American Sign Language as a Second Language (2021)
Roles and Responsibilities in the American Sign Language as a Second Language Program
Students’ responsibilities with respect to their own learning develop gradually and increase over time as they progress through elementary and secondary school. With appropriate ASL instruction, experience, and assessment, students come to see how making an effort can enhance learning and improve their achievement of the ASL as a second language curriculum expectations – and their own well-being. As they mature and develop their ability to persevere, to manage their own impulses, to take responsible risks, and to acquire and synthesize ideas and information, students become better able to engage in their own learning. Teachers’ attention, patience, and encouragement are essential to students’ success. Learning to take responsibility for their progress and achievement is an important part of every student’s education.
Becoming proficient with the information, ideas, knowledge, and skills connected with the ASL curriculum requires ongoing practice, an effort to respond to feedback (to the extent possible), personal reflection, and a commitment from students. Students who actively pursue opportunities outside the classroom will also extend and enrich their understanding – of the process involved in acquiring and responding to ideas and information in various contexts, and of how to use inquiry skills. Involvement in a variety of settings within the ASL community requires a willingness to try new activities and work with peers and community members while being mindful of following context-appropriate safety practices.
Students’ understanding of and skills in ASL will develop as they explore their world and engage in tasks that require deciphering-deconstructing, analysing, interpreting, reflecting, constructing, representing, responding, and using interconnected metacognitive and metalinguistic skills. As students seek out various ASL resources and multimedia works that relate to their personal interests and to other subject areas, they develop their ASL literacy skills. As they engage in ASL conversations with peers and teachers and in dialogues with parents, peers, and teachers about what they are learning and how it relates to their daily lives, they further develop their ASL literacy skills.
Students’ attitude towards language learning and literacy can have a significant effect on their achievement of the curriculum expectations. Teaching methods, learning tasks, and activities that encourage students to recognize the value and relevance of what they are learning will go a long way towards motivating students to work and learn effectively, and to recognize the interconnectedness of what they are learning in ASL – within the ASL community and in the world at large.
Students who are learning ASL need to realize that refining their skills is important and that real engagement with their studies requires hard work and continual self-assessment. Through practice, consolidation, and revision of the ASL literary works and ASL texts they create, students deepen their understanding of ASL. Students can also extend their learning by participating in related school and community activities. Skills developed in the classroom can be applied in many other endeavours, and in a variety of aspects of their education and careers.
Parents play an important role in supporting student learning. Studies show that students perform better in school if their parents are involved in their education. Parents who are familiar with the ASL curriculum expectations are aware of what is being taught and what their children are expected to learn. This information enables parents to understand how their children are progressing in school and to work with ASL teachers to enhance their children’s learning. Parents can support their children’s learning by attending parent-teacher interviews; participating in ASL classes and workshops for parents; getting involved in school council activities (e.g., becoming a school council member); and encouraging their children to complete their assignments at home.
In addition to supporting regular school activities, parents may wish to encourage their children to take an active interest in using ASL for meaningful purposes as a regular part of their activities outside of school. They might encourage their children to decipher-deconstruct and analyse ASL literary works and ASL texts; discuss what they are learning in class; converse in ASL together at home; go to ASL cultural events (such as art exhibits, festivals, or plays); join an ASL club, such as a community group; or participate in an online ASL pal program.
Parents can also support their children’s learning in ASL as a second language by:
- demonstrating a positive and encouraging attitude about learning another language;
- demonstrating a positive attitude towards ASL at home and in the community;
- establishing a positive relationship with the ASL teacher;
- getting involved in the school community;
- joining a community group to learn more about ASL resources and cultural opportunities.
Teachers and students have complementary responsibilities. Teachers develop appropriate and effective instructional strategies to support students to achieve the ASL curriculum expectations, as well as appropriate methods for assessing and evaluating student learning. Teachers are responsible for ensuring that the classroom is a culturally safe environment that enables students from diverse backgrounds to feel respected and comfortable expressing their opinions, thoughts, and needs. Teachers bring enthusiasm and varied teaching and assessment approaches to the classroom, addressing individual students’ needs and ensuring learning opportunities for every student. They reflect on the results of the learning opportunities they provide and make adjustments as necessary to help every student achieve the curriculum expectations to the best of their ability.
