October 17, 2021: Learning Project Update # 2

Okay. I’ve set some pretty lofty goals and I need to scale it down. Classic Leigh. I’ve also learned something new about myself. I’m more interested in learning about the education, culture, and community surrounding deafness more than I am about ASL. I’ve learned so much about deaf culture over the past few weeks, I just don’t feel like I’m doing the language and culture justice by learning on my own. That’s not to say I am not going to continue pursuing this part of my project, but I’ve re-thought some things. For example, after my conversation with Michelle, I am not comfortable teaching ASL to my students without proper certification, especially as a hearing person… You’ll see why if you decide to carry on with reading my blog post. I will continue with my ASL practice and update videos, as I am enjoying learning this skill and I do think having some of this knowledge is valuable. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend who is in her residency in medical school. A Deaf couple had come into emergency and no one in the hospital could communicate with them. She said it was scary and thankfully, someone knew a little bit of sign, which was helpful in the end. So, even if I know just the littlest bit, it may come in handy at some point.

Where We Started…

  • Interview a Deaf and hard of hearing teacher in my school division
  • Finish the 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

Where We Ended Up…

Interview with Michelle

Another week, another fantastic interview! This week, I had the incredible opportunity to chat with a Deaf and hard of hearing teacher named Michelle. Again, I would venture to say this was another highlight of my project thus far! Michelle is not only a teacher of the Deaf and hard of hearing, but also the parent of a Deaf child. She had so much knowledge to share from the teacher perspective and the parent perspective. I was blown away by her experiences and knowledge, but more than anything, her fierce advocacy for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. I truly feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to chat with Michelle. I still have lots of learning left, but she really opened my eyes to the importance of teaching kids self-advocacy and holding ourselves accountable as educators for implementing adaptations for our students… Stay tuned because there is more on that to come. I would be amiss if I did not give a little shoutout to Kelly for connecting me with Michelle! Let’s get to debriefing this interview…

How did you become a Deaf and hard of hearing teacher? What was your inspiration?

Michelle began by explaining that she has been teaching since 2005. In 2009, she had twin baby boys. In 2010, she noticed one of her sons was beginning to experience hearing loss. This was her inspiration to go back to school in 2016 for her Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education through York University. She noted that she was needing a change and this seemed like the perfect fit for her. She explained that this program is free to Ontario residents, but is not for out-of-province students. She explained that this program is completely online, which was perfect at the time because her children were still quite young. She did the practical piece of this program in Regina, but was required to travel to Toronto for two weeks to complete one of her course requirements. In addition, there is a program in British Columbia (B.C.) and Nova Scotia. However, the program in B.C. must be completed in person and the program in Nova Scotia only does student intake every three years. In addition, you must spend six weeks of summer in Nova Scotia as part of the program course requirements.

In the DHH Program, do teachers and students sign or speak?

Michelle explained that the current view in Deaf education is that signing is the last possible option for students to communicate. Furthermore, she also mentioned that oralism is often forced onto students and they must show significant academic struggles in order to attend the program. Michelle stated that the program is truly bilingual, as speaking and signing are both used. Some students go to mainstream classes and use the program as tutorial, some exclusively use sign, and some do both. Some students have cochlear implants or have hearing aids that connect to an FM system in order for them to hear during class. Normally, the program has interpreters in the classroom and they sign while the teacher speaks in order to give the students a multimodal experience. However, interpreters are difficult to come by. Currently, there are four teachers in the program, but no interpreters. Michelle said her job this year is basically 50% teaching and 50% signing. In addition, there is a huge push for getting the kids in the program into mainstream education. In my own experience, I feel the same. There is a major lack of programs that really meet student needs. So many kids are pushed into the mainstream, when they would flourish in a program that is more specialized for their learning needs.

What does a DHH Program look like?

