ECE Bilingual Conference Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I was excited to share some of what I learned about technology and using ASL eBooks.  Well, if you like the good, old fashioned paper book, have no fear!  Drs. Jean Andrews and Damara Paris from Lamar University, shared their team's research findings from the Alabama Emergent Literacy Study.  They focused on the "Adapted Little Books."

Below is only a small portion of their presentation.  There is so much information that goes beyond my knowledge, so I will direct this blog to parents of deaf emergent readers.

As a homeschool mom, I'm very familiar with "little books."  We personally used Sonlight's own Fun Tales with my three hearing kids. (example)  You may be familiar with Bob Books.  The Alabama study used these 20 Little Books.  These "little books" are usually 6-7 pages, use high frequency words, have a close picture-word match,  and use short phrases to tell a whole story.  It was recommended that parents and teachers use books with subject matter familiar to the child.  Bedtime, reading, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or going to school are all familiar topics for a pre-reading child. 

These books are "adapted" by being copied and enlarged so that the adult ASL reader can show the book while reading.  If you aren't familiar, it's best to have a stand for the book so that both languages (English and ASL) are always visible.  The book can remain open to the current page, yet your hands are free to sign, expand, point, discuss!

A few key points made during the presentation were that: Literacy begins at birth, is inner-directed (children construct their own meanings of print based on background and personal experience), begins at home, is a social experience, and is based on holistic instructions with whole stories.

Parents, especially we hearing parents, must also constantly remind ourselves of what their study proved: Reading acquisition for some (I would say most) signing deaf children is qualitatively different than that for hearing children.  When we first brought home the boys and began reading to them, I had to fight my instinct to read to them and teach them letters and words in the same way I taught my three hearing kids.  When reading to the deaf child, it is critical to include ASL/English bilingual strategies such as translation, fingerspelling, expansions and chaining.  Over and over again this weekend, presenters shared their research showing that fully translating the story into ASL, expanding, and telling about the illustration, proves beneficial to the deaf emergent reader.  Fingerspelling certain individual words was also a key to literacy.  

So, what if you are a hearing parent who is not yet fluent in ASL?  Go download some of the eBooks mentioned in my last blog.  Also, you can record other Deaf adults (pick those who are confident in their ASL storytelling skills) reading a book, then watch the video with your child.  Parents can collaborate to build their own ASL eBook library, saving the files in Google Drive or Dropbox. (Thanks again, Adam Stone, for that idea!)  If you don't know any Deaf adults, contact your state school for the Deaf and find mentors. Ask for resources.  Use social media.  There are so many Deaf adults out there who are passionate about literacy for young emergent Deaf children.  You WILL find the resources you need. 
So, how often should you read to your kids?   Lots of reading is good, but you don't have to make each reading experience a Shared Reading Experience. In the Alabama study, the children were read to 60 minutes, twice per week.  Each teacher would follow a specific order of tasks during their reading of the story: 
  1. ASL translation (either signing it face-to-face or having the deaf children watch an ASL translation on video)
  2. read English with signs and fingerspelling 
  3. children recite stories in ASL 
  4. children draw pictures of the story 
  5. children write, labeling the drawings
  6. use ASL to describe drawing and writing
Andrews and Paris also reminded us of the importance of other literacy-builders for your classroom and home.  
  • ABC fingerspelling chart
  • ASL handshape chart (My kids have had the most fun with this chart!)
  • Sign-to-print matching (label everything in your house with the English word as well as the sign.)
  • Sign-to-number matching (the written digit, word, and signed number)
  • Spend time signing read-alouds of more complex books and good children's literature
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go read to my kids!



  1. Thanks for this series, it has been so helpful in helping me understand how to scoffold emergent literacy using ASL. Our daughter is not Deaf, but she is speech impaired and uses ASL as her only expressive language. As a hearing person, reading in ASL is something I have no experience with. The link to "15 Principles for Reading to Deaf Children " is very helpful - thank you!
    Our daughter's case is a bit different, since she is hearing. I have always read a lot to her, signing a little, and she loves that, but I have noticed that she has picked up a lot of ASL when I translate a book into ASL. Now we can engage in dialogue about the books we read, because she knows how to sign about them.

  2. Thank you for the Handshape Chart I needed one for my mom.

    On the Gallaudet article "Deaf readers are not constrained by the text" That is something I do all the time: elaborate as much as possible. I'm a hard of hearing mother of a Deaf child. He just turned one, and I also have a hearing son. But its a challenge reading together. My six year old is stubborn and wants me to read in English. ASL and English are not easily combined as you know, and anyway I cannot incorporate the important facial expressions and grammar in ASL by speaking English.
    Wondering what you might recommend? For now i just read to them exasperatedly or else give the baby a book to look at on his own while I read to my hearing son.


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