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ASL Literature, Reborn on the iPad

ASL Literature, Reborn on the iPad

In addition to being a first-grade teacher, I’m also the geekminister for 15 brand-new iPad 2s at P.S. 347 The ASL and English Lower School in Manhattan. This is the first in what I hope will be a regular series on how my students and I are using the iPad to learn, read, create, and watch.

Last spring, as soon as my principal and I discussed the possibility of having a few dozen iPads in our school, I wondered how we could use iPads to drive ASL instruction. 10 out of 11 of my students are native ASL users (and also KODAs); part of our school mission to support all students into becoming strong ASL users.

Introducing ASL Literature
While I don’t teach Deaf children at the moment, I face the same teaching challenges as any other ASL-as-L1 teacher: lack of resources for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. That’s why collaborative gatherings of teachers, specialists, professors, and researchers like ASL Roundtable (ASLRT) are so important; teachers who attend these, especially last November’s ASLRT in Tucson, walk away with lots of lesson ideas but more importantly, morale boosts.

Energized by ASLRT, I decided that iPads should be part of the core of ASL workshop. My school strongly encourages the workshop model to design our daily reading, writing, and math workshops: we introduce and model the lesson objective through a 5-15 minute mini-lesson. The the students go explore on their own while the teachers support the activities or confer with certain students, and then we close with sharing time where students can tell each other about what they had learned or created. I wanted to do the same with ASL workshop.

Workshops require the use of authentic literature. A common complaint in ASL-as-L1 instruction circles is the dearth of ASL literary resources. While we could always use more, we do have plenty out there. Most of it is just trapped on DVD anthologies or VHS tapes. These media aren’t conductive to supporting a student’s independent exploration of a topic. To put ASL on par with English texts, we need to make sure ASL texts can be just as easy and hassle-free to watch as English books are to read.

Putting ASL Literature on the iPad
The iPad levels the playing field–an ebook and a video are equally easy to open and interact with. So, I decided to liberate the ASL clips from my copy of the “Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Literature” DVD (Bauman, Nelson & Rose, 2007). I used HandBrake to rip the contents of the DVD and named all the clips by their title and signer. I moved them into a new Dropbox account I created to host and share an ASL library. I also had some ASL videos from last year’s kindergarten class, as well as some clips that other teachers at my school signed; all of these also went into the ASL library.

I then installed and set up Dropbox on each iPad. And well, that was it. Instantly, every iPad had a library of more than 35 examples of ASL literature, including classics such as Behan’s “Ball Story,” Bienvenu’s “Fun with Fives” and Valli’s “Cow and Rooster,” all ready to be viewed by a new generation of ASL users.

Students Meet the ASL Library
Our current ASL workshop unit focuses on three of the five parameters of ASL: handshape, location, movement. To give students a task while interacting with the ASL library, I decided the lesson objective would be for them to search through the videos looking for a specific handshape. Our mini-lesson was two parts. First, on the rug, we reviewed different handshapes using our ASL handshape chart, and settled on using the 5 handshape.

Then, using an iPad hooked up to a projector, I showed them how to use Dropbox to access the ASL library, and how to play and pause videos. Their task were to find the 5 handshape in a video and freeze the video on that frame, and bring it back to the rug to share with everyone else. And then the kids went to work. Here’s a video of what happened during exploration time.

This was only the second week I’ve been using the iPads with my students, and every single time they astonish me with how easily they interact, problem-solve, and expand on their existing skills on their iPads. I’ve learned it’s better to just let them do whatever they do (with boundaries, of course; they know that if they go off-task and open up a different app, I take away their iPads for two minutes).

But even more so, it was incredibly moving to see old ASL classics come back to life in the hands of six-year-olds. One of my students kept rewatching that BOAT-BOAT-BOAT movie which Charles Krauel filmed back in the 1930s or 1940s, presumably drawing parallels to her own experience with ASL rhythmic songs.

There is great value in moving ASL literary pieces out of collections and anthologies and into stand-alone media files to be shared easily across the network.

Students worked on pausing their videos at just the right time to capture a sign with the 5 handshape, and after ten minutes on task, we came back to the rug to share. They could hardly contain their enthusiasm about showing off their still frames and modeling the signs they viewed.

The second part of this workshop involved having students record themselves signing the videos, but I realized that we didn’t have easels or stands for the students to prop up their iPads for self-recording, so I announced they could “free play,” which meant they could use any app they wanted. Their favorites, so far, are Toy Story 3 and FaceTime. (Yes, they love calling and video chatting with each other!)

It was a wonderful lesson. The iPad has great potential to make ASL literature easily accessible by all students. This is just the beginning, and I’ll be blogging more about how I’m using the iPad with my students–not just for ASL, but also for reading, writing, math, and anything else under the Apple-flavored sun.

Apps Used:

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on foundinblank.com on December 5, 2011.]

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