Monday, September 19, 2016

Let's Practice What We Preach!

The school year is in full swing here in Massachusetts! I’ve spent the past two weeks like many itinerant teachers of the deaf: setting up FM equipment; doing orientations for schools where I was not able to meet with the staff in the spring; checking in with students and families; reading files on new students; responding to dozens of emails each day; drawing up, erasing and re-writing my own schedule and checking in with the staff that I mentor at Clarke. What a whirlwind!
As an itinerant, one of my most important roles is that of an advocate for my students. It’s my job to make sure that their accommodations are implemented. I advocate for optimal seating arrangements in classrooms and proper use of amplification so that my students have access.  I help my students to understand their own strengths and needs and to advocate for themselves with both adults and peers. I spend so much time and energy advocating for my students that I often forget to advocate for myself.

With fellow TODs at Clarke camp this summer

Mentoring last year, watching my colleagues, and recognizing the same behaviors in myself, I realized the impact that this overly accommodating attitude has on our work as itinerants. We are willing to work in hallways when we’re told that no classroom is available. We are willing to skip lunch or frantically eat while driving between schools in order to squeeze in that one last student at a time that a teacher requests. We are willing to create ridiculous schedules for ourselves in order to avoid conflicting with specials, lunch, recess and club meetings. I have literally run from my car to a school door, hurriedly checked in and booked it to a classroom, out of breath, because my time between schools was so tight. In short, we burn ourselves out.
This year, I plan to practice what I preach to my students on a daily basis: stand up for yourself! Don’t be afraid to let others know what you need!
So after gathering classroom schedules from my schools, I created my schedule as usual—but this year I didn’t offer a menu of options. Some of my schools are over an hour apart and I can't always be flexible. Surprisingly I encountered very little resistance when I told teachers when I’d be there to work with my students.
And I now refuse to work in a hallway. My students are important and my role in assisting them is important. I now have a designated space at each school after advocating for my needs. The back corner of the library suits me just fine. I plan to eat lunch this year. It may be in my car in a school parking lot but it will happen. J
So join me, itinerants, in advocating for ourselves! This year is already off to a great start and I’m optimistic that it will continue. As one third grade student commented last Friday while meeting in our library nook, “Remember last year when we worked in the hall and it was soooo loud? I like this better.”  I like it better, too. Cheers to the 2016-17 school year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


This school year is quickly coming to an end but as an itinerant, I’m already thinking ahead to next year. Some of my students will be transitioning to the next grade in the same building; some will transition to new buildings for kindergarten, junior high or high school and some are transitioning to schools in new districts. No matter what, each student will be in a new classroom with a new teacher! So along with scheduling in-services for staff trainings this spring (see my earlier post on Spring Orientations), I’m working with my students on projects that will introduce them to their new teachers.
            These projects take many forms. My preschooler and I are filming and editing an iMovie presentation; an older student chose to write and illustrate a book and a junior high student is working diligently on a PowerPoint. It’s easy to weave advocacy and language goals into these projects and it’s always more powerful when a student can tell teachers what they need in their own words—especially if that teacher is new to working with a student with hearing loss!

Tips for helping students create introduction presentations
·      Help students understand who the audience is and what the purpose of the project is.
·      Choose a media form that both you and the student are comfortable working with. Movies are fun to make but if you and the student are both new to this format, learning how to edit and add effects can be frustrating and counterproductive.
·      Provide the student with an outline or graphic organizer to guide the project. Topics generally include information about:
o   the student’s life and interests
o   how typical hearing works
o   the student’s hearing loss and amplification
o   beneficial instructional strategies (e.g., use of closed captions, note taking, facing the student when speaking, etc.)
o   factors that impede comprehension (e.g., hallway noise, sitting in the back of the room, etc.)
o   communication tips for peers
o   how the student feels about having a hearing loss
o   how the student feels comfortable advocating and where they’d like support.
·      Include language frames (e.g. “Before the sound travels to the_____ on my cochlear implant, it first enters the ______”) and prompts (e.g. How does the FM receiver pick up sound?”) as needed to guide the student and address language objectives. I edit my organizers slightly to meet the individual needs of each student that I work with.
·      Share examples of what others have made! Sometimes my students get stuck. YouTube has a wealth of instructional videos made by kids with hearing loss and with permission, I’ve shared PowerPoint presentations made by other students.

·      Decide with your student how the presentation will be shared with the new teacher. Most junior high and high schools do not announce teachers and class groupings/schedules until late summer, for instance.  But in some cases—especially with younger children or smaller school districts—there is only one teacher per grade and families find out who that new teacher is at the end of the current school year.

Working with students to create presentations is a great way to begin planning for next yea and can help alleviate any anxiety the student may feel because they are taking an active part in the transition process. How else do you involve students in the transition? Please share!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Acting Up? Or Self-Advocating?

I often allow my students to invite a friend to our one-to-one pullout sessions. It allows me to see them interacting socially and also gives me an opportunity to compare my student’s skills with those of their hearing peers—which helps me keep my expectations on target. Sometimes these visits also provide interesting insights into classroom life.
Last week my second grader Anna* asked to bring her classmate Lilly*. Her teacher overheard the request and gave me a nod along with a smile, letting me know it was okay to bring Lilly along to our session. After the short walk to the room where we work and the usual second grade discussion of who should sit where, I pulled out the self-advocacy activity I had planned, mentally changing a few aspects of my lesson plan so that it would be a game that the three of us could play together.

