2015: A New Year, New Day, New Post and Planning Meet Up

Happy New Year, ALL.   We are already beyond a dozen days of 2015.  Counting time (I learned from the once languageless man, Ildefonso) is so arbitrary.  Everyday is new and we can begin again, and any time in the day, we can begin yet again.  Who will I be today?  According to the Buddha, I am what I thought yesterday.  Let me share with you the mission stated from the beginning of this web site:

We are our stories.

Every language carries a collection of stories, that is, a culture, a unique perspective. SusanSchaller, et al. uses storytelling’s power to connect people and teach us about ourselves. We work toward including everyone by bringing together stories from many languages, cultures, and through different senses and media. Our work is sharing and making new stories out of every person’s story, to complete our story and ourselves.

The most important bit of the above mission is “et al” – “and others.”  Of course I or one person could not do the above.  I need all of you to add your stories, languages/cultures and personal experiences/insights.  I can begin.  I can offer my experience, my culture, and the gifts of windows into others’ stories, languages and cultures, and, even, the window into a “languageless” man’s world who changed my life, and brought me to this place, time, and sharing with you.  Hopefully, A Man Without Words, the book and/or the short documentary, inspires and/or engages you, encouraging you to add your story, your perspective, to offer another story that inspires, engages and encourages another, then another, connecting us in a chain of stories, using our differences and diverse “clothing” to unite us in the universal truth: we are a “we,” not “I” and “I” and “I.”

I can begin with what I thought/think is a good idea.  I traveled, and am traveling to individuals, teachers, parents, students, and general audiences to demonstrate a multilingual storytelling tool – a book/DVD set.  Up to 10 different translations can be chosen as conduits to the masterful written English storytelling and visual “Deaf” storytelling of American Sign Language.  But, all I can do is show you, and tell you how I think it can be used for teaching empathy, multiculturalism, reading, writing, communication and a love for learning.  Then you need to use it, experiment, add your ideas and tell me and others your success stories – how it helped five-year-old hearing Cathy to read, Alexis to identify emotions, or José to understand English better (or how your hearing students saw that signing isn’t just vocabulary, and their fellow Deaf students taught them about visual communication, giving them insights into their own language).

Inherent in any mission are the goals.  In the above mission, storytelling unifies, accepting others’ and their stories includes, and teaching through others’ stories brings us to understand ourselves.  These goals are, however, as elusive as the mission, if they are not translated into specific objectives: the specific ways, and the targets, players and tasks. I am only one player, and I failed to do anything this last year.  There were successes, and they always included other players, a team, an “et al.”  We attained something.   Invite me to your town, home, school or community group so we can work together and make more progress.

According to Buddha, I am what I thought yesterday.  My mission statement of yesteryear included you all, but many times I acted on what I thought was a good idea, and leaped ahead without you.  Today, I would like to think of me with you – a team. If today, I think as a “we,” tomorrow we will be together.  Please join me in 2015, in team building to build a community that includes everyone and all stories.  Help us plan better objectives, better ways of connecting, to encourage us all through our stories.

The meeting is now open.  We look forward to reading your response in the “reply” box below, AND to your contribution as a blogger on this site.  The name “susanschalleretal.” makes no sense without you.  Your response below is private until it is approved for the site, so you may also write me privately with any feedback, suggestions or if you would like a book, DVD or multilingual ASLTale book/DVD set.

Announcement:  If you have any Deaf (or CODA) theater or ASL consultant friends, please refer them as we – a Deaf/hearing team – are working on a bilingual/bicultural play to premiere this summer, in Boone, North Carolina.



The Doom of Division; The Bloom of Union

Greetings, after traveling and false starts with guest blog posts, and the whirligig of time.

I just came back from a whirl of gigs in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana.  So many people gave me so much; I am a much richer person – rich with stories, and the connections they make.

We are all rich with our stories. Every person and culture carries a collection of stories—a unique perspective. Storytelling connects humans and teaches us about our humanness. Sharing my Berkeley and Susan stories and learning Louisiana stories from hundreds of people helped us all make new stories, as we grow our story.

This growing – blossoming – with sharing is so evident, and, yet, our society has so many messages of individualism with its fear, greed, competition and illusions of what is “success,” we easily forget.  I met linguists, playwrights, educators, speech pathologists, psychologists, English professors, parents, students, construction workers, ecologists, a physicist and a kyaker.  They all had great stories, but often told them to each other, in the same field, the same department or to people who looked like them.  We know growing hundreds of acres of the same plant is not as healthy as different crops together.  How can we encourage people to cross the hall or walk to another building or eat in a different part of town, so we can share our stories, our knowledge, our skills, ourselves with others, and grow?

