Lauren Sanders

Lauren Sanders is a Senior Lecturer in American Sign Language. She is UCAT’s “Featured Teacher” for Autumn 2017.

Join Lauren for a “Featured Teacher Friday” conversation about student engagement:
Friday, November 3, 2017
from 12–1 p.m.
Register here


“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

–Albert Einstein

A presenter at a UCAT workshop about ten years ago shared that quote and it has since been the foundation of my teaching philosophy. I strive for the teaching and learning opportunities in my American Sign Language (ASL) classes to be engaging, positive experiences that allow students to have ownership in the process.

One of the first things I do to establish student engagement is to share my own enthusiasm for our time together and to foster a sense of community. Prior to the start of each semester, I send an email introducing myself and inviting students to our CarmenCanvas course site. There I post a video of me signing a greeting, accompanied by a written profile. Each student adds his or her own profile as a means of learning things about each other that usually do not come up in class.

Our Canvas home page, syllabus, and communicative assessments include my personal teaching and learning motto: “Make Mistakes, Make Meaning, Make Memories,” which we casually refer to as our class “M&Ms.” I want my students to know that our classroom and all entities of it are safe spaces in which to try our best, support each other, and achieve together. I reward consistent attendance and punctuality with raffles throughout the semester, with the winners earning a small token of appreciation. These small gestures lead to big results in creating a positive environment where students are willing to engage and invest in the learning process.

One of the most concrete ways I involve students in their learning is through Personal Learning Plans (PLPs). In collaboration with two of my ASL colleagues, Kristin Saxon and Tammy Eckard, I developed these with four major goals in mind: (1) to engage students more deeply in their scholarship of ASL, (2) to create learning experiences that are meaningful, beyond earning good grades or pleasing the instructor, (3) to allow for choice, flexibility, and creativity, and (4) to foster peer relationships, leadership, and accountability. The specific structure of each of our PLPs continually changes as we analyze their effectiveness, collect student feedback, share and research new ideas, and adapt to different courses.

At the root of my most recent PLP, students are offered a variety of frequent, low-stakes activities to complete throughout the semester. These are graded for thoughtful completion, rather than accuracy, to encourage effort and offer opportunities to learn from mistakes before the more formal assessments. Students select activities and due dates that best support their learning styles or needs within any given unit. Many of my students choose to create ASL videos, such as unit dictionaries, stories, or quizzes, or to video-record signed interactions with peers. These videos are shared on our Canvas page for peer review and become popular and effective course resources.

The second part of my PLP is Station Days. Each student is required to host a review station on a selected date and time. He or she creates an interactive activity or game that supports the content and learning goals for the current unit of study. Students have stated that this preparation helps them better understand how they and other people learn and that it led to mastery of the content. In my qualitative and anecdotal data collection, Station Days and self-directed activities have increased student motivation, creativity, and accountability, as well as cultivated relationships and a sense of community within class.

These successes have only been possible through extensive collaboration with and support from my colleagues in the ASL Program and UCAT. My ASL Program peers and I worked extensively with Alan Kalish and Teresa Johnson program years ago to redesign our curriculum. Since then I have Individually participated in UCAT’s Small Group Instructional Diagnosis, workshops, conferences, book groups, and the inaugural Course Design Learning Community, led by Teresa two years ago.  All of these have been integral parts of my personal teaching and learning journey. I am so grateful for the wonderful resources UCAT provides to our campus instructors.

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