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Young children learning and understanding number and mathematical reasoning using BSL

Collins, Judith M. (2007) Young children learning and understanding number and mathematical reasoning using BSL. Unspecified thesis, Durham University.



Deaf children whose preferred language is BSL are being taught mathematics and assessed in English (a second language for them). If deaf children are underachieving in mathematics, it is likely related to the fact that they are (often) not taught mathematics in their native/preferred language, BSL, or assessed in their native/preferred language. These children are either taught through spoken English, 'signs supporting English' (spoken English with the use of gestures and sign vocabulary borrowed from BSL but impoverished grammatically), or impoverished BSL. Some of these children are fortunate to be taught by teachers fluent in BSL, by Deaf native users of the language or fluent 2L BSL users. The majority of these children have parents who did not have knowledge of BSL when they were born and who often do not develop fluent BSL after their children are recognised as deaf. These children who are biologically suited to visual language development often acquire BSL through impoverished parental input, through contact with other children, from teachers (impoverished for some) BSL. Some of these children will be fortunate in having Deaf, native BSL user contact pre-school and through formal schooling. 40 years of research have shown sign languages of the world to be linguistically comparable to spoken languages: they are true languages. My hypothesis is that the children’s knowledge of BSL does support the development of the kinds of abstract reasoning involved in learning mathematics but that this is often not recognised or valued. This research focuses on children's use of BSL for counting and mathematical reasoning. I do this by looking at the literature and research on this area and use a recently developed BSL translation of a primary school assessment of mathematics. G. Tate, J. Collins and P. Tymms (2003). The approach of this study of learning mathematics by the use of BSL is from a linguistics perspective. Using randomly selected examples from previously translated (written English to BSL) assessment questions, this research explores the issues involved in translating such questions, and takes a detailed look at the linguistic features of BSL in relation to mathematics concepts. The dominant educational perspective for the education of deaf children is that success in the learning of mathematics (or other 'academic' subjects) is one which is valid only from its understanding through the use of English. Understanding achieved through the use of BSL is largely ignored or devalued. Children in the charge of these teachers and from research perspectives are often seen as having problems learning mathematics because of difficulties associated with using English. For example, Barham and Bishop (1991) list structures in English that have been found to create difficulties in learning mathematical ways of thinking. They list these as; conditionals, comparatives, negatives, inferentials, 'low information pronouns' and 'lengthy passages.' (Barham and Bishop p181). This exhibits an attitude of ignorance at the very least towards signed language. The whole approach of these and other authors is to take a blinkered look at learning through English as having difficulties because of deafness. Rarely if ever is learning through using sign language considered as valuable (invaluable) in its own right. '... the child is introduced to new and potentially confusing words, e.g. 'multiply' and rectangle.', Often there is confusion between words which might sound similar, especially to a child who is employing lip-reading, e.g. 'ten' and 'tenths,' 'sixty' and 'sixteen.' (ibid р 181) More recent research by Nunes and Moreno (1998) shows some evidence of how young BSL users can develop ways of thinking mathematically through the use of BSL but still conclude that,'...the nowadays common belief that the use of BSL in the home has compensatory effects on children's learning cannot be accepted without further investigation; (p253). Nunes and Moreno do, however, show that children using BSL do develop mathematical ways of thinking at a similar rate to children whose first language is spoken English even though they may be well behind as a group. Their focus is on cognition rather than language. The assessments they used were given in either English or translations into BSL or English with the use of gestures (which they term 'Sign Supported English'). But the actual use of BSL from a linguistic perspective is not questioned or a focus of the research. There is no record of what is signed to refer to, as there are records of English. BSL does not have a commonly used written form. They do not look into the way BSL grammatical constructions are linked to mathematical reasoning. They do not look into the way gestures used with spoken English may only aid communication in English. They have no interest in developing an understanding of BSL: the way numbers are signed, the way base ten counting can be achieved comprehensively, the way the spatial grammar of location and direction leads to the development of reasoning which includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I present a description of assessment questions in BSL in linguistic terms and discuss the grammatical structures in terms of their connections to mathematical ways of thinking (for example, as they relate to addition and multiplication and shapes) and therefore how fluency in and linguistic knowledge of BSL is desirable for teaching children whose preferred language is signed.

Item Type:Thesis (Unspecified)
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:33

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