American Sign Language Curricula: A Review

Article excerpt

THE LAST TWO DECADES have witnessed growth in the number of schools that offer American Sign Language (ASL) for foreign language credit in secondary schools (Center for Applied Linguistics 1997; Welles 2002) and colleges and universities (Wilcox and Wilcox 1997; Wilcox 2010). In 1987 ASL was offered in 1 percent of the 1,650 surveyed U.S. secondary schools with foreign language programs, or 17 high schools, and, in 1997, 2 percent, or 33 high schools (Center for Applied Linguistics 1997). My own study shows that, in 2005, 701 public high schools nationwide were offering ASL for foreign language credit (Rosen 2008). The growth from 1987 to 2005 is thus more than 4,000 percent.

Along with the proliferation of ASL classes and programs in schools, the number of curricular materials developed and used by teachers has also increased. In my 2005 study, high school teachers were asked about the curriculum used in their ASL foreign language classrooms. I found that they use A Basic Course in American Sign Language (ABC); American Sign Language Phrase Book; Bravo ASL!; Learning American Sign Language (Levels I and II); Green B00L·: American Sign Language: Teacher's Resource on Cuniculum, Grammar, and Culture and Student Text; and the Vista American Sign Language Series: Signing Naturally.

The survey also found that teachers use a variety of curricular materials in class (ibid.). For the commercially prepared curricula, most of the teachers (83 percent) nationwide use the Vista curriculum, followed by the Basic Course book (49 percent) and the Green Books (30 percent). The Bravo ASL! and Learning American Sign Language curricula are reportedly used by less than 10 percent of the teachers. Since the survey, a new curriculum that was designed for secondary schools, Master ASL!, has appeared. There is no current information on its use by teachers. In addition, the survey found that, as of the 2004-2005 school year, both teachers and states varied in the curriculum they were using (ibid.). Nationally, about three-quarters of the teachers use more than one curriculum, and a quarter use only one. More than half of the teachers make their own materials. A little less than half of the teachers who do not develop their own curriculum use commercially prepared ASL curricula. The percentage of teachers who use each commercially prepared ASL curriculum varies. Different curricula tend to be concentrated in different states (ibid.). For instance, the Humphries and Padden curriculum is largely concentrated in California. The Bravo curriculum is used by a quarter of the teachers in Arizona and by half of the teachers in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The Green B00L· are used by fewer than half of Virginia and Washington state ASL teachers and a third of New York and Ohio teachers. The ABC curriculum is used by almost all of the Washington state ASL teachers, three-quarters of Arizona teachers, and more than half of Texas and Florida teachers.

That ASL teachers use different curricula suggests that they may not have an understanding of the theoretical, empirical, and pedagogical assumptions of the different curricula. The various ASL curricula subscribe to different linguistic and pedagogical underpinnings, which have changed over time. Some of the currently available ASL curricula endorse older ideas, while others employ fairly recent ones. The inconsistencies in these curricula raise questions about the teachers' understanding of the principles of and practices in second-language curriculum development and instructional strategies. Teachers, however, need to understand the ideas that guide the development of any particular course of study.

Some curricula focus on spoken second-language instruction. In a review of ASL curricula that are currently on the market, Kelly (2001) discusses various sign language materials such as dictionaries and actual programs of study. She focuses on texts that were published after i960 and provides an outline of the history of ASL curriculum development, proposing that it began with Riekehof's (1963) Talk to the Deaf and David O. …