Hands-On Field Trips Give ASL Students Something to Sign About

By Tara Boehl ’09

American Sign Language interpreting students at William Woods University are leaving the classroom to get an education beyond their books.

Melanie McKay-Cody, instructor of American Sign Language interpreting, is helping her students learn by taking them out of the classroom and into the real world with her hands-on field trips to places around the community.

To help students better understand the material in class, Cody, who is Deaf, brings her ASL 5 students to different businesses and community events. On each of the field trips, another Deaf individual comes along to help facilitate.

So far, the students have visited Tractor Supply to learn the signs for agriculture tools and farming and Wal-Mart to learn the signs for different foods. They also plan to attend a volleyball game and a football game to learn sports signs; an arts and crafts store, and the license bureau to learn signs related to a driver’s education class.

“These fieldtrips give us a new setting and area to see and learn from,” said Justin Beyer, a senior from Linn, Mo. “It’s not sitting and watching; it’s being out there and interactive.”

William Woods University is one of about 25 schools in North America that offers a bachelor’s degree in ASL interpreting. Cody sees these field trips as something that sets William Woods apart.

“Eighty percent of your learning comes from outside the classroom,” she said. “It is important for the students to be exposed to real life experiences because it will lead them to be better interpreters. This does not happen often with many other interpreter training programs in the United States, so this is unique experience for our WWU students.”

Rachel Stocker, a senior from St. Louis, Mo., believes the field trips are a great way to learn.

“I think these trips are an awesome idea. It gives us a chance to learn different signs for everything. It also opens our eyes to how to actually sign something instead of learning from the board or a PowerPoint.”

Cody also believes this style of outside education has been beneficial to the students because it exposes them to a range of subjects and helps them provide effective interpretation to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing population.

Brynn Elliot, a senior from Newcastle, Wyo., sees these trips as invaluable to her education.

“Learning doesn’t end in the classroom; there is nothing better than hands-on experience,” she said. “Field trips help us to learn because it gives us a fresh new environment to explore. There are only so many signs that are in our books. Our field trips give us an opportunity to learn signs that otherwise may not come up in class.”

Cody said she created these trips because, in ASL, it is important to be visual and experience things related to their signs.

Kimberly Smith, a senior from Sterling, Kan., agreed.

“Sign Language is a very visual language, so being able to physically see and touch what we are learning about helps us to connect the sign to the word. It is great being able to learn in a nontraditional way.”

She added, “Since I’m a visual learner, going out and actually experiencing what we are discussing helps me to remember the signs better.”


Melanie McKay-Cody (right), instructor of American Sign Language interpreting, demonstrates the sign for tamale to (left to right) Alicia Thomas, a senior from Jacksonville, Kan.; Rachel Stocker, a senior from St. Louis, Mo., and Justin Beyer, a senior from Linn, Mo.

Left to right, Kayla Perez, a junior from Omaha, Neb.; Brynn Elliott, a senior from Newcastle, Wyo., and Kimberly Smith, a senior from Sterling, Kan., share a laugh with Meddra Love during a field trip to Wal-Mart.