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01/08/2019 - 10:55

First master in Icelandic Sign Language

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The first Master thesis presented and delivered in Icelandic Sign Language at the University of Iceland was introduced at the School of Education seminar for masters’ students recently. The thesis is the work of Eyrún Ólafsdótttir in the field of inclusive education. Her supervisors were Karen Rut Gísladóttir, associate professor and professor Hafdís Guðjónsdóttir, both at the Faculty of Education and Pedagogy.

Eyrún’s project is called “Beginning literacy as a bridge between Icelandic sign language and written Icelandic”. It is based on an action research study of her work teaching reading and writing in Icelandic to children whose first language is sign language. The study took place in the years 2012-2017 and its goal was to develop “beginning literacy” (a method for teaching reading developed at the University of Akureyri) and adapt it to the needs of Deaf students who are deaf. Eyrún’s research question was: How do I utilise beginning literacy and communication with students to develop a pedagogy of reading for students who are deaf? 

“The main conclusions indicate that it is important to combine different ways of expression when teaching reading to children who are deaf, i.e. writing, reading and communication through sign language, to provide students with an opportunity to put meaning into the written form of Icelandic and to use it for social interaction,” says Eyrún, who identifies herself as a Deaf primary school teacher, Deaf with a capital D indicating her membership in the deaf community. 

Eyrún, who graduated from the University of Iceland in June, says it is an innovation to use beginning literacy in the teaching of reading to children who are deaf in Iceland. “I was a little unsure how to go about this when I started to adapt this method to the needs of students who are deaf, however, by applying my former knowledge of teaching reading to this method and inquire into my own experience of learning to read as a deaf individual I began to understand how this method could be used in a meaningful way with this student population,” she explains. Beginning literacy is a teaching method for children in grades one and two that has been adopted in many primary schools. The concept behind beginning literacy is that children learn best together, no matter what skill each of them is acquiring at any given time. 

It is clear the Eyrún´s study is a ground breaking one; it is the first Master thesis from the University of Iceland that is presented in the Icelandic sign language. In a review of the project it says; “the thesis is presented in the author’s mother tongue, sign language. This gives the reader an invaluable opportunity to gain an insight into the reality of a minority group that speaks sign language, which again provides this delightful and thoughtful narrative a more depth and value. The flow of the narrative and its context indicates a solid academic background of the author, her knowledge of the content of this work, and an honest, critical, and reflective way of working towards its findings. The project is well conceived, a pleasant “read” and provides a good overview of a subject that is unique and innovative.”

Eyrún Ólafsdóttir receiving her diploma from Jónína Vala Krististinsdóttir, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Pedagogy at the Graduation Ceremony 22 June 2019. photo/Kristinn Ingvarsson