Sign language

Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy student Brody Bennett, 5, uses sign language to communicate the letter "T" after learning how to sign the alphabet in his pre-K classroom.

The use of sign language to help very young children express their needs and wishes can help avoid frustration and tantrums, closing the gap between a desire to communicate and the ability to do so.

To meet the needs of some of the students at the Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy, the staff and students are learning sign language.

Copperas Cove Independent School District deaf education teacher, Kary Poorman, presented the first of two sessions to staff to learn some basic signs to use with students, said Stevens principal Mary Derrick.

“The teachers and instructional aides that attended came back from the first class excited about what they had learned,” Derrick said.

“Teachers can use sign language as a form of classroom management. By teaching the children the signs for things such as help me, bathroom, and play, children can say what they need and ask for permission without interrupting,” Derrick added. “Teachers can give simple directions such as sit down or wait your turn while continuing the lesson. This kind of communication creates a calm but still social environment.”

Bertha Neely, prekindergarten age 4 teacher, practiced each word, making the correct movement with her fingers.

“It will take practice, but I am excited about using it with my class,” she said, smiling.

Signing allows students to communicate emotions, desires, and objects prior to and during spoken language development.

“Students come to us with varying abilities to communicate. While some are little chatter boxes, others are shy. Some are just finding their voices while some are deaf,” Derrick said. “Sign language can enhance the learning process by bringing visual, auditory and kinesthetic feedback to help reach not only the students with communication delays but all students.”

Teacher Maxine Sanchez has been using classroom sign language for several years.

“It really helps control the class without having to shout across the room. The best part is when the kids start using it with each other,” Sanchez said.

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