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American Sign Language: "How to teach Deaf Culture as part of an ASL Class"

QUESTION: A new sign language teacher asks:

Dear Dr. Bill,
Good afternoon! My name is Jane Smith [name changed to protect her privacy]. I have written to you several times over the past several months and several years as an ASL teacher. I am trying to become acclimated with my local Deaf community. It's going very slowly as I only go to their once-a-month gatherings and I am unbelievably shy in groups. At any rate...I only know one other ASL teacher in my area and he isn't welcoming to me at all. (I'm not sure what the deal is with him. I've seen him about 3 times this school year and he snubs his nose at me now. I have the position he had a couple of years ago as he moved to another school in the area. But I digress.)

As this is the situation, I only know of you to whom I can ask questions. How do you teach Deaf culture in your ASL classes? When I took classes in college, Deaf Culture was its own semester long course. In my diocese's (districts) expectations, I am to teach Deaf culture as part of the curriculum, but I am at a loss on how to do it. Any guidance in this area would be greatly appreciated.
Jane Smith



Dear Jane,
To teach Deaf culture as part of a "basic" ASL class, one (of many) approaches is to include one or two factoids each class session. See: You can just copy and paste one section each day and display it on the overhead. If you want to get more in-depth you require "reaction journals" or "research papers." Some teachers use games and/or role playing to teach cultural principles. I think one of the BEST ways to teach Deaf Culture in an ASL class is to embed the cultural concepts into the signing practice. For example, one of my sentences is: DEAF PREFER KITCHEN WHY? -- Which seems like "very" strange sentence until you know the answer to the question: The reason Deaf people prefer the kitchen is because the lighting is usually better in the kitchen. Better lighting means it is easier to see and understand each other's signing.
My point here is that if you are teaching a general ASL class (and not a specific class on Deaf Culture) then it seems to me that "embedding" Deaf Culture into the language practice is the best way to maximize classroom and homework time. This is known as "teaching across content areas."   Our content area is "ASL." Rather than teach Deaf Culture as a separate topic we instead are incorporating culture into and throughout our lessons
Dr. Bill





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