By Samantha Smith
For decades, teachers of foreign languages have been able to attend workshops where educators can standardize not only teaching expectations, but student performance as well.
American Sign Language (ASL) educators, however, have had to create their own curriculum, spending countless hours outside the classroom working on lesson plans and activities without any regional support.
Shelley O’Donnell, a Hays CISD ASL educator for 22 years, along with Tyler Bazzi, a Hays CISD educator from Lehman High School, changed all that by organizing the inaugural Texas ASL Educators workshop, held July 28-29. The workshop was a two-day event for ASL educators to share ideas with other teachers.
O’Donnell’s inspiration for creating the workshop came when her husband asked why she spent so much of her personal time working on developing an ASL curriculum.
She said there are only 240 certified ASL teachers in Texas, with only 130 Texas high schools offering ASL as a foreign language. As a result, networking capabilities are slim to none.
It’s a challenge as the deaf population in both Buda and Kyle are “booming,” O’Donnell said, with the Texas School for the Deaf located nearby in Austin.
ASL, which wasn’t taught in schools until the 1990s, has quickly become the third most common language in the U.S.
“Oral languages have all the advantages,” O’Donnell said.
According to O’Donnell, more than 60 teachers attended the two-day workshop from 48 different school districts across Texas. It was intended to help teachers standardize the curriculum for ASL student performance across the state.
O’Donnell said the workshop centered on topics like how to teach ASL with voice only, how to teach with signing only, hearing versus non-hearing teachers as well as integrating technology into the ASL classroom to assist hearing and non-hearing students alike.
Hearing and non-hearing ASL educators attended the Texas ASL Educators workshop and, according to O’Donnell, “not a word was spoken in those two days.”
“It’s easier to do it (teach ASL) as a village instead of on an island”, O’Donnell said of the challenge of teaching a foreign language without any colleague support.
O’Donnell said technology has opened doors for ASL educators. Since ASL is a visual language, instructors teaching without the aide of technology often take days or a week to cover certain material. With the help of technology, O’Donnell said she could teach the same amount of material in minutes.
In today’s age of smart phone technology, students can record each other signing with their smart phones, and then post the videos to Google Classroom, where they can be viewed and shared at a faster pace, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell received nothing but positive feedback from the teachers who attended the workshop, with about 70 percent of them wanting to return next year as members of the planning committee.
O’Donnell, who began teaching ASL because her daughter is deaf, said the overall goal is taking ASL into the “real world.”
“It’s about integrating hearing and non-hearing students in the same class and taking ASL outside of the classroom and into the real world,” O’Donnell said.