Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Child's Right to Her Language and Our Responsibility as Her Ally

I'm at Camp Mark Seven, a camp located outside of Old Forge, NY that offers programs for Deaf people of all ages as well as KODAs (kids of deaf adults) and hearing people who want to improve their signing skills. I'm here to do just that. This is my second year. It's wonderful to be in a place were I can use ASL exclusively.

Today we heard little about the Deaf experience and what it was like for our teachers to grow up as part of a minority culture. Like many people who use a language other than English, my teachers experienced aggressive pressure to not use their natural first language, ASL.

I have no wish to co-opt the Deaf experience. That experience is one I will never have. But as a member of a minority culture, I do share the general experience of not being part of the dominant culture.

Our culture, as Americans, is one that values white, able-bodied, hearing, straight, English-speaking, slim, young, christian, Protestant people before all others. I realize that some of my friends who are white, able-bodied, hearing, straight, English-speaking, slim, young, christian, Protestant people might feel that they themselves value people that are different from yourselves. To that I say,well, that's probably why I love you. But you only have to ask a few of you "different" friends to hear some rather sad or shocking stories. Yes, and not from 50 years ago, either. From right now in 2010.

Even some of my friends that are part of a minority group may say that they themselves have never felt undervalued. To them I will point out that this kind of pressure can be extremely subtle. It doesn't have to be a sign that says, "We reserve the right to deny service" or "whites only." In someways that kind of under-valuation is easier to deal with because it is so obvious. When instead, it is wrapped in a cloak of a parent's love, it is so much harder to see. What good parent wouldn't want her child to have every advantage, including the advantage of being in the majority culture? But when that means the child is robbed of her natural language and full membership in her culture of origin, it is a profound and deep wrong.

Every person has a basic and inalienable right to be who they are. And most fundamental is the right to their own language. In my mind, depriving children of this is no less than a type of genocide and must be fought as furiously. Those of us who speak the majority language but understand this truth must be unflinching allies in the struggle to maintain the language rights of those around us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Your Personal Value Proposition: Choose Your Own Adventure!

Several times, over the course of this year, I have been invited to coffee or lunch by folks who want to talk about their job search with me. Sometimes they are interested in a job at the university where I work. Sometimes they want a job in instructional design. I enjoy these conversations because they have really helped me to deconstruct my strategy for getting a job.

Most folks, even folks that use social networks like LinkedIn, go about the job search process in a rather "rat shot" fashion -- throw enough resumes at it and eventually one of them will stick. It's the "even a blind chick gets a piece of corn once in a while" approach. The problem is that there are a whole lot of blind chicks out there pecking away. Somehow you need to separate yourself from the flock.

A job search is like any sales transaction. If what you are selling isn't what the person in front of you is buying, then you are not going to make a sale. Period. To improve your odds, I suggest you start thinking about your personal value proposition A value proposition, according to Wikipedia, is " an analysis and quantified review of the benefitscosts and value that an organization can deliver to customers and other constituent groups within and outside of the organization."  A personal value proposition looks at your personal skills, experiences, and values, instead of those of the organization. 

Constructing your personal value prop can be done in four major steps:
1. Determine your market. 
  • Focus, focus focus! It may feel counterintuitive to narrow down your search, but doing so will ensure that your offering is actually what the potential employers are looking for. You need to state in one to two short sentences what industry and job you are seeking. It needs to be crystal clear to you. 
  • Know what that market values. This isn't the time for guess work and assumptions. Even if you have worked in this sector in the past, you need to take the time to go through the analysis. Do not assume that what was valued in the past is what is valued now. You can get this information in two ways, and I suggest you do both. First, find people who are currently working in that area, and interview them. What are the most important attributes their employers are looking for? What skills and experience do they think are the most valuable. Second, look for as many job postings for these positions as possible. make a spreadsheet of the skills and requirements these people are looking for, and tabulate the most desired skills and requirements.
  • Go beyond skills and experience to gestalt. Gestalt is "a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts." In other words, it is the essence or flavor of your potential future company. Study their website, their thought leaders blogs, their employees' responses to questions on LinkedIn. Who are these people? What values rule their life?
2. Determine your gaps and take steps to bridge them.
  • Using the list of key skills and experience you created in step one, take a very hard look at your own skills and experience. What are you missing? Again, I can't stress enough that you need to not get stuck in the past. It makes no difference how qualified you were in the past. All that matters now is today. Make a list of the things that you seem to be lacking, based on your research. 
  • Are any of these items things you simply can't fix? For example, if you need 5 years of experience in a particular area, and you have none, you can't get into your "way back machine" and fix that. You need to consider that this is NOT an field that you are going to be able to find work in. 
  • Make a list of skills and experiences that you need in order to bring your own skills and experience up to date. Make a plan for how you are going to do this. This is where you need to put your energy right now, not in sending out a zillion resumes to anything that looks remotely like a possibility. 
3. Determine how you can differentiate yourself from the flock.
  • What requirement does your potential future employer have that you meet in a wonderful and unique way? How does your work ethic, your values, your experience, your skills, meet that need in a way that no other candidate can match?
  • You need to tell a coherent story that connects every data point in your history into a big ol' arrow pointing at your potential future employer.  
  • Using your research about the gestalt of your potential future employer, determine how your experience, skills, and values make you a match.

