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Hilltop's 4th Grade American Sign Language Club
David Heller
Friday, April 30, 2021

This year, new 4th Grade teacher, Miss Jennifer Delaney offered and organized a weekly American Sign Language (ASL) club. At a young age, Miss Delaney was fascinated by sign language, after being exposed to the depths of the culture in her middle school math class. Subsequently, after years of self-teaching via books and online resources, she decided to pursue a minor in Deaf Studies while attending Towson University. This year, her first in teaching,  she established a weekly ASL Club for her 4th-grade students in the Fall of 2020 to continue spreading awareness and exposing others to the language. 

Each week, students are taught a new set of vocabulary, themed words, via a virtual meet after school. Students are encouraged to use their foundational fingerspelling knowledge to ask questions or how to sign various terms and phrases. Also, there are embedded videos in the accompanied Google Slides for each session so that the students that are unable to attend are still able to practice their signing on their own time and keep up with the pacing of the club. Students are also given other activities such as online access to fingerspelling practice games to improve their receptive skills. Additionally, students are challenged each week with an opportunity to watch an ASL story signed by deaf people and respond to Miss Delaney’s comprehension questions, all with voices off, signing only. 

In January, Miss Delaney invited a guest signer to the club: her former Deaf Studies professor from Towson University. In preparation for this event, Miss Delaney documented the questions students were eager to ask the presenter and taught students how to sign each of their questions the week prior to his visit. Throughout the event, students were expected to be involved in this immersive experience where they were to remain muted on Google Meet the entire time with nothing but their basic signing knowledge, and the chat feature. Students at all levels of signing attended, creating a safe space for students to collaboratively engage with another signer and each other. Miss Delaney organized a well-rounded itinerary that included two games and a Q&A session. 

The first game involved students being tested in their color vocabulary during a scavenger hunt. Students were expected to find items in their homes that corresponded with the color they were assigned to search for. Upon return, students would be sent to search for another colored item, all in sign language. The second activity consisted of imagination, their classifiers skills, and a little fun. They were challenged to use imaginary “silly putty” to mold into various “objects” and the surrounding players were to guess the object molded by using their vocabulary signs or fingerspelling. As each player’s turn ends, they are expected to “throw” the “silly putty” to someone else on the screen. The designated catcher will recognize that they need to catch the “silly putty” by receptively reading their fingerspelled name from the previous player. The “silly putty” then gets molded into something else for another guess. Finally, the last 30 minutes of the event concluded with the students actively asking JB their curious questions. The ASL guest not only responded to these questions, but these questions also provoked more conversation. 

The impact of the event was everlasting. Students were in shock that they had successfully communicated with someone new without any verbal abilities. The students have been inspired and empowered to continue strengthening their skills and share their signs with their peers in school. Students’ self-pride oozed from their smiles and the sense of self-accomplishment ensured the success of this event. Miss Delaney hopes to continue fostering the excitement this language brings to the Fourth Grade hallway.