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American Sign Language and Early Literacy

A Model Parent-Child Program

Kristin Snoddon

Publication Year: 2012

The usual definition of the term “literacy”generally corresponds with mastering the reading and writing of a spoken language. This narrow scope often engenders unsubstantiated claims that print literacy alone leads to, among other so-called higher-order thinking skills, logical and rational thinking and the abstract use of language. Thus, the importance of literacy for deaf children in American Sign Language (ASL) is marginalized, asserts author Kristin Snoddon in her new book American Sign Language and Early Literacy: A Model Parent-Child Program. As a contrast, Snoddon describes conducting an ethnographic, action study of the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose program, provided by a Deaf service agency in Ontario, Canada to teach ASL literacy to deaf children. According to current scholarship, literacy is achieved through primary discourse shared with parents and other intimates, which establishes a child’s initial sense of identity, culture, and vernacular language. Secondary discourse derives from outside agents and interaction, such as expanding an individual’s literacy to other languages. Snoddon writes that the focus of the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose program is on teaching ASL through rhymes and stories and some facets of the culture of Deaf ASL users. This focus enabled hearing parents to impart first-language acquisition and socialization to their deaf children in a more natural primary discourse as if the parents were Deaf themselves. At the same time, hearing parents experienced secondary discourses through their exposure to ASL and Deaf culture. Snoddon also comments on current infant hearing screening and early intervention and the gaps in these services. She discusses gatekeeper individuals and institutions that restrict access to ASL for young Deaf children and their families. Finally, she reports on public resources for supporting ASL literacy and the implications of her findings regarding the benefits of early ASL literacy programming for Deaf children and their families.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. viii-9

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pp. ix-11

My involvement with the field of ASL and early literacy is due largely to the support and inspiration provided by Joanne Cripps and Anita Small. The staff and board members of the Ontario Association of the Deaf have also provided me with myriad forms of support. I wish to convey special thanks...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-7

This book is about an American Sign Language (ASL) literacy program for Deaf and hearing parents and young children in Ontario, Canada. Underlying this subject are several different lines of inquiry. First, this book describes the present-day context of infant hearing screening and early intervention services for Deaf children...

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2. ASL and Early Intervention

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pp. 8-27

In hearing children, the development of English literacy is preceded by language skills including metalinguistic and phonological awareness, and by a broad first-language vocabulary and opportunities for verbal interaction (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Developing minority-language children’s...

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3. Discourse and Counterdiscourse

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pp. 28-36

As a system of being, a discourse concerns itself with particular matters and promotes certain ideas, perspectives, and values at the expense of others. In doing so, a given discourse will marginalize perspectives and values that are central to other discourses. Or, as Foucault (1972) argues, “Discourses . . . systematically...

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4. Research as Praxis

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pp. 37-46

As I planned my participatory action research study of the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program, I considered several factors. One of these factors was the pervasiveness of systemic barriers to young Deaf children and their families’ learning of ASL in an Ontario early intervention context. This issue overshadowed my study’s planning...

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5. ASL as Resource

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pp. 47-65

The issue of public resources for supporting the learning of ASL by Deaf children is central to this book. Every aspect of our program—its hosting, duration, participants, and setting—was affected by the lack of financial and institutional support from governments and public bodies for teaching and learning...

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6. A Deaf Cultural Space

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pp. 66-83

To argue that our program environment and activities provided a Deaf cultural presence, it must be clear what Deaf culture is and how it was manifest in this setting. Carol Padden and Tom Humphries note that they have “used a definition of culture that focused on beliefs and practices, particularly the central role of sign language...

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7. Facilitating Emergent ASL Literacy

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pp. 84-115

In the Deaf cultural space of our program, the role and contributions of Deaf and hearing parents became central issues. In addition to my observations of the program, several conversations and interviews with Jonathan allowed me to further study his role and goals as a program...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 116-119

The Deaf mother participants’ and program leader’s use of ASL rhymes and ASL literacy activities in the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose program work toward a definition of emergent ASL literacy in very young children. Two central parts of this definition are visual attentiveness and response...


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pp. 121-131

Author’s Note

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pp. 133-145


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pp. 135-142

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685286
E-ISBN-10: 1563685280
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685279
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685272

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 1 table
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 851153616
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Sign Language and Early Literacy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American Sign Language.
  • Sign language acquisition.
  • Early childhood special education.
  • Special education -- Parent participation.
  • Deaf children -- Language.
  • Children of deaf parents -- Language.
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