Friday, January 16, 2015

Including Students in the Assessment Process

It’s January! Along with the bitter cold, snow, and ice here in Massachusetts come the quarterly and mid-year progress reports. As teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing, we spend hours each quarter reviewing data from individual sessions with each student, analyzing observation notes, and compiling a semesters worth of information and work samples into a comprehensive report showing how we’ve addressed or met specific IEP goals and objectives. A few years ago a student who was in sixth grade at the time told me that his mom had shared my progress report with him. He was aware of his IEP but didn't know that I wrote reports about him each quarter. He had so many questions and stated that now he understood why I wrote so much in my notebook while we were working. This experience was eye opening for me as well – why shouldn’t students know about progress reports?  Better yet, why not include them in the process?

We all know the importance of including students in the IEP process, but including them in ongoing assessment throughout the year is equally as important. When students are familiar with their IEP goals and objectives and participate in regular self-assessment, their ability to advocate and actively participate in their educational programs improves. In addition, it helps students become more aware that our lessons have context; what we do together relates to their short and long term goals. It is important for students to understand why they receive support services from a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Involvement in quarterly self-assessment is one way to approach this need as students become participants in the planning and assessment of their entire academic and social school programming rather than passive recipients of support services.

All of my junior high and high school students, and many of my upper elementary students (depending on individual readiness and ability), formally assess their own progress quarterly. I use my progress report due dates as a guide. During individual sessions, each student is given a print out of their IEP goals and objectives that we have targeted during the term, and with my support, they write a short narrative of how they feel they have progressed in each area. I encourage students to provide examples, discuss what was easy and what was challenging, what they feel they can now do independently and areas where they feel they need continued support, and what they see as the next steps. Sound familiar? These are the same aspects targeted in our quarterly reports! Not only do students become involved, but it’s also an opportunity for me to assess my own teaching:  Can my student articulate what we’ve worked on? Were my examples and lessons clear or is my student confused or off track?  Do my student and I agree about his independent and guided abilities? In my own progress narrative, I often cite examples from student self-assessment as this data is valuable not only to me, but to everyone working with the student. 

Here are a few tips for including students in quarterly self-assessment:

Discuss the purpose and process for quarterly self-assessment with the student’s parents. If parents have concerns, they can be addressed prior to beginning the process with the student.

Help the student understand the purpose of the self-assessment. When students understand that self-assessment is part of looking at growth and progress rather than focusing on deficits, they are more willing to participate honestly.

Structure the assessment according to student needs. I find creating a table with the objective in one column and space for the student to write is the most organized. For some objectives, I simplify the language in parentheses beside the formally written objective to be sure my student understands. I also include prompts for the criteria I want students to write about.

Make the self-assessment applicable. When students indicate areas where they want more support, I am sure to include those areas in our individual sessions and explicitly refer to their self-assessment notes. Sharing the assessment with other service providers and teachers (with the student’s permission) can help the student to see the benefit and carryover as well.

How do you include students in on-going assessments?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mainstream News Available Online

Clarke's newsletter, Mainstream News,is now accessible online and free of charge thanks to sponsorship from our friends at Oticon Pediatrics. The Winter 2015 issue is now available, along with the Fall 2014 newsletter and those from the 2013-2014 school year. 

Mainstream News offers timely, practical articles to help professionals and parents provide students with effective support and access in mainstream educational settings. We are also committed to introducing our readers to role models who inspire, encourage and celebrate all that is possible for students with hearing loss. 
We are thrilled to offer this publication online so that it may reach school professionals and families far and wide. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts when each new issue is posted online!

A Few Highlights from Our Winter 2015 Issue:

  • Learn why students with hearing loss need opportunities to recharge after periods of intense listening. Our lead article offers simple ways to incorporate breaks for students across the grades.
  • Meet a dynamic group of students from Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton, MA. These students explained to school administrators the challenge of accessing public address announcements. As a result, they started this school year with a new system in place that improves access to announcements for all students at the school.
  • Our fifth-grade friend, Wil, returns for another installment of his "Dear Wil" column. This time around he responds thoughtfully to students who asked about managing communication and hearing aids at a pool party and during sports activities.
  • Does your student have a pass-around microphone as part of his or her FM system? Are you considering adding one? The final article in this issue answers frequently asked questions to help school teams make the most of this technology.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can I Bring a Friend?

It’s Wednesday and Heather’s here. Jack, who will you invite?” The kindergarten teacher is seated with the class on the rug and hands a card to my student as I walk into the room to get him and his buddy. “Choose me, Jack!” “Pick me!” “Is it my turn?” Children scramble to get closer, waving their hands to get Jack’s attention, eagerly awaiting his response. He holds the name card in his hand, looks at the picture and name, then grins and walks over to Eli. “Eli, come play!” Jack takes Eli’s hand and they rush over to me, both beaming at each other. It’s time to work!

