- Sponsorship -

Signs of Understanding

Students with Impairments Learn New Way to Communicate


Senior Nathan Ketchpaw uses sign language with big motions –– wide arms, a broad grin. His favorite sign? “Lion,” he demonstrates, running his hand through his hair, like a paw through a mane.

Excitement was on clear display in East Kentwood High School teacher Cheryl Franks’ sign-language class recently, where Nathan and his Moderate Cognitive Impaired classmates used quick hand motions to sign animal names. They played Simon Says, attempting to be the last student standing, or rather, signing.

Sophomore Tessera Hovermale and senior Joanna Cabellero-Solis compete at who can sign vocabulary words the fastest

Fish, Mom, happy, table, glasses, rain, truck, dinner and socks, they signed, demonstrating a small portion of words they have learned thanks to Franks. They can even sign full sentences and have conversations. They signed “excited” and “enthusiastic,” their expressions matching the words.

Their new abilities are more meaningful than meets the eye. The class teaches special education students an alternative form of communication. For some, it has led to major breakthroughs.

Franks spends two hours each morning teaching Signed English as an elective to special education students. (It differs from American Sign Language because it uses a sign for every English word, whereas ASL is a language that has a unique grammar and vocabulary that is different from English or any other spoken language.) Conversing with them is a joy, she said.

Alexis Stewart takes her turn “driving” in sign

“Using sign language to talk is so much fun,” Franks said. “We can talk back and forth. I can ask them things. They can answer me in sign.”

In the hallway, MoCI student Daminh Nguyen says and signs, “You, you, good morning!” He was nearly non-verbal before learning to sign, Franks said. Now he talks a little and signs. “He can say all of his classmates’ names out loud.”

Making New Connections

Franks, who also teaches a special education English class, has taught at East Kentwood since 2004. Initially self-taught in signing, she attended Grand Rapids Community College to learn more. Last year, five students in MoCI teacher Brandy Ghoston’s class were nonverbal, and Franks wanted to teach them to sign.

Shyanne Walker signs “tiger”

Students loved it, she said, and picked up words like sponges. They now use it all day long in Ghoston’s class.

“The coolest part is I’ve seen students make connections with reading that they’ve never been able to,” Ghoston said, adding that they have gotten so good at signing, they teach her words and correct her.

In sign, they’ve Christmas caroled, read Dr. Seuss books to elementary students and presented “It’s a Deaf, Deaf World,” a simulated experience of being deaf, to general education students.

Some students also lack dexterity in their hands, Franks said, and signing helps loosen them up.

Amar Alicehajic has learned to sign many words
Amar Alicehajic has learned to sign many words

Building Family Bonds Too

Senior Haley Misiewicz, a general education student, received special permission to take Franks’ class. She wanted to communicate more with her sister, Jessica, who has special needs and also learned to sign from Franks.

“She would come home and sign things and I thought it was so cool,” said Haley, who plans on becoming a special education teacher. “It’s easier for her to communicate with me that way. It’s super cool. Every day I learn something here and I go home and sign new words with her.”

CONNECT

Article on Sign Language with Special Needs Students

Donald Cutt makes the sign for “monkey,” next to teacher Brandy Ghoston

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

LATEST ARTICLES

Learning from a place full of living things

Rebecca Perry and her class of eager kindergartners spent their morning exploring the newly redone Living Lab at Zinser Elementary...

Mapping the road to learning

Elementary teachers Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas are at the forefront of using a curriculum designed to further educational goals, regardless of whether students are in person or online...

‘Even though it is extra work, I don’t mind the changes’

Teachers of specialty subjects — art, music and physical education — share their experiences after the pandemic prompts changes to class procedures...

Bus drivers work as daytime cleaners during pandemic

It’s also a plus to have familiar faces around school...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

East Kentwood moves to remote learning due to COVID-19 cases

East Kentwood High School and Freshman Campus has pivoted to remote learning until Friday, Oct. 30 due to positive COVID-19 cases...

Operation Face Shield: complete

The nine-week project resulted in 10,000 pieces of PPE that were distributed in West Michigan to more than 100 organizations...

Longtime art teacher receives two major education awards

East Kentwood High School teacher Le Tran was named the Michigan Art Education Association secondary art educator of the year and the 2020 Overall MAEA art educator of the year...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS