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The ABCs of ASL May 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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4 comments

ASL incorporates finger spelling and signing that is as unique as the person doing it.

I took my students on a field trip last week.  The professional storyteller asked how many of the teachers in the room  like to play school when they were growing up.  All hands shot up – except mine. She storyteller was genuinely surprised.  “You’re the first teacher I’ve met who didn’t play school,” she said.  I shrugged, “Teaching is my second career.”  But the damage was done. “One, two three, eyes on me”- the teacher who never played school as a child.

Though I didn’t play school, when I was in the third grade (which just happens to be the grade I teach now), I read Helen Keller’s biography and learned the manual alphabet at the back of the book. My friends and I used it as our secret code in middle school.  I still remember standing my friend’s classroom and signing some message of major import (everything in middle school is of major import). Years later when I was in Idaho, I met one of my husband’s distant relatives who was deaf. My signing was rusty, but I was able to communicate with this woman.  I remember thinking, “This is so COOL!”

I once subbed for a fourth grade class learning to sign “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  I only knew how to finger spell words, so this was fun. When you sign “used to,” you throw your hand over your shoulder like you’re getting rid of something.  I loved that.  Later when our friend Leszek became a U.S. citizen, I watched as a woman signed the entire swearing in ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center. It was beautiful to watch. But what does this have to do with teaching?

As a teacher, you get tired of hearing the sound of your own voice. And at some point, your students do too.  Signing is a great way to give directions. And I’ve learned that students LOVE to sign. When you sign, students are “all ears.”

Last year I bought two decks of signing cards and a book Signing at School. There’s always several students who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over this book.  That would have been me in third grade.  Did you know that knowing ASL qualifies as speaking a foreign language?  Just in case you’ve got to get that requirement out of the way.

This year, I have a class heavy on girls, so that means one thing – girl drama. I had to laugh when the other day when the girls were having a go at each other, one of the boys looked at me and signed “Girl Drama!”

I learned to sign “Girl Drama on ASLPro.  You can search for a word or phrase and see it signed.  My only complaint is that some of the signing is a little fast.  I need it in s-l-o-w  m-o-t-i-o-n.

I’ve slowly been trying to build my signing vocabulary.  I began with “Sit” “See you later”  and ” I love you.” I’ve graduated to “Follow me” “boys” (which is signed using the motion for the brim of a baseball hat) and “girls” (which mimics a girl tying her bonnet). I teach a cluster of English Language learners, but they love using ASL.

I’ve actually found that watching songs helps because of the repetition of signs.  Recently, through my blog’s Tag Surfer feature, I came across  middle schoolers signing Justin Timberlake’s Apologize on Youtube.  While on Youtube, I stumbled across Apologize signed by ICSTARS, who is hearing. It’s probably the most expressive signing I’ve seen. His signing shows how ASL is not just communication, but art.

Finally, ASL Tutor On-Line is a site where if you have SKYPE, you can be personally be tutored in signing for only $15 an hour.  I’m seriously thinking of expanding my signing vocabulary this summer using this feature. With the projected class size increase next year, I need to know how to sign “You’re standing on my last nerve!”

Testing, Testing, Testy May 10, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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5 comments

We start standardized testing tomorrow. This is a BIG deal. Your ABCs aren’t nearly as important as you API. I suspect Fisher-Price already has Baby’s First Scantron in development. What a great way to teach kids A,B,C, and D!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take testing seriously, but really, “is that all there is?” In Third Grade, we did 20 days of test prep on top of the unit testing for Open Court. One reading comprehension story involved a boy with a paper route.

Now I don’t know about you, but my newspaper (which we now only have delivered Thursday through Sunday) is delivered by a grown man named Jorge who drives an old Toyota and is left curbside at 6 a.m. I used to worry when the paper was missing that it had been stolen, until my husband reminded me that no one reads the paper any more. I hate it when he’s right.

So why are they asking my students, all whom were born post millennium, about a paper route. Most of their families don’t even read the newspaper!

Then there was a question about where you’d look to find more information if you were writing a report about kangaroos. The choices were a) the index b) the glossary  c) an encyclopedia, or d) the bibliography. One by one, my students raised their hands to signal they needed help. “I don’t get it, ” they whispered, “Where’s Google?”  Can you blame them?

I’ve recently trained my third graders on how to refine their search engine terms, so Wikipedia is the closest they’ll every come to the Encyclopedia. The other day, I took them on a trip down Memory Lane to the reference section of our library, so at least they know what an encyclopedia looks like. We only have one because it’s just so special.   If only we had a card catalog to complete their education in 20th century information hunting and gathering.

So we start standardized testing tomorrow. I have my fingers crossed. If only they could choose A,B,C, or G (for Google).

Photo Credit:  Paperboy from Google Images

May Means Mother’s Day Cards May 1, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Teaching.
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2 comments


April showers bring May flowers, STAR testing, and, what’s that other one? Oh yeah, Mother’s Day. This year Mother’s Day falls on May 9th, the day before STAR testing begins. So this week my third graders will be cranking out Mother’s Day cards. Actually it’s a great way to remind them that both “Mother’s” and “Day” need to be capitalized, as there’s always a question like that on the test.

Last year I finally got around to making five templates, so students can take turns tracing MOM. (Taking turns – a valuable skill NOT on the test.) When folded, the card is around 5×6.  I actually have them use card stock, so they can color it in with markers. (I’m notoriously stingy when it comes to letting students use markers.)  They color in the positive space and then the negative using a variety of lines, and geometric and organic shapes.

When they’re done, I have them flip over the card, so they can see it says, “WOW.”  They think this is way cool. I explain that both MOM and WOW are palindromes and give them several other examples. (One year I conveniently had a Hannah in my class!)  So this week my students will walk out of class with a cool card for “dear ole” and some more esoteric information that will NEVER appear on the STAR test.  LOL.

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