Innovative instruction: Bringing sign language into online lessons

Teachers collaborate to ensure students hear, as well as see, online lessons

 screenshot of online video of teacher delivering lesson with sign language interpreter inserted The sudden shift to virtual instruction has forced educators everywhere to leverage online tools and innovate to ensure they reach students effectively.

SWBOCES’ Patricia Compton, an itinerant teacher of the deaf, offers an inspiring example. Ms. Compton, works with non-BOCES students in component school districts. At Harrison Avenue School, she collaborated with teacher Jennifer Horowitz to deliver video lessons to students who use sign language.

It isn’t simply virtual instruction that presents a challenge to students who are deaf, Ms. Compton said, but rather the delivery of video lessons, particularly if the student isn’t yet reading or the videos are not captioned. Inserting an interpreter into videos would make them more inclusive, she said.

Ms. Horowitz recorded a video of herself reading a story and talking to her class. She then sent the video to Ms. Compton, who used the Google Chrome browser extension Loom to add herself interpreting Ms. Horowitz’s video using American Sign Language. 

“I was able to figure out how to add sign language interpreting so the student in her class who is deaf could access any video she or the school psychologist sent to the class,” Ms. Compton explained. “I then passed that knowledge onto the sign language interpreter in the class so she could do this for the rest of the time we are teaching remotely.”

She also shared the idea with district and BOCES administrators, in case there were applications in other instructional settings. One potential application she sees could be allowing a teacher to mark up materials presented on screen while delivering a lesson.

“We have been using Loom to add a 'bubble' to all my videos so that my deaf students can see all the signing for what is said in the video,” Ms. Horowitz said. “(Ms. Compton) has been a tremendous resource this year!”

The next challenge they intended to tackle is to provide live interpreting when meeting with students online.

Educators everywhere are faced with learning and applying new technologies on the fly. There is trial and error involved, and some strategies will prove more successful than others. Compton admits it can be frustrating, but she persists because her students are relying on her. Ideally there would be more time to plan and reflect with peers. 

The PD Center at SWBOCES is offering frequent virtual meetups designed to bring educators in various roles and specialties together for just such reflection and idea-sharing. For information, see the program calendar at or follow the center on Facebook or Twitter. Meanwhile, the Center for Special Services at SWBOCES has assembled a Student Resources repository of online tools for students engaged in remote instruction.