4. Develop your resume and other "customer facing" materials.
  • Everything in your resume, portfolio, and other materials needs to support your value proposition. Take a hard look at every line, especially of your resume. This isn't a place to put everything you have done in your life. This is the place to prove that you have the skills and experience to be successful in your new job. Start by cutting everything that doesn't do that.
  • Use all the free space to offer proof of your experience and skills. Think result, not job duties. What have you accomplished? Don't assume your future employer is going to be able to read between the lines and connect the dots. They don't need to -- there is a big stack of resumes on her desk, so why should she work hard to read yours?
  • Your materials need to be focused. That means you might have a resume that is suitable for this job only. I can hear your moans of pain from here! Too much work? Not really -- since you are being quite focused in your search, you are doing the same amount of work as you would have if you were sending out a zillion resumes, just differently. 
  • Remember to prove to them how you are a member of their tribe. Tell them the story that links you to them. Back in the day, we did this by connecting to a person who was already an insider. You still need to do this, but even more, you need to help your potential future employer understand that you are indeed one of their flock. 
Is this a lot of work? Well, yes. But you will have a much more successful outcome -- for one thing, if you follow these steps, you will really understand who you are going to work for, and you are likely to be happier. And they are likely to be happier with you, as well. Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ASL, Handshapes, and Schema Learning

Being an instructional designer by trade, I tend to want to take a very active role in my own learning. Learning ASL is a very high priority to me right now, and I am constantly looking for ways to improve the quality and speed of my learning. In general, my ASL teachers have been wonderful, possibly the best teachers of any subject I have had in my long career as a learner.

At this point I have taken 7 quarters of ASL classes. Here at NTID, the first 3 courses are ASL A, B and C. In those courses you learn some basic vocabulary, and general rules for how the language is structured. After that you can take Communication Practice (which practices expressive skills), Receptive practice, or courses on specific parts of the language, such as fingerspelling, numbers, and classifiers.

There is one thing they seem to be doing lately that I wonder about.

There are certain signs that were introduced quite early in my learning that I am constantly confused about. Maybe in the first week of ASL we learned the sign for "appointment" and "work".  I can come up with the sign for "work" -- I have used it many times. But the sign for "appointment seems" welded to the sign for "work" in my brain. And although I know if it is different than "work", but I have to really think hard to come up for it. Why is this happening? When I asked my wonderful tutor Marge Carillo, why these are taught at the same time, she replied that she taught them together because they were similiar signs.

Does teaching things that are close or similar help or hinder the learning process?

 My research turned up a chapter of Memory and Mind titled Category Learning as Schema Induction by researcher John P. Clapper, who is affiliated with California State University. (The entire chapter can be found here.)

Clapper contends that adults classify things into groups, and the most efficient way to learn the next thing is to see what it is "just like that, only different" as my brother Clyde would say. So showing the first sign, then showing a second, that is similar in some way -- either handshape or movement -- is good. But it is important how those two signs are introduced. Clapper says,

"As already noted, when instances of two categories are presented in a randomly
intermixed sequence, relatively little learning of either category is observed.
However, when the sequence is arranged so that one category (call it “A”) is
well-learned prior to the introduction of the second category (“B”), then people
will learn both categories easily. Thus, categories A and B will both be learned
much better in a “contrast-enhancing” sequence like A A A A A A A A A A A
A B A B B A B A A A B, and so forth, than in a “mixed” sequence like A B A
B B A B A A B B A B A B B A B A A A B, and so on. The only difference
between these two sequences is the fact that the first six Bs in the second (mixed)
sequence are absent and replaced by the same number of As in the first (contrast)
sequence. Thus, simply reducing the number of B instances (by eliminating all
of them from the first 12 trials of the training sequence) leads to a dramatic
improvement in B learning."
This would lead me to think that teaching one sign - "work" and having the student practice it multiple times before another sign - "appointment" -  is introduced, and then contrasted with "work" over and over, would be better than showing the first sign and then the second sign. I think this is especially important if the signs are similar, because they will have less to contrast with.  Presenting and practicing the material in the manner that John Clapper suggests would emphasize the differences in the signs, and that should result in improved retention and learning.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conformity or Out of the Frying Pan into a Slightly Smaller Frying Pan

I found this clip on YouTube. Take a few minutes and watch it. Then come back and let's talk.

(My apologies that this isn't captioned. Not everything on YouTube is yet.)

I don't remember how I came accross this video, but it raises some interesting questions for me:

  1. In what ways is your conformity to your group resulting in the loss of your authentic self?
  2. If we must have creative and original ideas/products/processes to survive/make money/keep the business going how are we achieving originality when everyone may be conforming?
  3. Thinking is good but doing is better. What behaviors have you not changed that are keeping you from being happy. Why haven't you changed?