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!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A New Student

We’re well into the year at this point. I finally have a schedule. I have a routine. Everything fits! And just like that, a request to evaluate a new student who will need TOD/HOH (Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing) support. So long, established schedule!

So, what does a comprehensive initial evaluation look like? How do we determine services for a student we don’t really know? Here are the techniques and tools that I use.

I start by gathering background information. I look at:
·      recent audiological testing
·      the current IEP or 504
·      any academic, speech and language, psychological and/or pragmatic testing
·      reading and written language testing

These are all valuable tools in getting a picture of the student’s academic and audiological profile. Sometimes not all of this information is available and in those cases, I use whatever I’m able to gather. Not only do I evaluate scores, I also look for patterns of errors, especially verbal and non-verbal discrepancies in the psych testing (see my earlier post on testing here for more detail).

The next step is to talk with the family and find out their areas of concern. These tend to be based on academic, social or advocacy issues—and sometimes a combination of all three.

Then I reach out to school staff who are familiar with the student, as they can also provide valuable anecdotal data on how the student performs in school. I especially like to talk with the classroom teacher and SLP. If it’s still quite early in the school year, a teacher from the previous school year may also be able to provide valuable insight, as they may know the student better than a teacher who has only worked with this student for a few weeks.

Overall, my main goal is to determine why there is a request for services now when there hasn’t been a need observed in the past. Perhaps the student’s grades are falling; maybe they are withdrawing socially or refusing to use amplification; maybe the student is new to the district. To get a clearer picture, I like to have all adults who work with the student complete the SIFTER  and the teacher portion of the LIFE-R, which I can then analyze. For students in preschool through grade four, the advocacy checklist can put age appropriate expectations into perspective for teachers.

When I observe the student in the classroom, I am watching to see how they use their amplification. Does the student self-advocate and if so, when? And how? Does the student interact with peers? How does the student respond when directions are given? Does the teacher use visual supports? How are group discussions facilitated and how does the student with hearing loss participate? When possible, I like to see work samples as well.

Finally, I like to meet with the student to get their perspective. Completing the LIFE-R student version together can help me get information about access, and also understand my student’s feelings about their hearing loss and amplification. I also ask general questions about school and related activities.

Once I have a complete picture, I am able to compile all my data into a report with service recommendations. Service delivery grids such as this one can be useful in justifying recommendations. Providing a comprehensive picture of the student and their individual needs based on observations, as well as the data acquired from the various tools listed, is far more convincing when making a recommendation than a simple observation without this additional information.

What other tools do you use when evaluating new students?