Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sign Language for Reading Strategies

Every day at school, I get so tickled - that's Southern for "amused" or "entertained" - at the kids who pass me in the hall or who are bus riders waiting in the gym each morning. They're just so funny! Before I explain what I find so amusing, though, I have to give some background, or it won't make much sense to you.

Part of my responsibilities as a reading specialist is to work with second, third and fourth grade classes on reading comprehension strategies. The first lesson I teach each class is on metacognition - being aware of one's own thinking.
Usually I use the book Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles as the literature selection for this lesson. I read the book to them (They love that!), stopping often to "think aloud" - modeling how I am metacognitive as I read the story. At the end of the lesson, I tell the children that when I see them in the hallway, I'd like for them to tell me if they're remembering to use metacognition when they're reading or doing their school work. However, I don't want them to get into trouble for talking in the hallway. So, I show them how to make an "M" in sign language. Then IF they are remembering to be metacognitive, they should show me the "M" sign whenever they see me around the school.

The second lesson I do with each class is on making connections. For this lesson, I use Click, Clack, Moo! Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. Great story - and great for making connections. Again, at the end of the lesson I ask the children to give me a signal if they're making connections in their reading and school work. This time I show them the "C" in sign language.

The third lesson is on self-monitoring - asking questions to clarify understanding. The text for this lesson is The Empty Pot by Demi - another wonderful text that provides great material to model questioning for understanding: Where is China? Is an emperor the same as a king? I wonder why Ping's seed wouldn't grow. What did the emperor mean by "the empty truth"? For this signal, I just ask the children to shrug their shoulders with their hands up - palms out - in the classic "Who knows?" gesture. (Sorry - I looked and looked online to find a graphic for this, but was unsuccessful.)

Anyway, the funny story is that now, every time I see children in the hallway or elsewhere at school (the cafeteria at lunch is a good time), invariably some of them are frantically giving me the signs and gestures for "M", "C", and "questioning." One sign after the other. If one child is showing me "M" then the next one over is showing me "C". They're just so funny! And this has been going on for months now! They very seriously purse their lips tightly to show they're not talking, but then gesture wildly with their C's and M's to catch my attention - only relaxing when I sign back at them. I just love it!

At first I was afraid they might be making signals without really understanding what the signals meant. However, each time I go to the classrooms for another lesson, we review the previous lessons, and occasionally I'll stop children in the hallway (if I know it's okay with the classroom teacher) to ask them to tell me how they've been metacognitive or to tell me about a particular connection they've made and how it helped them understand something better. Most of the time, I get wonderful responses that show me that they're learning to use the strategies. It's working - and it's fun.

The next lesson is on making inferences. I'll start that series next week. I'm still thinking of what signal to use for that!

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