the theory that learning signed language leads to increased literacy skills

  • Mixing languages in the classroom

  • Knowledge of signed language transferring directly to knowledge of written or spoken language

  • Introduction of languages - timing and procedures

  • Language influence and/or interference - how does signed language affect speech and vice versa

  • Connection between “storytelling” (or story signing) in signed language and reading skills

    Sources: The ASL Language Arts Curriculum, Edmonton Public Schools; Naylor, A. (2002). The Thomas Pattison School Literacy Plan;Star Schools Project, USA (www.starschools.org); Swedish Schools for the Deaf (www3.skolverket.se)

C. Enns

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Manitoba Curriculum Framework Language Arts Outcomes: Language Bilingual Programs

C. Enns

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Key Concepts Language Bilingual Programs

  • Language, not speech, is the foundation for literacy learning

  • Literacy involves making and sharing meaning

  • The transition from language to literacy in deaf children has some unique features

C. Enns

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Description Language Bilingual Programs

Preparatory work (ideas, planning, brainstorming)

First draft (rough)

Feedback (response from peers/teacher)

Revision 1 (content)

Revision 2 (style, form, language)

Revision 3 (proofreading, spelling, punctuation, choice of words)

Publication (sharing)

Evaluation (grading)

Modifications for Deaf Students

Introduce “Process Signing” to produce texts in sign language (add language to their thoughts)

Combine process signing and process writing to produce texts in two versions (written and signed)

First draft can be written, drawn or signed

Connect print to pictures or signs

Each version has a “published” form (print or video)

General Outcome 4: Enhance clarity and artistry of communication.Activity: Process Writing

C. Enns

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Classrooms at the Manitoba School for the Deaf (grades 3, 4, & 5)

Approximately 1 hour/day for 10 - 12 days

Researcher worked with teachers to plan activities

Data collected through assessments, classroom observations, interviews

Creating stories (English and ASL) involved the following steps:

Pre-writing (Planning)





Current Study: Implementing Writing Workshop

C. Enns

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Planning & 5)

(Transcript of video)

(Teacher holds book, while student takes letter out)

Boy (blue): I want a turn.

Teacher: You will.

Boy (reading): Top secret. Special invitation to…I forget…Priscilla (fingerspelling word)

Teacher (looking at book): That’s the names, the two girls’ names.

Boy:..birthday party on Friday, June 24, at 2 pm in the Grand Ballroom, Village Hall, Chipping Cheddar. Cat clowns!

Teacher: So, what does that mean?

Boy: Her friends are going to the birthday party on Friday.

Teacher: The same day, right? Friday, the same day!

C. Enns

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Story Plan & 5)(Transcript of video)

Teacher: Okay, for the plan you don’t need to write full sentences or the full story, just ideas. We’ll put them all down and then later you can expand all those ideas, right? Okay, your idea for “most important character” - do we agree that it’s Jo, the girl? (writes on board). Other characters, Calvin (points to boy), and Ron…(looking at another boy)

Boy (grey): Ronroy (spelling)

Teacher: (copying his spelling) R-O-N-R-O-Y (Boy get’s up to get something) Oh, his first name is Ron and his last name is Roy. Now I understand (writes on board).

Teacher (as boy shows her the book): He’s the author. So is that a man, girl, or boy?

C. Enns

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Boy: Man. & 5)Teacher: Man, okay (writes on board). Good, now (points to board) - setting - what does that mean?Boy (orange): Where, the place, where..

Teacher: Where and the time the story happens. Now we know it must be winter, right? There is snow, lots of snow. So, maybe it could be here in Canada because we get lots of snow?

Boy (orange): Up north..

Teacher: In Winnipeg or up north?

Boy (orange): North (taps girl) Do you want it up north, like in the Northwest Territories?

Teacher: You mean Nunavut? Do you two know about that place? Can you create, tell a story..

Girl: Yeah, yeah

C. Enns

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Story Plan (continued) & 5)

Teacher: Okay, you studied that so you know, fine. You can teach me. (to other boy) What do you think? They are suggesting maybe up north in Nunavut, Nunuvut - did I spell that right?

Girl & Boy (orange): Nunavut (looking at side of board and spelling)

Teacher (looking at board and pointing): Oh, you’re studying it right now! I understand, good idea. Good idea!

C. Enns

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Drafting & 5)

Boy (blond): Knock, knock. My brother runs and opens the door. He sees the mail office with a letter (picks up letter and rolls his eyes) - that’s wrong!

Teacher: It’s okay, this is just practice!

