Exploring the Language and Literacy Ecology of a Signing Deaf Adolescent
Betsy Beckert

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Boston University

Primary Discipline

Deaf Education and Literacy
In the US, 95% of deaf children have hearing parents, most of whom do not sign proficiently. Lack of language access has become the overriding narrative of signing deaf children from hearing families. In this narrative, deaf adolescents’ semiotic ecologies, including their literacy practices, are often depicted as anemic and lacking complexity. I conduct a multi-sited ethnographic case study that explores the complex interactions of a signing deaf adolescent (Brady) and non-/limited-signing others in situations that involve texts of various kinds (e.g., graphic novels, maps, drawings, text messages). I investigate (1) how Brady and his hearing parents characterize the varieties of communicative and literacy practices they engage in together and (2) how Brady and non-/limited-signing others co-compose meaning in interaction when engaging with texts in varied settings of daily activity. I take a semiotic ecological approach, framed by ethnographies of home and community literacies, studies of deaf individuals’ semiotic repertoires, and Charles Goodwin’s co-operative action theory. I center how meaning is co-constructed and negotiated both in moment-to-moment interactions and over time. This study will contribute an evidence-based account of a deaf child’s dynamic, complex literacy practices. Such sociocultural explorations are imperative to dismantle deficit frames and support teachers in building with deaf children’s practices to foster their literacy development.
About Betsy Beckert
Betsy Beckert is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Her work broadly spans Deaf Studies, literacy, literature, and science education. She is particularly interested in understanding the multiple and multimodal literacies of signing deaf children from hearing households. This interest is born out of more than 15 years of work with deaf youth and the questions elicited by these experiences. Betsy’s ultimate goal is to co-design with educators learning contexts that are generative for children who do not have early robust access to spoken or sign language and who, likely because of this and their school experiences, do not see themselves as “readers” and “writers.” Betsy’s dissertation explores the often overlooked ways of meaning-making of a signing deaf adolescent. Betsy first collaborated with deaf education teachers and Salvadoran Sign Language experts as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Usulután, El Salvador, from 2008-2010. Prior to pursuing a doctoral degree, she was a fourth and fifth grade teacher at a dedicated school for deaf students outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Betsy holds an Ed.M. in Deaf Education from Boston University and a B.S. in Hospitality Management from Cornell University. Outside of work, she is passionate about exploring local hiking trails and coffee shops, rooting for the USWNT, and reading board books with her new baby, Rocco.

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