October 3, 2021: Learning Project Update #1

Over the past two weeks, I’ve finally started making some headway! It has been a process learning ASL, organizing interviews, and trying to soak in as much information as I can in an efficient (and effective) manner. Now that I’ve got the ball rolling, I’m starting to feel a little more confident in the direction my project is heading. However, there is still a lot of learning on the horizon for me! The following are some highlights, challenges, and potential next steps.

Where We Started…

In my project outline from two weeks ago, I had made a schedule to help me organize a timeline of my project. My plan dictated that over the next two weeks I would…

Where We Ended Up…

Fingerspelling: The Alphabet

I figured I would start simple… The alphabet. If I know this, I could at least spell out what I am trying to communicate if I am at a loss for the proper sign. I’ve used this video in the past to show my students when we are working on the Sound Unit in Science, so why not use it for myself?

Surprisingly, I was able to learn how to fingerspell the alphabet pretty quickly by following the instructions in this video. After I followed along for the 15 minutes and had it pretty well memorized, I was concerned the letters I was making were not formed exactly correct. So, I sat in front of a mirror and practiced (like Alyssa suggested below). I felt a little odd, but it did help! Since this came quite easily, I was feeling confident and ready to take on some ASL!

Bill Vicars Tutorials on ASL 1: Lessons 1 & 2

Well. These lessons were certainly more difficult than my fingerspelling experience! There was no sound. None. I could read the captions, but I was also trying to watch the video… Sensory overload! However, this was a humbling experience because it offered a very small taste of what Deaf people or anyone learning another language experience. I’ve included the lessons that I’ve completed so far– feel free to try them out for yourself!

Not having sound included in these videos created an authentic experience and forced me to really pay attention to what was going on. I truly needed to give it my undivided attention! In addition, I liked that it featured a hearing student, like me, who was also learning ASL. I found this slowed things down and if I missed something, the odds are the student did too. Something that I didn’t realize about ASL was that it also involves facial expressions. For example, when asking “wh questions,” you need to make your eyebrows go down and for yes or no questions, you need to make your eyebrows go up. Lesson two was when things started to get really tricky because there were not any captions to read! In addition, when you use ASL it is not in the order of English grammar… It is almost the opposite. Below, Alyssa speaks to this a little more! In the second lesson, there was also some playful banter. I enjoyed this, but I found it difficult to decipher whether we were learning something or if Bill was making a joke… Again, a small taste of what someone who is learning another language experiences! I’ve been enjoying these lessons so far and am looking forward to more over the next few weeks.

Interview #1: Alyssa

Without a doubt, this was the highlight of my project so far. I was connected with Alyssa through the SLP at my school. The SLP at my school had mentioned that as part of her training, she learned a little bit about deafness, but our school division recently hired someone who might be more knowledgeable on the topic. She recommended Alyssa, who minored in deaf education and has a master’s degree in speech and language pathology, with an emphasis on deafness… I don’t think I could have asked for a better person to interview. In true teacher fashion, I needed to make a list of questions/topics to help guide our conversation, as I didn’t want to forget to ask anything… We all know how I love a good question. The following are some of the topics we chatted about in our conversation…

Tell me a little bit about what you do?

Currently, Alyssa’s area of focus is on listening and spoken language and works as an SLP in mainstream schools. However, she has worked in a variety of other places throughout Canada that focus on deafness. She lived in Vancouver and taught Pre-K to deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students. When Alyssa lived in Edmonton, she worked at a non-profit organization and ran an early intervention program for Pre K-K students who were also DHH. I had asked her what were some differences between the two experiences. When she worked in Vancouver, all of the kids in this program used some sort of hearing device and did not use signing. She also noted that these kids also came from hearing families. The devices she mentioned were cochlear implants, hearing aids, and bone anchored hearing aids.

Bone Anchored Hearing Aid: Source
Cochlear Implant: Source

I was familiar with hearing aids and cochlear implants. However, bone anchored hearing aids were new to me. Alyssa explained that people who use these were born without an ear canal, which means that sound isn’t able to get into the ear. However, everything on the inside of the ear works. The headband vibrates on the skull in order to transmit sound.

When Alyssa worked in Edmonton, she taught by using a combination of signing and spoken language. She also had aids in her classroom who were also Deaf. This program dealt mainly with families who were part of the Deaf community, so no hearing devices were used (more on that to come). Since both languages were used, Alyssa said it was interesting to watch which kids gravitated toward spoken or sign language. She noted that the teachers would present their instruction in spoken language and the Deaf aids in the classroom would sign for the students, particularly if a story was being read.

deaf vs Deaf… What’s the difference? How can I approach exploring this topic as a hearing person as respectfully as possible?

This question was eating away at me the most! The SLP at my school had mentioned this to me in passing, but I never did get the details. Thank goodness Alyssa could fill in the blanks for me. In a nutshell, this is what I learned…

Deaf vs deaf

Alyssa mentioned that the views on Deaf and deaf can be very political, however, the above chart sums up some basic characteristics of each… I promise I’ll explain the “Yoda” thing in a bit! At first when Alyssa explained this to me, I felt a little anxious learning about Deaf culture and ASL because I am a hearing person. I almost felt like I was imposing. Alyssa eased my concerns as she explained, in her experience, the Deaf community is very welcoming and want people to learn their language.

