Skip to navigation menu

Skip to main content

Teaching of American Sign Language (ASL) as a Foreign Language
Teachers College, Columbia University
teachers college logo columbia univertsity logo

Teaching of American Sign Language (ASL) as a Foreign Language
In the Department of Health and Behavior Studies

Program Description > Description of the Program

Site Navigation

Learn More

Description of the Program

Knowledge and Skills

We view ASL teacher training as analogous to foreign language teacher training programs. The program draws resources from other programs at Teachers College. Resources in deafness, ASL, and linguistics are drawn from the Program in the Education of the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. Anthropological approaches to communication and culture come from the Program in Anthropology. Theories, methods and practices in bilingual and bicultural education come from the Program in Bilingual and Bicultural Education. Theories, methods, and approaches in second language acquisition and foreign language teaching are drawn from the TESOL Program.

The Master of Arts Program in the Teaching of ASL consists of a minimum of 45 credit points distributed in the following manner: 13 points of course work on professional foundations, 30 points of course work and practica experiences in the area of ASL and Deaf studies, and 2 credits of electives. Such distributions are modeled after the New York State Education Department's requirements for certification in the teaching of a foreign (second) language, which typically presumes that the incoming student has at least some proficiency with the foreign (or second) language that they are preparing to teach. The basic program consists primarily of 4000-level courses and will take about five semesters to complete, for two and one-half years, depending on the level of ASL proficiency of prospective students. For students not proficient in ASL, they will be expected to take additional course work to develop the necessary level of proficiency expected.

Below are descriptions of how candidates of the program are prepared with the knowledge base that meets the New York State Education Department requirements for certification in the teaching of a foreign (second) language the candidates seek.

Students will learn about principles of learning processes in HUDK 4029, Human cognition and learning; adolescence education in HUDK 4023, Developmental psychology: Adolescence; and principles of teaching and diversity in student learning abilities and motivation in C&T 4005, Principles of teaching and learning.

Courses that provide knowledge on the history, society, and culture of American education, in which students will also familiarize themselves with the rights and responsibilities of teachers and other professional staff are ITSF 4010, Cultural and social bases of education; ITSF 4011, Social context of education; and A&HH 4070, History of education in the United States.

Students will learn about the community and culture of persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing in HBSE 4070, Psychosocial and cultural aspects of persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing and in HBSE 4075, Selected topics in ASL and Deaf community and culture.

In order to teach ASL as a second language, teachers would need to know its linguistic basis. In addition, students who take ASL as a second language presumably speak English as their first language. The teachers would also need to be knowledgeable in the linguistics of English. To these ends students will take the following courses: HBSE 4074, Linguistics of ASL and HBSE 4079, Language development and rehabilitation: The foundations.

Since teachers of ASL will be teaching it as a second/foreign language, it is imperative that they familiarize themselves with theories of learning a second language. To this end, they may take A&HL 4087, Introduction to second language acquisition as well as HBSE 4078, Selected topics: Second language acquisition of American Sign Language.

With regard to the theoretical principles of curriculum design, students will take C&T 4052, Designing curriculum and instruction. With regard to the teaching of ASL itself, students will take the following course in curriculum development and instructional design: HBSE 4076, Methods and materials in teaching ASL and Deaf community and culture. Grounded in teaching and learning is assessment of progress in teachers' teaching and students' learning, so the teachers will assess the success of their teaching and the achievement of students' learning. To this end, the students in the program will take HBSE 4307, Assessment in ASL and Deaf community and culture.

Field experiences, student teaching and internships

The M.A. practicum is an integral part of the M.A. degree. The program requires two semesters of student teaching. Each semester has field experience and student teaching components. The students in the program need to do field experiences and student teaching either in one secondary school or at two different schools. They may opt to do grades 7 through 9 classrooms in the first semester and then do grades 10 through 12 classrooms in the second semester or vice versa. The students will spend a minimum of 200 hours each semester, with 100 hours for observations and 100 hours of student teaching. During each semester of student teaching, students will register for HBSE 4711, Observation and student teaching.

