"To preserve the fiction of homogeneity many people must be excluded, others must be silenced, and still others must be threatened or socialized into obedience."  Mary Ann Tolbert


Current Research Projects:
  • Adapting British Sign Language Tests into American Sign Language
    • Principal Investigator, SSHRC Insight Grant, $170,000, May 2012 - June 2014
The purpose of this project is to develop effective tools for monitoring the normative process of signed language acquisition in deaf children. The lack of standardized, norm-referenced assessment instruments to measure the acquisition of ASL skills in children is an enormous gap in both research and education concerning young deaf children and their development. This study will begin to fill this boid and meet the needs of teachers and researchers in rpoviding appropriat eeducational programming, monitoring and reporting, and enhance the credibility of ASL as a language of instruction in schools.

The ASL: Receptive Skills Test is now standardized and available (see link to Northern Sign Research website on the home page for details). Current work is focused on the adaptation of the Assessing British Sign Language Development: Production Test for use in ASL.
  • Visual Language Training to Enhance Literacy Development
    • Co-Investigator with Dr. Lynn McQuarrie, University of Alberta, Visual Language and Visual Learning, Gallaudet University, $164,000, January 2012 - December 2013
The purpose of this project links directly to the discovery that timing in development is critical by faciliating parents' signing skills to promote their children's ASL acquisition and visual learning. Early visual sensory experience can afford young deaf children with higher cognitive advantages to enhance social and academic development. This early exposure must begin in the home, and should include ASL and visually-based phonology to facilitate the acquisition of reading in English. The primary task of this project is to create play materials and instructional guides that encourage parents to learn ASL and engage their children with developmentally appropriate practices. Synergy with the ASL acquisition data from other VL2 studies provides the basis for instructional products to promote visual attention, phonology, and grammar. The translational significance of this study is the development of effective and engaging materials and activities for parents and children that are thoroughly grounded in research.

    Download 2013 Site Visit Poster here

    Link to VL2 Parent Information Website
  • Developing K - 12 American Sign Language Content Standards
    • Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, Gallaudet University (January 2011 - July 2012) $250,000
This project involves a collaborative team of researchers and educators from across North America to develop national standards that are both grounded in theory and practical.
Principal Investigator:
Dr. David Geeslin, Superintendent, Indiana School for the Deaf
Dr. Jenny Singleton, Georgia Technical University
Dr. Charlotte Enns, University of Manitoba
Dr. Robert Hoffmeister, Boston University
Dr. Melissa Herzig, University of California, San Diego
Mr. Todd Czubek, Boston University
Ms. Sarah Fish, Boston University
Ms. Gabrielle Jones, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne
Dr. Bobbie Allen, University of California, San Diego
Ms. Janice Warshaw, California School for the Deaf, Riverside
Mr. Patrick Costello, The Learning Center for Deaf Children, MA

Completed Research Projects:
  • Adaptating the British Sign Language Receptive Skills Test into American Sign Language
    • UM/SSHRC Research Grant Fund (May 2008 - June 2009) $6,777
In consultation with Dr. Ros Herman, City University of London and Dr. Bencie Woll, University College of London, I have completed the following steps to adapt their BSL Receptive Skills Test into ASL:
  1. Consultation with ASL sign linguists and adult native ASL signers to determine the suitability of test vocabulary, the suitability of a direct translation of each existing BSL sentence into ASL, whether the existing distractor pictures are viable alternatives for ASL users, and the need to add test sentences to reflect ASL linguistic constructions that are not currently included and to replace current BSL structures not represented in ASL.
  2. Development of new test items identified above.
  3. Redrawing of any culturally inappropriate images.
  4. Recording of new test tape in ASL, including test instructions.
  5. Piloting of translated sentences and new sentences on a sample of typically developing native signers within the recommended age range of 3 - 11 years, to determine the effectiveness of new items and developmental order of difficulty.
  6. Item analysis on newly developed items to determine any items that are too easy or too hard, ability to discriminate based on age, and developmental order of difficulty.
  7. Standardization on a larger sample to develop norms by age.

  • Early Education for Families with Deaf Children
    • SSHRC Research Development Initiative (February 2005 -   December 2007)        $33, 196
The purpose of this study was to gather information from stakeholders regarding the programs and services currently available for families of deaf children across Canada, including those that emphasize access to language through the introduction of a natural signed language (American Sign Language or Langue des signes quebecoise).  Information was gathered from professionals serving families with preschool deaf and hard of hearing children through written surveys (available both on-line and in hard copy).  Although numerous difficulties were encountered in the implementation of this project, including an inability to find research partners in all regions of Canada and a low response rate of completed surveys, important trends and future research directions were confirmed.  The preliminary findings suggest that significant needs continue to exist in the areas of early identification, grief resolution for families, assessment and instruction of signed languages, and the appropriate development of identity and self-esteem in deaf and hard of hearing children.  

