John BonvillianPsychology (retired)
John joined the University of Virginia faculty in 1978, and taught there until his retirement in 2015. During these years, John taught many thousands of students; most of these students were in his Introductory Psychology and Child Psychology courses. John relished his interactions with his students, and he often was most impressed by their abilities and achievements. Shortly after Brown College was established, John became a Faculty Fellow there. He greatly enjoyed his time spent with both the other fellows and students. John’s principal research interests are in the development of language and communication abilities in typically developing children and in children with disabilities. Soon after he joined the UVa faculty, John began a series of investigations that examined the early signing of infants and young children with deaf parents. In most instances, the signing children with deaf parents reached early language milestones at earlier ages than their speech-learning counterparts achieved these milestones in spoken language. These findings helped spark what became known as “baby signing.” Since 2000, John has devoted himself primarily to developing a simplified manual sign-communication system. The original goal of this system was to create a sign system that would be easier for non-speaking or severely speech-limited children to acquire. This was accomplished primarily by developing over 1800 signs that were highly iconic; that is, the signs had readily transparent meanings. Somewhat unexpectedly, these signs turned out to be excellent vehicles of instruction for students learning foreign language vocabulary. If a student pairs these iconic signs with a spoken foreign language vocabulary item, then the student is unlikely to forget that item.