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Teaching of American Sign Language (ASL) as a Foreign Language
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Teaching of American Sign Language (ASL) as a Foreign Language
In the Department of Health and Behavior Studies

Program Description > Orientation of the Program

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Orientation of the Program

The ASL Teacher Training Program at Teachers College holds certain philosophical viewpoints towards the linguistic status of ASL as a language, the American Deaf community and culture, the preparation of students as teachers of ASL, the teaching of ASL in elementary and secondary schools, and the general principles of education, teaching, and learning.

ASL is recognized as a naturally developing language of Deaf and many hard of hearing people in the United States. It possesses a linguistic system with its own phonological, morphological, syntactic, and discourse structures that are in many ways distinct from spoken English language and from signed languages in other parts of the world. In addition, ASL users have developed a literary, albeit oral, tradition in oratory, folklore, and performance art, all recorded either in print or in permanent media like film and video. The richness and complexity of the language is such that it has been afforded the status of a foreign language, and sufficient information is known about the language that pedagogically it can be approached in manner similar to other foreign languages such as French, Spanish, German, and Latin.

An appreciation of ASL entails an awareness that within American society and the population of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals at-large there is the American Deaf community. The American Deaf community of persons, groups, and organizations provides the basis for cultural identity and group cohesion for about two million Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing individuals who share a set of characteristics that bind them together, such as knowledge of ASL and traditions for social behavior.

The successful teaching of ASL requires both communicative and linguistic approaches to the subject matter that is grounded in sound pedagogy and understanding of the characteristics of the learner. Students in the program will be practiced in curriculum design and instructional strategies based on the pedagogical principles found in Guidelines for Languages Other Than English, which was prepared by the New York State Education Department.

With regard to the acquisition of ASL itself, the teachers in preparation and the students with whom they eventually will teach will be instructed in a manner that does not use voice or spoken English, in order to maximize the utilization of eyes, hands, and body postures for transmitting and receiving grammatical information in the development of receptive, expressive, and interactive language skills, while pointing out and realizing that in the actual day-to-day interactions with Deaf individuals the use of voice and spoken English will vary according to the conversational demands.  Likewise, it is believed that ASL teachers ought not to teach vocabulary or grammatical structures strictly in isolation. They need to approach ASL as a modern living language and as a tool for effective communication with ASL users that will serve specific communicative purposes (functions) in particular settings (situations) about particular subjects (topics), using specific linguistic forms.

In addition, ASL teachers ought to provide insights into the nature of language, sensitivity to Deaf culture, its values, customs, and traditions, and foster a sense of humanity and friendship, while placing this culture within the proper context of the hearing impaired population at large and society in general. The primary goals of the teaching of ASL to elementary and secondary students are to develop functional communication abilities so as to interact with Deaf people, to develop greater understanding and appreciation of Deaf culture, as well as their own cultures, and to expand one’s definition and understanding of inter- and intra-group cultural diversity.

We also subscribe to the belief that the purpose of elementary and secondary education is to foster the development of independence, critical thinking, problem-solving, discovery and creativity within students, who may possess different talents, aspirations, developmental and learning differences, abilities, interests, emotions, and personal history. It is our belief that learning and teaching are purposeful, intentional, and socially constructed.

 The program will strongly emphasize an analytic-diagnostic approach to instruction. Such an approach is highly student-centered, is process-oriented, and emphasizes a social-cognitive information processing approach to learning.  Furthermore, the program will emphasize an applied linguistic and psycholinguistic approach to the teaching of ASL and an anthropological orientation when considering the organization of Deaf culture and its values. Students in the program will be "schooled," trained, and oriented to the area of "teacher-as-learner/researcher,” a notion that entails a student-centered, cooperative learning, constructivist approach to pedagogy, operating ostensibly out of a framework that employs both qualitative as well as quantitative approaches in an attempt to understand the knowledge base and learning processes of students. In doing so, teachers ought to actively investigate questions and problems that arise out of the classroom, the educational environment and the students whom he or she teaches. In addition, the teacher should be able to consume and apply intelligently "basic research" to the instructional process as presented formally within journals and texts on the teaching of ASL and other second languages, communication skills, Deaf studies, curriculum design, and the cognitive, social, and affective development of the learner.