ASLTales – Let’s Teach Our Children, Teach Ourselves, Change the World

I’ve been teaching English and American Sign Language, and learning how to be a better story teller.  Whether in education or in communities, stories are always better than just information giving. Multilingual stories include many more people and families.  If you would like an ASL Tales book/DVD set and/or ideas on how to use them with a variety of students, write me.  Let’s tell stories together.

Storytelling is the most powerful tool in education, and has been in cultures around the world, since the advent of language.  Indeed, language may be the result of the human need to tell stories.  Many scientists think that signing was the first human language.  If true, this would explain the fascination and the strong attraction to visual storytelling.

Experience is the best teacher.  Stories are vicarious experience; they allow us to experience through the storyteller.  Fairy tales and fables contain wisdom and group experience of our ancestors, that is, culture.  We are right in the midst of facing choices and problem solving with the characters.  Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  ASL Tales makes fairy tales accessible to children who have been traditionally left out.

Stories are student centered, engage affective and social intelligence as well as analytical thinking, and cross disciplines.  Educators for centuries focus on the need for narratives.  Although different terms have been used, such as: discourse analysis, whole language, or constructionism, they all point to stories.

ASl Tales is unique in providing frozen text, created to honor both languages, English and American Sign Language, at the discourse level.  In other words, ASL Tales honors the power of the story.  The writers and the signers are telling stories as if a hearing or Deaf child, respectively, were sitting in front of you. Each story is readily accessible, and present linguistically rich opportunities.  With spoken translations, hearing children, English speakers or English learners of many languages, can also access the ASL story, creating the additional benefits of  exposure to a new language, and learning through multiple senses.

By using two different languages, accessible at the same time, bridged by the illustrations, and spoken translations in up to ten different languages, ASL Tales’ multilingual storytelling reaches a much broader range of learners and levels.  Metalinguistic and metacognitive thinking* is triggered by the observable differences of the expressions of the two languages.  This helps struggling readers or English learners with decoding and comprehension.  More advanced students are challenged to see deeper meaning and can work inductively/deductively between languages.

These differences also relate to cultural differences as language and culture are always married.  The same story with different expressions encourages awareness of cultural differences, a springboard into more stories and multicultural discussions.  Two different storytellers with many translations is a needed message to include everyone in the classroom or family, regardless of differences.

By centering on the child, stories can address many disciplines or meet many standards at once.  By providing many languages and different sense modes, ASL Tales can include many more children.  How many disciplines and many levels and different  kinds of learners could be addressed could take a book to cover.  Let me, instead, simply open the door into the realm of possibilities of reaching many students and many objectives:

For young children or older kids who missed this important foundational skill, the identification of feelings is made easy with visual language.  Context in the visual story offers even greater accessibility to developing this skill, a prerequisite for self-expression, communication and empathy.

While it is fairly easy to see how a story could help a child with reading, for older children, and looking specifically at math standards, how could a story be relevant?  One Common Core Math Standard reads:

“When constructing viable arguments, students justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the arguments of others.”

The study and learning of literary objectives involving character development, points of view and prediction of plot outcomes, also contain the same skills needed to argue and justify conclusions.  Overlapping with both literature and math are the following social and emotional or relationship management skills:

Respect others (e.g. listen carefully and accurately);

Understand other points of view and perspective;

Identify social cues, verbal and physical, to determine how others feel;

Predict others’ feelings and reactions; and,

Manage and express emotions in relationships, respecting diverse viewpoints.

The above example shows the story’s ability to cross over from literature to math to interpersonal objectives. Einstein saw the power of fairy tales, the power of stories.  ASL Tales provides the power of multilingual stories to bring storytelling to children who are often left out.  Now we can tell stories to the whole village.


* Metacognition research shows (Louise Rosenblatt, 1978) Aesthetic, reader-centered, affective, interactive education, with an engaging personal connection, creates reader responses more than factual, text focused, informational cognitive presentation.

Winfred Bernhard Schaller – Born 95 Years AGO

Thirty-five years ago, my father called me into his room on his birthday when he always used to remind us that Beethoven was born on his birthday.  I ran to his bed quickly to wish him a happy 60th birthday, and to distract him from his pain. He died soon after.  He would have been 95 today (16th) had cancer not killed him.

I knew that day that his words and examples of love were precious gifts.  I remembered them and put them on bookshelves in my mind as if they were pretty rocks to look at now and then.  Twenty-five  years after his death, something happened that opened my eyes and heart.  Suddenly I saw that they were not merely pretty rocks; he had given me rubies and gems with infinite value.  He had shown me the power of love no cancer or army can defeat.

I could have told you an inspiring story or two or three from those days, when I decided to help my mother and father, after he became bed-ridden with cancer growing in his bones from his skull to his toes. However until recently, I never saw the whole story – the victory of love over pain and the highest goal a human can accomplish: choosing love and life, no matter what. “Susan,” he said, “It doesn’t matter how close death is, my job is not to choose to die, but to reach out to love and life.”  And, he did.  I never understood how much until I grew up enough to be able to see what he taught me.

