Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Keeping Our Students Safe

I walked into the third grade classroom to pick up my student for our session. Her teacher pulled me aside, whispered that there would be a lock-down drill happening in the next few minutes, and suggested we stay rather than being stuck in our tiny work space for the drill. I gave my student a wave, then sat in the back of the classroom. Sure enough, moments later the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the school was in lock-down. The kids all stood up and obediently walked over to the designated area and sat down on the floor as they’d practiced. I watched my student. She was startled when everyone got up and moved, but seemed to figure out what was happening and joined her classmates on the floor. I took a seat beside her. Her teacher whispered instructions from the other end of the group. My student looked at me, confused. She hadn’t heard what was said.

A co-worker recently shared a story about a high school student with hearing loss who was in the bathroom when a lock-down drill was announced over the loudspeaker. This student hadn’t heard the announcement, and was walking back to class when she was stopped by police. Confused, she didn't know what to do. Luckily, the classroom teacher had alerted the office that the student was in the bathroom and may not know that the school was in lock-down, so staff were able to intervene and explain the situation to the officers.

These drills prompted us to think about our students with hearing loss in the case of an actual emergency. Schools practice fire drills, lock downs, and active shooter emergency situations but how much are our students really understanding? If this had been an actual emergency, how would my student have gotten the instructions? I’ve since been more proactive in discussing strategies and the specific needs of my students with their school teams. I’ve gotten copies of the policies and procedures from administration or from teachers and reviewed the information with my students. I want to do more.

Not all students with hearing loss require additional support in these extreme situations. But it’s important we plan for and empower those who do. I’ve broached this topic with my colleagues; we must share these experiences, learn from each other and discuss scenarios in different environments. While I’ve been in school crisis situations, and while we work with our schools to ensure access during emergencies such as making sure the student with hearing loss is accounted for during drills, keeping dry erase boards or notebooks in the fire drill bags so that instructions can be written out if necessary, and using a buddy system, problems still occur such as the communication difficulty that I observed with my elementary student. What more can we do so that in a true emergency, it will be remembered that our students with hearing loss have limited access? How do we ensure that law enforcement officers know to look for small cochlear implants before thinking about non-compliance?

The Council for Exceptional Children recently released this statement on school safety, which also links to some school safety resources. 

This is an important and unfortunately relevant conversation. How are you addressing such concerns?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Is it Time for an Outside Evaluation?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been sending many emails and having several informal meetings on one topic: three-year evaluations. It seems the majority of my students are due for three-year evaluations in the upcoming months. I’ve written on the topic of comprehensive assessments before (see posts HERE and HERE) but I have some unique cases right now, including students who need outside evaluations—specialized evaluations that the schools cannot provide.

A Fine Line
            Recommending an outside evaluation can be tricky. First of all, these evaluations cost school districts money. Second, there’s a fine line between suggesting that a student will benefit from an outside evaluation, and potentially insulting the school team who would otherwise be doing the testing. In my case, the outside evaluations are often done by Clarke (more about CEE here), which can make it seem that I’m simply advocating for my own organization. So for my current students, I’m working to justify their testing needs while maintaining my current relationships with school personnel.

Who Can Benefit
            One student I’m recommending for an outside evaluation is a high school junior. She’s brilliant. This student is taking a full AP course load and excelling. She is college bound for sure. Knowing that this student has just one more year left of high school, I’m recommending an outside evaluation for her three-year because I’m not sure the school team is experienced in identifying gaps and areas of need for such a high-functioning student. Generally, students in special education have noticeable gaps and deficits but for this student, that is not the case. As her teacher of the deaf, I see her gaps in terms of awkward syntax in her written work, and general vocabulary (recently, while reading a short story together, she didn't know that navel was a synonym for belly button), but those gaps are not always clear to her teachers and others working with her. An outside evaluator, specializing in testing students with hearing loss will be able to identify the areas of need so that I can focus my sessions and ensure that this student is prepared for college.