We took turns drawing cards, discussing various social situations and acoustic challenges, and brainstorming ways to handle them, assigning points for “bravery” and “creativity” (Anna and Lilly’s suggestions).
It was a pretty typical session until Anna drew a card that read, “Your teacher is giving a spelling test and is walking around the room. You didn’t hear the word she said. What can you do?”  
Anna’s response surprised me. “Oh. You just have to figure it out or skip it, “ she said. Lilly nodded in agreement. Neither had anything to add. I prompted, “Well, what about raising your hand and asking [teacher] to repeat the word?” Anna looked horrified. “No way! “ she exclaimed. “It’s a spelling TEST! You can’t ask questions or even talk! You have to listen to what [teacher] says!” Lilly again nodded in agreement, adding an anecdote about a classmate who was talking during a math test and had to take the test in the back of the room.
This session got me thinking. I have the utmost respect for this second grade teacher. She’s firm, direct and students learn in her class. She stresses respect and collaboration; she’s inclusive and has never once hesitated to immediately implement any suggestion or recommendation I give. She uses the FM faithfully, doing checks at the start of each lesson to ensure that my student has access. When I observe, I see her really listening to her students and taking their thoughts and ideas seriously. And yet, Anna’s comment about the spelling test made me realize there is a significant misunderstanding in this classroom setting. Because of our ongoing communication and consultation, I know this teacher would repeat herself if Anna asked. It made me realize that Anna does not yet understand the distinction between advocating and being disrespectful, or breaking the rules.
While similar discussions have come up with other students in the past, there’s never been one clear way to address this distinction and I’m always a bit surprised when it comes up. We talk about self-advocacy; we encourage students to advocate for themselves starting in preschool. We meet with teachers to discuss students’ self-advocacy and how to integrate this practice into daily classroom life. It’s something our students will encounter throughout life and a critical component of their development.
So after my session with Anna and her friend Lilly, I shared this observation with their teacher. She was immediately responsive and we discussed the best way for her to address Anna’s concerns.
I also plan to follow up with Anna, discussing the difference between self-advocating when she misses something and simply not following the rules of the classroom. I’ll provide examples of both advocating and misbehaving and have her tell me which is which. I’ll also have her come up with her own examples. We’ll discuss the difference between not paying attention and missing or mis-hearing information.

I’m hoping Anna and I can compare notes after my next observation. It’s likely that Anna will observe at least one second grader self-advocate, while another simply won’t listen and cause a disruption.  Over time Anna will see enough examples in her classroom.
My ultimate goal? Hopefully one day soon Anna won’t hesitate to ask for repetition if she misses a prompt for a spelling test.

*Names have been changed

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Collaborating with Additional Service Providers

Let’s go! Time to see Adam!” my first grader calls out, referring to his Occupational Therapist (OT), fist pumping the air as he hurries down the hall. Our individual session is finished but my time with him continues. My student runs into the OT room, sits at his workspace, and begins to grab for items on the table, responding to Adam’s verbal prompts to wait as I observe from a few feet away.
            Many students that I work with have service providers in addition to my support as their teacher of the deaf/HOH, and the support of a speech and language pathologist. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, behavioral or ABA therapists and vision specialists are just some of the professionals my students see regularly. In order to maximize growth and skills throughout the school day, everyone on the team must understand the impact of hearing loss on learning and language. Especially for young students or new listeners (e.g. a recently implanted student) collaboration between the teacher of the deaf and other professionals is essential. Below are a few areas I highlight when working with other service providers.

For Occupational and Physical Therapists:
       As the teacher of the deaf/HOH, work with your therapists to identify the best place to sit when communicating and working with the student. This is usually across from the student to maximize visual access but your student may have a “better” ear making it more ideal for the therapist to be on the side of the “better” ear.
       Encourage therapists to make eye contact with the student before giving instructions or beginning a task.
       Work with therapists to incorporate language and vocabulary by asking the student to verbally describe the steps in a task using sequential language, and by asking the student to name the materials and their purpose (e.g. “Scissors are a tool we use for cutting.”)
       Provide sequence for multi-step tasks.
       Support verbal instruction with visuals (e.g. pictures, text).
       Work with the student’s speech and language pathologist and teacher of the deaf to learn what language structures your student does and does not understand. Multi-step directions, complex clauses, and new vocabulary can impede a student’s ability to complete a task and negatively impact a therapy session.
       Explicitly teach the names of the materials you will be using in order to ensure comprehension when instructions are given.
       When working in small groups, set clear expectations for turn-taking and social interactions.
       Ask the student to verbally repeat directions before beginning.
       Incorporate language by describing actions (e.g. “Sam jumped high, Jack jumped higher, and I jumped the highest!”)

For Vision Specialists:
While I have a general understanding of my students’ vision loss, I benefit from ongoing collaboration with vision specialists to refine my materials in order to meet those needs. Similarly, vision specialists benefit from an understanding of a student’s auditory abilities and limitations. For example, when using iPads or similar technology, a direct auditory input connection is generally best in terms of access but specialists must understand that the student is probably still not receiving 100% access to the information; clarity is compromised due to the hearing loss.
·      Verbal explanations may need to be simplified or modified to meet a student’s receptive language abilities. This can prevent frustration due to misunderstandings.
·      Many vision specialists that I work with incorporate reading and phonics into their sessions. An understanding of how hearing loss impacts phonemic skills is beneficial, as is how the audiogram reflects what the student is able to perceive in terms of sounds. This type of ongoing consult again allows for productive sessions as vision specialists can tailor phonics and literacy work to meet the needs of the students .

How do you work with additional service providers?