I was hoping to experience this for myself by being able to go to Michelle’s classroom to see the program in action. However, our division no longer offers sub coverage for professional development… Ugh, I was SO disappointed. I even had a colleague offer to cover for me, but it was still a “no-go.” Michelle said herself that in order to really understand how the program operates and what they do, you need to see it. However, from a bird’s eye view, the program originally started at Thom Collegiate and moved to Winston Knoll Collegiate. Michelle also emphasized the need for more interpreters and teachers with the proper training in order to work in these classrooms. That being said, finding appropriate sub coverage is difficult, as you do require a specialized skill set. Michelle said she hasn’t taken a day off of work in two years for this reason, highlighting the need for people who are able to work in these classrooms. There are two substitute teachers that can sign and are able to work in this program. The issue is that the jobs for Michelle’s classroom on the substitute teacher dispatch system can be taken before they have a chance to snag them. Something that I thought was interesting was that the DHH Program has a Deaf elder that students and teachers work alongside. Michelle also explained that the high school intervention program is quite intense, but early intervention in elementary school will serve students better in the future. For the most part, Deaf/hard of hearing students in mainstream elementary school classrooms have interpreters that sign for them in class. However, this is not sufficient intervention. She also noted that ASL was offered as a class to take in the high school where she currently works. Out of respect for the Deaf community, they no longer offer this course because all of the teachers in the school who can sign are hearing. This echoes my conversation previously with Alyssa, as she stressed the importance of learning ASL from someone who is Deaf. Michelle also mentioned that English Language Arts (ELA) classes take twice as long for Deaf students to complete because these courses are oral and signed. It is also important to note that ASL is like any other language– the more exposure students have to it, the more they will naturally begin to pick it up. The amazing thing is that the kids will actually teach each other through simple interactions on a daily basis. This was a piece of our conversation the really resonated with me. I’ve always believed the most valuable way to learn is to teach someone else and that students are often our best teachers.

In what ways do you work alongside families? What has your experience been?

Michelle said a lot of families find out about the program simply through “word of mouth” and then get referred to her. I asked her if families are supportive of their children learning to sign and learn themselves. Again, like Alyssa explained, it depends. Michelle said that she has worked with families where everyone has learned to sign and support their child’s choice to communicate through ASL. On the other hand, some families are resistant to the idea of their children signing at home, but will allow them to do so at school. She also explained there are some cultural beliefs about deafness that some people hold. For example, believing that being Deaf is a punishment. In Michelle’s experience, about half of families resign to signing because this is the only option they haven’t tried and the other half are anti-sign. This just blew my mind. If students prefer to sign as their mode of communication and their families won’t allow it, I asked Michelle how this plays out in the home. Unfortunately, in these homes there is a lot of yelling (which obviously is not a productive use of time or energy when communicating with a Deaf or hard of hearing person), have their own gesturing system, pay for audioverbal therapy (which can be very costly), or the child takes lip reading lessons. Michelle also added the the audiologist perspective encourages families to get cochlear implants for their children and that they need to “learn to listen.” Ultimately, this should be the child’s choice. If speaking and lip reading is their preference or strictly signing, that should be respected. From the parenting perspective, Michelle explained that her son has been signing since he was two years old. For a long time, she was pushed toward the spoken route with her son, but this was just not working. Her son now signs and will sometimes speak. She emphasized that navigating deafness as a parent is an emotional ride, as there are so many perspectives and opinions on the “right thing to do.” I asked Michelle if she could give advice to a family newly navigating this journey what she would suggest. She noted three things families should keep in mind:

  • 1. You can always change your mind.
  • 2. You don’t need to choose between speaking and signing… You can do both.
  • 3. Hearing loss is big business. Always be wary and ask yourself if the people you are working with have your child’s best interest in mind. Be critical!

I really appreciated that she mentioned you can change your mind. I think as humans, we like things to be black or white. You make a decision and next, you follow through. Deafness is not a linear path. Sometimes, what you thought would work didn’t and that’s okay.

What does teaching self-advocacy look like? How can I approach my project with respect for the Deaf community as a hearing person?
I shared this in a previous post, but I feel it is relevant here as well. Full infographic here.

Self-advocacy is definitely something that needs to be taught. Michelle says she has a lot of conversations with her students about communicating to their classroom teachers about what they need to be successful. For example, telling their teacher that they require closed-captioning on any videos they show in class or that they must use their FM system. She also explained that students who come from a supportive home environment are more comfortable advocating for themselves. Although this helps, a major piece to this is the overall culture in the building and that teachers are implementing the technologies or adaptations that their students need to ensure their success. This reminds me of implementing students’ Record of Adaptations (ROA) or other individualized plans. Michelle, said unfortunately, some teachers can be somewhat resistant to this and she has needed to address this with these teachers. This served as an important reminder to myself to stay accountable and frequently revisit my students’ ROAs to ensure I am following them accordingly, as it is easy to forget and fall in to an “auto pilot” mode. The National Deaf Center shared a graphic on self-advocacy and deafness (see above). This was one of many resources Michelle shared with me as well.

I asked Alyssa how I can respectfully approach my project, which I found very helpful, so I asked Michelle the same. Much of what she mentioned reflected Alyssa’s perspective as well.