            The second student I am recommending for an outside evaluation is an upper elementary school student who was diagnosed with hearing loss late; has noticeable learning needs and vocabulary/knowledge gaps; and has never had any type of comprehensive evaluation. With this student heading into junior high, as a team we need to know where his strengths and areas of need really are so that we can better address these skills. Because of a complicated history and the late diagnosis of hearing loss, an outside team with experience testing students who are deaf or hard of hearing may be better able to identify what needs are caused by hearing loss, and to answer our diagnostic questions regarding a possible secondary diagnosis.

Taking Next Steps

            In both cases, I first met with my case manager at each school to discuss the need for testing. Then I proposed my questions and concerns, and finally broached the topic of outside testing. I have good relationships with both students’ teams, which is also important. (Because schools are the ones responsible for paying for the testing and I am hired by the school, I begin with my school team before discussing the topic with parents when I am recommending outside testing.)

I emphasized the diagnostic questions as well as the need for a testing team familiar with how hearing loss impacts language and learning, citing specific examples from each student. One team was more readily receptive than the other, but both took the information I provided and were willing to explore the option.

These will be ongoing conversations but I am confident that in the end, both students will get the comprehensive testing that they require.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Whose Work is This?

Look! I got my essay back! I got 100!” My fourth grader hurried to me, beaming, as I came in the room, waving his paper for me to see. We’d spent SO. MUCH. TIME. on this essay. I was a bit surprised that he’d gotten 100—expository writing is not a strength—but figured maybe the teacher took into account the amount of effort he’d put into it. I began to read the paper he handed me. This wasn’t his essay. This wasn’t his language. I asked my student who had helped him type it up, the one step I hadn’t been part of. He named the classroom aide, adding, “She kept saying it a different way and then she said, ‘is that what you meant to say?’ and I just said, ‘Yup’ and then she typed it.” So the paraprofessional got 100 on that essay, not my student.

Later in the week, another teacher asked to meet with me. She seemed frustrated. I sent my student off a few minutes early with her individual aide so that the teacher and I could meet. This student has many needs and many service providers, including an individual aide. The teacher wanted to discuss expectations, pulling out work samples that this paraprofessional had modified or reduced (e.g., crossing off questions on a worksheet that she deemed to be too hard for the student to do). She’d also apparently been teaching my student a different way to add and subtract than what the teacher was instructing, causing a conflict. We agreed that the student is capable of more than her aide seems to think she can do and made a plan to meet with the paraprofessional together.

It is not uncommon for classrooms to have paraprofessionals assisting, and some students really do require the additional support of individual aides. While these adults can be great assets to the classroom, they require additional training in working with students with hearing loss just the way that any other paraprofessional would. Although there are exceptions, in many cases paraprofessionals are not licensed, trained teachers. Boundaries can become blurred as relationships with students develop and I’ve often seen paraprofessionals become overprotective of students to the point where, as with my students, they are modifying work or even doing the work for them. While these adults generally have good intentions, it does not benefit the students. The classroom teacher must still be the one directing the classroom and the instruction, with the paraprofessional there for support. Students with hearing loss generally have gaps in their skill set to begin with—all the more reason for the teaching professional to make decisions regarding academics and providing instruction, with the paraprofessional there for support and carryover.

So what can we do? I set a meeting with my fourth grader and his teacher and we discussed the essay. He told her the same thing he’d told me about the typing. My student still had the rough draft we’d written together so that will be turned in for a grade. The teacher plans to meet with the para to discuss this concern as well. Following that meeting, I’m going to sit down with both the classroom teacher and the para to go over strategies that benefit this student but still allow him to do his own work, even if it’s not perfect. A similar plan is in place for my second student.  Additionally, while it’s not really my role as the TOD, I’m encouraging both classroom teachers to clarify the job descriptions for these two paraprofessionals. They’re both great people with the best intentions but need to understand that the work turned in is not reflective of themselves or their abilities as a para, but of the student’s skills… and this is important for teachers to see.

