Sign Language in the Classroom

Posted on: 09/12/2009

Teachers come to the classroom with noble goals: closing the achievement gap, illuminating young minds. But first they must confront a more pressing problem: how to manage children’s urgent requests, in the middle of the most carefully planned lessons, for permission to sharpen pencils, get drinks of water, or visit the bathroom.

One solution, a growing number of teachers are finding, is learning to speak without sound.

“The very first year I taught, I realized how much time I was wasting in my classroom for my students to be constantly raising their hands,” said Fran Nadel, 25, a second-grade teacher at Woodburn School for the Fine and Communicative Arts in Falls Church, Va. “I realized if they could do this without talking, I could send them somewhere with a flick of my finger.”

Sign language has become a saving grace – a way to communicate without interrupting instruction – not just in her classroom but in schools across the country. Students sign the letter B for bathroom, W for water fountain, L for library – and Nadel, who devised the silent system when she was student-teaching four years ago, replies with a nod or by pointing.


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