Language and Communication Policy

Group of Middle School Students Posing for a photo

The American School for the Deaf (ASD) is dedicated to serving deaf and hard of hearing infants, youth and their families in the development of intellect and the enhancement of quality of life utilizing specially designed instruction through a Bilingual Approach, empowering them to become educated and self-directed, lifelong learners. To achieve this, ASD has a developmental bilingual program in which American Sign Language (ASL) and English are the two languages used for instructional purposes.

In this developmental bilingual program, students are encouraged to become proficient in both ASL and English. This is an additive model, which means the students develop and maintain their native or first language and acquire a new one. In other words, one language is not valued over the other--ASL and English are treated equally. They would, in the end, become proficient in both languages.

ASL and English are modeled separately to ensure that students receive the best examples of each without using both simultaneously (speaking and signing at the same time). Using both ASL and English throughout the day in academics (and after school during activities or in the dormitory) provides students the opportunity to experience a multi-modal approach for learning, and teachers and staff at ASD work to enrich students’ expressive and receptive language* experiences across all subject areas and in community activities.

The teacher may support students’ overall understanding and minimize frustration by switching languages at times when it is needed. The goal is to provide meaningful access to languages and instructional materials. To support a student’s overall language fluency across the curriculum, teachers and staff work to develop students’ metacognitive (thinking about how they are thinking) and metalinguistic knowledge (studying and being aware of language itself and how it is used) by making language choices throughout the day and by directly teaching these skills. A better understanding of how these two languages are different is promoted through the explicit comparison of the two languages. Students need to know that they are learning two languages.

Studying the languages results in the development of proficiency, higher order conceptual thinking, critical literacy skills, and analytical skills. These are necessary for learning not only about language, but about other content subjects as well.

*These opportunities for learning and reinforcing both languages may include viewing, signing, fingerspelling, and finger-reading in ASL and reading, writing, speech reading, speaking, listening and viewing in English.


Student signing the letter

American Sign Language

ASL is a visual language complete with grammar, structure, syntax, and nuances similar to any other language. There is a body of research that suggests that fluency in a signed language correlates with learning in schools, academic success and social development. It is the language of the Deaf community and it creates an opportunity for full accessibility for all students in our school setting to gain and benefit from content information in all subject areas and social experiences. ASD supports the acquisition of ASL as a content subject. Each position at ASD has a required level of proficiency that must be achieved on the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) to ensure they have the skills to provide consistent and rich exposure to academic registers of ASL. For teachers, this ensures that staff can demonstrate a wide register of discourse and lead classroom discussions. For other staff, it ensures the ability to function in their assorted roles at appropriate levels in our environment. Students are also encouraged to use ASL creatively as a form of artistic expression in projects across the curriculum as this is an important element of Deaf culture. This is valued and encouraged at ASD. Encouraging our student’s pride and self-respect in their culture and language as members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is a critical element of our bilingual program.

Relative to Language Planning with signing and viewing ASL, teachers will:

Consciously plan to model ASL structure and to bridge this with English structure (and vice versa) to help create greater meaning and understanding as well as ensuring that students recognize that these are two separate languages;

Consider the expressive and receptive skills (viewing, producing, and comprehending ASL content and literacy) in ASL when planning the lessons, and make sure that they are addressed in each unit throughout the day;

Ensure that instruction in ASL is supported by printed (and whenever needed, spoken) English;

Ensure assignments are balanced for both ASL and English (e.g., video homework, tests, and the like) and to ensure that our assessment and instruction are aligned to the instruction and language use for those assignments (e.g. ASL and content assessments for ASL presentation);

Incorporate elements of Deaf culture, history, and expressive ASL whenever possible in projects, activities, through video, and so forth.

middle school student signing


English

Receptive and Expressive English skills through reading, writing, speaking, and listening are promoted at ASD as a part of the developmental bilingual program. ASL can be leveraged to build English competence. By doing this, the teachers will be expected to support the students’ English skills and bilingualism by comparing, contrasting, and analyzing structure of ASL and English, supporting the development of English vocabulary word knowledge through the use of fingerspelling, and building interactional skills through the use of ASL and English (e.g. through emailing, signing, speaking, texting, and writing). English vocabulary development across the curriculum is a large part of ensuring success for our students and we believe that in addition to the definition and use of vocabulary, they will also be learning how to use them in content including writing and speaking.

