As we enter a new era of learning and sharing, teachers are beginning to discover ways of integrating technology in the classroom to create more productive learning environments (Balser, 2014). I know of many American Sign Language (ASL) instructors in colleges who rely on traditional teaching methods. ASL has visual and gestural attributes, which is different from spoken languages. (Smith, Lentz, & Mikos, 2008) Most “hearing” students typically struggle with developing receptive and expressive skills with the use of written materials only.
This action research plan is a step in my innovation for creating a blended learning environment and embracing the usage of videos to extend students’ success of ASL learning at the university level. The assessment plan is to examine students’ grammatical skills and cultural absorption in ASL learning within a blended learning environment.
I formed the research question: Will college students’ ASL grammar, receptive, expressive, and cultural awareness skills increase in a Blended Learning environment? I questioned what the best and most efficient, teaching strategies are to increase students’ skills in ASL learning. My reaction is to take a blended approach, combining face-to-face and online learning, by enhancing the use of videos, incorporating 21st-century skills in the classroom.
ASL Learning in Traditional Classroom
Classrooms in higher education have been functioning as traditional classrooms, using whole-class instruction (Kingore, 2005). This method creates the arrangement of lectures and teacher-centered methods focusing on repetition style learning and memory in regards to curriculum content and desired test results (Brandl, 2002). The traditional approach has been dominantly used in the ASL classroom for decades. (Fenicle, Cripps, Cooper, & Sever, 2015, April).
This learning environment often involves simply going through the motions with textbook lessons and homework (Fenicle et al., 2015). Fenicle et al. stated the method that most college ASL classes follow is the Signing Naturally curriculum that provides wide-ranging signed vocabulary, phrases, sentences, and narratives from deaf individuals. The printed pictures of signs and exercises in the textbook of Signing Naturally are provided to aid students in recalling and practicing what teachers had presented to them in class or what they have seen on exercise videos corresponding to the lessons (Smith et al., 2008). Traditionally textbooks are the only supplement in ASL classrooms.
Blended Learning Strategies for Engagement in ASL Classrooms
The book, It’s Not About Seat Time: Blending, Flipping, and Efficiency in Active Learning Classrooms, articulated that “…students also perceived that the space in active learning classrooms is superior to that in traditional rooms on a host of attributes including engagement, enrichment, confidence, effective use, room/course fit, and flexibility” (Baepler, P., Walker, J.D., Driessen, M., 2014). This quote highlights the essential qualities of a productive learning environment.
The blended learning, also referred to as mixed or hybrid learning, approach is an integrated instructional technique that combines face to face interactions within the classroom to online activities (López-Pérez, Pérez-López, & Rodríguez-Ariza, 2011). The fundamental view is that blended learning involves an actual “blend” of any kind of format and arrangements contained by the course of study.
Using a video alternative and supplement as virtual learning medium in learning activities to benefit the students’ knowledge and understanding. (Awuah, Ansong, Anderson, Boateng, & Boateng, 2016). The strategies include incorporating multiple resources, a variety of instructional tips, multi-option assignments, and flexible timing to allow students to help their peers (Tomlinson, 2014). Digital video offers many potential benefits (Bayram, 2012) and online video platform availabilities present the opportunity for creating online video content sites (Topps et al., 2013).
Students in this 21st century have become familiar with various related forums, internet sites, chat rooms, and vlogs (Ashton, Cagle, Kurz, Newell, Peterson, & Zinza, 2014). Students have access to ASL resources available on the internet, video libraries, and another media sources to build support for individual thoughts and present them (Ashton et al., 2014). Snodden, 2010 stated that technology was integrated in the classroom through the use of video recordings of ASL storytelling by Deaf adults and students, which were then reviewed and discussed in class. Working in both small and large groups was found to be a successful way for students to review their videos and check their comprehension (Mendoza, Caranto, & David, 2015). Students have responded to various topics shared on vlogs and recordings of personal responses to concerns of cultural issues within the Deaf community (Ashton, et al., 2014). An interaction approach will help students develop their receptive skills quicker because it has various signers and is not limited to the curriculum’s initial video signers (Fenicle et al., 2015). Almost every signer has a different signing style and having different signers in the videos will allow students to be able to recognize and learn how to understand various signers (Smith et al., 2008).
