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Dyslexia and Fingerspelling:

In a message dated 1/11/2007 11:07:04 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, andreasigns@ writes:
Hi, Dr. Bill

Okay, I am teaching an ASL 2 class. One student told me that he has Dyslexia and he has difficulty reading the fingerspelling. He has no problem in reading the signs.

What would you do with this? How do you grade his progress?

Thank You. 
First of all, make sure you are hitting all the basics:
Present an "advanced organizer," demonstrate the skill, provide guided practice, offer corrective feedback, set up independent practice, monitor practice, and review.
Okay, that being said, what I specifically recommend is for you to grade him on his sign recognition and expression rather than his receptive fingerspelling ability.  Since fingerspelling is an important part of ASL, I do think he should be required to become familiar with fingerspelling, but I would remove the "time element" as much as possible. 
I often get students who state that their disability prevents them from taking the quizzes at normal speed. So I reply, "No problem, here is a disk, take the quiz on the disk first and submit your answers to me.  Then take the test in class and I'll let you keep whichever score is higher."  Now here's the thing to understand, the quiz on the disk involves a LOT of exposure.  It shows EVERY sign in the lesson and EVERY sentence in the lesson and so rather than being a random sampling of the lesson it is quite literally a comprehensive test that requires the student to have studied each sign from my lesson pages on the web. 
What ends up happening almost every time is that after the students study so hard to take the test on CD, they end up doing VERY well on the in-class test and eventually realize it is easier to just do their homework and take the regular tests instead of doing the in-depth CD tests. 
So the answer wasn't for me to dumb-down my in-class test nor to provide longer testing time, but rather for he student to study more out of class at their own pace which enhanced their in-class performance.
For example, with your student I'd record myself spelling 100 words.  And then I'd put it on a disk and require him to take it home and translate all 100 words.  He could replay the video as often as he would like.  He could write the words out with a pencil as the letters are being shown, etc.
Chances are, after sufficient exposure, he would be relatively good at recognizing individual fingespelled letters--regardless of the dyslexia. The challenge comes in recognizing whole words.  But here's the thing:  fingerspelling normally doesn't take place in isolation.   Fingerspelling is generally embedded in to discourse.  The overall discourse context provides clues to the identity of the fingerspelled word.
For discussion purposes, let's consider this rather "dyslexic" paragraph that has been floating around the net:
Aoccdrnig to raresech at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Note:  Most adults I've shown that to are able to read it relatively easily.  The key is context. 
Regardless of the dyslexia, if provided sufficient context and a limited set of choices your student should be able to recognize fingerspelled words as whole units.  Literally as signs that happen to have a number of individual internal movements.  To test this out, choose two names like "STEVE" and "HENRY."  Spell the name Steve point to the word "Steve" on the board.  Then spell "Henry" and point to it. Do not slow it down or carefully show each letter.  Rather spell it using a smooth flowing movement.  Repeat this several times.  Speed up each time.  Then choose a student an bring him or her up and have the student point to which word you are spelling.  Then add a third name to the board.  You will find that since the possible selection set is so limited you can spell very, very quickly and the student will still recognize which of names is being spelled, if for no other reason than he is catching the first and last letters of the person's name.  I've done this with BEGINNING level students and used a dozen names or more.
So, how does this concept of "whole word" recognition apply to your student?
That means you can indeed test his receptive fingespelling ability, but you need to do so using a high-context, low-option approach.
Or you can use a low-context, high-option approach, but you need to give him more time (perhaps take-home assignment created using the Gallaudet fingerspelling font).
Either way though, he is responsible for recognizing and being familiar with the letter-shapes.

Dr. V


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