How digital tools help Ashley with teaching sign language - The power of visuals

Jan-Wolter Smit

Head of Education

1. What’s your background Ashley?

I come from a background of educators. My grandmother was a headteacher in a Special Education school and made me passionate about the subject. Being a visual learner, I fell in love with the American Sign Language (ASL) in college and studied it for my major (specific subject that students specialise in).

2. What motivates you to teach students with special needs?

When I can tell that they are enjoying the learning and are participating. When you see that spark in their eye, saying: “I get what you are saying. I am following you. I am able to use this language and participate”. That makes it worth it!

I spend a lot of time getting to know each student, for example what their hobbies are outside of the classroom. Then I use that information, incorporating it in my lessons to put them at ease and engage them. At the end of the day, what makes me happy is when my students feel comfortable in my classroom.

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Ashley Just

Ashley Just is an American Sign Language teacher at Whitney High School, in California. She teaches up to 36 students in her classes. A large proportion of them have special needs.

“At the end of the day what makes me happy is when my students feel comfortable in my classroom.”

3. How does technology help you in the classroom?

I work with LessonUp and what I love about it is the ability to monitor student activity, so I always know how my students are doing. Through the open-ended questions I can see exactly who has answered or who has not. I try to insert interactive parts in my lessons to encourage my students to stay on track.

4. What is one of your major challenges working with technology?

At Whitney High School, there’s a strong push towards using 1 to 1 devices in the classroom. My colleagues and I find it very challenging to keep students on task while using their own devices. I teach sign language, so I always have to stand in front of the class, and it can be hard to see if my students are paying attention. 

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5. Did you try out other platforms before LessonUp?

Prior to the pandemic, I was using Google Slides, but it had no interactivity to go along with data collection. I then tried out Nearpod and Pear Deck, but they were not ASL friendly. Both programs limited the amount of images or megabytes I could upload. The GIFs or mini videos of me signing never uploaded properly.

6. And how did you find LessonUp?

After the negative experiences using other platforms, I searched the internet to find an online program that could meet my needs, and finally found LessonUp. I started using it and love how it works. It’s ASL friendly. It’s very visual. My students love it too.

7. What are the major challenges LessonUp helped you overcome?

Covid brought more challenges to the start of 2022. LessonUp has really helped me and my students with switching easily to hybrid and remote learning. I’ve created LessonUp classes and my students can access those lessons from home, and are still able to interact with me within my lessons. I can still keep them on pace and see how they are doing, even if we are not in the same room. It has helped me provide more accessibility to my classroom.

8. Just out of curiosity: what are your favourite LessonUp features?

I like the fact that my lessons can be projected on a big screen, and also screen casted on a student’s device at the same time. I also use and really appreciate LessonUp’s testing and reports features as a game changer to understanding my students’ learning progression. It’s so nice to see how my students are doing collectively, as a class… It gives me the option to say to them: “oh hey, a majority of us missed this question, let’s go back and re-learn it.”  That’s great!

9. What tips would you give to educators searching for more interactivity and engagement?

I would certainly advise them to check out lesson reports and review the answers with their students in the classroom. I also recommend the use of interactive features like LessonUp’s poll as a way to “assess as you go”, and visibly see which students are active or not throughout your lesson. This gives you a good overview on how all your students are doing. With that information, you can decide what the next step is. And never ever give up. Keep trying new things!

10. Why do you say that, Ashley? Are teachers prone to give up?

Well, most colleagues are nervous because they’ve become so used to the same platform. Learning a new platform can seem daunting. What helped me were the LessonUp webinars. They  helped me in finding new ways to incorporate interactivity, and I was inspired by other teachers’ lessons in the lesson library.

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