  • Use Deaf-created resources
  • Approach this as you would when speaking and teaching about Truth and Reconciliation (this was a helpful comparison)
  • Learn ASL from a Deaf person (as noted above)

Michelle shared that her other son was wanting her to come to his class to teach ASL. Since she is a hearing person, she consulted the Deaf elder at her school and sought permission to do so. This highlights the importance of recognizing, as hearing people, we do not have the lived experience of deafness. The elder granted Michelle permission, but it was imperative she went through that process first.

This next piece was brand new to me and I am so glad Michelle mentioned this. She explained that the term, “hearing impaired” is equivalent to the r-word. The proper terms are Deaf or hard of hearing, never hearing impaired. She also said disability is another word to be wary of. I did a little digging on this myself and the term hearing impaired gives off a negative connotation and it doesn’t acknowledge the culture associated with the Deaf community. This was something that I wasn’t aware of at all. Initially, I thought it was a less direct, “politically correct” way to address someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing, but it turns out to be just the opposite. Again, another great reason to continue developing networks with all types of educators in order to become a more informed, inclusive, and socially-conscious person/teacher.

deaf vs Deaf

I asked Alyssa this question as well, but wanted to ask Michelle to see if she had anything else to add. She explained that Deaf people do not see their deafness as a disability and view their deafness as a whole language and culture. On the contrary, deaf follows more of a medical model approach. Michelle shared some graphics with me that offer some other information regarding deaf and Deaf. She shared a fantastic resource with called Language First. Michelle noted that for a membership it does cost 25-30 dollars a month, but that it is well worth it! Even without the membership, there are some free resources on the site as well if you start digging into the tabs. I was very impressed with this resource and have been considering getting a membership myself. Check it out!

The Arts and Deafness

The arts offer a variety of modalities for communication, self-expression, language development, and human connection. Michelle spoke to this in our conversation and referred to the work of Joanne Weber who is the first-ever research chair in Deaf education. I believe (if I recall correctly from our conversation) Michelle had mentioned that Joanne had done her PhD thesis on language and literacy, with a focus on Deaf education. Michelle also spoke about The Deaf Crows Collective, which I believe was part of her thesis research as well. Instead of me stumbling through an explanation, watch the video included to take a peek at her work in action and at this article that explains her research and aims. It was so incredible to see the opportunities the arts have presented for Deaf students. In the article noted above, Joanne spoke about language deprivation and how the arts offer ways for expressive and perceptive language to provoke meaningful interactions. Often when I think of language development, my mind goes immediately to speech. However, language is not only speech/speaking. As educators, of hearing and/or DHH students, I feel this is something that we must keep in mind when thinking about language development and literacy. One way of expression should never dominate our instruction and my conversation with Michelle reminded me of this.

Government Funding for Hearing Technology

On my previous post, Lynnette asked about funding for hearing technologies and surgeries. Of course, Michelle has more insight on this topic as well! She had said that the government will pay for the initial cochlear implant surgery and the first set of processors. If your child is school age, the school division will pay for the other processors needed throughout the child’s time in the division. However, processor updates cost anywhere between 10 000-14 000 dollars and need to be updated every five years. Michelle also explained that since the technologies change so quickly, updates could actually be needed sooner, more like every three years. After the child has completed their schooling with the division, families need to pay for these processors on their own. In terms of hearing aids, these are not covered at all unless you have some kind of supplemental support. Even at that, these hearing aids would be the basic type. My heart just sank thinking about families that cannot afford the resources needed to support their child. I wasn’t surprised that cochlear implant processors were so expensive, but what did surprise me is that they needed maintenance (at maximum) every five years. I assumed that once the surgery was complete, that was it! I also didn’t realize once you have the cochlear implant, you need to learn how to use it, which is another expense that is not covered. I do wonder how families end up affording various surgeries, updates, technologies, etc. and if there is any other support out there?

Podcast: Seen And Not Heard

This week, I listened to episodes four and five. Something that I’ve began to appreciate about this podcast is that it highlights the small things in daily life that hearing people do not need to think twice about, such as the noise level in a restaurant or missing pieces in a conversation.

Episode Four: After the awkward family supper in the previous episode, Bet seeks some guidance from her rabbi. The rabbi encouraged Bet to keep going and to take it one day at time. She reminded Bet that her deafness is not a punishment and that she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. The rabbi suggests that Bet should attend a service to feel a sense of belonging and community, echoing the idea of the Deaf community highlighted in the first episode. When the rabbi asks Bet if she has considered learning sign, Bet explains that it is pointless to learn if no one else is willing to learn with her. For me, this episode really highlighted the importance of community and support. Whether that means finding people that can relate to your experiences or simply another person who is willing to listen and show empathy. Unfortunately, this is something that Bet is lacking and I think this is why she is feeling so “stuck.”

