Visual Learning: Teaching ASL with digital tools

Jan-Wolter Smit

Head of Education

What really motivates Ashley in the class

On a weekly basis, Ashley teaches up to 36 kids in a class, a large proportion having special needs. We asked her what motivates her when teaching to such large groups. She said, “When I can tell that they are enjoying the learning and are participating. When you see that spark in their eye of ‘I get what you are saying, I am following with you, I am able to use the language and participate’ that’s what always makes it fun.” Ashley also mentioned that she spends a lot of her time getting to know each student, what their hobbies are outside of the classroom to then be able to incorporate them into the classroom. “At the end of the day that’s what also makes me happy is when my students feel comfortable in my classroom.”


A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of “virtually” sitting down with Ashley Just, an American Sign Language teacher at Whitney High School. 

What really struck a cord is how Ashley found ASL and teaches it passionately to her high school students. She comes from a background of educators; her grandmother was a principal of a Special Education school and helped influence her in that direction. A visual learner, Ashley fell in love with ASL in college and studied it for her major. From then on “being at the right place at the right time,” Ashley has been providing support in special education while teaching ASL at the same time at the high school level.

At the end of the day that’s what also makes me happy is when my students feel comfortable in my classroom.
Ashley Just
American Sign Language teacher, Whitney High School, Rocklin, California

How technology helps Ashley

At Whitney High School, there’s a strong push for technology and 1:1 devices in the classroom. Yet, a challenge Ashley and other colleagues have faced is keeping students on task when using their devices. With ASL, Ashley has to remain at the front of the classroom and it can be hard to know if her students are paying attention. She mentioned that one of the things she loves about LessonUp is the ability to monitor student activity as the interactive questions show her exactly who has answered or not. “With programs like LessonUp, I try to put those interactive parts into the lesson to kind of encourage them [students] to stay on track.” Ashley compares it to her first year of teaching where 1:1 technology wasn’t available in the classroom. “They [students] were looking up more and a little more focused, but I don’t think it was as fun for them as having LessonUp now.”

Prior to the pandemic, Ashley was using Google Slides, but it had no interactivity along with data collection. She then tried using Nearpod and Pear Deck, but they were not ASL friendly. Both programs limited the amount of images or megabytes she could upload and so her GIFs or mini videos of her signing could never upload properly. Ashley said she searched the internet to find an online program that could meet her needs and finally found LessonUp. “I started to use it and I love it. It’s ASL friendly, it’s very visual, and my students love it.”

As Covid has brought more challenges to the start of 2022, Ashley mentions that LessonUp has really helped her and her students switch easily to hybrid and remote learning. “I’ve created classes [within LessonUp] and my students are able to access those lessons from home and still be able to interact with them. I am still able to then keep them on pace and see how they are doing.” LessonUp has also helped Ashley provide more accessibility in her classroom. She likes the fact that her lessons can be projected on a big screen and also screen casted on a student’s device at the same time. Ashley also mentioned LessonUp’s testing and reports features as a game changer to understanding her students’ learning progression. “It’s so nice to see collectively as a class what they [students] did or how they did… I can show them ‘oh hey, a majority of us missed this question, let’s go back and re-learn it.” 

Apart from all the challenges Ashley has faced so far these past few years, we couldn’t help but notice how upbeat and attuned she was with her students. We asked as a final question, what tips would she give to educators searching for more interactivity and engagement. She mentioned going back through lesson reports and viewing the answers together as a class. She also recommends using interactive features like LessonUp’s poll as a way for educators to “assess as you go” and visibly see which students are active or not throughout your lesson. 

“Even on a teacher’s side, just to not give up! Keep trying new things.” Ashley explains that most educators are nervous because they’ve become so used to the same platform. Learning a new platform can seem daunting. She mentions that LessonUp’s webinars have really helped her in finding new ways to incorporate interactivity, but also getting inspired by other teachers’ lessons in  the LessonUp library.

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