How do you work with paraprofessionals in your schools?

Friday, December 8, 2017

How to Connect with Teens: From Their Point of View!

I was recently asked by an itinerant teacher of the deaf in California for strategies to help her connect with the teenage students on her caseload (fellow teachers of the deaf—you know this scenario well!) I shared my strategies, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to know what my own students would say. 

My students in grades 8-11 were more than happy to share what’s worked for them, and what has been challenging with the various TODs they’ve had. Some of these students I see every week, and some just once a month. While younger students are generally excited to see their TOD, eager to leave the room to go work and confident in their abilities; as they get older, students (even those without hearing loss!) often become more reserved and reluctant to openly display their differences. So, a special thank you to my fabulous teens for contributing to this post!

Here’s what they had to say:

“We have hearing loss so we’ve had to deal with a lot. We’re more mature because of that.”
Set reasonably high expectations for all students, including teens. When our students know that we believe in them, they’re more willing to work through academic and social challenges rather than resisting or insisting that everything is “fine.”

“Don’t be over enthusiastic. Like, when you come in the room, you’re not like, ‘HEY! What are you doing?’ in a little kid voice. You talk to me like I’m an adult.”  
Our students can sometimes be perceived as less developed than their peers with typical hearing, or needing more support than they really do. Remembering to treat them as we would treat any other teenager leads to mutual respect rather than babying older students who will become resentful.

“When you come in the room to observe, you just sit in the back. Usually I’m talking to my friends and then I’ll look back and be like, ‘Oh! Ms. Stinson’s here’ and I can talk to you or wave or whatever but you don’t interrupt me.”
Most teenagers do not want to stand out and having a TOD around can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, no matter how cool we think we are! I generally speak when spoken to! I’ll sit in the back as my student commented, rather than making it obvious who I am there to see. This way I am able to respect my student’s space and boundaries. I generally find that they do interact with me once they’re comfortable, and they understand that I’m not going to draw extra attention. 

We used to only meet in [special education teacher’s] room and then I’d go to class. Now I don’t care though; you can come to my class!”  
For some students—especially if the TOD relationship is new—making arrangements to meet in a private space (versus me going to the class to pull the student out) is more comfortable since again, no extra attention is drawn to the student.

You don’t just care about my cochlear implants. You always ask about the other stuff I do, and like, weekends and friends and stuff.”
Even though time can feel crunched—especially with students who I only see monthly—every minute counts and I always want to get as much information as I can about classes and amplification. However, trusting relationships need to be more than just “Tell me why you don't want to wear your receivers anymore.” I’m genuinely interested in my students and their lives, and when they know that, they’re more willing to discuss topics related to hearing loss and challenges as well. It’s worth it to take that time to build meaningful connections and trust so that my teens see me as more than just the FM police.

While I enjoy all of my students, my teenagers are almost always my favorites. How do you connect with your teens?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

UPDATED: Scholarships for College Bound Students

College is expensive! Working with several students who have transitioned from high school to college has made that clear. Luckily there are many scholarships specifically for students with hearing loss.

Below are links to scholarships that I’ve gathered over the years. I share these with my high school seniors (and often help them fill out the applications) and I encourage you to share them with your students as well. Many have deadlines in the next few months so let’s pass them along!

This scholarship is specifically for Clarke School alumni. Any student who attended any Clarke program for any length of time is eligible!

This is an opportunity for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or have difficulty speaking in various states, including California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

For students with a significant bilateral hearing loss (generally requiring at least a 50 dB unaided hearing loss in both ears). 

For students with a minimum 40dB bilateral hearing loss.

This scholarship is open to Cochlear Nucleus® implant recipients.

For persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, or the families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

For students with any disability who plan to major in a technology-related field.

And More!
AG Bell also has this list of scholarships for students with hearing loss:

Do you have links to scholarships for students with hearing loss? Let’s share them here!