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April 21, 2003

Christensen Inspired by Innovative Approaches to Learning Language

From: San Diego State University (press release), CA - Apr 21, 2003

By Jenni Winfrey

March was a big month for Kathee Christensen, in addition to helping bring the internationally acclaimed Toys Theatre to San Diego for the first time ever, she was thrilled that the SDSU Senate endorsed a resolution allowing American Sign Language (ASL) to fulfill a student's foreign language requirement. 

As an Education of the Deaf professor, Christensen appreciates Toys Theatre's innovative approach to drama, which uses mime and signed language in a manner that appeals to both deaf and hearing audiences of all ages. "If you like Marcel Marceau, then you would enjoy the Toys Theatre," says Christensen.

Christensen learned American Sign Language (ASL) from her father who had a long and successful career in education of the deaf spanning from the University of Michigan to California State University, Northridge. In retirement, he taught as an adjunct professor in the Education of the Deaf division at SDSU alongside his daughter.

After earning a B.A. in English from MacMurray College in Illinois and an M.A. in education of the deaf from the University of Wisconsin, Christensen taught English at middle and elementary schools for 12 years.  Becoming interested in research, Christensen moved to California to pursue a Ph.D. in education with a focus on cognitive development at the Claremont Graduate School. 

Bringing the Toys Theatre to SDSU appealed to Christensen not simply because of its mode of delivery, but also because of the glimpses its performances provide into both Russian and deaf cultures. Christensen is interested in multicultural issues in language acquisition. 

SDSU was one of the first universities to add a multicultural issues course into the deaf education curriculum. In the course, students study the various cultural identities of individuals who are deaf. Students and faculty travel to Rancho Sordo Mudo, a school for the deaf in Baja, Mexico, for practicums with Mexican children who are deaf. 

"Graduate students go every semester," says Christensen.  "They are forced to adapt to a  situation where they are communicating in English and ASL to children who might know a bit of ASL, but who primarily use Mexican Sign Language and read and write Spanish."

As one of the co-directors of the Communications Clinic for Speech, Language and Hearing Disorders, Christensen instructs graduate assistants who work with child and adult clients. The clinic offers comprehensive diagnostic and treatment programs in the areas of delayed speech/language development, voice, fluency or articulation disorders, aphasia, cleft palate, cerebral palsy, loss of communication function, hearing loss and deafness. The clinic also provides services for bilingual/multicultural clients, for some of whom English is a second language.

 "We use many activities and focus attention on where each individual is in their development,"  says Christensen.  "It's amazing to see how quickly they can pick up ASL and English, and wonderful to see them able to communicate with everyone around them."

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