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John Dichirico » Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

American Sign Language, like all languages, is a language and therefore different from English. The parent language of ASL is actually LSF, langue des signes française, and the parent language of LSF is French. There are also other influences on ASL such as home sign, Martha's Vineyard sign language, and the sign languages of the indigenous populations of the Americas. Therefore, to say that ASL is just like English or easy because it is similar to English, is false. 
In some ways ASL is difficult to learn. If you were to take another spoken language your working memory still works in the same capacity. However, by taking ASL your working memory does not function the same way because you are not working in the visual-spatial modality (Williams et al., 2015). This means that a students' ability to retain information is shorten. 
Since an ASL GLOSS can be created to give a written transcript of signs, it also becomes difficult for students because they want to write in English but they actually have to write in ASL GLOSS. In addition, when students freely sign, they tend to follow the English sentence format and not the traditional, ASL sentence structure. 
Although components of ASL can be easier than Spanish or French, ASL is not automatically the easier language. You will still need to work hard, study, and practice. 
The curriculum we used is a creation of my own. Most of it was passed down to me from my high school ASL teacher who created her own curriculum. I took her curriculum and made many modifications and changes. Although Signing Naturally is a great series, it was designed as a college textbook and not for high school students. It can be used at the high school level but the pace and design is better suited for a once a week course over a semester.
In addition, some of the units in Signing Naturally are more appropriate for adults who have a different set of Funds of Knowledge compared to high school students. I also wanted to incorporate topics and chapters that match students desires such as a whole chapter dedicated to sports, which does not exist in the Signing Naturally curriculum. 
We do use videos from Signing Naturally, ASL at Work, and other books but they are used as supplemental materials for when I do not have time to work with other ASL teachers to create materials more appropriate for the curriculum we use. 
Note: There is a page dedicated to assessment protocols. 
There are two main assessments for all three levels of ASL. Expressive and Receptive Assessments. 
Receptive Assessments are online quizzes where students watch a video(s) and translates the information from ASL to English. Expressive Assessments are videos that students create where they demonstrate their learning of the material through American Sign Language.
Each chapter and unit requires students to complete both a receptive and expressive assessment. 
Mastery Grading or SBG is an assessment protocol used by teachers to focus on mastery of the standards. The curriculum we used has a long list of Student Learning Objectives and Program Learning Objectives (see below) that students need to demonstrate their mastery in. Each objective is based in the California World Language Standards (20019). 
Standard Based Grading is all about students being able to demonstrate their ability to meet the objective. Each objective can be broken down into four ranges (novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior). All four ranges correspond with the CA World Language Standards (2019). 
When a student attempts mastery at the end of a chapter, they are allowed to pick one of the four ranges to complete. Each range requires a different set of skills but as you go up the ranges, the previous ranges skills are already incorporated. This means, that a student who attempts the superior range, is also demonstrating the requirements of all the previous ranges. 
Understand, that each range has a different max score. This is because a student who demonstrates novice mastery, has not demonstrated mastery as required in the Student Learning Objective or the CA World Language Standard. Students who meet the superior range have demonstrated mastery of the SLO and CA World Language Standard. The course and each chapter is designed so students build and work their way up the ranges. Therefore, the day or a few days before the quiz, students are actively working at the superior range. 
  • Novice [max score, 60%] - Student shows mastery of vocabulary production or vocabulary identification
  • Intermediate [ max score, 70%] - Student shows mastery of sentence level discourse (produce or understand). 
  • Advanced [ max score, 80%] - Student shows mastery of short discourse (produce or understand). 
  • Superior [max score, 100%] - Student shows mastery of the objective with details (produce or understand).
Yes! The gradebook is broken into five categories:
  1. Receptive Student Learning Objectives - 20%

