Friday, January 22, 2010

Let me spell it out for you

Right now...............

Please read the following line once and don't look at it again

mahtsy ckosstene fodsopenfy

We will refer to it in ASL as "mcf" for the rest of this post

It is the term used to describe the process of making toasters from tofu.

Last week...............

I realized an area that my son has a problem is math in a mainstream class. So the topic that holds me tonight is English working side by side with ASL. My son has had direct instruction in sign language for his entire life for the most part until this year. Now he is head fist into a hearing environment.

He has always been way above grade level in math. This was a problem at the deaf school because the other kids in class were below for the most part. He could have gotten much further there if he was challenged at his level. In his new mainstream school he was placed in an advanced class. I was so excited for him. Then I noticed he wasn't doing homework. He complained the teacher talked really fast and he needed to take notes. If he did he couldn't see the interpreter so within the first ten minutes he was lost.

I set up a meeting and we got him a note taker. I thought the problem was solved but still he wasn't learning and he hated the notes.

Sometimes when he is stuck he goes to the teachers office without the interpreter and in minutes he has it all figured out and flies through the work. Something just doesn't match up.

Then it all became clear. One night he was staring at his homework. It was a sheet of paper full of equations. Across the top was " Find the least common denominator". He pointed to that an asked what it means. I was shocked he had been sitting in class hours before and he didn't have a clue what was taught.

So here is the problem from my point of view. English is the teachers second language. The interpreter has to remix her lesson into English then ASL. Sometimes she is hard to understand and speaks very fast. Hayden got confused and just gave up. The other problem is when the teacher introduces a new concept the interpreter finger spells first then gives it a sign." Least common denominator" becomes LCD. My son sees the fingrspelling but only sees the shape of the phrase and remembers maybe the first part of the spelling. He is not taking notes so he has no idea later that LCD is the work he needs to do because he doesn't recognize the written English term. So the math terms are like learning a new language. He is not taking notes so he doesn't internalize the information or practice the concepts. The notes have very little English language and are just the equations so useless.

So to solve the problem the teacher slowed down. She has 1 page lessons she gives to him before class so he already can see the equations and written English. The notes are clear and can be read in minutes. He needs to understand the print version before he sees the ASL. So far great!

Right now.....................

So please spell "mcf" from memory please


  1. A compassionate mother who recognizes the problem is a rare thing, but doesn't solve the problem. That teacher is key. If she remembers to stay with the new program and not revert to her habitual ways...and if your son gets adequate preparation for each class, he'll be okay.

    In NTID and other higher education where deaf and hearing students are mixed together, there are adjunct tutors and support staff that reteach concepts after class.

    It's a better idea to PRE-teach so the student has the language down pat before the concept is presented.

  2. Umm, I'm sorry but condensing long words or math concepts into lexicalized fingerspelling is NOT acceptable (I do realize that LCD is used in English but in this language situation, it's not appropriate). Unless your son gave the suggestion to use the abbreviated forms. That's the tricky part of ASL...some English concepts takes several signs to explain. I think a sign can be "invented" by Hayden so that each time the interpreter signs it, he will remember it without having to rack his brain to figure out what the abbreviated form means. My sign for 'denominator' is 'D' under the flat of my other hand. So for LCD, this can be signed: DENOMINATOR SAME LOWEST. Something to that effect. It doesn't help that the teacher speaks fast so that means the interpreter's lag time is considerable. I'm glad that you spoke up and solved the problem. Too often parents of Deaf children don't get involved and this causes the Deaf child to miss out. A lot. Good for you for not letting this happen! =)

  3. Wow thanks for the input. It really helps. I was thinking about what Keri said. Here is my idea I would love your opinion.

    He has a 15 minute pull out for grammar in the morning. At that time they could show him the lesson for the day in science and math in print form . He could see what they will be learning and at that time come up with the signs for the vocab with the interpreter.

  4. Great idea! It's important that Haddy comes up with the signs himself-easier for him to remember what he created rather than what the interpreter created. Or if a new vocab comes up in class that is going to be used often, Haddy can quickly think of a sign for that vocab and relay it to the interpreter as s/he is interpreting. I did that often in college. If Haddy needs any help with creating signs, I would be happy to take a list of commonly used words from you and then do a vlog to explain how to sign those words/concepts.

  5. I LOVE the topic of this vlog! Oh my gosh, it is so helpful!

    I actually interpreted a class like this several times, where the teacher is not only foreign and speaks quickly, but often backtracks to correct his errors. It's insanely difficult to interpret. The interpreters have nicknamed him "The Woodchipper," as if the concept is a log, and what he is giving out is just mulch. It's a very difficult situation for the student in that class, to be sure. I had to stop the lecture frequently for clarification.

    What you did at the beginning of your post really hit home to me, of COURSE that's the big problem! Fingerspelling looks like a big jumbled mess, and teaching the vocab before is probably just PARAMOUNT to student success. In a different math class that I regularly interpret (the teacher is awesome, and everything is visual), I feel like my students don't get a lot of what we do. The numbers they understand, but often they will misunderstand written directions on the homework. I fingerspell everything like a crazy person, as well as sign it, because that is supposed to help with English literacy development. The EIPA emphasises that quite a bit. Then, when they don't get, I feel so frustrated, like "Darn, kid! I just fingerspelled that whole darn phrase like fifteen times! What do you MEAN you don't know?" Now, I think I am beginning to get it. Pre-teaching is the key. Please post an update, and I will post an update too, because this is how this is going to have to go now for my kids in math.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. Oh, it does my heart good to discover you in the blogosphere! Also, I just love how smart you are about teaching and learning. You are amazing, my friend! Your children are so fortunate to have you and your hubby for parents!

  7. Thanks Keri, we start the new service Thurs. so we will see how it goes. He will meet with a teacher to give the broad view of the topic and the interpreter to come up with the signs. They all meet first thing in the morning. Roan513 keep me posted!

  8. Liz!!!!!!! you are also an awesome mom!