Sara Paulson, a Library Media Specialist at the P.S. 347 American Sign Language and English Lower School, recently began using TOON Books in her lessons. While our titles are designed for all kinds of emerging readers, they have proven to be especially helpful for Sara’s students with hearing impairments and limited English language skills. Julia Philips asks some thought-provoking questions in this interview with Sara that details the reasons why TOON Books has been both a fun and effective learning tool.

1. How did you first find out about TOON Books, its website, and the Benny and Penny blog?

I attended a workshop with Francoise Mouly about using comics in the classroom. Our kids love the visual nature of comics. Upper elementary readers can get so much information from the pictures, making reading more enjoyable, especially for those who aren’t top-notch readers yet.

2. When did you begin work at 47′s Edith Kleberg Library, and what drew you there?

I have been the librarian here since 2001. I was working at a great secondary school but wanted to work with little kids after having a child myself. It was word of mouth, really. They had been looking for a Deaf librarian and couldn’t find a good candidate, so they settled for me. I have learned how to sign basic conversational ASL, and this summer I hope to focus on it more. I usually work with a talented sign language interpreter so they get good ASL language model, which is especially important for storytelling. They were looking for someone who loves children’s books and understands the technology undergirding the library program today, and I fit that bill.

3. How exactly did you integrate the blog into your library time, and how did the students respond?

The students are currently using a blog in their classroom, so I thought it would be a great way to reinforce the format of a blog. They had also seen the Toon Books site, which I introduced the week prior. I read a vignette of Benny and Penny to introduce the characters to those who might not know the siblings, and then showed them the picture projected onto the library Smartboard. I asked them to write in their library notebooks what Penny might be thinking. While walking around, I tried to steer them beyond “I am scared,” and sometimes had to ask who the speaker was when they wrote “Penny is scared.” I also took screen shots of stills of the previous comics on the blog and made a sequencing game on the Smartboard for students who finished early. They enjoyed the game and used both their visual skills and reading skills to sequence, especially the one with the song. Others went on to create comics on the comic maker. I think the blog exercise of filling in the speech bubble gave them an entry point for creating their own comics and filling in their own speech bubbles. They were primed.

4. We’re particularly interested in 47′s place as an American Sign Language and English school. Are there any insights you’ve developed about how your school—and your students—differ from those that don’t employ ASL? Have you found that some books, resources and web tools are more successful than others with deaf and hard-of-hearing students?

As you know, ASL is a visual language, and these students are very attuned visually. To describe a person, they are honest. No bones about it, if a person is fat, that is the first descriptor. I love the way that you can interject points of grammar into your teaching when you know a class is bilingual. For instance, we did a lesson based on the new Walter Dean Myers picture book/poem called Looking at Me. They watch with an intensity that is surprising. They see details that I do not see, but in many ways most children are like that. Adults have learned how to focus so much more than children that they miss a lot of the visual cues.

They made a list poem of who they were (Artist, Writer, etc.), and they were signing it without the classifier that meant “person who does” so I, being only an elementary signer myself, was able to grab that teachable moment, and show them how to make “artist” out of the sign “art”. The same happened when using the speech bubbles, where you can reiterate first person versus third person.

Toon Books have been a great hit with our third to fifth grade students who have had little to no English language in the household. We have one hearing 5th grader who has some ASL and some Spanish in the home—a wonderful artist, quite dreamy, but cannot grasp English easily. She is reading on a first grade level in 5th grade, and loves Toon Books. Another student is a deaf third grader who came from Mexico when he was in Kindergarten, but whose parents are hearing. He had little to no language input as a young child being Deaf in a hearing environment and is one of the greatest enthusiasts. All of my students, Deaf, hearing and hard-of-hearing that are reading below grade level have been enjoying your books. They are easier to understand than Owly, I think—more relevant.

As for the students who employ ASL and are at grade level, I read Silly Lilly to a Pre-K class, and they chanted it as I read it. I was surprised how well they responded.

Obviously, the web site’s text is key. It is better that books not be captioned and rather light up when you scroll through. The more integrated the text into the pictures the better, so the students don’t have to keep looking here then there.



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