Too many Deaf and Hard of Hearing students have graduated high school with language proficiencies (ASL and English) well below those expected of their grade levels. For over 30+ years we have struggled to find a system of instruction that works and, unfortunately, outcomes have not changed. This curriculum rethinks everything we have been doing and offers a new, comprehensive way to address grammar instruction.

We were teachers who faced the same challenges, and felt the same frustrations. We knew that we could, and must, do a better job because something about the system just didn’t make sense. So, we went to work to figure out what it was that made instruction so ineffective.

After many years of teaching, consulting and working with Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing students, we put together all the ideas and approaches that were successful and organized them into a single resource that we wish we had when we were teaching. We firmly believe that when teachers follow this (for both ASL and English instruction) we will see exciting changes in our
instruction, and in student outcomes.

This curriculum is for anyone interested in a comprehensive approach to teaching Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) children the rules for ASL and English grammar. Though designed for implementation in a school setting, others can also use it in various ways.

When it comes to grammar instruction, teachers have historically borrowed incompatible materials (those designed for hearing students) or they have taken it upon themselves to generate individual resources for their class. If you carefully consider all that an individual must know in order to create appropriately sequenced ASL and English objectives, it becomes clear what a monumental expectation this is. Teachers, without the requisite knowledge base or appropriate training, have shouldered this responsibility… and they are, all too often, dissatisfied with the results.

Designing grammar instruction requires comprehensive knowledge about the linguistic structure of both ASL and English, a thorough understanding of how DHH children with unique, visual orientations learn, as well as expertise in curriculum design (e.g. hierarchy of skills, appropriate sequencing, task analysis to determine underlying proficiencies for each goal, etc.). Understandably, most teachers have not had this level of in-depth training. As a result, they resort to using the grammar resources that are readily available, which means
“tweaking” existing English curricula which are limited in accessibility, applicability and appropriateness.

Attempting to adapt or “tweak” grammar curricula designed for hearing children, however well intentioned, ignores an important assumption inherent in the design of those materials; hearing children arrive at Kindergarten with a full range of knowledge about English. This means that grammar instruction is really about practicing what they already know. These grammar lessons are generally “shallow,” consisting of exercises where students perform simple, explicit tasks (e.g. circling the correct tense of a verb in a given sentence). In marked
contrast, DHH children need a curriculum that focuses on learning how grammatical elements work. This requires an approach that builds meta-linguistic awareness about the mechanics of language, as well as a mindfulness about how to access both ASL and English.

Instead, grammar instruction for DHH children has often been characterized by haphazard, disconnected lessons about random skills. Teachers have been frustrated, and despite their best intentions, students’ independent grammar outcomes have been mixed at best. The Bilingual Grammar Curriculum is intended to free up teachers from the overwhelming responsibility of curriculum development and allow them to use their skills to construct creative lessons based on a thoughtful, clearly articulated framework.

The sequence of instruction is based on the concept that successful learning takes advantage of moving from the “known to the new.” The framework laid out in this curriculum is characterized by small, sequential steps that build on previous skills in complimentary and comprehensive ways. This spiraling approach guarantees success at each step with each objective serving as the foundation for the next.

The order of topics in this guide does not follow standard approaches to grammar instruction. Instead, the sequence takes advantage of ways children can understand the structure of a visual language. This is important because the elements of a visual language can be both concurrent and linear. It must be noted that grammar instruction is hard enough in a first language; therefore, we propose starting with instruction in, and about, a modality that is fully accessible (ASL) and then moving to commensurate topics in English grammar.

Building bridges between a visual language (such as ASL) and one that is exclusively linear (such as English) requires rethinking historical approaches to grammar instruction. It requires adopting alternate perspectives that take into consideration the experiences of the children we teach. We propose that grammar instruction be based on appropriate assumptions about the children we teach and that it takes into account each language’s structural principles.

Ours is a curriculum that moves from macro levels of information to the inner working or micro levels of grammar rules for both ASL and English. This helps to build appropriate foundations so that the intricacies of grammar happen in an appropriate, accessible context. Finally, and most importantly, we have designed the objectives and specific sequencing to ensure that DHH students are successful each step of the way.

Our expectations are that ASL and English teachers use this resource to encourage the development of metalinguistic awareness. In other words, teachers should promote opportunities for students to use language as they learn about language, its structure and the various potential applications it can have.

We know that the language acquisition and language learning experience of many DHH children has often been characterized by incomplete and inaccessible models. This guide is structured so that the principles of a visual language (ASL) are organized in a coherent and hierarchical manner. DHH students can leverage this foundation as they apply what they know about ASL to English grammar rules. In this way, the often challenging nature of grammar instruction is diminished because of an innovative and thoughtful coordination between ASL and English.

Language Arts instruction for both ASL and English includes expectations for focusing on grammar, comprehension, composition as well as vocabulary development. Our intention is that 20 minutes be allocated for the daily grammar instruction portion of Language Arts. Each objective is written in performance-based terms so that a teacher can effectively complete each element in a focused and assessable manner. While some objectives may take more than one session, our goal is for teachers to keep within the time frame suggested. We want to
maximize instructional time by focusing on clear and manageable objectives that minimize gaps in grammar development.

Staying The Course- It is tempting to worry about exceptions, especially the various and sundry features of English that we feel students “should” know or learn. How ever, we urge users of this curriculum to stay the course. The design and sequence is inten tional. It builds toward a comprehensive mastery of the grammar of both languages.

I noticed that Level One only includes 5 areas
(i.e. Sentence Components, Nouns, Adjectives, Adverbs and Verbs). Why?

The guide is based on the concept that building a strong foundation is essential. Those elements of grammar highlighted in Level One are indispensable for successful learning of the more complex features that will naturally follow as students progress through the Levels. The introductory level (i.e. Level One) includes approximately 130 performance-based objectives that are intended to be completed in a school year. It’s worth reinforcing that each of these objectives builds on one another to create a foundation that makes later instruction
accessible and successful.

I am worried that my students don’t know
how to use “is” and “the” yet. When is that addressed?

In order to fully understand state-of-being verbs and determiners, numerous prerequisites skills must be in place. Typically, DHH students have been given grammar exercises that rarely result in consistent and appropriate internalization of rules for later independent use. Instead of hoping that children will learn these rules without the necessary prerequisites, we urge teachers to maximize instructional time and honor the integrity of the sequence. It is worth noting that it is our goal for students to master topics such as “state-of- being” and
determiners for a lifetime of independent application.

Should I expose kids to concepts and rules that we haven’t taught
(e.g. We haven’t talked about state-of-being verbs yet
but can I write English sentences using “is”?)?

Yes, by all means we want you to always model correct written English. However, the focus of instruction should be on the topics outlined in the curriculum. We don’t want to disrupt the complementary progression we have laid out. Having students focus on rules and structures that are tangentially related, or that we assume can be memorized have, historically, been ineffective approaches.