Boy: The mailman gives him the letter, he takes it and looks at it - from AW - oh, stupid!

Teacher: From who?

Boy: TO AW. He runs and gives it to me. I take the letter - it’s for me! Yes! (opens letter) It says, Dear AW, you have won two tickets in the draw - two tickets for a Manitoba Moose game at the Winnipeg arena (points). I’m excited! (throws letter dramatically)

Teacher: Who’s the letter from?

Boy: Jimmy Roy!

C. Enns

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(Transcript of video) & 5)


Boy: …really want to use small…

Girl: Okay, but she told me I have to think…she can’t just be walking along and say “I wish I could fly” and start flying! Need to think… maybe she thinks back and she borrowed a book with a magic word - that’s it!

Boy: Well, well, she can take off… maybe she can run really fast and take off?

Girl: But how? How des she learn how to fly?

Boy: Yeah, well, maybe someone teaches her..

Girl: A book… borrows a book from the library…

C. Enns

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Revising (continued) & 5)

Boy: Or, or, maybe for fun her parents teach her - ha! She makes a wish and her parents want to give her something… Umm, maybe she can wish on a star. You know, twinkle….a star

Girl: … at 3:30 - same as the other story? (shakes head) I think it’s better if she borrows a book from the library and learns the magic words.

Boy: … or maybe she goes to England and come back?

C. Enns

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(Transcript of video) & 5)


Boy: His jaw dropped. Do you want to trade? Okay. So they traded. He used the money to buy a new house. That’s it!

Teacher: When they are trading, who’s on each side? You’re looking forward and giving the mayor the pictures, so you are exchanging this way, right? (motioning forward) Not exchanging sideways, it should go forwards, the way you are looking. If it’s sideways, who’s over there? (Boy shrugs) That’s okay, good job. Now remember, keep your head up when you’re signing. Spell first, spell the title and then go on. Okay, you introduce Bay, then tell the story, then say Jebb is looking up, and getting his attention… you can carry on with the story and don’t need to keep saying Bay, Jebb, etc.

(Pulls curtain to reveal blue wall to start videotaping)

C. Enns

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Teacher’s Perspectives & 5)

  • Develop a positive attitude towards writing

  • Lack of time for background, skills, and process

  • Activities that allow choice and have a purpose

  • Students’ knowledge of ASL influences English literacy skills

  • Importance of metalinguistic skills

C. Enns

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Findings & 5)

  • Concerns regarding the logistics – additional personnel and equipment

  • Importance of ASL in facilitating the writing of English versions of the stories

    - knowledge base, independent thinking

  • Need to develop metalinguistic skills to create good stories

    - story structure, self-evaluation, editing and revising

  • Greater ownership of stories contributes to learning

    - providing choices, building self-esteem, creating enjoyment

C. Enns

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(Transcript of video) & 5)

Metalinguistic Skills

Teacher: Okay, you were not satisfied, You said you wanted to do it again Why weren’t you satisfied?

Boy (stripes): I made a mistake. I said the eagles moved to the house, then the sharks moved and then the eagles moved to the house - two times!

Teacher: No, not again - only once!

Boy: And something else, something else (thinking). No (towards face), no (away from face) - I did “no” towards me and it should be away from me - I’m telling them “no”.

Teacher: Good, you noticed that!

C. Enns

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Ownership & 5)

(Transcript of video)

(All students are watching the TV - laughing)

Teacher: Well? Good!

Girl (grey): That was silly - the moose bucked him and he fell! I laughed!

Teacher: Yeah, it’s a funny story - he used good facial expression! Funny - expressive! What did you like about his story?

Girl (glasses): That was funny when the moose bucked him and he went flying and he was rolling around and rolling around! Oh, that was funny!

Teacher: Good!

C. Enns

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Conclusions & 5)

  • Although writing workshop was a procedure that was implemented in all three classrooms, the piece that was different in this project was producing a parallel story in ASL.

  • This provided more choice for the students which resulted in greater ownership of their stories, and it facilitated the writing of their English versions of the story.

C. Enns

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Closing Comments & 5)

If one assumes that Deaf students have an established first language and that others in the environment can understand this language (often huge assumptions!), then the process of modifying existing language arts curricula to accommodate the visual and bilingual needs of Deaf students is quite straightforward. You need:

  • Teachers with fluency in both languages

  • Texts in both languages (print and video)

  • An understanding of cultural beliefs and values, and

  • Creativity to adapt the best practices used with all children.

C. Enns

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Thank You & 5)

For more information contact Charlotte Enns -


Website: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~ennscj

This research project was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

C. Enns