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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!”

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