Early Education for Families with Deaf Children - Final Report
download Final Research Report here
  • Determing the Efficacy of a Language Arts Curriculum for Deaf Students
    • SSHRC Standard Research Grant (September 2002 - May 2007) $63,000
The primary purpose of this study was to refine, implement, and evaluate an English language arts curriculum for Deaf students whose first language is American Sign Language (ASL).  The Manitoba English Language Arts curriculum was adapted by incorporating bilingual principles, visual language processing, and meaning-based literacy teaching strategies and was implemented in several elementary classrooms at the Manitoba School for the Deaf.  The implementation procedure was evaluated through videotaped observations, teacher interviews, and individual assessments of students' literacy skills.

The study findings clarified the strong relationship between language and literacy skills in ASL and English and the need to develop both at an academic, rather than simply conversational, level.  This relationship was not causal - the surface structures (phonology, morphology, syntax) of the two languages do not map directly onto each other, but one facilitated the other through the development of deeper structures (concepts, thinking skills, metalinguistic awareness).  In order for the Deaf students' knowledge of ASL to benefit their English literacy development, they were required to use ASL for higher cognitive functioning, within de-contextualized situations, and at a metalinguistic level.  These processes of analysis and evaluation were then applied to help them decipher the code of written English.

This study outlined a framework for a bilingual perspective of educating Deaf students and provided guidelines for the implementation of instructional programs (see document below). This research provides evidence that the potential exists through creative, effective, and high quality bilingual teaching to foster Deaf students with proficiency, or literacy, in both signed and spoken/written languages.  

A Language and Literacy Framework for Bilingual Deaf Education
download document here

Language Arts Activity Kits
download document here

  • Refining a Literacy Curriculum for Deaf Students
    • UM/SSHRC Research Grants Program (January 2002 - June 2003) $4,665
The primary objective of this study was the refinement of the Manitoba English Language Arts curriculum to meet the needs of Deaf students in a bilingual education program incorporating the use of American Sign Language (ASL) and English.  It was based on the premise that what disables Deaf people is not that they cannot hear, but that they cannot read and write.

The first stage of the project involved reviewing curricula from four existing bilingual educational programs for Deaf students.  These included the Star Schools Project (New Mexico School for the Deaf), the Swedish Schools for the Deaf, the Thomas Pattison School (Sydney, Australia), and the ASL Language Arts Curriculum from Edmonton Public Schools (Canada).  the common principles and issues underlying all these programs were determined and used as a basis for adapting the Manitoba ELA curriculum.

I presented the findings of this research at the Canadian Society for Studies in Education annual conference in Halifax in May 2003, and also at the David Peikoff Chair of Deafness Studies lecture I was asked to give at the University of Alberta in September 2003.  This study provided the framework for my SSHRC Standard Research Grant project from 2003 - 2007 evaluating the effectiveness of implementing the adapted curriculum with Deaf students.

  • Stories and Signs
    • UM/University Research Grants Program (May 2000 - April 2001) $3,375
There were two primary objectives for this research project.  The first was to select reading materials that were an alternative to highly structured basal reading programs but accessible to Deaf students in American Sign Language (ASL).  The second objective was to begin to assess the accuracy of these translations and their effectiveness in improving Deaf children's understanding of the stories.

The evaluation of the selected books and videotapes involved two procedures. The first was a content analysis to determine which features of the literature were preserved in the translations.  A panel of three experts assessed the equivalency of the ASL versions in serving comparable functions as the written texts.  It was determined that features, such as repetition and rhyme, can be made visual and be conveyed in ASL to assist the Deaf reader in making sense of the written words.  The second evaluation procedure was to investigate children's understanding of the books through both print and signed forms. Groups of students were presented with one of three possible version of a book: a) print version only (reading independently), b) spontaneously signed version (reading aloud by adult), and c) videotaped ASL version (video presentation). Following these presentations, students were asked to re-tell the story to assess comprehension.  The study showed that students were able to retell the stories with the greatest number of events and appropriate sequence and detail following the spontaneously signed version, but only when the adult was a native ASL user.  The videotaped versions yielded more complete re-tellings than non-native ASL signers's spontaneous version.  This study suggests that videotaped versions of stories/books in ASL can be effective materials for literacy development in Deaf children.  These materials may also be beneficial as tools for teaching parents to read with their Deaf children, or facilitating the development of ASL skills in teachers and non-deaf classmates or siblings of Deaf students.

  • Sign Talk Development Project
    • Health and Welfare Canada, Child Care Initiatives Fund (March 1992 - September 1994) $300,000
The purpose of this 30 month project was to study the bilingual and bicultural development of children attending Sign Talk Children's Centre (a bilingual daycare established by the Winnipeg Deaf community incorporating the use of American Sign Language and English). The project had four objectives:
  1. To assess the children's spoken English language skills
  2. To observe, record, and analyze the children's acquisition of American Sign Language (ASL)
  3. To train staff to implement bilingual and bicultural programming based on the assessment data collected
  4. To prepare a manual of guidelines and materials for implementing a bilingual and bicultural program with Deaf and hearing individuals.
The results of this project are summarized in the Sign Talk Development Project Final Report and the manual titled, "Discovering Through Signs and Words".  The ASL Development Checklist is also included in the manual.