What is some advice you can offer to me as I begin learning ASL?

Something that took me by surprise is the complexity of ASL. Alyssa explained ASL is different everywhere you go and signs for certain words can mean different things, which can make communicating tricky and confusing because there can be 5 different signs for the same word… To stir the pot a bit more, slang terms are also different wherever you go as well! Alyssa said that I should be prepared to make mistakes and to be corrected, as learning ASL has many layers. She also suggested the best way to learn ASL is to learn from someone who is Deaf, as this creates a more authentic experience. In addition, she said it is helpful if you know how to fingerspell the alphabet. When you don’t know the sign for something, you can spell it out! We got chatting about how fast Deaf people finger spell and sign. I mentioned to her in my lessons I often had a hard time keeping up and was replaying the videos for what felt like every 10 seconds! She recommended that when you’re trying to figure out what someone is saying when they are fingerspelling, try to sound it out as the person goes… Alyssa said it’s surprising how well it actually works! She also suggested to practice in the mirror, even though it feels super weird. This way you can actually see if you’re doing the signs correctly! Oh and the, “Yoda” thing: When communicating in true ASL fashion, when asking, “How old are you?” Instead of signing the words in order, like we communicate in spoken English, it almost in reverse… Alyssa compared it to how Yoda talks. I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on this, I think the word order would be, “Old are you how.” Another important piece of advice Alyssa offered was to try not to speak and sign. This is for two reasons:

  1. Like I mentioned above, when communicating in ASL, the order of the words/grammar rules are different than in spoken English.
  2. Both languages are distorted by speaking.
What’s been your experience working with families? Are they often willing to learn ASL to communicate with their child? How do families handle learning that their child is deaf?

Alyssa emphasized that every family is different and over the course of her career, it really has been a mixed bag. She said some families are very much so part of the Deaf community. For example, some families do not allow anyone into their home that is a non-ASL user, while others are more flexible. For the most part, when families learn their child is deaf, they are willing to do anything to support their child and learn how to communicate with them. However, she highlighted that there is a grieving process that families often go through when their child receives a deafness diagnosis, especially when their child has no auditory nerves and is completely deaf. In addition, she also explained that families who do not take the time to learn ASL or gain an understanding of their child’s communication needs, is due to family circumstances. For example, if a family is living in poverty, putting food on the table needs to take priority. She also explained in these situations where there is minimal communication between the child and their family, behavioural issues are a concern. Alyssa explained that often he deaf child will just kind of do their own thing or are overly independent. In these cases, there is usually a lot of gesturing to communicate, but that only goes so far.

What has been the impact of Covid on Deaf people? How have masks created a communication barrier?

As I’ve learned over the past few weeks, ASL is way more complex than I initially thought. It has its own set of grammar rules and doesn’t just involve hand and arm movements… It involves eyebrow movements and facial expressions to communicate as well. Alyssa has a friend who uses hearing aids and she explained these Covid communication barriers beautifully, “I don’t read lips, I read facial grammar.” I assumed lipreading would have been the biggest issue due to mask wearing, but facial grammar offers context in conversations, even for hearing people. In contrast, Alyssa has another friend who relies quite heavily on lip reading. Wearing masks has made simply going to the grocery store a chore, as now she must use her phone to communicate or search for “clues” to find her way. In addition, (as we’ve all probably experienced) masks majorly distort sound and it is difficult to hear as a hearing person in the first place! Alyssa said that sometimes they use the clear masks, so lip readers can see. When I asked my doctor about this, she said that those types of masks are useful for that purpose, but are not medical masks and don’t provide the level of protection needed to be deemed safe. As you probably presume, Covid has been very isolating for everyone, but poses unique problems for Deaf or hard of hearing people. My mom is slightly hard of hearing and wears tiny hearing aids and glasses… and a mask. Multiple times she’s taken off her mask in her car and her hearing aids fly out of her ears along with her glasses… Trust me. You don’t want to lose one of those hearing aids, as they are expensive to replace if lost or damaged.

Resources from Alyssa…

Okay. This could be a separate blog post on its own. However, I’ll share some resources that piqued my interest that I can add to my ever growing list. Something that I feel is important to mention is that all of the resources Alyssa passed along to me are Deaf recommended.

I mentioned Start ASL to Alyssa. She said that the Deaf community doesn’t particularly love this program for learning ASL. She said that she hasn’t engaged with it much, so she couldn’t really offer any insight on it. Nonetheless, good information to know moving forward!

Total sidebar: If there is an SLP reading this, I was blown away at the breadth of knowledge you all have. My sister-in-law works at the hospital with people who have swallowing disorders and previously with people who have autism, Alyssa has a wealth of knowledge on all things deafness, while other SLPs work in schools with kids who have all kinds of speech delays or social skills challenges. You rock. Although I am looking forward to diving into these recommendations and learning more through open education resources, I honestly did not feel very confident until I had some human connection/direction on my topic. I learned so much from Alyssa and she really helped me get the ball rolling!

