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Leadership in Developing New AQs

Supporting student success in learning language skills and cultural competencies is at the heart of guidelines for American Sign Language and Langue des signes du québécoise.

by Lisa van de Geyn
Photo: istock

Teacher and student communicating with sign language.

Heather Gibson, OCT, is an education officer at Ontario's Ministry of Education in the Curriculum, Assessment and Student Success Policy Branch. She's has participated in several AQ development initiatives including Teaching Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and ASL (American Sign Language) as a Second Language. Courses like these — including the new Anti-Black Racism AQ under development — can help inform and transform professional practice when it comes to ensuring students feel heard, seen and represented. In Gibson's case — as a member of the ASL community and ministry representative — she says she was honoured to be asked to co-design the guidelines for the ASL AQ and work with the ASL writers on the development of the course guidelines.

"Being given ownership to develop the guideline was humbling for the AQ writing team since it recognized us as experts in both ASL and second-language pedagogy," she says. "ASL is our first language and it is deeply valued and important to us. I think people forget that ASL has its own grammatical structures, literary works and texts, cultural references and history. It's distinct from other languages. Learning a second language helps one better understand their first language, and it offers many cognitive benefits. This second language curriculum will support student success in learning new language skills and cultural competencies, preparing them with valuable skills for the workplace and community."

Gibson says one of the benefits of designing such a vital AQ was the collaboration, recognizing the valuable knowledge the team working on it brought to the table. "This experience gave me a new appreciation for the level of partnership and collaboration that was required to bring us to where we are today. I look forward to seeing how this AQ builds capacity among teachers," she says. "Learning more about second-language pedagogy will allow teachers to introduce students to information that supports their understanding of personal and cultural identity. This will assist students in developing an understanding of the cultures within the ASL community and create meaningful connections between themselves and the world around them."

One of those experts at the table working on the ASL AQ was Janice Drake, OCT, a retired principal and educator. Drake facilitated the writing team process and says all collaborators kept an open mind, feedback was valued and she was delighted to contribute in an area she's passionate about. "It was about bringing professional knowledge and practice together. The ASL members brought lived experiences and shared knowledge to the table," she says. "ASL was the first language for many participants and through Zoom, shared documents and interpreters, I found the process a beneficial experience."

Theara Yim, OCT, says he had a similar experience facilitating the LSQ (Langue des signes du québécoise), or LSQ as a Second Language AQ. An LSQ teacher at a Montréal-based school, he used his own experience as both an educator and as someone who relies on LSQ to bring a unique experience to the AQ development process. He says he appreciates the variety of stakeholders who came together on this AQ. "Parents, children, teachers, members of the [LSQ] community — the AQ is like a puzzle and each of us has a piece; we will do this together."

The 2019–20 Teaching Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing AQ committee, led by Debbie Sicoli, OCT, an educational co-ordinator at Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville, Ont., agrees with Yim, adding that this kind of collaboration must remain front-of-mind when developing AQs.

"Stakeholders demand participation in the creation of programs that involve them. The adage, 'Nothing about us, without us,' comes to mind," she says, speaking on behalf of the committee. "The current development of an AQ for anti-black racism is a case in point; likewise with the inception of the Indigenous-related AQ courses and the growing list of Native Language AQs," she says. "Can we imagine the creation of any of these AQs without leadership and active involvement of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) professionals, Elders and communities? In the same vein, equity and representation are commitments to making the field of Deaf education truly equitable. This includes anti-audism education that will shift thinking to that of ASL as a culture, language and heritage."