Episode Five: Bet’s family is out for supper. The episode immediately caught my attention because it began with an imitation of what Bet was hearing in a busy environment, with a lot of different sounds to hear through when trying to have a conversation. Bet discusses how excluded she feels from the conversation because she can’t hear with the background noise. When the server comes to take their order, she struggled. Her mom lost patience with her and starts yelling what the waiter was saying to her. After the server leaves, her mom chastises her for not listening and paying attention. Bet explains how her family talks like she isn’t there. When she hears a blip of laughter, she asks for the joke to be repeated, but her dad replies with, “Oh, it was nothing.” Bet keeps asking for someone to repeat it for her, but no one does. She gets into an argument with her mom and leaves supper early. She ends up forgetting her keys and needing to return to the restaurant. She begins chatting with the server, who we learn is named David, and he invites her out. When Bet is out with David she finds herself in the same situation where he said something, she didn’t hear, and he replies with, “Oh, it was nothing.” Bet was frustrated by this comment and explains to David that she wants to decide for herself if it was really “nothing.” David and Bet end up having a pleasant evening, but she is skeptical she will see him again. Like in my conversation with Michelle, self advocating can be so challenging for students at the beginning. Maybe it is the eternal optimist in me, but like David, when people make a mistake or inadvertently upset someone, they want to fix it. By advocating for yourself, you are also helping to educate others. Although the response from her family was negative, she received an open and apologetic response from David. I also thought Bet’s response of, “…let me decide for myself if it’s nothing” line was very powerful. Even the simplest of choices can empower others and what seems insignificant can make a huge difference for another person.

Gallaudet University

In both of my interviews and casually chatting with my sister-in-law, Gallaudet University has come up. It really does seem like a staple feature in Deaf education and history. I also learned form Alyssa that they offer free basic ASL resources. I’ve decided to use these lessons alongside my lessons with Bill Vicars. Before I get in to what I’ve learned in regard to my ASL lessons, a brief history is in order!

Gallaudet University was founded in 1864 by Edward Miner Gallaudet, who was the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Edward named the school after his father due to his contributions to Deaf education. Thomas’ interest in Deaf education started when he met Alice Cogswell in 1814. At the time, there were no schools for the Deaf and Alice’s father funded Thomas’ trip to Europe to learn about starting a Deaf school. Thomas eventually learned how to sign from Laurent Clerc, who was a Deaf faculty member and graduate of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets in Paris, France. Thomas taught Laurent English and Laurent taught Thomas how to sign. Together, they founded the American School for the Deaf in 1817. Laurent became the first teacher of the Deaf in America who also was deaf. The school’s mission is to not view deafness as something to overcome, but as a way to understand oneself, to empower Deaf people, and bridge connections between the signing and Deaf community and beyond.

ASL Connect has a variety of resources for learning ASL. They offer basic ASL vocabulary (e.g.: vegetables, places, pronouns, etc.), interactive lessons that are more structured and you can track your progress, and more intensive ASL lessons that involve paying tuition. For the time being, I am going to continue with Bill Vicars’ lessons and supplement this with ASL Connect Basic Vocabulary.

ASL Connect
ASL Connect

Previously I learned the alphabet, so I decided to venture into numbers. On ASL Connect there were two tutorials for counting. One video is for 1-10 and the other is for 11-20. My initial thought was that I would use both hands, but for numbers 1-20 it is all on one hand. In addition, like in the Bill Vicars videos I referred to in my last update, all of the videos are silent. In this case, I actually found it helpful that there was no talking because it allowed me to really focus on the hand movements and finger placements. Like Alyssa suggested, I practiced in front of the mirror, but this time I sat with the video on while I practiced to help me catch my mistakes.

Netflix: Deaf U

Deaf U is basically a reality T.V. series at Gallaudet University. It features people with and without strong Deaf identities. For example, one person learned sign once he arrived at the college and still relies mainly on speaking. In addition, it features people who are hard of hearing and completely Deaf. Keep in mind it is a college-based show with partying and some not-so appropriate content for the entire family, but it was interesting to see just how quickly people who are fluent in ASL sign in “real-life” and to learn a bit more about Deaf culture in a college setting. However, I recognize that this is a T.V. show, so things can be fabricated or exaggerated.