Assessment and Strategic Action Plan
Alternative assessments are needed to provide accurate measurements of their knowledge after learning because the grades received in class do not always accurately reflect students’ knowledge (Khodabandelou, Jalil, Ali, & Daud, 2017). American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) is used for interactive conversations between the examinee and interviewer to evaluate language abilities. In the study, the researchers find that the ASL Receptive Skills Test (ASL-RST) was administered to each student, ages 4 – 13, for about 10 minutes to measure their receptive skills in the categories of the ASL grammatical elements (Enns & Herman, 2011). Some of the grammatical elements measured were vocabulary, negation, noun/verb distinction, role shifting, conditional clauses, spatial verbs, and handling classifiers. The researchers’ study finds that most teachers reported using expressive sign language assessments of students without actually using any receptive measures (Mann & Prinz, 2006).
Therefore, developing a receptive, expressive, and social communication assessment covering all elements of ASL in Signing Naturally textbooks will be conducted in my action plan to examine students’ comprehension level as part of receptive skills, expressive skills and cultural awareness skills prior to and at the end of the setting of a blended learning classroom. The infusion of my action plan will take place in Baylor University’s ASL program. The cultural awareness skills is a crucial aspect to include, because the students will learn that the relationships between language and culture is connected through interaction and resources. The findings of student achievement and perceptions in the setting will be collected. The objective of the results is to obtain evidence that using blended learning in ASL classrooms is a productive learning mechanism.
For my action research assessment, the students’ skills will be examined in the ASL classroom with the blended learning approach incorporating traditional classroom techniques, online learning and activities as it combines aspects of each plan, including mini-lesson lectures, functional video resources, guided hands-on interactive learning, analysis, group/support discussion, and practices engaging students to actively and mentally participate in their work.
Ineffective and Effective ASL Learning
Humphries & Padden, 2004 emphasized that “No book can be truly self-instructional when the objective is to learn a language that uses gesture and vision.” In their study, the researchers’, Fenicle et al., 2015 find that classrooms who strictly adhere to this traditional model have weaknesses such as a lack of time spent on developing conversational skills. The impact of video relies on how it is applied in the classroom (Hooper, Rose, & Miller, 2005). Video offers an opening for language learners to perceive the dynamics of interaction (Awuah et al., 2016).
ASL classrooms that often rely on usage of videos, have possible complications with video teaching such as poor quality, organization, relevancy, and length of video that can affect student engagement. It is important for teachers to apprehend the role of assistive technology videos to enable students in an inclusive classroom environment, while retaining the fundamental lessons.
The learning format of tedious cycles of daily or weekly classes can cause students to become unfocused, distracted or passive, which will potentially affect students’ abilities to learn and therefore create an ineffective learning environment (Miza, 2012). The use of videos is ideal for providing feedback, conducting assessment and also improving the quality of mentoring. (Awuah et al., 2016). Flaws will present if there is a lack of time spent on developing interactive skills and irregular meaningful real-time feedback from the instructor in the classroom (Fenicle et al, 2015).
Using supplementary video in multimedia instruction as a teaching tool increases productivity of learning and value of experiences (Mendoza, et al., 2015). The selection of applicable video clips and preparation for presentation within the teaching materials represents an essential matter for curriculum strategy, leading to positive learning results (Mendoza, et al., 2015). Learning channels containing information that correspond to lessons can provide exposure to multiple perspectives and viewpoints, and encourage deeper analysis (Brunvand, 2010).
Even with video teaching and proper organization there are possible complications that can affect student engagement. There is an ongoing belief, increasingly being confronted by research, that video viewing is a passive activity in which viewers are only hastily reactive to what they are watching and that videos will obstruct or disrupt academic achievement (Cruse, 2011). Fenicle et al., 2015 noted that students are sometimes overwhelmed by the length of the Signing Naturally homework videos in the Level 3 textbook, which can cause them to lose concentration (Ramirez, 2016). Students cannot learn if there is a deficient use of positive reinforcement, excessively complicated tasks, and if the teachers do not remove obstacles or teach in large segments (Rosen, 2010).
Therefore, educators should explore existing digital resources or create short videos in order to motivate and engage learners. The authors (Awuah et al., 2016) suggest making the content of those videos different than the traditional classroom period. There ought be practice sessions in the videos, which should be followed up with a thorough discussion during the class time, such as analyzing grammatical elements (Smith, et al, 2008).
A new age of learning allows teachers to transform their learning environments. The purpose of assessing students’ skills is to assure that the new learning environment is productive. While the traditional approach has been well-known, its limitations call attention to the need to reshape the learning techniques used in the ASL classroom (Fenicle et al, 2015). Well-designed multimedia instructional messages can promote active cognitive processing in students, even when learners seem to be behaviorally inactive (Cruse, 2011). Therefore, learning to design and implement an American Sign Language (ASL) curriculum and develop effective teaching strategies is fundamental (Wilcox & Wilcox, 1997). With the evaluation of the new implementation of the blended learning approach at Baylor University, the approach will prove an outstanding format to use in the ASL classroom.
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