American Sign Language (ASL)

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Teaching ASL: RPM (responses per minute)

1. Start where the students are and help them progress to where they want to be.

2. If where you want students to be and where they want to be are two different places, you've got some motivating and persuading to do.

3. Students are not empty disks to be filled with your knowledge. They come to class with a language foundation. Ignore that foundation at your peril, your course's outrageous attrition rate, and your students frustration level.

4. A classroom is an artificial environment for language learning regarding anything other than classrooms. A lot of instructors are claiming to teach "the natural method."  That is silly and misleading.  If you claim to teach "the natural method" and are teaching food-related concepts then you'd better be holding your lessons in a kitchen, dining room, and restaurant--or stop claiming to use the natural method.  So called natural methods promise the world but fizzle when used in a stark classroom environment.  "Natural approaches" work really well for second language learners age 0-11 and that is only if the instructor does an outrageous amount of preparation work--or if he indeed transports his students to natural environments.  That way when it is time to teach the concept "SALT" all he has to do is point at it then sign the concept.  What I instead see happening is instructors use a "natural curriculum" because it is supposedly popular or effective and then he ends up writing the vocabulary on the whiteboard in the students native language because everyone is frustrated.  Of course they are frustrated.   The instructor is pretending the classroom is a natural environment.  It isn't.  Adults don't like the natural method.  They already have a language base. Adults want to use their existing language to expedite the language learning process.

5. A few hours a week in an L2 (the target language) artificial learning environment doesn't equal "natural" or total immersion. It equals "slow drip."  A natural approach in an artificial environment works poorly unless that artificial environment is a fully functioning holodeck using hardlight and sensoristim technology.  Since we are not quite there.  I recommend you face the fact that you may be teaching in an unnatural environment (a classroom with desks and chairs) and adopt a teaching methodology that works well in this "unnatural" environment.

About the "Lifeprint Curriculum."

