Sign to Learn

January 22 2012
By Tina Lalonde

A review of the book “Sign to Learn: American Sign Language in the Early Childhood Classroom” by Kristen Dennis and Tressa Azpiri

What a great resource to keep on hand!  I found this book easy to read, well organized and full of useful tips and suggestions.  I also found the book to be very respectful of the Deaf culture and felt the authors achieved their goal of making the reader aware of the importance of knowing some Deaf history. I thought the following statement really sums up the whole idea of cultural respect, “One of the most meaningful ways to show respect to Deaf culture as a hearing person using sign language with hearing students is to use true ASL and use it correctly.” 

I have run into many parents who chose to teach their young babies sign or are interested in sign but have pieced together some fragments and made up signs altogether.  Both of these groups had no knowledge of Deaf culture, or how insulting they could potentially be coming across.  It was almost as if they felt this language existed solely for their babies’ benefit and could not see beyond that. I also liked that the author mentioned the use of “sign names” and how it should be discouraged. 
In chapter 5 of “Sign to Learn”, I was happy to discover the authors supporting the idea of using letter sounds in place of their name while teaching literacy through games and sign.  I have tried to implement this technique at home with my own children and it was nice to see this strategy being reinforced in such a well written book. 

I thought the idea, in chapter 6 under the heading “Effectively Redirect Behavior”, regarding how personalized sign language can be between two people another very good reason to use this approach. “It is just between you and the child” - I found this to be so true when my daughters were little.  I could easily and privately gain their attention and either makes a request, let them know we would be leaving soon or remind them about manners, without being beside them or signaling them out among the other children playing. If the message was a warning or stern reminder about a behavior they were exhibiting, I feel the kids responded and internalized the whole experience more positively than when I would reprimand them out loud in front of others.  Just as we would respond better to a private conversation from a superior than being signaled out in front of the entire office staff.

I really enjoyed the authors including suggestions throughout the book on ways to implement their ideas.  How and when to use Deaf volunteers, incorporating signs into everyday tasks as a way to reinforce (who is wearing [sign] red? you may get your [sign] jacket) and activity ideas. Having not flipped through the book prior to reading, I was thrilled when I got to chapter 7 and realized they had included whole lesson plan ideas! The addition of these extra materials, theme ideas as well as songs and signs truly makes this book a keeper that can be used over and over.

Tina Lalonde is the mother of three great girls and is currently enrolled in the Communicative Disorders Assistant program at Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario. You can follow find Tina on Twitter here: @canadianyetti