  2. Expressive Student Learning Objectives - 20%

  3. Culture and Connection Student Learning Objectives - 20%

  4. Fluency Student Learning Objectives - 20%

  5. Program Learning Objectives - 25%
Each chapter and unit is broken into several learning objectives that students attempt to demonstrate mastery at the end of each chapter, unit, and semester. On average each chapter has two expressive learning objectives and two receptive learning objectives. Each unit, on average, has two fluency objective and one culture and connection learning objective. 
The gradebook mimics the list of objectives that students are expected to demonstrate mastery in. Instead of seeing, "Chapter 02 Expressive Quiz" you will see, "1.03E" and "1.04E."
  • 1     = ASL 1
  • 03   = Learning Objective 3
  • E     = Expressive
The purpose of setting up the gradebook this way is to be able to determine exactly where a student is struggling. When a score is entered it become easier to determine what skill the student needs to show mastery in. This way, at the end of the semester if a student desires to raise their grade they can make an argument in stating where they are struggling and how they have improved in that area. 
A full list of Student Learning Objectives and Program Learning Objectives can be found in the syllabus or here:
  1. American Sign Language 1      - SLO -     - PLO -
  2. American Sign Language 2      - SLO -     - PLO -
  3. American Sign Language 3      - SLO -     - PLO -
There is no extra credit for any level of ASL. 
There are retakes allowed for all courses. However, to ensure that students do not abuse the system, students are required to schedule and complete a retake before the end of the next chapter. In some situations students may take a retake at a later date but most students are expected to complete the retake before we move on. 
Rarely does a student get this close to the next grade level. When this occurs, most likely I will reach out to you to determine what you can retake to raise your grade. This is usually the only time when students are allowed to retake a test at a later date (see previous question and answer).
Oh no! Injuries are no fun and there are a few things a students can do when they can no longer sign.
  1. Please keep me in the loop about your healing process.

  2. If your dominant hand or arm is the one that broke, then I encourage you to use your non-dominant hand to sign. If your non-dominant hand or arm is the one that broke, then I encourage you to continue to sign to the best of your ability. 

  3. If you cannot sign at all (pain, doctor's order, etc.) you can either take an Incomplete or (if time permits) you will complete the signing components of the course after your arm has healed. 
If you do injure yourself, I do hope you get better soon and want you to take care of yourself. I will say that ASL does not require two hands or two arms, there are Deaf individuals who can only use one arm, only have one arm, etc. If you can sign, you are encouraged to try your hardest. I will know your arm is broken and will take that into account as I grade your videos. 
Students are still required to complete any of the receptive assessments of the course and written assignments and exams. Most of our activities can be typed and additional time can be given and we can figure out a plan together. Since your grade is determined by mastery of the student learning objective, students are still expected to show mastery before the end of the semester.
Of course an Incomplete can be given and adjustments can be made for assignments. However, just passing a student is not going to support them in the long run. If I do not hold you to the learning objectives then I will not know where your skills are and then when you reach the next level you might be behind and struggle with the next level.
The best way to study is to repeatedly practice your signs! All students should focus on their current chapter vocabulary by looking at the list and signing the vocabulary words. Students have access to videos of me signing their vocabulary on Google Classroom, Canvas, or whatever platform I am currently using. 
In addition, students have access to the Master ASL Vocabulary List. This list contains all the vocabulary signs that students will learn in my courses (levels 1, 2, and 3). If there is a sign missing or a link is no longer working, please let me know so I can fix it. 
The base of learning any language is morpheme (word or sign) identification and production. The faster you can sign the sign or identify it, the easier the language will become. Just like when you acquired your first language you had to build your vocabulary. It takes time but the process can be sped up when a student practices everyday. 
My biggest suggestion to you as a student or as a parent or guardian monitoring your student progress is to do the following,
  1. Practice your fingerspelling by fingerspelling all day, every day. If you are in a car, passenger ONLY, when you pass a sign, fingerspell it. When you are listening or watching TV, fingerspell random words they say. When you see a word, fingerspell it. 

    There is also a fingerspelling resource here! ASL 1 students are required to complete these videos throughout the school year. However, you can always go back and watch them again.

  2. Practice your numbers. Just like fingerspelling, when you are in the passenger seat of a car and you see the speed limit, practice those numbers. When you see a phone number appear on TV, fingerspell that number.

  3. Practice your vocabulary. Every morning, afternoon, and evening or night go through your vocabulary list. You can keep it simple and practice using the printed list I gave you or you can do this with flashcards. Before you begin school, go through the list and mark the ones you did not know. Figure out those signs and go through the list one more time. 
    After school, pull out your list and repeat the same process you did that morning. Finally, do it once more in the evening or night before bed. Go through the list and sign the vocabulary. If you do it every day, three times a day, Monday thru Sunday, you will know all of the signs.