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American Sign Language Curriculum Online Textbook Review by Sarah Roth

Paul Fugate
PO Box 214199
Auburn Hills, MI 48321

Many people choose to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with members of the Deaf community, family, and friends. In addition, more colleges now accept ASL to meet foreign language admissions and graduation requirements. ASLdeafined is a subscription-based digital curriculum for learning ASL. The self-paced lessons are designed for anyone who wishes to learn ASL: those with a personal interest, parents of Deaf children, and Deaf individuals. This program was not designed specifically for homeschoolers, but it can easily be used as a complete foreign language program. Access to all levels of lessons- Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Advanced Plus, and 5th Level- is included with an annual subscription. There are over 80 themed lessons in each level. All lessons use a video format, and Deaf experts sign all videos. Within each of these levels, students learn ASL grammar and structure, variations in signs, handshape and location of signs, English to ASL translation, and information about the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Retention exercises and activities are included in each lesson to help practice, retain, and assess what has been learned. Quizzes are given periodically. Each activity and quiz are scored and recorded on a progress chart. Optional activities, such as the student videotaping themselves fingerspelling and signing, are suggested for improving expressive skills, self-assessment, and additional practice outside of class. Warm-up exercises are also included for review of previously learned material. Although this is a complete program on its own, it can also be used with another ASL program for additional practice and review or for learning over school breaks. There are two ways to subscribe to the site. A personal user account is $36 annually, while an educational user account is $12 annually per student with a free teacher subscription. In addition, a 3-day free trial is available, and subscriptions can be canceled at any time. All subscription types include access to the materials on the website and the app, which is available for both iPhones and Androids. The app consists of all the lessons and the ASL dictionary available on the website, and it is easy to download and use. Although high-speed internet is not required, it is recommended. ASLdeafined is designed for all learners, and our family found it beneficial to learn together. My children, ranging from early elementary to high school, had some exposure to ASL before using ASLdeafined. My 13-year-old had completed an introduction to ASL class before beginning these lessons. Together we started with lessons at the Beginner level. This provided an excellent review for some and new material for others, and we all benefited from being able to sign together. My 13-year-old and I also began some lessons at the Intermediate level, and we found these built very well on what we had learned from our introductory class. Another reason that it was helpful to learn together was the format of the lessons and activities. The lessons are videos of Deaf experts signing; there is no audio. Some signers mouth the word being signed, some don't. The words, letters, numbers, and concepts taught in the lesson are labeled on the left side of the screen, and the student clicks on the words to see the sign. Pre-readers and early readers may need to work with a parent or older student. For Deaf students, this format can help them learn to read English from ASL. In addition, we liked the videos' option to slow the video by clicking a box in the upper left corner of the video screen. This helped us learn to sign and recognize the signs correctly. Each themed lesson contains about 20 vocabulary words and four or more retention exercises. Lessons are of varying lengths, but most lessons took us 30-45 minutes to complete. To further show what the lessons include, here is an example from a Beginner lesson titled "Family": At the top of the lesson screen, there are two gray bars. One is for viewing optional exercises to be completed after the lesson. For this lesson, the optional exercises instruct the student to use ASL to introduce family members by relationship and name in a recorded video (the family members do not need to be present). The student then views their video to see how clear their signing is. A video recording device is required for this optional exercise. The other gray bar is for a warm-up exercise, which reviews a previous lesson on colors by having the student point to objects in the room and sign the color of the object. Under the gray bars is a green box with 20 vocabulary words that the student can click on. In this lesson, the words include family, have, mother, father, son, daughter, boy, girl, child, children, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, cousin (male), cousin (female), grandfather, grandmother, great grandfather, and great grandmother. When a word is clicked on, the video screen next to the green box will show a Deaf expert signing the concept in ASL. If there is more than one way to sign the concept, there is a place to click to see the variation(s). For instance, next to "sister," the student can click "[1]" to see another way of signing "sister." The student should practice signing with each video. Once the student has viewed and practiced all the new vocabulary, they are ready to scroll down to the activities. The lesson "Family" has eight activities. Two activities practice matching vocabulary with an ASL video. Other activities practice the correct hand shape, hand location, and grammar. In another one, the student chooses the sentence that corresponds to the video. If any unlearned vocabulary is included in the signed video, it is identified in blue lettering, which can be clicked on to view the word signed in the ASL dictionary. Other activities illustrate the dialogue between two ASL speakers and provide English to ASL practice. Most of the activities are multiple-choice; for some, the student types in the word, and in others, the student watches and learns from a video, checking a box when they have completed the activity. These activities are all scored. If a student scores less than 100%, they are able to review the activity and try again. Mastery is the goal. The progress record on the student dashboard shows the lessons, activities, and quizzes completed, along with the scores and number of attempts it took to complete the activity. Each account has its dashboard, so if several students learn together, they need their account to track their individual progress and scores. We chose to do the activities together. There is not a guide for grading the course, so it is up to the teacher/parent on whether they want to include the activity scores in their final grade. There is no guide for assigning high school credit for the course, but with the number of lessons, activities, and quizzes at each level, each level could easily be a full year of ASL. A complete lesson list can be accessed from the home bar or the dashboard. This lists all the lessons, quizzes, and reviews for all the levels. This is especially helpful for scheduling the course for the year. And, if the student has learned some ASL before beginning this course, or if the website is being used to review or provide extra practice, the instructor can use this list to decide which lessons their student should complete. If the student is not completing the lessons in order, they should be aware that lessons build on each other, and previous vocabulary and skills will appear in subsequent lessons. However, the ASL dictionary is also always available on the home bar or the student's dashboard. When the student views their dashboard, they will see the next lesson to be completed. This follows the order in the master list. I did not see an option for a parent/teacher to create their schedule on the website. Therefore, the recommended next lesson will be the lesson that follows the most advanced lesson or activity that the student has completed. Another beneficial section on ASLdeafined is "My Lessons." In this section, the instructor or student can build a themed lesson of their own. This is a private section, and the user's lesson will not appear to other users. I chose to create a lesson that contained signs that we may need to know about church. All I had to do was pick a theme, add a picture related to the theme, and input several vocabulary words (Bible, communion, cross, pray, etc.). Then, the terms with the companion videos were compiled in a lesson with activities for me. It was quick and easy. The vocabulary words did need to correspond with a word or words in the online ASL dictionary on the website. But, with over 17,000 words, I did not have trouble finding the words that I wanted to include. I could also include variations in the signs if there was more than one way to sign the concept. Several of these signs were ones we had not practiced in a regular lesson. This would be very beneficial for a family or individual who planned to go to or work in a specific setting where they expect to communicate with a Deaf individual. Students can also save favorite lessons and vocabulary on their dashboard, view signs for words with multiple meanings, and learn signing and grammar tips. A parent could use the "My Vocabulary" section to list signs that the student needs to practice more. One of the review activities that we enjoy the most is the story-time style reviews. In these, a Deaf expert signs a story. One is about a boy's dog and includes his dog's color and what tricks his dog can do. It was fun to see what signs we already knew and could recognize easily. Signs in the story that had not been previously covered had a link to see the sign and its meaning. The one change that I would appreciate in the program would be a place where a parent/teacher could schedule lessons by date on the student's dashboard. This would be especially helpful for students working independently. Overall, we enjoyed ASLdeafined, and I plan to continue using it this next year with my older students. This is a very engaging program, easy to use, and very thorough.

Product review by Sarah Roth, The Old Schoolhouse®, August 2021