In an age where children are still struggling with learning how to read, we owe it to our children to discover new ways to help them with their efforts to become literate. It is worth pointing out then that there are many studies that support the positive effects of sign language on literacy. The results of this valuable research offer proven methods of improving children’s literacy skills and vocabulary retention.
Marilyn Daniels, author of Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy, spent ten years researching the impact of sign language on literacy. What she found was that children that were given sign language instruction repeatedly scored higher on vocabulary tests. She also found that the children loved to learn and use the signs that were taught. As a result, the children were more engaged and focused which contributed to the overall success of adding sign language to a reading program.
Special education teacher Laura Felzer experienced success when teaching her students, most of whom had Down Syndrome, to read by incorporating sign language into her reading program. She found that her other students were also fascinating with signing and eager to learn and use the signs. As a result, all of her students benefitted from the use of sign language in the classroom.
The success of the program prompted her to take a leave of absence and team up with Kindergarten teacher Ruth Nishida to develop “A Multisensory Reading Program that Really Works” at the Cal Poly Pomona University Campus. She also studied the history of using sign to help hearing children learn and discovered that Thomas Gallaudet, the pioneer of education for the Deaf, advocated the use of sign language for spelling, vocabulary retention and language development in hearing children. This seemed to be a common thread among many educators who had observed similar results when sign language was used to help hearing children learn to read.
Daniels and Felzer are not the only researchers who have discovered that sign language has a positive impact on the literacy skills of all children. The results of several independent research studies all indicate that there is compelling evidence that using sign language can enrich a child’s reading experience and boost literacy skills. Adding sign language to a reading program combines seeing, saying and doing and transforms traditional reading instruction into a multisensory experience. Countless teachers have also found the same results: using sign language is a powerful strategy for helping children learn how to read.
In the past, our education system has been somewhat resistant to change, even if the current methods of instruction were not achieving results. More recently however, even some senate education committees have recognized the benefits of using sign language in the classroom and have urged the Department of Education to incorporate sign language for the benefit of children.