Using a variety of instructional, assessment, and evaluation strategies, ASL teachers provide numerous opportunities for students to develop and refine their critical-thinking, problem-solving, and language skills as they investigate topics related to ASL through a variety of engaging, personally relevant projects and explorations. These activities give students opportunities to relate their knowledge and skills in ASL to the social, cultural, environmental, and economic conditions and concerns of the world they live in. Such opportunities will motivate students to participate in their communities as responsible and engaged citizens, and to become lifelong learners.
ASL teachers provide students with frequent opportunities to practise and refine their skills and apply new learning and, through regular and varied assessment, give them the specific, descriptive feedback they need to further their learning. Teachers can also help students understand that the language learning process and sustained communication and interaction often require a considerable expenditure of time and energy and a good deal of perseverance.
ASL teachers can encourage students to take appropriate risks and use appropriate strategies to become successful problem solvers, especially with respect to social justice issues they may encounter. By assigning tasks that promote the development of higher-order thinking skills, teachers help students assess information, develop informed opinions, draw conclusions, and become thoughtful and effective communicators. In addition, teachers encourage students to deepen thinking about their own linguistic choices and support them in developing the language and techniques they need to assess their own learning.
ASL teachers are important role models for students, both linguistically and culturally. Teachers play key roles in modelling ASL use for their students and disseminating information about the cultures in which the language is used. Often teachers are the students’ first contact with the language. Teachers endeavour to use ASL as the language of communication in all classroom interactions so that students receive constant exposure to the language in a variety of situations. Teachers provide students with varied opportunities to share and interact in ASL in meaningful activities that simulate real-life situations. Teachers also need to expose students to social and geographical varieties of ASL through a range of authentic materials and examples of the language being used by individuals of different ages and geographical origins and from various sociocultural groups. This exposure will help students develop an understanding and appreciation of the diversity within communities where ASL is used.
Classroom teachers, as well as other educators in the school (e.g., guidance teachers/counsellors), can also inform students about the benefits of learning a second or additional language. For example, they can highlight the merits of learning another language by promoting language studies, exchange programs, and global education and career opportunities.
It is the teacher’s responsibility to help students see the connections between the knowledge and skills they develop in the classroom and their lived realities. Learning ASL as a second language can play a key role in shaping students’ views about ASL culture. By developing an understanding of the contextualized nature of their ideas, values, and ways of life, students come to appreciate and honour the diversity they encounter. Teachers also encourage students to understand the importance of the transferable skills they develop in an ASL course, and to make use of these skills in other contexts.
As part of effective teaching practice, ASL teachers communicate with parents about what their children are learning. This communication occurs through the sharing of course outlines, ongoing formal and informal conversations, curriculum events, and other means of regular communication, such as newsletters or website postings. Communication enables parents to work in partnership with the school, promoting discussion, follow-up at home, and student learning in a family context. Stronger connections between home and school support student learning, achievement, health, and well-being.
The principal works in partnership with ASL teachers and parents to ensure that each student has access to the best possible educational experience. The principal is also a community builder who creates an environment that is welcoming to all and ensures that all members of the school community are kept well informed. To support student learning and well-being, principals ensure that the ASL as a second language curriculum is being properly implemented in classrooms and learning environments using a variety of instructional approaches. They also ensure that appropriate resources are made available for teachers and students. To enhance teaching and learning in all subjects, including ASL, principals promote learning teams and work with teachers to facilitate their participation in professional development activities. Principals are also responsible for ensuring that every student who has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is receiving the modifications and/or accommodations described in their plan – in other words, for ensuring that the IEP is properly developed, implemented, and monitored.
Principals are responsible for ensuring that up-to-date copies of the outlines of all courses of study offered at the school are retained on file. These outlines must be available for parents and students to examine. Parents of students under the age of eighteen are entitled to information on course content since they are required to approve their child’s choice of courses, and adult students need this information to help them choose their courses.
