jump to navigation

The ABCs of ASL May 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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 outside 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 as 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!”


1. asbestasican - May 24, 2010

So cool, Jan! I do NOT know how to sign, but I DO use some signs in the classroom. I got so tired of being in the middle of teaching and getting all psyched up and then a child raises a hand and I’m so excited because they are INTO it, man, and they’re gonna ask a QUESTION, only to hear them say, “Can I go to the bathroom.” Whom, whom, whom. It’s MAY I and yes, you may. So…I taught them the signs for “bathroom,” “yes,” “no,” “water” (as in, “May I get a drink?”), “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Now, when I’m teaching, I never hear bathroom/water fountain questions. I just see the signs. And I can sign back “yes” or “no” without interrupting my flow. 🙂 Also, since we’re not supposed to talk in the halls, but my kids hold the doors for each other and I INSIST on them saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” we do it in ASL. I love it and visitors to our classroom think it’s very cool. Hmmm…are we on our way to becoming a tri-lingual classroom? I’ll point that out to them.

Thanks, Jan! Have a great week!

Hey, you sound mighty “up” for someone who received a RIF. I can think a sign for my feelings on that subject, but it’s not official ASL! I know teachers who ask kids to tell them the answer, as in A, B, or C, using signs. I’m hoping to expand my vocabulary this summer as the kids really love to use it. Jan


asbestasican - June 4, 2010

Well, coping is not an option. Might as well smile. Take care, Jan!


2. shoutabyss - May 24, 2010

Awesome idea! Watching conversation between those who sign fluently is amazing.

Shout – It’s a lot cooler to watch people converse using ASL than just watching the woman in the box at the bottom of the TV. Jan


3. Catherine Sherman - May 24, 2010

You are such a great, fun teacher. Why didn’t I have a teacher like you!

I’ve always wanted to be able to sign. It would be so useful in so many ways. Maybe I’ll actually do something about it if I can converse with you! You and I can sign to each other. I’ve been thinking a lot about sign language lately because of some greeting cards I keep seeing using ASL.

I’d also like to learn FSL (feline sign language) because our cat Bones is deaf. Some how I think he wouldn’t listen to me, no matter how I tried to communicate. Malcolm and I used to have wonderful conversations. Sigh. I am sort of using CSL (Canine Sign Language) with Loki.

Cathy, I’d forgotten that Bones is deaf, but I do believe cats are also selective mutes, while dogs can’t help but bark themselves silly. It’s the nature of the beast. Jan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: