What is the Signs of Literacy (SOL) project?

A picture of two children readingThe majority of deaf children are born or adopted into hearing, speaking families whose members do not know signed language, but these children need a visually accessible communicative and linguistic environment if they are to develop to their full potential. During infancy and their preschool years they need to progress developmentally at the same rate and achieve linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional milestones along the same timelines typically achieved by hearing children if they are to be prepared for the academic challenges in their futures. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the 21st century, most deaf children do not arrive at school ready to learn at grade level. And even for those who do-and these are typically the children of Deaf parents who are bilingual in ASL and English-most schools and teachers are not well-prepared to provide them with the kind of education that builds on their visual strengths and the bilingual foundation they have acquired at home.

The barriers to improvement are not insurmountable, but they are varied and numerous, including late identification of the majority of deaf children, negative attitudes and misinformation about Deaf people and their visual language and culture, lack of descriptive, longitudinal research on diverse deaf children, their families and their school environments, and lack of knowledge about the nature of Deaf bilingualism in home, school and community contexts, including the relationship of American Sign Language and English literacy. The Signs of Literacy (SOL) research was begun in 1993 at Gallaudet University in order to begin to address these gaps in the knowledge base. It is a collaborative effort between Academic Affairs and the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

Researchers include faculty, staff, and teachers from the Department of Education, the Clerc Center, and the Gallaudet Research Institute. Student researcher assistants are also on the team including doctoral students, M.A. students, and undergraduate students. Other team members include consultants. (See Meet the SOL Research Team.)

Two major research efforts are underway (see Projects). One is a longitudinal study of deaf children's ASL and English literacy development. The goal is to describe differing pathways to ASL and English literacy among diverse children in educational contexts where American Sign Language and English are languages of instruction. The second study is examining the implementation of the Star Schools Project training at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School.

To solve the technical challenge of working with hundreds of hours of video data as well as samples of children's work and other research documents, SOL has developed and is refining a custom software tool known as Video Portfolio (see Methods). It enables researchers to link any video segment to an array of written documents, to retrieve by precise time code or search engine, to conduct multi-level analyses of the activities and embedded interactions, and to do descriptive, categorical, or analytic work individually or as a team.

Currently, several papers are being prepared for presentation at conferences and for publication in scholarly journals and textbooks as well as in journals aimed primarily at teachers (see Publications and Presentations). In addition, a DVD and accompanying manual for teachers is being developed by the Clerc Center based on Lynne Erting's detailed analysis of book sharing with deaf and hard of hearing children in preschool classrooms. These video-based teacher materials are the first of several such products the SOL team plans to develop based on the findings of these two projects.

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