A New Way of Experiencing American Sign Language and English
                ASL Tales
Reading Comprehension and ASL:  An Experimental Paradigm Drs. Rebecca Kennedy and Kathleen Ryan                      Unpublished Article May 2012                                                                                      Sign languages demonstrate that the auditory-vocal channel is not the exclusive channel for natural human language; sign languages, like spoken languages, utilize distinctive parameters that combine to create natural units.  The manual-visual modality of sign language, however, invites simultaneity in unit production/perception of units, whereas the units of speech are ordered in time.  This difference has no impact on learnability or efficacy, but it suggests a pertinent role for sign language in text comprehension instruction for young hearing children. Reading comprehension stands as one of the most pressing issues facing today’s educators.  Decoding instruction has benefited from one of the most successful research programs of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; advances in reading comprehension, however, are not commensurate.  The need for successful comprehension of complex texts is growing, yet comprehension outcomes are unacceptably low:  As text demands increase, students at all levels struggle to derive full meaning.  Here, sign language may make a contribution. Two aspects of text comprehension that challenge readers are the achievement of a text gestalt, and the derivation of implicit as well as explicit text meaning.  Rather than developing a gestalt, or big-picture, understanding of a text, some readers grasp only disparate details rather than a cohesive image of the whole.  Remedial programs designed to address this issue often turn to visualization techniques, and the insight behind such techniques suggests a special asset of sign language.  Sign language, with its visual-manual processing, is uniquely suited to a visualization approach to text comprehension, suggesting that sign language might support and enrich training in visualization for comprehension.  The challenge of implicit text meaning, moreover, involves the difficulty of inferring content that is not represented literally or explicitly:  of going beyond what is directly represented in order to construct full content.  The ensuing gaps in comprehension lead to incomplete meaning representations.  Here, again, the visual and simultaneous nature of sign language permits the linguistic encoding, in sign, of information that might remain unspecified in spoken or written language.  In this proposed study, sign language enriches reading comprehension instruction for hearing children.  ASL Tales, a reading series for young children that pairs an English-text picture book with an ASL rendition of the story on DVD, is used in a treatment condition:  The outcome in reading comprehension growth is compared to comprehension growth under traditional comprehension instruction.  The book-DVD pair permits the training of visualization strategies for gestalt comprehension.  The simultaneous encoding characteristic of sign language also permits details that are implicit in the English text to be explicit in the ASL presentation, so that the reader receives natural instruction in comprehension of text-implicit material.  In addition, the encoding of text prosody and tone as vivid visual facial and body gestures would benefit readers who struggle to interpret affect in text. The possibility that sign language can promote reading comprehension in hearing children is of significance to all those who consider current literacy outcomes.                                                                                                     
© ASL Tales:2015
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