Thursday, November 29, 2012

Signs of the Times

"There are two kinds of education you get in this world. One you get from others, and another you give yourself."
Gerald R. Ford
38th President

I am going to dive into a bit of biology with you all for a moment. 'Cause I am not an expert.

But this is pretty elementary. Everyone has two hemispheres, or sides, to their brain. Around 1981 it became pretty popular to define each person as a right brained (creative) or left brained (logical) person.

According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:
Recognizing faces
Expressing emotions
Reading emotions

The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:
Critical thinking

More recently it has been found that people don't always fit neatly into those categories. That really isn't the point of this post though. It also has been realized more recently that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together.

And, that is the thrust of this post.

If I had to pick, I would probably describe myself as a left brainer. But I also subscribe to the school of thought that you can teach a dog new tricks. I am all for combining the sides. (And for challenging myself to be more creative.) Oh, and I'm kind of a hand talker too. Literally...

In my limited teaching experience, I have found it very helpful to engage both sides of the brain when attempting memorization. My two favorite right brain activities for left braining memorizing are music and sign language.

When you put a fact to a tune, whether a Bible verse, the 50 States or the Periodic Table of Elements, it tends to be more memorable. Years later, you can still sing what you learned. Great retention.

I have discovered the same to be true when I put sign language (or even just motions) to Bible verses. I think because it involves doing, it tends to stick.

Motions are great, but sign language is even better. Why? It is a language. Not only is what you are doing helpful to your memorization, you are also learning a skill that you can use to share the same knowledge with someone else.

Our Bible Club curriculum generally incorporates sign language on several songs and verses each semester. They totally hooked me, and the kids. The kids love doing signs with the verses and songs.

My coup de grace, or at least my newest sign language project, is for our Christmas program this year. The kids involved in our church outreach program are going to sing Christina Rosetti's In the Bleak Midwinter, and sign the last verse. I am very excited.

I had to do some research for this one. I had handy handout. I had to read the signs all on my lonesome. I have discovered that the best online resource for American Sign Language is the ASL pro site (here). This awesome site has a fairly comprehensive video dictionary of words/signs. Every word listed has a matching video with a certified signer signing the sign. (say that 10x fast) This is very helpful, because I can click play 100 times if I so desire, in order to see just exactly what they are doing with their hands.

I spent a good long time today looking up words, practicing signs, singing the song, re-watching video clips until I had it. I will probably practice a lot in the next few days, going back to the ASL online dictionary on a regular basis to refresh my memory on the rusty ones.

I have 3 Sundays to teach it to the kids. So long as I can remember the signs while demonstrating them, we should be good.
an interesting exhibit at the Henry Ford
Or we can fall back on the "I Love You" sign. Not that it has anything to do with the carol. But if we wave our hands in a lighters-at-a-rock-concert way, we might just be convincing.

How much sign language do you know? Do you think it is helpful for memorization? If not, what other tricks do you use to memorize?