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Teaching ASL:  Shy students
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In a message dated 5/1/2005 12:29:09 PM Pacific Daylight Time, asl.tutor@ writes:
<<I want to know how ASL teachers can inspire extremely shy students to be confident when standing up to demonstrate ASL stories/etc.>>

Response: 
What we are discussing here is "exposure to public scrutiny."
Exposure to public scrutiny happens when a person is subjected to observation, examination, study, or evaluation by a group.
This is a nerve wracking experience for most people due to the fact that if they mess up, many people will become instantly aware of it. The person being watched knows that he is more likely to mess up because he is nervous about messing up. The more nervous he becomes, the more sure he will mess up and thus the cycle continues until it becomes paralyzing.

You've stated that your goal is to get a shy student to be able to confidently stand up and sign a story (or perform some other task) in front of a group.

Here are my thoughts on how to do that:

Start by having the student practice the task in the safest environment possible and then work your way up.

The safest environment is likely to be their home, behind closed doors where nobody will see them.
To help make this possible, provide study materials that are clear and self-explanatory so that shy students can practice at home on their own.
Assign topics ahead of time. Give plenty of notice. Remind the student numerous times that eventually he or she will be using this information in class.
Review the material just prior to asking the class to practice it.
Next, have the whole class, at the same time, practice the task. They should all be facing forward and focused on their own progress not that of their neighbor). They should be sitting down and be given plenty of time.
Next, ask for volunteers to do the task in front of the group.
Next, assign everyone to work in pairs. Put a kind, patient, friendly student with the shy student.
Switch partners frequently so no one is stuck with someone they don't like for very long.
Next have them work in threesomes. Then as a group of five. Note: If you put them in foursomes watch to make sure they don't break into two pairs.
You don't have to do this all on the same day. It is good to spread it out and let the shy student get used to working in small groups.
Insist that they all learn each other's names.
Next, have a few members from each group move to a new group. Using tokens of some kind is helpful for this. For example you could hand out poker-chips blue, red, yellow, and white. Then you can sign, "ALL BLUE STAND-UP" "ALL WHITE STAND-UP" BLUE, WHITE, SWITCH."
Next have all the students sit in one big circle and play a game where everyone is watching everyone else, but only momentarily. Make sure students know that if they get stuck they can ask you for help. Or assign them to partnerships so that as you go around the circle, if one of them doesn't know the answer he can ask his partner.
Next, have five students come to the front and sit in chairs. They are all sitting down, facing the "audience." You can call them student 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. (This makes it a bit more anonymous.) Ask each of the five students some sort of question and have them respond. You might want to show them the sign for "pass" and let them know they can "pass" if they would like.
On another day you have them do this same activity but standing up.
Later you call up three people. Then individuals.

What I'm explaining here is simply that you can use a progressive approach to getting your students up in front of class.

In all my years of teaching I have simply never had any real problem regarding "shy" students in class.
I generally start right out directing individuals to the front and interacting with them. I am very firm about this. I read my student's body language and begin with those students who are obviously fearless or actors. As class goes on, the shy students realize they will eventually have to come to the front. They prepare themselves for it and it ends up being a relief for them when it finally happens.
Here are a few more pointers:
Avoid embarrassing a student in front of his or her peers.
Focus on helping him to have a successful communication experience.
If he is not understanding you, gradually bring the communication down to his level. Ask him something he can respond to. Let him succeed and then send him back to his seat and call up the next student.
Communicate to your students that you appreciate their participation and that you recognize that standing up in front of class is easier for some than others. Emphasize that it is good for them and that you don't expect perfection but that this is a language class and that as such, we will be communicating to each other and to groups.
 

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