Saturday, March 21, 2009

ASL Parameters

Today I taught the penultimate class in American Sign Language (ASL) to fulfill my obligation to the church auction that took place last November.  I had auctioned off four, one hour classes in ASL to a group of six students.

It has been interesting to try to compress the myriad components of ASL into just four hours worth of lessons. Where to begin?

I decided to forgo the usual opening dialogue of "Hi, my name is" and hit 'em with my overarching beliefs and views on ASL as an integral part of Deaf culture.  This included a brief (yet passionate) diatribe on the history of deaf education in America and a lesson on the linguistic structure of this manual language.  My thought was to start large with the big themes and hone our understanding from there.

To their credit my little group met the challenge by not only learning vocabulary but also understanding the issues and finer points of Deaf culture, structure and grammar of ASL and posing brilliant questions.  


Inspired by the lessons I asked Lauren if we could make another short ASL video.  This one focuses on the 4 parameters of ASL. They are handshape, location, orientation and movement (some linguists argue for facial expression as well). These are the building blocks or phonology of ASL. The all important things you do when you are signing that native users may not have ever analyzed (think native English speakers diagramming sentences - how often do you do that?).  

The video was made at the end of an exhausting week.  Be kind!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I am working on a little project that has me getting lost in photographs of the children I have taught in the past.  It's so easy to fall in love (a little Linda shout out) with each smiling face, especially when it is put into this cutout at The Bronx Zoo.

The speech bubble should read "I'm a bumblebee dammit!"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Visit to Alison Jospehs and Maureen Sullivan

This is the first author visit post that includes the preposition 'to' instead of 'from' and that is certainly an exciting distinction. 

On Wednesday our first grade class was invited to Ankle Soup illustrator Alison Jospehs' West Side art studio. Alison and children's book author Maureen Sullivan graciously extended their hospitality for a reading of their new children's book Custard and Mustard which will be available in May.  

This love letter to Brooklyn's Coney Island highlights the many unique attractions that have kept tourists flocking to this beach and boardwalk destination since the late 1800's.  They include The Wonder Wheel, Nathan's World Famous Hot Dogs, Astroland, Steeplechase Park, Cyclones ballpark and the Mermaid Parade among others.

But, before we could dive into the magic of storytelling our little group of 5-and-6-year-olds had to travel across town.  In my 'never ceasing to amaze even me' sense of direction I figured we were in for a nice little stroll.  The studio is only three city streets from our school but I failed to consider avenues. That was a mistake as it is WAY across town.  I just now calculated that we walked more than two miles together before we reached our destination 45 minutes later. Yet, our brave, determined parade continued to march until we were happily greeted by Alison, Maureen and their little dog too.  
They had prepared a comfortable staging area with a large couch and comfortable chairs to rest tiny feet and bodies after a long journey.  Once we were settled in they began to share the creative process with us of preparing a children's book for publication.

As with their first collaboration, Ankle Soup the manuscript was completed first and the illustrations were created to help tell the story visually. To ensure the accuracy of the illustrations Alison took her camera to Coney Island to photograph and document each famous landmark and area of interest. Armed with these pictures she then began sketching out the skeleton from which to hang each vibrant gem.

From sketch to carbon paper to coloring in the lines we learned first hand how an idea finds life in the skilled hands of this artist. As Maureen read her clever rhyme celebrating Coney Island, Alison held up her original, in-progress artwork that will accompany each page.  Some are further along than others, details need to be added, colors adjusted but these things did not hinder my students enjoyment.  Our class was literally bouncing in their seats with excitement as they revisited this place many of them know so well. An unexpected bit of fun was found in trying to locate Carlos the French Bulldog on each page. 

With great humor, warmth and an obvious love of children Alison and Maureen (herself a former Second Grade teacher, I knew it!) brought us to The End of our adventure.  

As with Ankle Soup, this book ends with a short poem you can put in your pocket and share with others. (I'd share it now but don't want to get in hot water with Maureen for spilling the beans before publication. How amazing it is to get a behind the scenes look.)

After the reading, cookies were passed around and each child was given several tattoos of the star of both books; Carlos the French Bulldog.

Unfortunately, time was fast approaching when we needed to get back to school for dismissal. So, we made our fond farewells and hurried back to the East side - this time we opted not to walk. 