Speech/Language Services for our students are determined by a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) use a variety of strategies to support development in both languages. They also work to keep ASL and English separate based upon the purpose or objective of an activity and the needs of the student. Various models for access are utilized to support students needing these services. These models include ‘pull out’ (students go individually or in small groups to an alternate location) or ‘push in’ (students remain in regular classroom with the SLP supporting them through classroom activities).

To maximize our students’ abilities in speaking and listening in English, those who have assistive listening devices are supported (as indicated in the students’ IEPs) by all our staff. Parents work with ASD staff in making sure students bring their assistive listening devices to school, and use them. This is a partnership that often requires maintenance by Local Education Authorities and families to ensure maximum benefit from devices.

The students will learn various tools in communicating with people whose primary language is English, and that includes listening, speaking, and writing. We will work to assist them with these skills as a natural part of vocabulary building in all settings, and this is the responsibility of all teachers and staff including the SLPs.

Phonological Awareness is a research-based critical element of reading fluency. At ASD we use “Visual Phonics” during reading/English time as a part of our instruction. We plan to provide training on utilizing these strategies for teachers in the elementary grades to help provide our students with some of the basic building blocks of letter sounds, syllables, and the like that are critical for reading. This training will provide a stronger foundation for reading comprehension and fluency as students grow.

Teacher SigningTwo of the most important elements of teaching our students to become successful bilingual students are metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness. These elements are gained by learning that both languages are used in purposeful ways throughout their day. The teachers and administrators at ASD are committed to developing and creating lessons and activities that provide opportunities for our students to use both ASL and English in a meaningful way, and raise their metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness to understand the relationship and value of each language. This will ultimately benefit the students’ ability to access content and improve individual outcomes for each student over time.

Relative to Language Planning with listening, speaking, reading and writing English, teachers will:

  • Plan deliberately to incorporate exploration and practice of skills related to printed and spoken English or the understanding of printed and spoken English.
  • Be attentive to all possible English language abilities (listening, speaking, finger reading, fingerspelling, writing, reading and keyboarding) and make sure that all are addressed throughout each curriculum unit.
  • Model and explain elements of the English Language such as phonemic and phonological awareness, active listening when introducing vocabulary, and reading or writing with students.
  • Use fingerspelling and signing in ASL to support these instructions. This deliberate planned exposure to the English language and providing links to things they already know will improve the students’ ability to generalize skills, and use and understand vocabulary.


General Sensitivity and Socio-Cultural Awareness

Our ASD community works hard to make our environment fully accessible for our Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and staff. By encouraging the development of both languages, Deaf children can gain pride and the sense of value in their well-being. With this pride, they can take more risks and they can carry with them the confidence of who they are through whatever obstacles or opportunities they face in the future.

In a school for the Deaf, these challenges in using both languages are identified and minimized, as they are at ASD, through professional development and buildings/classrooms that are designed specifically to meet the needs of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The ASD community creates a culture of respect and care through recognizing the needs and abilities of the individual.

There are times when visitors tour ASD who do not have any ASL ability, or times that we have students who have been using only spoken English visit with an interest in joining our bilingual environment. As we work ensure a welcoming environment for new individuals, we know there may be times that people will utilize sign-supported speech to ensure understanding. We recognize that this is not a method of instruction but a contact language situation out of an immediate necessity.

ASD is committed to being an environment of respect and appreciation for language and culture. We are committed to helping all members of our community learn and grow.


Our Commitment

The American School for the Deaf is committed to the ideal of a bilingual (ASL and English) community in which all members of this school learn and work together without communication barriers.