SignWriting Project in Poland

In the end of August 2010 a company based in Nowy Sącz, Poland and named CZAS sent me an e-mail with the question whether I would be interested in joining their educational SignWriting project. The company specializes in implementing various educational and social projects financed by the European Social Fund in the framework of different European funding instruments. The SignWriting project was to be funded within the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development”. A partner to the project was the Małopolska Branch of the Polish Association of the Deaf (PZG) based in Krakow. PZG was to provide sign language interpreters. I agreed to join the project and we started in September with 2-hour presentations on the history of SignWriting and the basic spelling rules. We visited 3 schools for the deaf in Krakow and 1 school for the deaf in Tarnow.

The main aim of the project is to draw up a detailed syllabus for a SW course for teenage deaf students (aged 13-20).

The Małopolska schools for the deaf are oralism-oriented and many (the majority of!) secondary school students have graduated from mainstream schools, so they cannot sign or their sign is poor. They use a pidgin sign language (Polish Sign Language mixed with Signed Polish). The teachers use Signed Polish. For these and other reasons the presentations were spoken and interpreted by Signed Polish interpreters. The teachers participated in the presentations, too.

The schools involved were:

1.      Zespół Szkół dla Niesłyszących w Tarnowie

(scroll down to see photos from the presentation and the later workshops, tiled “Szkolenie z SignWritingu II” and “Szkolenie z SignWritingu”).

2.      Specjalny Ośrodek Szkolno-Wychowawczy dla Dzieci Niesłyszących im. J. Siestrzyńskiego w Krakowie

3.      Ośrodek Szkolno-Wychowawczy dla Młodzieży Niesłyszącej i Słabosłyszącej w Krakowie

4.      Ośrodek Szkolno-Wychowawczy nr 6 im. Jana Pawła II w Krakowie

The next step was to carry out Focused Group Interviews, preceded by some more writing and reading exercises, with the students and teachers who had participated in the presentations. Two of the Krakow schools were not interested in the further phases of the projects – one school was a primary schools with many students with additional disabilities and in the other the students were very poor at signing – they would have to learn Polish Sign Language first, in which they were not interested!). So, the basic SW workshops and interviews were carried out in the Tarnow school (no. 1) and in one Krakow school (no. 3).

The students and the teachers received printed materials from Valerie Sutton, on which we were working. We also used specifically sewn black and white gloves so that the participants could easily learn the basic rules. I also prepared some written exercises and a small test to see what the participants learned from the history and theory of SignWriting. The results were very good except for the alphabet issue. It is difficult to understand that SignWriting is an alphabetic writing system.

In the interviews we wanted to learn what the participants thought of SignWriting, what and how they would expect us to teach during the anticipated in-depth SW course to be conducted in 2011 and the like. The interviews were just casual and we learned that the participants were rather skeptical about using SignWriting or reluctant to learn this system - even if they were interested in it, taking it as a curiosity. But we are planning to prepare a written, detailed and more formal survey for the participants. In this phase, the participating groups comprised of some 10-12 students (in Tarnow, from a junior secondary school; in Krakow, from a post-secondary school, aged 19-20) and a few teachers. We hope to continue our project in both the schools in 2011. We are going to translate the materials from Valerie Sutton and to prepare additional educational stuff for the course. The project is to be finished by December 2011.


Lucyna Długołęcka

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