Monday, March 30, 2020

Embracing Teleservice

Things have changed overnight for schools, educators and families. Remote learning is taking place in many states, with varying degrees of preparedness, from elementary schools through college.
Teleservice, or the application of telecommunications technology to deliver professional services at a distance, is not new for many itinerant educators and in this uncertain time, it’s essential. With teleservice, we can maintain quality service delivery to our students who are deaf or hard of hearing; connect with families and school staff; and interface with our colleagues.
Today, I made some hot coffee and sat on my couch with my computer, ready to contact students and consult teachers right from the comfort of my living room.
            Usually one to see possibilities and solutions, when initially presented with the opportunity to work with students through teleservice, all I saw were problems and reasons why it wouldn’t work. How can I build authentic connections with students virtually? And before we transitioned to all distance learning during this public health emergency, I wondered: how could I possibly offer modifications for instruction when I’m not in the classroom? How would I ever get a genuine sense of the students’ academic skills and social relationships with peers if I couldn’t observe those moments? What kind of accountability would there be when I wasn’t able to pop into classes and see how my student was carrying over skills? And, I hate computers. Why on earth would I want to spend my day sitting at a computer when I chose this career in part because of the social interactions, constant change in scenery and schedule flexibility?
            Much to my surprise, I’ve quickly come to embrace this new model of itinerant services. I’ve found that all of my initial concerns have been quite easy to address. As with any new challenge, I researched what had been done in terms of teleservice with other organizations. I spoke with a colleague who had used this method. And I decided to simply embrace it. Below are my tips for starting out:

·      Determine your model. A hybrid model includes some in-person visits and some teleservice visits, versus a pure teleservice model where there will be no in-person visits. Distance is often the determining factor, or in this case right now, closed schools.
·      Familiarize yourself with the platform you’re using. It’s important you adhere to any guidelines and regulations put in place to maximize accessibility for the population(s) you serve. I’ve found that most schools use Google, and GoogleMeet is easy to use. Skype, Facetime, Zoom and any other accessible method also work well. Additionally, Google classroom works on X-box and PS4 for students who have gaming consoles but not computers.
·      Connect with your school team (including the student and family)and set clear goals for the sessions. Will you meet with the student or just the team of teachers? Right now, meeting with students in their homes virtually will also require coordinating with parents or caregivers.
·      Send materials in advance. When I meet with students directly, I communicate with my school team leader and the parent or guardian  ahead of time and send any resources that the student will need (such as when we are working on advocacy and completing scales or making goal plans) so that the student can have the materials in front of them as we go over things. If I will need materials that the student has (such as academic resources from class), those can be scanned by the teacher and sent to me through email, or sometimes I can access them directly from the students school account.
·      Create resources for your mainstream educator colleagues working remotely, if possible. Anything that can be done live can also be done virtually. Consider recording an in-service so that staff can watch it on their own with your actual narration. This was a tip from my colleague which is quite simple but also very effective. My presentation can now be used over and over without any extra work on my part and teachers appreciate having the opportunity to go back and review as well as being able to watch it at a time that works for them.
·      Leverage Email. Email becomes even more valuable! I am able to email resources and observation follow up notes, the same way that I do when I physically drive to a school to consult. With teleservice being a new model for most schools and students, my expertise in the technology and accessibility features (e.g. live captioning) as well as what my students need in terms of access (e.g. visual access, direct connection of the HAT system to the computer for auditory access) has made consultation with teachers and school teams just as critical as when I’m visiting schools in person during the year.

I’m still figuring out the nuances of this practice but as more and more students with hearing loss are requiring support services, teleservice may very well be the wave of the future. During the pandemic when most schools have gone online, I’m hopeful that even more resources and strategies will emerge.

Live captioning for Google Slides:

Tips for creating a virtual classroom in Zoom:

A list of companies offering free educational subscriptions due to closings:

Accessibility strategies for deaf/ hard of hearing people in remote meetings:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Staying Healthy, Being Prepared

Clarke takes the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak seriously and is dedicated to ensuring proper protocols are in place to protect staff, students and family. Updates and CDC resources for the Clarke community are regularly posted at

According to Education Week: “as of March 13, 2020, 11 a.m. ET, at least 18,700 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting at least 8.1 million students.”

In the event of school closures, self-quarantine or a transition to online learning, here are some helpful resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. These may be helpful for families advocating for their child’s educational needs, as well as mainstream classroom teachers and support staff:

·      Best practices for making online learning accessible to children who are deaf of hard of hearing

·      COVID-19 and students with disabilities

·      Talking to Children about COVID-19: A Parent Resource

Take care and be well

Friday, February 21, 2020

Making the Grade

Preparing Your Students (and Yourself!)
It’s midterm and finals time for all of my junior high and high school students. I’ve worked with my schools to make sure accommodations are in place for students who will take their exams in separate settings. I’ve met with the staff who will be administering the exams, and I’ve arranged my schedule when I’ll be the one administering. I’ve worked with my students to create comprehensive study plans, and most importantly: I’ve made sure that teachers, families, and support staff understand that the work must be done by my students.
            I’ve often found that the staff supporting students with different learning needs feel that the students’ grades are a reflection of their abilities as support staff and educators. While I also want my students to succeed, I do not share this belief. Here are some helpful reminders for what can be a stressful time of year:

·      I will work hard to teach my students the literacy, language skills and strategies that they need in order to access curriculum.
·      I will work with teachers to modify tests and assignments to meet the language levels of my students.
·      I will support my students in advocating for their learning needs.
·      In the end, their grades are not a reflection of my abilities as a teacher of the deaf, but a reflection of their abilities as a student.

