ASLpah.com | Volume 1, Issue 5, Dec. 2003 | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor
American Sign Language Expressive Testing
ASL Instruction Methodology
Hello ASL heros!!!
I've been thinking about radical teaching styles lately.
Traditionally most ASL teachers do quite a bit of "receptive testing"
wherein they sign to their students and the students write their answers.
Receptive testing typically takes less time than expressive testing
because you can test a whole class at the same time.
I'm looking into the idea of how to "radically increase" the amount of
expressive testing students receive. I'm considering a balanced
teaching/testing format wherein for a class that meets two days a week,
the instructor would teach the first day and conduct expressive testing
the next day. For example, in a Tuesday/Thursday class, Tuesday would be
invested modeling ASL grammar and introducing new vocabulary (embedded in
context). Then on Thursday testing would be conducted wherein each student
signs to the instructor. Feedback regarding "production errors" would be
provided to the class as a whole the following Tuesday.
It only takes a few minutes per student to have each student sign a
paragraph or set of phrases.
Motivation during the Tuesday course would be increased. Students will
come to class knowing that they will have to reproduce the material the
very next class session.
Previously learned material would also be included in the testing. The
testing will have two parts. The first part is pre-assigned so that the
student has a knowledge of exactly what he is expected to sign and can
thus prepare by practicing certain information. The second part is drawn
from previously covered material but the student doesn't know exactly
which phrases or paragraphs are included. To prepare for the second part,
the student would need to cumulatively review the course material.
Most teachers would dismiss the idea out of hand (pun intended) due to the
notion that you'd lose half your teaching time and students would sit
around bored 95% of the testing class period.
But I'm convinced this approach can lead to vast improvements in student
performance and that the students themselves would find themsleves working
harder than in a traditional course. The better students would take their
test near the beginning of the period and could leave or stay and
practice. (Obviously I'm talking about college students here.) The less
skilled students could take their test later in the hour after having
practiced more. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to stay the full time
though if for no other reason than for the opportunity to practice signing
A smaller version of this technique has already reaped dividends. Normally
I give a more extended "expressive" interview at the end of each semester.
I block out a whole day or several days and each student signs up for a 15
minute time slot. But I found that a fair number of students were arriving
unprepared for the realities of an expressive exam.
So I decided to set up what I call a "prefinal." The prefinal was a
mini-version of the expressive final exam. I held the prefinal during
normal class time and simply had the students sign their names on the
board in the order that they wanted to take the test.
They came to my office where I had list of five phrases for them to sign.
It only took a couple minutes for each student and I was done by the end
of the class period.
The prefinal was worth 10% of what the actual final was worth.
While quite a few students did relatively well on the prefinal--it served
as a wake-up call to many. I noticed a marked improvement in student
performance on the actual final which was given the following week.
I'm inviting comments fellow teachers (and students if you are so
inclined) regarding this approach to ASL instruction.
Here is a little grammar tip for you students out there:
Consider the phrase: "YOUR BOSS NAME?"
In English this might be translated as, "What is your boss's name?"
This sentence requires an answer other than “yes/no.” It requires the
other person tell you a “name.” Since it is not a “yes no” question it is
therefore a wh question because it implies the “WH” as in “What” is your
bosses name? Even though we don’t sign the “What” explicitly, it is there
in our facial expression. The facial expression for a "Wh" question is to
furrow your eyebrows a bit. (In thinking of a way to describe the facial
grammar for "Wh questions" I would compare it to what a person looks like
when he or she is trying to get a better look at something. Their head
actually moves forward on the neck about an inch and they squint their
eyes a bit.)
The sentence: "YOU LIKE COOK?"
In English this might be translated as, "Do you like to cook?"
This sentence requires a "yes/no" answer. The concept of "do" is not
"signed" but is expressed via facial expressions as raised eyebrows. The
head tilts forward just a tad.
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