Talking with their hands

Students at Oxford High School have a third language option if studying Spanish or Chinese doesn’t stir their inquisitive minds.
Sign Language.
The Board of Education approved the newest addition to the world language program in the summer of 2009. So far in 2010, the first year of the program, the class has been a hit with students of all grades.
‘So far the response has been overwhelming,? said Language Arts and Theater instructor Debbie Brown. ‘I went from teaching Theater, Speech and English to teaching all ASL and one theater class.?
She will be teaching a total of 11 ASL (sign language) classes this year with 32-33 students in every class.
OHS sophomore Makayla Eckardt signed up for the class so she could communicate with her deaf aunt.
‘I thought it would be an interesting thing to actually to able to talk to her and it was an interesting language that I would actually like to learn and something helpful that I was going to use,? she said.
Instead of textbooks and lectures, Brown takes a different teaching approach. She instituted what she calls ‘voice off,? which is about 90 percent of the class.
During that time, no one is allowed to talk.
‘They are actually experiencing the deaf culture and community,? Brown said. ‘They are more focused on what they are signing versus what they are hearing or saying because in sign language, that doesn’t matter because it is all about the signs as their own language.?
Textbooks are replaced by videos from, where students can click on a vocabulary link and a video opens and shows them the proper way to sign.
Students also watch videos from different websites when learning numbers and finger spelling.
‘Then in class, I am going over the vocabulary with them, signing it to them and them signing it back to me,? Brown added.
Brown is currently working on vocabulary and grammar with her students. She added that the students were also starting to sign language conversations with each other.
She was surprised that the main challenge the students were facing was the amount of vocabulary they were receiving.
‘I really thought it would be the not talking, but they all seem to embrace it and really want to learn the culture,? she said. ‘They are really interested in it.?
Junior Rachel Saigh said that she signed up for the class because it was something new that piqued her interest.
‘I really like it because it shows a whole other community and it helps to communicate with a whole different world of people,? Saigh said. ‘It also shows that everyone else is the same and that deaf people aren’t any different from us, they just use a different form of communication.?
For senior Emilie DeFrain, sign language was an easy alternative to Chinese or Spanish.
‘I wanted to take a language other than chinese or spanish…it is different than all the other classes you take. It’s a lot of fun and you get to interact with everyone and learn different things,? DeFrain said.
The students like the class so much that they have asked Brown if higher levels of the language will be offered in future years.
She has also heard from other teachers that her students might be signing to each other from across the room during class.
A sign language club will also be starting this fall. Brown hopes to be able to go out and interact and do some work for the deaf community.
She is hoping to get permission to take her students into the elementary schools and teach sign language to the students.
Other events she would like to have for the club would be a movie premiere for ‘See What I’m Saying,? which is a deaf documentary.
She is also hoping to bring in deaf rapper Sean Forbes, who is from suburban Detroit.
Brown is grateful to the Board of Education for giving her the opportunity to teach the class. ‘The kids do really seem to be enjoying it,? she said.