Many of our students with hearing loss become adult-oriented at a very young age. Hours of individual therapy with adults and the structured, predictable interactions with adults can lead to difficulties making and sustaining friendships with peers.  Reading social cues and keeping up with the fast moving, unpredictable conversations among peers can be much more challenging and result in frustration and withdrawal. Purposefully creating more structured interactions with classmates promotes friendships in the more causal settings in and outside of school. Some students participate in lunch bunches, groups that meet during lunchtime in a quieter setting to foster relationships. Bringing a peer to an individual session is another great way to start bridging this gap, as long as these sessions are thoughtfully planned. Allowing students to invite classmates, especially in upper elementary and middle school, can eliminate the stigma that is sometimes associated with leaving the room to work individually with an outside service provider. Typically hearing peers can serve as language models for our students with hearing loss and for us as the TOD/HOH as well! I find it helpful to listen to the causal conversations of peers in order to make sure my expectations for my own students remain high and age appropriate. Inclusion of peers is also a way to assess the skills our students with hearing loss have and the areas in which they need more practice and support. Some things to keep in mind:

·  You will need permission in order to take a peer out of class to join an individual session. I’ve never had a problem, but always check with my contact at the school as well as the classroom teacher. I’m also very clear on the purpose of bringing a peer. I explain what we will do and the benefits to both students. Collaborating with the SLP is another great strategy. Many SLPs that I work with set up situations where we can meet and have our sessions together with our students for activities that we have co-planned.

·    Teachers should have ample notice when you plan to take a peer so that they can plan for that student’s absence.

·   For younger students, a system that is clear to the whole class is also important since jealousy can be an issue if the same students always get chosen. Some classrooms have a sign-up list where students can request  to join one of my “Buddy Sessions.” Other teachers prefer to choose the peer themselves. Be clear about your expectations for the session when meeting with the teacher so that she can share her thoughts on choosing an appropriate buddy.

·   When possible, especially for younger students, have a set plan for when the student will bring a buddy. It is important that the student with hearing loss does not miss critical time from individual sessions. They should know when a friend can come and when it’s time for individual work. This will vary for each student. For example, I see my kindergarten student three times each week and he brings a buddy every other week for the first half of our time together. 

What do we do together? We work on social skills, listening, and self-advocacy! My students practice these skills with me but it is more meaningful to practice with a friend. Pre-teaching games that require language and listening before playing them with a friend allows the student with hearing loss extra time to practice and become familiar with the activity. Games such as *Moods (reading tone of voice and facial expressions), Imagine If (taking on the perspective of others), and Storymatic (listening to each other to create a story using prompts) are great for older students or students with higher language levels. For younger students or students with lower language levels, card games using a regular deck of cards or games such as Go Fish still require them to listen to each other and use language to interact.

Once the peer joins us, this quieter setting is an ideal time for the student with hearing loss to explain to the peer how and why to use the FM while playing, and to practice self-advocacy by asking for repetition or clarification as needed. Expressive language skills are practiced when the student has to explain the game to his peer using temporal and sequential language.

Bringing a friend to an individual session can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. My students with hearing loss gain social confidence, and their classmates learn to see my students in a positive light.

How to you help foster friendships?

*I always edit the decks of cards for any board game. Know your student and his skill level. Pre-teach vocabulary as necessary and be sure your student feels confident in playing before bringing a friend.

Referenced Games:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Scholarships for College Bound Students with Hearing Loss

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!

Caroline A. Yale Alumni Scholarship
This scholarship is specifically for Clarke School alums. Any student who attended any Clarke program for at least one year is eligible!

Helen Fleming Scholarship
This is a scholarship for students with hearing loss who live in Massachusetts. Below is the link to the 2014 version but students can contact the committee for the 2015 application.

Hamilton Relay Scholarship
This is another opportunity for students who live in Massachusetts.

Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation Scholarships
For students with a minimum 50dB bilateral hearing loss.

Minnie Pearl Scholarship Program
For students with a severe-profound bilateral hearing loss.

Sertoma’s Scholarships for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing
For students with a minimum 40dB bilateral hearing loss.

Graeme Clarke Scholarship
This scholarship is open to Cochlear Nucleus® implant recipients.

Travelers Protective Association of America

AG Bell
For students with pre-lingual bilateral moderate-profound hearing loss.

Microsoft DisAbility Scholarship
For students with any disability who plan to major in a technology related field.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To Be A Role Model

It was one of those Mondays. Everywhere I went hearing technology was malfunctioning, students were upset, teachers were frustrated, and I was late all day long. Signing out of my last school, the receptionist and I joked about counting down the days until Friday; she was exhausted, too. Mentally composing the list of things I needed to do once I got home, I headed towards the exit when I was interrupted by an enthusiastic middle school girl. Beaming at me, she introduced herself, said she had seen me around the building and asked if she could talk to me about my job. Caught off guard, I agreed. As she ran off to let her soccer coach know she’d be late for practice, the French teacher approached me. “*Kara has been talking non-stop about you so I encouraged her to talk to you,” she informed me. I let her know Kara had done just that.

For the next hour Kara and I sat in an empty classroom while she asked questions about my role as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. She inquired about hearing loss and hearing technology, about my educational background and college coursework, and about the day-to-day responsibilities of the job as an itinerant. I pulled a model cochlear implant and hearing aid from my bag as well as a three-dimensional model of the ear, explaining each one to her. Kara examined each piece, running her finger along the electrode array of the cochlear implant, and gently opening and closing the battery door of the hearing aid. Frequent exclamations of, “Cool!” and “Wow!” escaped her.

 Kara talked about her own interest in the field, sparked by watching me work with several students at her elementary school and the two students in her current school.  She commented on the ease with which I interact with my students and the patience I demonstrated while re-syncing the FM transmitter and pass-around microphone students used during history class that afternoon. She described her fascination with the way that I am part of the class, co-teaching, observing, and collaborating with classroom teachers.  I was impressed by Kara’s articulate questions, but more so by her observations. I’ve always worked to be a role model for my students and the teachers I support, but never gave much thought to the role I play with the hearing students other than being generally friendly. Kara reminded me that even on my worst day, someone is watching, looking to me for inspiration, and yes, my job is pretty “cool.”

*name changed