Teaching fingerspelling: The role of transfer of learning strategies, serial ability, and self-efficacy

Date of Completion

January 1997


Education, Language and Literature|Language, Linguistics|Education, Adult and Continuing




Fingerspelling is an important part of the language of signs. Many people have the need or the desire to learn fingerspelling. Unfortunately, reading fingerspelling has been identified by sign language learners and teachers as difficult to master.^ The current approach to teaching receptive fingerspelling is based on an expectation of transfer of learning from the skill of reading written text to the new skill of reading fingerspelling. This expectation is based on the observation that fingerspelled handshapes have a letter-for-letter correspondence with the written alphabet. From this perspective, learners need only transfer their current skill at reading written words to the process of reading fingerspelling. Because many of the lexical access skills used in the reading of written text (e.g., parallel processing of words, the use of parafoveal information) are not used when reading fingerspelling, transfer of learning from reading written text to reading fingerspelling may be limited.^ Research in the area of transfer of learning indicates that transfer effectiveness depends on similarity between the transfer settings in terms of common elements, and the degree of mindful attention required of a task. Previous research also suggests that a moderate amount of the variance in reading fingerspelling is attributable to serial performance.^ Based on the research, this study compares the efficacy of two transfer of learning models for teaching receptive fingerspelling. A sample of 26 volunteers were randomly assigned to either the traditional learning (control) group or the serial learning (experimental) group. Data were collected on demographic factors, initial receptive fingerspelling ability, two measures of serial ability, prior classroom experience, and self-efficacy. A receptive fingerspelling posttest was given at the end of the training program.^ There were no differences in the performance of the two groups on the posttest. The study also showed that serial ability and prior classroom training accounted for a large percent (49%) of the variance and predicted success at reading fingerspelling. Finally, the importance of self-efficacy was also supported. The theoretical and practical significance of the findings are discussed. ^