Recently, I read many research articles from cognitive scientists and linguists, about the physicality of spoken language.  Within a week, a kindergarten teacher was telling me about how using movement in her class helped many students learn better.  She heard this from another teacher who heard it from another teacher who had taken a workshop where it had been mentioned as a way to help restless kids who couldn’t sit still.  If the cognitive scientists walked down the hill and gave a short lecture to teachers at a workshop, their research stories could show how movement helps all learners, even the ones who sit still, because of the way our brain is wired.

Two days ago, I met a cognitive scientist who runs a research lab where a physical language, American Sign Language, is used to study how it affects the brain and learning.  His subject is in a closet never opened by the cognitive scientists studying spoken language.  I could describe many other examples, but you all probably have many in your heads, already.  We need bridge builders, and many bridges.

Bridge building takes bravery.  People get comfortable on their islands or with their familiar closets.  They, sometimes, see bridge builders as invaders. Louisiana stories were not all good.  The unspoken one as a result of history, between people of light skin and those with darker skin, unnerved me more than once.  I attempted many times to bridge a wide gap, and received strong messages to stay away.  I noticed how a light skinned man went through a crowd of darker persons to reach me of lighter skin, to ask me a question about a bus.  Most likely, those he past had the answer as they lived in the area.  By approaching someone he perceived as more like him who was from out of town, he lost.  Had he built a bridge to share with an “other,” he would have been rich with the information he sought.

Ironically, my trip was for bridge building. I was in Louisiana to share a new, short documentary, by Zack Godshall, of A Man Without Words.  People loved the film.  I only received positive comments.  Ildefonso, the man, once without any word or sign, born profoundly deaf, and of dark skin, would not have been visited or approached by many who saw the film. However, they loved him and many were moved to tears.  Thank you, Zack, you brave bridge builder.  Your film unites a chasm, deep and broad, which few have crossed. Last week, you united hundreds of viewers in Louisiana to a once languageless Mayan, and I heard from many of them that they felt more human.

Gesturing at Meanings

by the first brave guest blogger, Root Barrett

Isn’t it interesting that people think English is a spoken language?

Watch two able-bodied people talk to each other in English sometime. Note the use of their hands and faces to communicate. Keep track of the number of times a meaning would be completely lost if they were talking with masks on and hands at their sides.

The gestures and facial expressions involved in communication are critical. Think about the last time you tried to figure out what someone meant by what ze wrote in an email (or a blog post!). Before we know how to take a snarky comment, we need to know whether it was made with a sneer or a smile. Emoticons are one response to this need. As we communicate more and more on screens, we’ve begun to find ways to put our faces in the text.

Maybe this is what makes ASL Tales such a great bridge into literacy. In your average children’s book, there are pictures, certainly, but the only language included is words! Nobody speaks that language. Learning to read is learning a strange, counter intuitive dialect, a sub-English that we have to translate into and out of. In a way, what ASL Tales does is take the written word and bring back missing puzzle pieces: the human face and hands.

Some form of signing is important to almost all of us. Perhaps the most beautiful example is two people who don’t share a language. When they communicate, they will reinvent language from the ground up, and they will probably do it by creating iconic signs. They will mime the world to one another.

I would think that language began that way, and that the impulse is still there, tucked into the way we talk to one another. Different languages have their own special sets of facial expressions and gestures, and those signs can’t be taken away without impoverishing the language as a whole. All languages, in short, are sign languages. What Deaf people have done is create pure sign languages, systems of signing richer than most of us semi-signers can imagine.

Language Learning and Connecting with Storytelling

Welcome to a web site dedicated to language, sharing, learning, connecting and storytelling.  Making and strengthening connections is community building.  Let me know any of your ideas, resources and stories that can improve this site, its content, friendliness and helpfulness.  We are the community, the village, for mutual support for teaching our children, each other and building stronger ties.

Contact me, if I can help you with your specific education project related to language, reading, multilingual/multicultural connections or social service / advocacy work.

Tell me what you need, related to A Man Without Words – the book or film – or workshops on Teaching with ASL Tales, a multilingual fairy tale using the power of visual language or Vital-Signs, an introduction to ASL and non-verbal communication or however I may be of service.