Primary Singers Learn Songs with Sign Language

Primary Singers Learn Songs with Sign Language

Ann Edmondson’s love for music and her students shines through in everything she does. She’s the force of nature behind the much beloved traditional Primary School holiday performances, which were very much missed this school year. She continues to teach WA’s youngest about music, and much more, by creatively adapting to the demands of our times. This year, she’s been leaning into a technique she has used many times in the past: teaching students to perform using sign language.

During the pandemic, music teachers have worked to keep students safe by physical distancing and other techniques. Edmondson encourages students to sing softly facing forward. This year, she has also taught drumming to maintain and follow rhythms, clapping, and signing.

“I direct the students to not sing at all but just do the signs with no accompaniment so they can experience the life of the hearing impaired. I’ve been teaching several songs with signs since school started.”

She selects a song and spends hours teaching herself to sign it, one word at a time, so she can then teach students. She’s been using sign language in her music classes as long as she’s been teaching.

“I find it very inspiring when the young singers are doing signs for several reasons. For instance, I hope to teach my young singers to learn different ways to sing and also to appreciate and experience others who are hearing impaired. I teach them that sign language is an actual language such as Spanish and Korean, meaning they can communicate with those who do not speak.” 

Her students love it.

“It is so powerful and sweet to watch young children following the signs,” Edmondson said.

Several years ago, she took the Primary Singers to perform the national anthem at an Atlanta Hawks game, and a third grader who was partially hearing impaired signed along with the singing.

“When I asked her about signing at the arena, she took it upon herself to learn and signed so beautifully that night. I still get emotional just thinking about her signing the national anthem.”

So how does signing affect the learning experience for students? “The students are paying better attention to learning the song. It supports their learning process when they sing and sign at the same time. It helps them to practice the ability to keep the steady beat, not to mention kinesthetic learning. It truly helps the students to own a deeper understanding of each song, and it develops understanding of others who are hearing impaired.”

Video by Caryn Oxford shows Peggy Hardy's third grade class signing the Woodward Academy alma mater.