ASL as an Academic Subject

The K-12 ASL Content Standards are developed with the assumption that deaf and hard of hearing children begin to acquire ASL at birth or soon after as their first language and arrive at school ready to learn ASL as an academic subject. The Standards are thus designed to promote children’s: a) continued learning of ASL (in both expressive and receptive signing); b) ability to analyze the structures of ASL at all linguistic levels; c) enhanced comprehension and production of ASL; d) ability to create and analyze ASL texts; and e) greater proficiency in ASL that results in higher-order conceptual thinking, critical literacy skills, and more refined analytical skills. These skills are foundational to learning not only language but other subjects as well.

ASL literacy includes language use in: a) spontaneous face-to-face contexts, b) planned live contexts, and c) deliberately video-recorded forms. Initially described by Gee (1989), ASL literacy includes discourse proficiency, recognizes both “oral” and “written” forms of text, and draws from and can be applied to a vast range of skills required of successful students (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, linguistic, productive, interpretive, evaluative skills.).

In addition to reflecting the parallel development of signed and spoken languages, the Standards address the visual aspects of ASL that make it different from spoken language. Every effort has been made to maintain a parallel and equitable alignment between the K-12 ASL Content Standards and the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (CCSS ELA).

The difference in modality between ASL and English has significant implications, especially as this difference applies to how each language is taught and used in school. The separation between a) speaking and listening and b) reading and writing has consequences in terms of how language instruction and related activities are realized in academic programming.

ASL is among the world’s many languages that do not have a written form. Its modality does not change whether producing spontaneous or planned and recorded versions of ASL text. The advent of digital technology, however, allows the capturing, composing, reviewing, editing, analyzing, and publishing of ASL; technology allows ASL literacy.

Reconciling the difference between attaining literacy in signed and spoken language requires terms and strategies be reconsidered. Literacy, literacy tools, and the nature of texts differ in English and ASL, but the terms discourse and presentation, viewing, and publishing have application in both languages.