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.

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.

Winfred Bernhard Schaller: 90 today

Thirty 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 90 today 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.  Over 25 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.