One day, an event and the ensuing struggle brought me to a new place from where I could see better.  I could see my father in a new light.  Instead of telling you about one person who visited whom he helped, I suddenly saw a pattern I had never seen before.  Every person who entered his room, most of whom were fighting back tears and trying to bolster their courage to cheer him up, received gifts that cheered them.  I escorted tense, teary eyed people to his room, then escorted the same people back to the front door while they were laughing, smiling or relaxed and content. In three months, there was no exception, even at 7:00 am, after my father’s usual sleepless night full of pain. I had never seen the whole story because I had to grow to a place where I could see it.

My father chose to have just the minimal amount of morphine to take the edge of his pain, in order to be alert and able to live life as fully as possible.  He told me many times (and I never understood what he was telling me) how grateful he was for his pain because it continually reminded him of the present, and to be the person he had always wanted to be right now. “Susan,” he offered, “I don’t know [what will happen].  All I know is that love and life continue, and I must keep reaching out to love and life.”  When I could see the whole story, I saw a man racked with pain who never said one word of complaint, one word of self pity or one negative comment.  From a starved body that looked like a victim of a concentration camp, my father told me a story I didn’t understand for over twenty-five years.

What precious stories are we throwing away when we judge the teller or the culture and language of origin?  Every person’s story, every culture (a specific collection of stories) offers us gifts, opportunities of learning and growth.  Not understanding or valuing a story is a reminder to keep growing, and keep revisiting stories we don’t understand.

Design Thinking: Through Different Eyes will link you to information about an exciting conference.  Instead of speakers, there will be actors, interacting with all who show up.  We all affect each other, changing minds, opening hearts, allowing greater insights, understanding and growing.  If you scroll down or jump around the site, you will see my passion for sharing stories, of all kinds, in different languages, in order to encourage us to connect, to see through different eyes.

We need stories and to share our stories.  Experience, it is said, is the best teacher.  Very probably it is the ONLY teacher.   We go to conferences to confer, to bear with someone through his or her story.

We are our stories, and I am grateful for yours.  Your story shows me more of me, and how I am connected to you, and all of life.

The stories I can share  – The Boy Who Cried Wolf – accessible through many languages – and A Man Without Words, the book or the short documentary on a DVD, are yours.  Write me and send me your address and I will send them to you.  Or, join us in Amsterdam at the end of this month, and we can share some stories in person.

More after I check on the boiling beans, chop some vegies, and look for more food to add to my stone soup.  Keep coming back, as I add some new posts, now that the gardens have been put to bed for the winter.

The Unexpected Change – Ann’s Story Becomes my Story

Each day was no longer a struggle when Ann, my roommate, gave up fighting her disability.  As Ann accepted who she is, limitations and warts, she began to live differently, seeing life as life is, not what she wanted.  People began to look different, more interesting, more varied, and not like Ann’s ideas which did not grow or change readily.

Ann told me her secret to life one day.  “Susan,” she began slowly, before she had completely swallowed her first bite of toast, “I no longer raise my fist to the new day, begging for “it/this/me/you” to be different.  I changed one day when, instead of my usual complaints and self absorption, I saw the green grass, heard the traffic below me and the children laughing on the playground behind me, felt the breeze, and the ground under my feet, all at the same time, vividly.  I felt life in me, around me and through me.  It was  exhilarating, although as fleeting as a snowflake on an open palm.”

“The next morning,” Ann continued, no longer interested in her toast, “I woke with my usual black mood, then stopped, remembering all the life I had experienced in that one moment.  I looked out the window to the clouds and the blue openness, and whispered, “thank you.”   I did not think or care what the “you” pointed to.  Thank you, blue.  Thank you, cloud. Thank you, new day.  Thank you, Life. That morning was the beginning of the best day I had ever had.”

Ann, with her black hair still and shiny resting on her shoulders, sat motionless, gazing into the garden, into its summer lushness, out our kitchen window.  She was so relaxed that she, her chair and her coffee cup all were one seamless picture.  Her peace and joy were contagious, and I felt myself merging with the morning sun.

Weeks and months went by as I watched Ann grow and change, becoming more Ann, more alive.  It was as if an Ann light had turned on inside of her, shining everywhere.  I was honored to be a witness to her transformation, inspired to reach, to stretch, to find my own light.  I found myself worrying less, holding on a little longer to a real moment, free from floating fear of bills due or mistakes I predicted or remorse at that remark that escaped last night, free from fear of everything.  Ann taught me how to enjoy a piece of toast.

Then I moved to N. Idaho and began missing fresh avocados and friends and familiar streets, and more variety of ages, colors, clothing, and attitudes.  I struggled to fit in, to find a friend, to remember which way to turn to get to the grocery store.  It’s the struggle and the beginning of self pity that reminded me of Ann.  Because of Ann, I looked up and saw the blue sky, remembering to be grateful for the colors around me.  I noticed the green, reds, oranges, purples, grays and nameless shades in the trees and mountains.  If I looked, I saw beauty in every direction.

Ann’s story of transformation led to changes in me and my life, as stories always do, in minor or major ways.  I gave up the struggle, and breathed in some lovely clean air.  I began to walk and talk and act as if I belonged, instead of missing fresh avocados.  I discovered, instead, some tasty food at a quality grocery store that catered to all kinds of stomachs and needs.  One day I tried a brand new dish made with N. Idaho wild cilantro.  I fell in love.  I never knew such a plant existed or such a taste.  I’ve decided to stay in N. Idaho as long as possible, hoping to feast on wild cilantro as many days as I can.  Good- bye, avocados.  I love you, Cilantro.