A New Way of Experiencing American Sign Language and English
                ASL Tales
© ASL Tales:2015
Multiculturalism and ASL Tales Drs. Rebecca Kennedy and Kathleen Ryan Because multiculturalism is increasingly valued in the United States, educators are recognizing the crucial need for multiculturalism in the classroom.  A multicultural approach not only acknowledges the diversity in contemporary American society but also supports critical thinking growth, self-esteem, and moral development.  These effects of a multicultural education are especially apparent when children read multicultural literature.  When children read about the experiences of same-culture peers, their own cultural identification is strengthened; when children read about other cultures, they gain an awareness of common humanity in characters from African, African American, Native American, Asian, and Latino backgrounds. The Deaf community, too, offers a rich opportunity for multicultural education but has been underrepresented in multicultural offerings.  That community has a well-defined and highly developed identity that is expressed through the Deaf community’s language system:  sign.  The sign languages used in Deaf communities use the manual-visual rather than the auditory-vocal channel but exhibit the same structural complexity as does any natural language.  Picture books portraying Deaf characters, however, tend to pathologize Deaf community members rather than portraying them as positive models (Golos, Moses, and Wolbers).  In this regard, American Sign Language (ASL), as the American Deaf community’s language, can play a special role. Research by Gee and Heath suggests that language features of literary offerings can offer special insight into a culture, and we see this opportunity for multicultural insight in ASL Tales, a reading series for young children that pairs an English-text picture book with an ASL DVD of the story.  Rather than presenting, as does typical multicultural literature, a standard English narrative about characters from nonstandard cultural groups, ASL Tales provides, on each ASL DVD in the series, a sampling of the language of Deaf culture.  For an English-speaking child who does not know sign, the ASL presentation of the English text is nonetheless accessible on various levels; hearing children are introduced in meaningful and engaging ways to Deaf language and culture.  Children who are unfamiliar with ASL are engaged by ASL text because of the vivid and visually dramatic effects of the language, and the distinctive language and cultural features of the ASL presentation of the narratives add diversity to children’s literature experiences.  In classroom discussion, moreover, children’s attention can be drawn both to the special features of Deaf culture that are apparent in its narratives and to the evidence of universal humanity in culture-specific ASL forms.  High-quality multicultural literature is integrated into classroom curricula in order to help children both to value culture distinctiveness and to understand shared humanity across cultures.  These critical goals of multicultural education are addressed through the multilingual texts of the ASL Tales series, affording a unique approach to multiculturalism in the classroom. Works Cited: Gee, James Paul.  “A Sociocultural Perspective on Early Literacy Development.”   Handbook of Early Literacy Research.  Ed. Susan B. Neuman and David K. Dickinson.  New York:  The Guilford Press, 2003.  30-42.  Print. Golos, Debbie B., Annie M. Moses, and Kimberly A. Wolbers.  “Culture or Disability?  Examining Deaf Characters in Children’s Book Illustrations.”  Early Childhood Education Journal 40 (2012):  239-249.  Print. Heath, Shirley Brice.  Ways with Words:  Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1983.  Print.