The show mentioned the “elite” group of students that attend Gallaudet University. This refers to students whose families have been Deaf for four or five generations, attended all Deaf high schools, their first language was sign, etc. Something that I never considered as a hearing person was having conversations at restaurants. Bet gave me some insight on how background noise can distort sounds, making conversation difficult. Aside from this, people who sign need to be able to see each other clearly. Two of the people in Deaf U were eating at a restaurant and signing, then the server came and placed the water jug in between the two of them. One of the students remarked that this was not a “Deaf friendly” gesture. This was something that I had never considered from my days as a server, but it will definitely stick with me now! In addition, when a group of students went out to a club one of the Deaf students told his buddy to stick with him in case a hearing person talks to him, so he can interpret. This student is able to read lips, but in a dark and loud environment, this is difficult to do. Another student also explained that there are different kinds of Deaf people. He notes that there are Deaf people who used to speak, but no longer do, and Deaf people who cannot speak. This same student also explained that Gallaudet has a “criteria” on how Deaf you are. He notes that people with cochlear implants (C.I.) or hearing aids are often judged. This student has a C.I. and explains that he can’t hear anything without it, so he continues to wear it anyway. This doesn’t sound like an official criteria, but more of a social one. The episodes are fairly short, thankfully, because I needed to watch it again! Everything is signed, so I need to read the closed-captioning in order to understand what they are saying. I’m notorious for doing other things while watching T.V., so this doesn’t work when learning ASL or watching shows that involve signing. This made me reflect on how distracted I am when engaging in conversation with other people. For example, I’ll chat on the phone when I’m doing the dishes or I’ll be typing on my computer during a staff meeting (shhh, don’t tell my admin…). To me, ASL is such a personal language. You need stop everything you’re doing to communicate by only focusing on that person, making eye contact, reading their hand movements, and facial grammar. This is something I could definitely work on in terms of my communication, not just for my ASL learning, but in general.

Bill Vicars Lessons

I needed to take a step back from my ASL practice the past two weeks in order to keep up with my other commitments to this project, but in the coming weeks, I am planning to focus my learning on sign. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I completed two of the Bill Vicars lessons, but did not practice enough to retain what I’ve learned. As a result, I back-tracked and re-did one of the lessons! Below, I’ve posted some of the key phrases/words from the first lesson. I was planning on doing the second, but the first took longer than I thought! I started by practicing with the video for the first lesson. This time, I paused a lot more to practice the words/phrases and wrote them down to help me remember for my update video. The 35 minute lesson ended up being closer to 50 minutes, which was longer than I was thinking it would be. After, I practiced in front of the mirror and finally I was ready to film! Which then resulted in a few takes, but in the end, I think I’ve got the key elements of the first lesson down! Next week, I’m aiming for completing lesson two and (hopefully) three.

Moving forward, to keep me accountable and to help me retain what I’ve learned, I will start reviewing my skills weekly by continuing to practice the alphabet, numbers 1-20, etc.

The struggle was real at the end, but I eventually got it!

Where We Are Headed…

I didn’t quite meet all my goals exactly as I planned, as I didn’t finish the Seen and Not Heard podcast and I didn’t get a chance to spend the amount of time I would have liked on my ASL lessons. I feel the the beginning pieces of my project were very focused on Deaf culture and education, but not so much on learning ASL. In the coming weeks, I’m predicting a bit of a switch! I would like to explore the plethora of resources sent my way and focus on ASL. In the coming weeks I aim to…

  • Keep at those Bill Vicars ASL 1 lessons (aiming for Lesson 2 and maybe 3)
  • Continue to explore ASL Connect for ASL Basics
  • Keep listening to Seen and Not Heard
  • Keep watching Deaf U
  • Begin creating a Wakelet with my resources
  • If I have time, I would like to spend sometime with Handspeak and Sign Savvy.

I can’t believe how much my plan has changed, but hey, that’s learning!

Thanks for taking a read!

Until next time,


7 thoughts on “October 17, 2021: Learning Project Update # 2

  1. Wow! You have been busy, Leigh! I agree that often it is difficult to do new things authentically without causing issues or offending someone! I like how your learning project has changed, mine has too; like you said, “That’s learning!” I look forward to seeing the coming updates! Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have been so hard at work! I cannot believe what you have accomplished while we have been on a break from classes but still working on our projects on the side!
    I really like your idea to keep yourself accountable by making the videos of your review periods (using what you have learned from others like practising in front of the mirror). I might steal the great idea! I really liked at the end how it was obvious you were thinking and struggling to find the correct signs – and I like that you left the video that way, we can actually visually see you recalling and demonstrating what you learned!

    Liked by 1 person

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