Lauren and I have been invited to the book publishing party on Thursday, May 14th so I am sure to be writing more about Custard and Mustard at that time.

Thank you Maureen and Alison for sharing your talents with the children and with us. As one child wrote in his thank you card...That was GREAT!  

Visit the Custard and Mustard website to learn more about this book and also read my review!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tips From My Mom #9

The eyes are the windows to the soul.  

In class sometimes I have to put on a stern face to show my students that I mean business.  The time for fooling around (or "foola, foola", as I often call it) has come to an end and we need to focus.  But inevitably my efforts are shot down when the little ones look into my eyes. They can tell I want to be silly too.  Darn those windows to the soul.

I have tried to keep the shades drawn but to no avail. I've even tried to experiment with it.  Just this past Friday I was giving 'the look' to our energetic student Jeremy and trying hard to remain serious.  As I held my outward facial expression I inwardly altered my tone.  The minute I let down my guard he looked at me and said "You are funny".  So much for that!

In an instant he could tell.  Just from my eyes.

In this I also knew that he knew how much I treasured him.  I knew that he knew I thought he was funny too and that I get a kick out of his antics, even as he tries my patience. He is just too adorable.

It's nice to see that look in another persons eyes.  The acceptance. The love. The knowledge that someone gets a kick out of you, treasures you, wants to be around you.

There are two old photographs of my mom and I that express this. Mom beaming at me...

And me smiling at her in adoration.

I love these photos for this reason. All through my life I have noticed when people look at one another with this feeling of love. I've seen it on Lauren's face when she is working with a student. I have caught my dad gazing at my mom (quite often) with this expression on his face, I have seen it in the faces of my friends and lovers. It surrounds me.

If the eyes are truly windows to the soul then I have been blessed to know an exceedingly large number of gentle and loving souls in this lifetime.  I am thankful and grateful. It started with my dear mom who I am positive spent many nights watching her little ones in our cribs.  How wonderful to grow up surrounded by this much love. Pass it on...

Sunday, March 1, 2009


In early 2008 I was asked if I would be willing to participate in the award-winning Bright Smiles, Bright Futures (BSBF) global oral health education program created by the Colgate-Palmolive Company.  

According to their literature this program reaches over 50 million children and their families in 30 languages and 80 countries each year.  The goal is to inspire kids to take control of their own oral health.  

Last year the folks at Colgate-Palmolive were looking to create a special edition of their Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program designed with hard-of-hearing students in mind.  The materials that were subsequently created emphasize language and readings skills and incorporate the use of visual aids to help reinforce important oral health knowledge.

Of course, I said that I would be delighted to participate.  I was given the materials and asked for input that would be beneficial to deaf and hard-of-hearing students.  What changes or additions would need to be made so that this program was not only appropriate but useful?

The packet has many components.  There is  an animated adventure movie called Dr. Rabbit and the Legend of Tooth Kingdom about an exciting oral health journey with knights and monsters.  This DVD includes optional subtitles to allow for ease of interpreting into American Sign Language.  The good folks at Colgate-Palmolive also included a copy of the script which I applaud because this can help students and teachers prepare before viewing.  It also promotes literacy and reading fluency as the students are encouraged to read the script over and over. The more we read the better we become at reading!

The characters, places and main concepts from the DVD are also pictured on cards along with the word written out in English and with the fingerspelling alphabet.

The cards can be cut out and children can play a fun concentration game to support the movie related oral health vocabulary.

In total there are 7 activities which provide opportunities for student engagement.  This also includes a guide for proper brushing in 5 easy steps.

Overall, I thought the materials they originally presented to me looked very good.  I made a few suggestions that were accepted (like changing the wording of the program from "An Oral Health Education Program for Hearing Impaired Third Grade Students" to "An Oral Health Education Program for Hard-of-Hearing Third Grade Students".  The difference may not seem so important but it is) and a few that were not accepted (like targeting this for a younger grade, perhaps First, because the cartoons seem a little young for Third graders).

The packets were completed and sent out to schools in January but I just received a copy of mine last week.  The thrilling part of this for me is that in addition to having a cool item on my resume, I am listed as an 'Education and Oral Health Advisor' on the back of the brochure.  

It is the first time that my name is followed by Ph.D. It is not yet the case and is a bit misleading but one day that will be true so I'm not going to sweat it.


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