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Sign language program benefits children and teachers|
By Andrew Fisher
| Dr. Marilyn Daniels is helping children establish a better quality of communication through the use of American Sign Language (ASL). Daniels, associate professor of speech communication at the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus, has dedicated 12 years to improving the communication ability of children.|
In her book titled Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Childrens Literacy, published by Bergin and Garvey in 2001, she discusses her research, including her finding that babies and young children have the ability to learn basic vocabulary up to six months faster with a combination of signing and speech than with speech alone. Since many signs look similar to the word they represent, the child has an easier time remembering the word at hand. First, the child sees the word, then makes the sign and eventually pronounces the word.
The book goes into greater detail about the rationale for signs success and the process for parents and teachers to implement it in their childrens and students education, Daniels said.
One of the key elements of a childs ability to remember a sign in association with the word it represents is muscle memory. Physical usage equals remembrance, Daniels said of this hands-on approach, which helps with recall through a learned movement.
The age at which the process is implemented is a critical variable. Daniels found that starting early with ASL can increase the rate at which children build a vocabulary. Her research has demonstrated that children as young as 6 months of age are able to repeat signs after only one month of exposure. Words signed by the child at this early stage of life usually include, but are not limited to, eat, drink, move and hungry. Most children who are taught to sign at an early age continue to use ASL and, according to Daniels, it is beneficial for them to do so.
Teachers using American Sign Language in a classroom setting can strongly benefit from a child who is familiar with signing. By associating the normal learning process with ASL, teachers can provide a link between nonfamiliar topics or subjects and words the child may already know. Teachers using ASL have an easier time keeping their students focused on the lesson at hand, because children have to pay close attention in order to learn new signs. This, in turn, creates a better learning atmosphere in the classroom and also provides parents with an interactive tool they can use at home.
Daniels indicated that sign language creates visual intake. Children read the sign with their eyes, transmitting the message from the right portion of the brain to the left. At that point, the sign is stored in memory. This process is comparable to learning new vocabulary in a second language.
Aside from performing research, she reaches out to elementary school teachers by presenting at in-service day sessions. There, she is able to educate teachers on signing techniques and on how to use them effectively to help build the vocabularies of their students.
I believe very strongly in this process and wish to actively promote its use in childrens education, she said. By informing even one teacher of the use of American Sign Language in building vocabulary, Daniels can educate an entire classroom of students. Educating numerous teachers creates a widespread, fun and healthy way to enhance the vocabulary learning process for students.