In field experiences and student teaching courses, students will be provided with direct supervision and exchange of ideas and strategies for curriculum and instruction. In the field placements, it is expected that students will observe, evaluate, and tutor-teach to the degree appropriate to his/her level(s) of competence. Student teachers will develop and provide opportunities or interactions between Deaf and hearing students through social and cultural activities such as ASL Club and theatrical productions. Supervision will be provided regularly by the Program Director and/or a supervisor, as well as by master cooperating teachers who are carefully chosen on the basis of the quality of instruction they provide, their awareness and sensitivity to the competencies to be acquired by our students, and of their commitment to teacher preparation. The supervisor of student teaching will observe students in their student teaching for a minimum of three times per semester and discuss with the student teacher and the cooperating teacher on teaching techniques, assessment procedures, and development of materials and resources. The cooperating teacher will also provide daily feedbacks and support of the student teacher in their teaching.

These experiences in adopting the role of teacher-as-researcher/learner and completing their culminating research projects will be discussed in weekly on-campus seminars designed for student exchanges, program review, and problem solving related to actual instructional experiences. Students doing field experiences and student teaching will incorporate knowledge and skills in ASL and Deaf community and culture and pedagogy obtained from courses in the program. The notions associated with teacher-as-researcher/learner notions and methodologies are infused into the curriculum of field experiences and student teaching.

Proficiency in ASL at the Advanced Level is required before commencing student teaching and before graduation; students need to bring documentation such as Sign Language Proficiency Interview (SLPI) and American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI). Students who are not proficient in ASL at this level as measured by nationally-recognized assessments may need to take additional conversational ASL courses.

Child and substance abuse seminars

Students of the program will be prepared to instruct secondary students demonstrating a wide range of cognitive, social, and academic abilities. This involves respect for the secondary students, attuned to their health and well-being, away from violence and substance abuse. The students will take the seminars on child abuse, violence, and substance abuse. The Office of Teacher Education offers seminars in every semester on child abuse, violence, and substance abuse. Students are advised to contact the Office of Teacher Education for information on registering for the seminars.

M.A. Thesis

In addition, the students will need to identify pertinent issues of ASL teaching and/or Deaf studies, embark on a review of literature, formulate research questions and hypotheses, conduct data collection and analysis, and prepare an M.A. Thesis. The topics will be decided upon jointly by the student, the Program Director, and the Program Coordinator, with input from the master cooperating teacher, and should arise out of some classroom concern. Student instructional experiences in adopting the role of teacher-as-researcher/learner and completing their culminating research projects will be discussed in weekly on-campus seminars designed for student exchanges, program review and problem solving. Students will learn about the notion of teacher-as-learner/researcher in HBSE 4077 Teacher-as-researcher. The Master's research project will be completed during the final student teaching placement. It is intended that the quality of the paper will be such that efforts will be made to submit it for publication in such journals as Sign Language Studies and Sign Language and Linguistics.

In addition to course work and the research project, students will be expected to have direct experience with and an understanding of the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Deaf population within the local community. Experiences in Deaf community are available for the students to acquire ASL skills as well as cultural knowledge about Deaf people, their community and culture. Internships, field projects, and courses in conversational ASL are some of the opportunities that add to the flexibility of ASL language study at Teachers College. Activities such as weekend workshops, visiting lectures, and special mini-courses of two to eight weeks duration will be listed in semester bulletins; they provide a variety of special topics and skills for ASL language majors and teachers in the field. The following ASL literary societies hold their meetings, readings, and special events at Teachers College, enriching the cultural experience of ASL majors: American Sign Language Teachers Association, New York Deaf Theatre, New York City Civic Association of the Deaf, Black Deaf Advocates, and various social clubs such as Brooklyn Society for the Deaf and Queens Club for the Deaf.

In summary, students will obtain a firm foundation in linguistics and applied linguistics; anthropology; social and cognitive psychology; second language acquisition, instructional design, curriculum development, and assessment; and research methodology as appropriate to the notion of teacher-as-researcher/learner, among other skills and knowledge as they pertain to the language, community, and culture of persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing. They will become professionals who approach the profession of ASL teaching in a highly scholarly manner and the teaching of ASL as a contextualized, investigatory, cultural, and problem-solving event with learners who have a wide range of cognitive, social, and academic abilities. They will be able to function in the educational agencies within the immediate locality as well as throughout New York State and the nation.