Road Safety experts will tell you that the main cause of automobile accidents is because someone "glanced" when they should have "looked." Some people "glance" quickly at something and turn away without having seen what was really there.
That is the way some instructors are regarding the Lifeprint Curriculum.
They look at it for a few minutes and think they understand it when they really have no idea what it involves or how it works in the classroom.
For example, they "glance" at one of my "lesson pages" and see what they think is a list of vocabulary, followed by a list of sentences. Then they think, "Oh, I've seen this before. That is how we used to teach ASL back in the 1960's--a list of vocabulary and some practice sentences."
What this person fails to realize is that what they are seeing is not a list of vocabulary, but rather it is a list of hyperlinks that lead to in-depth explanations of each concept.
When it is pointed out to them that these are hyperlinks and not printed words on paper, they then glance again and say, "Oh, right, that is the 'grammar-translation' method where you learn about the language but you don't really use it."
Thus we see such people managing to crash twice in the span of a few minutes.
The Lifeprint Curriculum is a discourse-based curriculum that is taught in-person via modeling and conversation and then followed up via homework in a bilingual-bicultural computer-assisted language learning (CALL) online environment.
New concepts are introduced in the target language mode (visually/gesturally) via direct association (pictures and graphics) and embedding (placement of new concepts within the context of previously learned material.
The big words aside, let's look at an example.
In lesson 3, one of the target vocabulary items is "CITY."
In the classroom the teacher shows a PowerPoint slide of a house. The sign HOUSE is then modeled by the instructor.
The teacher then shows a PowerPoint slide of a a city. The sign "CITY" is modeled by the instructor. Then a different slide is shown showing a different CITY and the sign is modeled again. Next the student is shown a slide representing a house and the Teacher, using ASL, asks a specific student, "What is that?" Then the teacher shows another slide representing a city and asks a different student, "What is that?" The student signs "CITY."
At this point the students have (partially) learned two concepts via "direct association."
Next the instructor will embed the concept of CITY into a question utilizing previously learned material. In the previous lesson the students learned the sign "LIVE/address." They have also learned that furrowed eyebrows are often interpreted as being a "Wh"-type question.
The chooses a third student and signs, "CITY YOU LIVE?" (using appropriate facial expression).
The student responds by fingerspelling where he lives or by asking for clarification. Note: All of this is taking place in the target mode without voice.
Then the teacher selects a forth student and asks, "CITY HE/SHE LIVE?" (referring to the student who recently answered). The forth student responds by telling where the third student lives. The instructor asks a fifth student, "HE RIGHT?" (regarding the forth students answer). Note: five students have been directly engaged in discourse and all of the students have had to pay attention throughout the whole process because they might be called upon to answer at any stage of the process.
Next the instructor shows a PowerPoint slide of the phrase "What city do you live in?" along with the gloss "CITY YOU LIVE?" (Sure, some ASL instructors prefer to sign "YOU LIVE (what)-CITY?" -- I get that, I really do. It is certainly a decent version.  I encourage you to do your own research and note how we Deaf "really" sign and then get a gut feeling for how short sentences tend to really be signed and in what situations.)
The instructor models it one more time then directs a sixth student to "ASK-me "that question" (referring to the phrase on the board). The student asks the teacher the phrase and the teacher responds. (Sometimes accurately, sometimes giving false information to check for understanding.)
This process is repeated four more times to introduce a total of at least five vocabulary concepts and five phrases which comprises a "set" or "card." Within a span of 10 minutes the instructor engages up to 30 students in personal, interactive discourse in a target mode (visual gestural) environment.
Next the instructor places the students in pairs and distributes cards containing the recently learned five questions to one person in each pair. To the second person in each pair the instructor hands a review card containing questions from the previous class session or a previously covered lesson. The students then take turns asking each other questions in the target language and responding. Thus in less than 15 minutes all of the students have moved from not knowing those five signs, to recognizing the signs in both isolation and in context and then using the signs in meaningful discourse with a communication partner. For as much as a full third of the class every student is engaged in conversational discourse in ASL. I have coined the phrase "responses per minute" or RPM to describe the Lifeprint method of teaching. This method is a combination of the natural method, the bilingual-bicultural approach. Using this method an average instructor can easily cover three sets (or "cards") in 45 minutes.

This is a "high RPM environment" and leads to rapid acquisition of demonstrated conversation skills because the students are using the language to learn the language.

Remember earlier I said that the students had only "partially" learned the sign "CITY?" That is because the "natural" method has a major weakness. It doesn't support rapid acquisition of multiple meanings of words or expansion of semantic range. Many students will walk out of such a class with very limited concept of the sign "CITY" -- not knowing that it also means "community" and can be used in such phrases as "the Deaf community." The Lifeprint method of instruction solves this problem (truncation of semantic range) by including a synonym list when appropriate. For example, such a list can be included at the bottom of the slide that is shown to the sixth student. This is where a bilingual-bicultural approach is superior to a "target language limited" or so called "natural" approach. Students who learn ASL via target language only approaches often report that they "understand" what a person is signing, but they can't put it into "words." Students who have learned ASL via the RPM method tend to become excellent interpreters because in addition to understanding what is being signed to them, they also have excellent back and forth conversational skills, and the semantic range required to interpret between their native language and the target language.
Most "immersion"-labeled courses cannot by any stretch be considered to provide an experience similar to that of "living in the environment of the native users of the target language." A couple hours a week sitting in a classroom provides only limited exposure. At best a "target language only" course should be called "the slow drip method."

In addition to the RPM method, the Lifeprint curriculum utilizes Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). From the convenience of home the student is able to access the online lessons. Upon clicking the "HOUSE" link, the student is showed two versions of house and the related sign CITY. Upon clicking on the CITY link, the student is shown two versions of the sign for CITY and is instructed that this sign also can be used to mean "Community."
This enables students to easily reinforce their learning at home and thus experience more success in the classroom.

Where do you get such PowerPoint slides?  Currently you just make your own based on the Lifeprint lessons. I have some "draft" slides that you can use, but understand that they are a work in progress.



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