Although sign language and fingerspelling were developed primarily for the hearing impaired, teachers have embraced their benefit for use with early readers. The use of sign language and fingerspelling provides a kinesthetic and visual approach to early literacy that may be helpful to a wide variety of students. Young learners find that signing is fun and teachers notice the benefit of integrating multiple learning modalities into their reading lessons.
The use of sign language and fingerspelling with early readers has many advantages in the classroom:
- Aids instruction in multiple intelligences. Howard Gardner's work in multiple intelligences suggests that presenting information in a variety of ways, based on a wide range of intelligences, provides more pathways to learning for students. Using sign language and fingerspelling is adaptable for several of Gardner's defined styles of learning. A child who is an interpersonal learner will enjoy the group dynamic of fingerspelling and sign language while a kinesthetic learner will benefit from the physical movement they require. The use of sign language and fingerspelling in early reading acquisition provides an additional avenue to learning for students.
- Boosts development of oral language. Teachers may choose to use sign language in an attempt to present new information to students via multiple modalities. This is especially powerful when developing oral language and content specific vocabulary. When a teacher signs a word, the child has the opportunity to both see and hear the word. The connection of the visual to the auditory can be a powerful connection for students. In turn, when a child signs and says a word he is further engraining the meaning through both a kinesthetic and auditory channel. This will boost a child's oral language development and the recall of new vocabulary.
- Supports knowledge of print and phonemic awareness. Knowledge of print relates to the student's ability to recognize letters and relate them to the corresponding sound and phonemic awareness. Sign language and fingerspelling reinforce the ability to auditorially identify and manipulate sounds in spoken words. Students combine these two skills to sound out words as part of their emerging reading skills. A teacher may use fingerspelling to represent letters, their sounds, and other letter/sound combinations. Using the hand shapes, teachers provide students an alternate method for learning and understanding the letters and sounds. Fingerspelling utilizes discrete hand shapes that may also help to eliminate confusion between similar letter sounds such as /j/ and /dr/ or /c/ and /z/.
- Integrates easily into almost any reading program. Using sign language and fingerspelling to boost early reading development is another way to acquire important skills. Since their use is an ancillary support method you can easily integrate it into any existing reading program. Sign language and fingerspelling fit nicely into the sequence of skill development required for early reading acquisition.
Download these cool sign language posters for your classroom! You can get a good alphabet chart from any of several websites on the Internet.
If you find that you need a few new ideas to help students engage in word play, grab our FREE Explicit Word Instruction Guide and energize your reading lessons, today! Have fun signing with your class. Try it; your students will love it!