Does learning a Sign Language Orthography support Deaf children's bi-literacy development?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Graduate School of Education


This study will design and then run and evaluate an intervention based on Sign Language Orthography (SLO) for Deaf pupils in a special school setting. The research is both novel and original as it combines the fields of Deaf education and Applied Linguistics and explores a new area, transcribing Sign Language into a written form for educational purposes. It will develop a resource, which has the potential to be highly relevant to educators of Deaf pupils. It will impact on the educational achievements of deaf learners by targeting their bi-literacy development. Deaf learners have been widely documented as having poor educational outcomes and associated problems with mental health (Fellinger et al. 2012). The project is relevant to the strategic focus of the ESRC of Mental Health.

This study is innovative, requiring the development of an intervention using a SLO to Deaf learners. This proposal is based on my initial pilot of a Sign Language Orthography (SLO) to Deaf pupils in Deaf
education. In the pilot it was possible for Deaf learners to produce results using Sign Language Write (SLwrite) in a short time period. These encouraging results revealed that the pupils were able to encode
and process a short phrase using SLwrite, independently of my instructions.

In my initial pilot I observed Deaf pupils become active in their learning and captivated with the new concept of a SLO. It was seeing the Deaf learners explicitly begin to realise that they did have a language
that sparked my desire to explore this area further. The concept of a SLO is still at an emergent level within Deaf Communities with little research in the educational domain. This novel and ground-breaking
research has the potential to be significant for Deaf education, providing insight into both theory and practice for literacy learning for Deaf children.

I have established a partnership with a local special school, The Deaf Academy, Exeter, to identify a group of students who currently struggle to understand English in its written form. The co-principal of
the Deaf Academy has agreed a partnership with the literacy department to explore the idea of improving their deaf pupil's bi-literate skills.

My study would enable me to conduct an investigation to find out more about a Deaf child's bi-literacy potential (Flood, 2002) by using BSL in a written form (Grushkin, 2017, 1998), employing and introducing semantic skills. I would examine, within the context of cross-literacy, how using a written form of BSL might result in improvements in both British Sign Language (L1) and English (L2). Skyer & Cochell (2016) highlighted the relationship between American Sign Language (ASL) and Text-based English in multimodal academic discourse settings, which gave Deaf children, using sign language, a sense of an equal footing with other written languages (SIGNmatters, 2005). Additionally, Keogh (2013) reported that Deaf learners responded favourably to iconic writing systems that used characters resembling
handshapes, parts of the body, and movement. This research provides the evidence to suggest that using an SLO has the potential to improve Deaf children's language development (Voreck, 2014) and may have a long-term effect.

The overall aim is to explore whether Deaf children, if taught a representational, written form of their native visual-gestural sign language (L1), may better develop cognitive abilities in order to regenerate
literacy skills in their second language, English (L2), whilst also making gains in their first language British Sign Language (L1). This representational form of British Sign Language (L1) will be based on American Sign Language Write, known as 'ASLwrite' (Clark, 2012).


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2409842 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Matthew David Jenkins