I am not going to spend time reviewing literature here. That is something you can do. Instead, I am going to share my experiences with FS, what I have seen, and how I incorporate it into my daily interactions and daily instruction. My goal is that those teachers and interpreters who read this blog will immediately start trying a few techniques in their ASL expression and in their instruction. Once you try a few, you will quickly see the benefits and hopefully do more.
Several years ago I had a hearing teacher tell me that fingerspelling doesn't need to be introduced to Deaf children until kindergarten, when they start learning the alphabet and spelling words. That is completely untrue. Deaf parents of Deaf children start using FS with their children before the age of 2. Deaf children start producing FS words soon after. Here is a perfect example from my own experience. One DHH preschool teacher that I worked with used to use the initialized sign for BUS. I encouraged her to use the lexicalized sign #BUS anytime she talked to her class about getting ready to go home, riding the bus. Pretty soon her 3 and 4 year old students were signing 5-S repeatedly to mean BUS. They were able to recognize the movement of #BUS and approximated the handshapes. With continued modeling, over time these students began to sign it correctly. What was also noted is that these same students were using #OK and #DO without anyone realizing it. The moral of this story is...start using fingerspelling with all the children you work with, whether in a parent-infant program or in a high school setting.
An important note is that when fingerspelling, it is imperative to spell with a natural rhythm. You are doing a disservice to a child by slowly fingerspelling one letter at a time. It is unnatural and inhibits the child's ability to master an important feature of ASL and will disrupt their learning of written English. They also need to see them used in sentences, not only in word isolation.
Here are some ways that I incorporate more fingerspelling into my interaction and instruction, in no particularly order:
- I try to use as many lexicalized signs as I can: #BUS, #CAR, #EARLY, #BACK, #BANK, just to name a few
- When it's time to line up for lunch, I call on a student 1 by 1 to line up, fingerspelling a child's name in natural flow. I may have to do it several times for them to recognize who I am calling on.
- When kids have mastered recognizing their name FS, I do the same activity above but with their last names then middle names. Then I mix it up so they really have to pay attention.
- When teaching concepts in math, science or SS, I NEVER make up a sign. Instead, I FS the word and give an explanation. Once I know the students have grasped the concept, I only FS the word from then on. 4th grade students quickly grasp what C-O-N-V-E-C-T-I-O-N means by repetitive exposure to the FS word along with picture cues and explanations. Then after 1 or 2 days, I only have to FS the word.
- I rarely make up name signs for characters in stories we are reading. For younger children, I will FS shorter names, such as Bob or Mary, and as a class create name signs for longer names. However as the children get older, I FS most character names.
- I have students stand in a line side by side. I then fingerspell an action word such as S-I-T. I will FS it several times until finally someone knows what I spelled and sits down. Then the others follow suit. I then will FS S-T-A-N-D repeatedly until someone stands up. I do this numerous times until everyone has mastered these 2. Then I add in other words like J-U-M-P, R-U-N, S-L-E-E-P, and so on. The kids LOVE this game. It is fascinating how quickly even the youngest children catch on.
- For this game, I mix in written English. I make 2 columns on the board and write down many words. Since I usually have multi-grade classes, I will include 3-7 letter words. Repeat the same words list in the 2nd column. Then I divide the class into 2 teams ensuring that when they line up, the 2 people competing are comparable in age or ability. I then will fingerspell a word on the board. The students have to quickly recognize the word then run up to the board and point to the word. I give a point to whoever points to the correct word the fastest. This is a class favorite game.
For teacher friendly information about fingerspelling, I suggest you look at a few issues of the Odyssey from the Laurent Clerc Center. One in particular is the Fall 2003 issue. Click on this link to download that edition. http://www.gallaudet.edu/Clerc_Center/Information_and_Resources/Products_and_Publications/Odyssey/Vol_5_Issue_1.html You will find a few articles regarding fingerspelling and references to research.