Offering Support , Encouraging Independence
            I can provide resources for my students and teach them how to use them. I cannot make my students use these materials. I can instruct my students in how to study effectively and effectively for exams. I cannot go home with them and make them implement these practices. Some of my students are strong academically and in honors or AP-level classes. Some students struggle more and are appropriately placed in more basic or even remedial-level classes. While I want everyone to do well, it is not to the benefit of my students if I “give” them answers or overly support them, especially during exams. This creates an unrealistic picture of the students’ true abilities and skill levels, and can lead to incorrect placement or expectations in future classes.

It is not my job to make sure all of my students get As, but it is my job to ensure that they have access to the curriculum, and that I am teaching the skills needed in order for that to happen. When grades are lower than expected—or desired—I work with my students to analyze why that is. Did the student apply the study strategies we discussed? Did they take advantage of the tools, accommodations and modifications available to them? Did they advocate for what they needed? Did the teachers provide agreed-upon support tools? And of course, no matter what the final grade may be, I always try to emphasize that a grade is just a grade. It gives some academic information but does not define my student as a person.

So here’s to finals! How do you support your students and educational teams?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Using Labels with Pride

Selecting a Name
            I was sitting in a high school class, observing my student. There is a second student with hearing loss in that class as well. They’re not really friends but they do have several classes together and know each other. On this day, the class was reviewing for a unit test and would be playing a Jeopardy-style game. The teacher instructed students to pair up, come up with a team name, and write that team name on the board where the score would be recorded.
My student and the other student with hearing loss were sitting near each other and decided to work together. After a brief moment of discussion and a high five, the second student hurried up to the board and wrote in careful block letters, “THE DEAF PEOPLE.” As she scanned the team names on the board, the teacher’s face went from smiling to concerned. She glanced at me and then anxiously tried to get the boys to change the name of their group.
Why?” my student asked, “We’re both deaf. We’re the deaf people.”

Teaching Labels and Identity
Identity is so important for all people, students with hearing loss included. When I’m working with students on self-advocacy—beginning as early as preschool— labels are part of what we discuss. We talk about the differences between audiological terminology (hard of hearing, deaf, etc.) and identity terminology (deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, person with hearing loss, etc.) These labels may change over time as students get older; learn more about their hearing loss and communication style; and discover who they are as individuals within their communities.

Connecting through Differences

             Sitting in that classroom, I realized that it’s not enough to work with my students around choosing labels, but it’s also important to educate their teachers and school teams. Had this teacher realized that my student and his classmate chose the term “deaf” proudly, her reaction to them writing this on the board may have been different.
The teacher and I did discuss this event after class and she admitted that she was uncomfortable because she’d never had a student with a difference “own” it and express it so openly before. While most people want to ignore differences and pretend we are all the same, these students demonstrated that labels don’t have to be shameful or “bad” words. Sometimes the thing that makes you stand out is also the thing that helps you connect to others.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why We Must Make Our Work Visible

            As a teacher of the deaf, I know what I’m looking for when I observe in a classroom. I’m tuned in to how my student is responding and interacting, and I’m always taking notes both mentally and in my notebook. I can scan a piece of student writing and fairly quickly identify the missing language structures that I need to target in my sessions, as well as the ones my student has begun to carry over. I can look at my students’ responses on a test and know whether it was the content or the phrasing of the question that threw them off. I notice either the hesitation or the confidence when there’s an equipment malfunction and my student has to implement the advocacy strategies we’ve practiced.

I constantly look for ways to communicate my work and observations to the teachers and other professionals in the schools—with varying degrees of past success. When the students I work with struggle academically or socially, teachers often think that I can work some magic in my individual sessions and fix it.

When strong students struggle, teachers often think I’m exaggerating a problem because, “She’s getting all As,” or “He never complained to me about not being able to hear. I think it’s fine.”

And middle-of-the-road students suffer too. “Well, the whole class is struggling with that concept,” and “He just doesn't try. If he put in some effort he’d be able to do it,” are not uncommon statements. 

This year I’ve strived to make my work—my very specific strategies and tools—visible. It’s no easy task to take what is in my head and make it a physical, tangible item to share with other professionals! Rather than just verbally communicating my observations, I’ve started to photocopy and note directly on student work samples the clauses and structures which other students are using independently that my student has omitted. Additionally, I’m including writing samples from sessions where I’ve provided language frames or models to show exactly how I’m teaching those structures. I’ve continued to write directly on the tests that I administer when I rephrase a question, but now go the extra step to also share the language activities that I’m using to directly teach the language that my students struggle with in terms of test question comprehension and response. I’m very specific about targets for advocacy, giving “homework” for my student (e.g., asking for closed captions on media, taking listening breaks as needed with agreed-upon strategies such as getting a drink, etc.) and communicating this to the team, specifically asking for feedback when I’m not there to observe.

The results have been very positive. Overall, there is an increased sense of collaboration versus my work being separate from the life of the classroom. I’m finding teachers are approaching me more often with questions, asking for specific input, requesting feedback on organizers and seeking instructional strategies. One English teacher even asked me if I’d be willing to model what I meant during a discussion of organizing group dynamics to support my student by leading a read-aloud! It was fantastic and she carried over the techniques that I modeled!

I’ve always believed in collaboration and have sought to include teachers in my work with students. This slight shift to sharing more of what I do; what I see; and how I analyze has only served to increase that trust and communication which in the end, can only have a positive impact on my student’s academic, social and overall success!

How do you make your work visible?