Podcast: Seen and not Heard

Unfortunately, I did not finish the entire podcast, but I will work on it in the coming weeks! This podcast also as a Twitter account that I’ve began to follow, however it isn’t overly active, as the last update was July 23, 2020. Essentially, this podcast follows the story of Bet Kline who recently lost her hearing from an undisclosed illness. Bet works to navigate this major change in her life and encounters some challenges along the way. Initially, I was expecting the podcast to be interview style or there to be a host. It actually is a fictional audio drama… It’s like listening to a TV show without the visual. I find it ironic that I am learning about Deaf culture through a podcast, which relies on its listeners’ ability to hear…

I’ve listened to three episodes, but the one that stuck with me the most was the third episode. Bet is having dinner with her family and she pitches the idea of learning sign language as a family. It was disappointing to see the lack of support due to excuses such as being too old to pick up new skills, being too busy, or, “You have hearing aids, why do you need sign language?” Her family felt as though she was imposing on them or asking for something outlandish. Although this story is fictional, I would imagine there are people who have come into deafness later in life and their friends/family have a difficult time adjusting to this change or resist altogether. This is reminiscent of the grieving process that Alyssa had mentioned previously in our conversation. My heart hurt for Bet because in the first episode she went to her first sign language class and felt very out of place, but wanting to learn more. It is almost as if she is stuck in the middle of two worlds: hearing and deafness.

So far I’m enjoying this podcast and I’m finding the storytelling format engaging to listen to! Another update on this to come in the near future…

Artefacts of Learning

I had completed my ASL one and two lessons, along with fingerspelling the alphabet about a week ago. In order to make the video below, I needed to do some review by re-watching the alphabet and then practicing in the mirror again! I felt pretty confident filming this to mark my progress. On the contrary with my ASL lessons, I’m going to need more practice before I’m ready to film. When I did the first two lessons, everything felt like it really sunk in… However, moving forward, I will probably focus on one lesson at a time and practice it throughout the week. Although this may slow my process down, the lessons will stick better by reviewing the same thing a little each day! Since most training in ASL is only done in ASL (no speaking) my videos will be silent, but I will include captions wherever possible. Here is my fingerspelling alphabet:

ASL: Alphabet

Where we are heading…

My goals (like I suspected) have changed from my original plan! Over the next week/two weeks this is what I am aiming to accomplish…

  • Interview a deaf and hard of hearing teacher in my school division
  • Finish Seen and not Heard podcast
  • Start watching Deaf U on Netflix
  • Keep up with my ASL 1 Lessons (and actually keep practicing those same lessons throughout the week…)
  • Explore Gallaudet University resources
  • If I have time: Dive into some of those apps Alyssa suggested!

I certainly have my work cut out for me and hopefully I can meet all of those goals within the next week or two! Nonetheless, I am excited about where my project is heading! As always, thanks for taking a read!

Until next time,

Leigh

12 thoughts on “October 3, 2021: Learning Project Update #1

  1. Wow Leigh! You had a very busy week! You accomplished a lot and it seems that your interview was the highlight. I learned so much from reading your post and it is jam packed with information. This is amazing! I had no idea about the difference between deaf and Deaf, among so many other things. I feel a great deal of empathy for families who just cannot afford the time or resources to learn about their child’s needs and I can understand the overwhelming sadness a family could experience after a deafness diagnosis. Through your learning so far, is there any government funding for anyone needing implants, equipment, or medical surgeries/appointments?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the comment! My interview with Alyssa was so helpful! Honestly, I don’t know and I was wondering about that after I typed up my blog post. I will continue with my research and let you know if I find out anything– great question!

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  3. Wow! You have really outdone yourself. It seems like you have done a lot of learning since your last post about your plan. I like how you are using people in your school division to get more information and to learn first-hand about this topic. Very interesting. It sounds like you have a big goal for the next little while that will probably keep you pretty tied up. I like how you really went into detail and explained the differences in things that most people would think are the same concepts. I too like how you provided many resources so anyone that is interested can pop along for the ride and learn with you, or can come back and learn at their own pace. Very neat! Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kelly for the very kind and thoughtful comment! Feel free to peek at any of the resources mentioned here… I’m hoping to eventually put together a Wakelet!

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  4. Nice work Leigh! I think I know the SLP you’re related to… We’ll have to see if I’m right! My stepmama is a sign language interpreter for RPS and wears a special clear mask so that her students can still see her mouth in class when she is working with them. They’ve worked very hard the past 2 years to ensure that their students still have the same learning opportunities during covid, which has been very challenging, and often DHH students can be forgotten about, their EA’s work very hard for them. Awesome stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Riley! In my most recent interview, we talked about interpreters and how essential they are to the program… We definitely need more of them too! I can’t even imagine the challenges DHH students, interpreters, and teachers faced during Covid as well!

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