David Maust on Signing 3

These comments by David about how he uses signing in his classroom might turn out to be of true value to some of us, and something that we can immediately put into our classes with potentially huge results. David makes point after point below why this could be true. Read this article in conjunction with the two previous posts and video on this topic. David explains:

The signing thing for me has taken on a whole new life this year. Before I saw it as just something to do when establishing meaning before moving on to the “real stuff” of telling the story, but now I see that it accomplishes much more when I use it consistently.

Mainly, I value it now for the power it has to give kids a way to participate that is NON-VERBAL. At NTPRS this year I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t supposed to even have kids repeat structures after me (i.e. forced production). I knew I wasn’t supposed to expect them to respond in sentences off the top of their heads in the target language, but I didn’t think of repetition as forced production. So my way of having kids participate in the past was repeating structures after me.

I like signing so much better because it keeps the class quiet and you can feel the acquisition process taking place. It gives kids something to do, but it respects the quiet breaks between my input that needs to be there for acquisition to take place. It also keeps us in the realm of the subconscious, whereas repetition breaks us into the conscious. I had to face it – the oral repetition thing was just hokey and fake-feeling. It felt like you were in school when a teacher says something and everyone else repeats (and school in the 19th century), but signing feels like you’re in a conversation. The kids buy into the signing much more than the repetition (which is forced production of course).

I also sense that signing gives the kids something to hang on to as well. I see some do it when I’m not prompting and it helps them stop over-thinking things too much. I think signing is for kin-esthetic learners, what word walls are for visual learners and what slow, circling is for auditory learners.

I also like that signing slows me down naturally. It is also a comprehension check and a mandate for everyone to engage. (I constantly make sure when I see kids starting to check out to bring people back into my focus and eye contact by mandating EVERYONE to show me the sign.)

I’m probably repeating what I said above, but this has just been such a ground breaking thing for me this year. I even have been introducing signs in my upper level classes for old words that they didn’t all learn well – even the upper level kids like doing the signs.

Thanks Ben for telling me in our coaching session at NTPRS when I was practicing that you needed some signs to make the Latin words I was speaking become real to you. That was the start of me understanding something new about language acquisition – that signing does something on a visceral and unexplainable level in the mind, body and soul.



3 thoughts on “David Maust on Signing 3”

  1. “I think signing is for kin-esthetic learners, what word walls are for visual learners and what slow, circling is for auditory learners.” Great point, David. I have been consistently gesturing with French 1, but may have to reassess for upper levels. If a student looks confused about a word or structures, the gesture clears it up 95% of the time usually with an eye roll and a “duh, I knew that”! Love this conversation. Thank you.

  2. I once had a “WOW” experience, which completely convinced me of the value of signing. A former student came to visit me; she had been away from Spanish for a year or more, but she wanted to say something to me in Spanish. She paused not being able to remember how to say it, then she proceeded to sign, and the words came pouring of her mouth! I was (and still am) flabbergasted by the experience!

  3. I agree. I have occasionally used a gesture to clarify meaning when a student indicates confusion, and it often clears it up. Or when an older vocab word comes up, and I check to see if they understand by using the gesture.

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