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Sign language taught
at Elementary School

By Mason McMillion

While it is not unusual for elementary school students to learn bits of Spanish or French, a group of students at Oxford Elementary School are learning a different sort of language this spring.

Second- and third-graders in the school's Insights, or gifted, program are learning the basics of American Sign Language, taught by communication sciences and disorders majors from the University of Mississippi. The instructors are all from an Advanced Sign Language course taught by Rebecca Lowe, UM director of audiology and a clinical assistant professor.

"The students from my class teach the Insights students sign language basics such as the alphabet, how to make sentences and even how to sign songs." Lowe said.

The program runs eight weeks and is designed to acquaint the Insights students with the basics of communicating through sign language.

"Going into the Insights classes gives my students the experience of making lesson plans and actually teaching sign language," Lowe said. "They come up with creative games and fun ways for the children to learn sign language. The CSD students will teach about 30 words per session for about 150 signs total. The Insights students will also learn the alphabet, numbers and, typically, a song."

Lowe assigns students from her class to teach at Oxford Elementary at least once a week. Students from her class have found the project to be a good opportunity to practice what they have learned, as well as an excellent learning and teaching experience.

"You partner up with another student in your class, and that helps with the nervousness and workload," said Blann Phillips, a senior communication sciences and disorders major from Greenville.

"This was the best experience for me. I thought about going into deaf education afterwards. The kids were amazing and so eager to learn. I mean it was a lot of extra work but worth it in the end."

The Insights students get learning devices such as worksheets with the words to sign on them. The CSD students sit at the front of the class as they sign each word while saying it aloud. The Insights students sign back and generally pay close attention.

"It is amazing how quickly the students learn sign language, and it is fun to watch them communicate with each other through signing," said Laura Carr, third-grade Insights teacher at Oxford Elementary School.

The CSD students have plenty of opportunities to interact with the children, as they have many questions about what is being signed. And, each week, the CSD students return with a new sheet of words to learn. But before they move on to the new set of words, they test the Insights students' knowledge and do a review of the words from the previous week.

"They love the games that the university students play with them in their lessons, including bingo," Carr said. "They have actually 'learned' the basics of another language that they could use, if needed, one day."

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University of Mississippi students Mary Henry (right), a senior from Gulfport, and Rachel Dunlap, a junior from Alexander City, Ala., lead a class of third-graders at Oxford Elementary School in a song using American Sign Language. Communication Sciences and Disorders students from Ole Miss have been helping Insights students at the school learn sign language.

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