Local ASL Communities
In some areas of the province, the local ASL community provides a variety of academic and social activities and events for its members and members of other nearby communities. People meet to share their ASL language, ideas, world views, and interests with community members and others (e.g., students who are learning ASL as a second language, interpreters, anthropologists, linguists). These gatherings provide opportunities for people to have authentic local experiences within ASL communities. They also promote and ensure the preservation and enhancement of ASL language and culture. There is strong evidence that encouraging students to experience ASL within the local ASL community leads to a broadening of their world view and awareness of different languages. When this happens, students can become more engaged in day-to-day activities in both their own language and ASL; enhance their understanding of ASL; and gain experiences that will enhance the development of metacognitive and metalinguistic knowledge and skills.
Participation in and engagement with the local ASL community (e.g., attending ASL cultural events, using technology and online resources, joining parent groups, taking formal ASL classes) are excellent ways for parents to develop their own ASL language skills and cultural knowledge. Parents who are able to internalize ASL as an authentic language and culture are better prepared to support their children’s ASL language development.
The Broader ASL Community
ASL as a second language programs benefit significantly from the support and involvement of the ASL community as a whole. Often, ASL teachers in these programs and people within the ASL community are the only advocates for the acquisition and development of the ASL language and its related culture. In an ASL as a second language program, it is important for parents and teachers to engage with a variety of ASL community members and organizations to demonstrate and reinforce the value of the ASL language, culture, and community.
Members of the ASL community can be encouraged to support the program by acting as resource people in a variety of ways. They can offer to answer student questions, share their experiences and accomplishments, and expand on how ASL language, ASL literary works, and ASL texts are related to ASL culture and community. Other useful resources include online communities, ASL newsletters, and online ASL video works created by ASL community members that explore, for example, the relationships between ASL vocabulary and classifiers.
It is important for students to be exposed to diverse ASL communities to learn about regional ASL vocabulary variations and differing styles, and ASL vocabulary specific to particular communities. This exposure helps students to develop knowledge, skills, understanding, and respect for the ASL language, ASL culture, history, perspectives, and the contributions of the ASL community. Further, it facilitates the development of students’ personal connections with the ASL community so that they can engage with the language, history, and culture through interaction with a variety of people and ASL literary works and ASL texts to create meaningful connections between themselves and the world around them.
ASL community partners can model how knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom relate to life beyond school. Relationships with these organizations, community recreation facilities, universities and colleges, businesses, service groups, and others can provide valuable support and enrichment to students. These organizations can provide expertise, skills, materials, and programs that are not available through the school or supplement those that are. Partnerships with such organizations benefit the school, the students, and the life of the community.
Schools and school boards, including Ontario’s provincial and demonstration schools, can play a role by coordinating efforts with ASL community partners. They can engage various leaders and organizations within the community by supporting learning related to curriculum expectations and creating opportunities for students to discuss issues affecting the ASL community and participate in the community’s celebrations, both inside and outside of the school community. For example, schools could develop a program for visiting leaders with links to ASL community organizations, such as arts organizations, cultural and language centres, business service networks, and so on. These community partners can also be included in events held in the school, such as skills competitions, information events, career days, and special days of recognition. Where the opportunity presents itself, schools and boards, including the provincial and demonstration schools, may also extend their partnerships with local, provincial, national, or international communities and programs.
Nurturing partnerships with other schools, school boards, and the provincial and demonstration schools can be a valuable way to apply learning within the context of safe, healthy, and accepting school environments. Neighbouring schools and boards may share resources or facilities when developing and sharing professional development opportunities for staff, and they can collaborate in developing special events such as career fairs, community activities, and information evenings. From time to time, opportunities may present themselves for schools, school boards, and the provincial and demonstration schools to work with local researchers to complete studies that will help educators make informed decisions based on solid evidence, local needs, and current best practices.
In choosing community partners, schools can build on existing links with their local communities and create new partnerships in conjunction with ministry and school board policies. These links are especially beneficial when they have direct connections to the curriculum. Teachers may find opportunities for students to participate in community events, especially events that support the students’ learning in the classroom, are designed for educational purposes, and provide descriptive feedback to student participants.