Hands-On Language Learning: Glide in the classroom at The Ohio State University

Hands-On Language Learning: Glide in the classroom at The Ohio State University

By Chaim Haas, Glide’s Head of Communications

Back in high school, I had an English Literature teacher whose approach to grading our papers drove every student insane. Everyone in the class started with 100 points and the deductions started there. The closer your negative score was to zero, the better you did on the assignment. Despite this rather strange approach, I still consider Mr. Holzman to be one of my best teachers ever, as he ingrained in us the practices of critical thinking, review and memorization. To his credit, I still remember large passages of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that he had us memorize and recite back in class. Today, I often still cite them when discussing leadership with my professional colleagues.

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, which always reminds me of my three favorite high school teachers. Furthermore, it makes me think about the essential role teachers play in helping us all succeed in unexpected ways and see the world through a new lens.

That is exactly what three Senior Lecturers at The Ohio State University (OSU) are doing with students in their American Sign Language courses. They have empowered their students to extend learning well beyond the walls of the classroom. As a visual, gestural language, ASL is best learned, practiced and mastered through face-to-face communication and in small group settings. And as anyone who’s studied a second language can attest, mastery is all about practice, practice, practice.

Recognizing this, the professors have introduced video messaging as a key part of their students’ learning experience. Over the course of this school year, they’ve created “Sign Teams” to increase student-led conversations, interactions and accountability in and beyond the classroom. Students are also assigned “Sign Pals” outside of their section, encouraging them to communicate with people they may not know using ASL and adopting culturally appropriate practices. This ensures they’re not only learning the language, but also learning to appreciate Deaf culture.

Feedback from the students has been positive, and early indicators of success point to stronger performance among those using the app frequently — whether studying with classmates or asking their professor a question via video messaging. Demand for the classes, which satisfy the University’s requirement for three semesters of a foreign language, continues to grow — with 400 students enrolled and dozens more on a wait-list each semester.

In encouraging this kind of authentic use of the language, these Ohio State professors are helping their peers at other institutions re-imagine what’s possible in ASL education (and potentially other foreign languages as well). Their work was well received by the audience  at last year’s Ohio chapter meeting of the American Sign Language Teachers’ Association (ASLTA).. And they also shared their experiences from this academic year earlier this week at the 10th Annual Academy of Teaching Conference on Excellence in Teaching & Learning, “Making Teaching Matter at a Research University,” and will do so again at next week’s Innovate Conference — both taking place at Ohio State. They were also recently selected by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) to present at their 2016 Annual Convention and World Languages Expo in Boston this upcoming November.

Deaf users are such an important part of our community, and the work of these stand-out instructors is yet another great example of how video messaging is helping bridge both communications and understanding between the hearing and the signing communities.