REEDSPORT — The second graders of Monica Cape-Lindelin's class at Highland Elementary School got a primer in American Sign Language as they learned about the life and education of Helen Keller.
Helen Keller was born in 1880. However, as an infant, an unknown illness rendered her blind and deaf. Due to these conditions, Keller spent the first several years of her life in dark silence. When Keller was 7 years old, though, Alexander Graham Bell put her family in touch with a school for the blind. The school set the Kellers up with Anne Sullivan to be Helen's teacher.
Sullivan, who was partially blind herself, taught Keller how to communicate through sign language. Though Keller had developed her own signs — Cape-Lindelin's students recalled miming putting glasses on meant she wanted her father, and motioning cutting bread was saying she was hungry — Sullivan taught her ASL and how to read Braille, as well as a regular curriculum of schooling.
Sullivan became a lifelong companion to Keller. Keller eventually graduated college from Harvard, even learning to speak English, then became a public speaker, writer and political activist. Late in her life, Keller focused her efforts on fundraising for the American Foundation for the Blind. She lived until 1968 before passing at the age of 87.
Cape-Lindelin's students learned about the struggles Keller and Sullivan had during Keller's education, noting that it was very frustrating for Keller. They recalled that Keller knocked out one of Sullivan's teeth with a doll and locked the teacher in a room. The students said Sullivan had to grab Keller's hands, often fighting her struggles, to teach her how to sign the word for what she was holding or touching.
"The first thing she ever said in sign language was her teacher put her hand in water, then she started doing sign language," said one student, of Keller learning to speak.
Each student also learned how to sign their name using the ASL alphabet and in Braille. Some of the students are working on a presentation mini-poster of information they learned about ASL, Braille, seeing eye dogs, and other adaptive languages. Once completed, the students will do a presentation on "Children Using Special Guide Tools" and the poster will be displayed in the classroom with ones for other projects they've completed.
"Independent student projects and presentations are excellent ways to measure student learning while instructing second grade reading Common Core State Standards," said Cape-Lindelin.
The students said Keller's inspirational story made them feel good and they thought it was a good lesson. One student said learning about sign language was good in case they lose their hearing later in life, they would still be able to communicate. Cape-Lindelin also said it gave the kids a better appreciation of their own senses and the importance of learning to read and write since they are able to see.
Cape-Lindelin said her students learned a lot during the unit with 85% of her students scoring 80% or higher on the curriculum assessment. She added that all of the students grew over the course of their classes, according to their assessments, and will receive a "Celebrate Reading Certificate for Excellency" this week.
"They learned more than I thought they did," Cape-Lindelin said of the information they shared with the Umpqua Post. "I think that we'll share what we learned together in a class discussion at the end of reading lessons regularly."