Signing with ‘Class’

Incorporating Sign Language Into the Classroom Improves Communication

By Catherine Y., 3rd Grade Teacher in Henderson, NV

When I first learned about Signing Time, I thought about all of the wonderful things I could teach my triplet boys. They were born at 27 weeks and were facing many delays. Once my boys started signing and communicating more and more, I realized that my 3rd grade students at Kesterson Elementary School could also benefit from learning sign language.

At our fall open house, I explained to the parents that I would be introducing sign language to their children. I was overwhelmed with the positive response I was given that night. I explained that I would introduce signs that went along with our curriculum, a little at a time, and gave examples of how using sign language during structured teaching helped keep interruptions at a minimal level. For example, instead of interrupting a lesson, a student could sign when they need to use the restroom.

Around this time I also decided to start an after school sign language club, “Signing with Class.” I wrote a grant proposal to the Junior League of Las Vegas, asking for $1000 to purchase Signing Time materials. A few weeks later I received a letter telling me that my proposal would be fully funded. I sent a letter out to students in grades 1-5, with the hopes that I would have at least 25 students interested. I was completely overwhelmed when I received 133 positive responses.

I did not want to turn away any students, so I split the group into two and attempted to see if I could successfully teach that many students at one time. The students were excited to learn sign language, and their enthusiasm was quite obvious. Each week I focus on one of the DVDs. During our class we spend the first half hour watching the DVD while I sign along with it. Afterwards the students have a chance to practice what they learned. We review the signs in a whole group setting, and then split up into smaller groups. The students take turns signing and while the other students identify each sign.

Throughout the year, students use the Signing Time board books and flash cards as additional reinforcement. The students say it is very helpful to have the word, a picture of the sign and a description of how to do the sign on each page. I also provided each student with a list of the signs taught from the first series (I found this valuable tool on the Signing Time website). The students use these checklists to help them remember the signs they have been taught. Once they have mastered a sign, they check it off. If they have difficulty remembering the sign, they know they can ask to see the sign again.

It is so rewarding to see the enthusiasm the students have for sign language. Signing Time airs on our local PBS channel 6 days a week. I am constantly listening to the children tell me about the new episode they saw on TV. Last week I had students telling me about all of the fun projects that they learned about from the Signing Time website. I love hearing all of their stories they have each week. My favorite story came from a parent that told me that she was visiting the library with her first-grade daughter and met a deaf woman. My student was able to carry on a conversation with this adult with little difficulty. Her mom was absolutely amazed and hearing the story made my heart melt.

Since incorporating the use of sign language and additional sign language instruction into the classroom I have continued to see improvement in communication between student and teacher. The benefits have also extended to parent-teacher and student-parent relationships as well. As a teacher, my goal is to build skills that will help my students grow into successful adults with the ability to communicate on many levels with those in the world around them. I can think of few other languages that have touched such a wide spectrum of individuals as sign language. I know that for my part it has reached those dearest to my heart and sharing this gift with my students has been both an honor and a joy.