November 7, 2013

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #2

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As promised in my opening post in this series, this week's post is about how sign language can help with concentration. To see this in action, give your students at least one specific word to listen for when you read a story aloud. For example, focus on the word color if you are reading the book, "See the Colors," or summer if you are reading the book "Four Seasons! Five Senses!" Ask students to sign the word each time they hear it in the text. I usually say something like, "My job will be to read the story out loud. Your job is to listen to the story, and sign the word _____ each time you hear it." I find that kids are really excited to help in this way, and by helping, they concentrate their attention on me and the story I'm reading.

If you've ever read a cumulative story to a child or group of students you know that it's not uncommon that kids will chant along with you as you read the story. However, with a classroom full of students, you can't always hear who is/is not participating. By incorporating sign language, you give yourself a visual indicator of who is listening (and/or who is comprehending in the language you are using). This can be especially helpful in bilingual or multilingual classrooms, but it is definitely helpful in monolingual classrooms as well.

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For example, if you ask kids to focus on a word that is part of a repeating phrase, (such as silly in the book, "Silly Sue"), you'll notice that some kids will sign the focus word(s) before you actually read them on each new page or stanza). This helps you "see" who has identified a pattern in the story and/or is developing proficiency with the key literacy skill of prediction.

This one tool helps me "assess" an unfamiliar group of students in a very short time. I can quickly identify my good listeners and my "high flyers," (and I can also get a sense of who appears engaged, but may not yet have the skills of pattern identification/ prediction and/or comprehension in the dominant classroom language).

I've also noticed that this tool helps students with self regulation. When *most* students are signing, it's not uncommon that the non-signing students will look at other students and then self-adjust. Whether lack of participation is due to concentration/attention/ behavior-related issues or comprehension/literacy skill issues, the visual cue of other nearby learners signing key words helps the non-participating students get on track.

These benefits should be enough reason to start signing with the kids you work with, but alas, there are many more benefits I'll share in future posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your success stories signing with the children you parent or work with!

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