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.