Being silly and having fun in First Grade with guest artist Treshelle Edmond
Broadway Books First Class was designed to celebrate the Arts and promote literacy. Literacy development, as in learning to read, is a complex business. It is also the business of each and every child in first grade.
Lifting words off the page and making meaning - or comprehending - the author's message requires the coming together of many strands involved in the reading process including letter recognition, letter/sound connections (phonics), sight word recognition, vocabulary development, print concepts, language structures, background knowledge, the alphabetic principle and inferencing skills. It is the interplay of those competencies that allow for fluent, skilled reading to emerge.
Children navigate through this process in a predictable manner. Teachers assess the steps along the way by listening to the child read aloud - word by word - and providing support to scaffold development.
Imagine now that another element has been thrown into this already full mix. Imagine now that you are a child who communicates in American Sign Language (ASL) and, in order to make meaning from the words and sentences on the page, you must take an additional step by translating written English into ASL.
Suddenly, phrases a child might read aloud like, "The sun comes up on the water. It is shining on the lake" require more than a word-for-word verbalization. To demonstrate understanding of the passage a child who is deaf or hard of hearing must show the concepts of the sun rising and shining on the lake in ASL. That added step dwells in the territory of the very skilled reader.
So, it is thrilling when our guest artists are the embodiment of this and can demonstrate how to lift words off the page and make meaning using ASL. One such role model is Treshelle Edmond, who masterfully read Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen.
Treshelle's reading highlighted the work of an artist as well as that of a teacher. She utilized a projected image of the book while sometimes referring directly to a hard copy of the text. She thoughtfully embodied the strong-willed protagonist, Sassy, showing how Sassy worked to achieve her dreams.
With each page the children, who started out in a large circle, crept closer and closer to Treshelle as if pulled by an invisible force. Therein lies the power of storytelling!
At points Treshelle put the reading on hold to lead the little ones in a dance exercise to bring the elements of the story into their bodies. It is a technique which takes advantage of the total physical response method used in teaching second language learners and aids in keeping young minds focused.
Treshelle's exquisite storytelling was also on display in her Broadway debut as Martha Bessel in Deaf West's Tony Award Nominated musical revival of Spring Awakening. She can break your heart or make you laugh and for one afternoon in elementary school our first graders went along for the journey.
She also spoke with the children about her experiences on the TV shows Glee, House and The Fresh Beat Band and signing the National Anthem at Super Bowl 2015 with John Legend and Idina Menzel. The kids were curious to know if she signed in every show and her answer was, "Yes and no" explaining that it depends on the character. Does the role depend upon visual storytelling or require voice?
It was good for us to discuss the value of both languages and highlight the differences between ASL and English. An ongoing goal in class is to help the students recognize the value of both languages and understand the differences between them.
We had a touching moment when one student commented to Treshelle that being deaf was her gift. We all understood that.
And speaking of gifts...we gave her a copy of the book signed by all of the children.Before she departed Treshelle was kind enough to autograph books for each child. The funding for books this visit was pieced together from donations from parents, our student teacher and masterful interpreter for Treshelle's visit Cathy Markland and yours truly.
Thank you Treshelle for making it safe for all of us to dream!
Broadway Books First Class