Tuesday, May 21, 2019

EdWeek Contribution- GAMES!

Do you incorporate games into your sessions? Read my suggestions HERE on EdWeek for tips on how games can enhance the process of learning!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Your Students are Ready for Testing. Are their Teachers?

While my students have definitely started the countdown to the last day of school, my work is far from over! Spring means preparation for state assessments, standardized testing, PSAT / SAT for high school students, and final exams for junior high and high school kids.  While I don't have control over the standardized assessments other than advocating for accommodations, I can control some aspects of final exams for class content! 
It is important to include as many accommodations for testing as possible into students IEPs and 504s so that they are ready when exams come. Depending on the needs of the student, some of the most common accommodations are: 
  • Extending testing time 
  • Reading aloud and/or clarifying test items  
  • Use of the HAT system by the test administrator 
  • Use of organizers and outlines 
  • Providing individual or small group test space  

I’ve found that with some preparation, most teachers are receptive to simplifying or rewording test questions so that my students with hearing loss can show what they really understand about a concept rather than getting questions wrong because they were confused by the phrasing of a question. Since we have integrated this practice of modifying test items all year long, teachers understand the need for final exam modifications as well.  
For example, some students struggle to extract the questions theyre expected to respond to when they’re embedded in lengthy text. In the example below, I read the test item aloud to my student, had him extrapolate the test questions—which I simplified and rewroteand then he was then able to accurately respond, demonstrating his understanding.  

Similarly, while many of our students with hearing loss are capable of using complex syntax to respond to open response items, they may still require word banks in order to use conjunctions and connective language correctly to respond to test items.

Students who are working on including structures such as cause and effect or persuasive language, may require language frames to support their open responses as in the image below.

While some students are perfectly comfortable with the teacher, myself, or another adult writing right on their test, others are more self-conscious and do not want extra attention. To resolve this issue, one high school English teacher gave me access to her Google Drive. This way, I can go in and modify the test for my student online. When the teacher hands out tests, my student gets her modified copy but it doesn’t look any different from anyone else’s at a quick glance so she does not feel uncomfortable. This teacher told me recently that she’s started giving my version of the test to several other students in the class after realizing it was her questioning format that was causing students to lose points, not their lack of understanding! Many students can benefit from modified test questions!  
While teachers may not initially want to modify tests due to the extra work, once they understand the purpose, they are generally receptive. Making it clear that we are assessing what a student knows about a topic and NOT whether or not they can answer a question embedded in complex syntax also helps. As we teach students more and more of those language structures, they can become increasingly independent and successful with testing.  

                         How do you work with teachers to modify assessments?  

Monday, January 14, 2019

What Is a “Listening Break”?

I was recently asked about listening breaks. What is a listening break? What does it look like? Most importantly, why do students with hearing loss need a listening break? It’s something we talk about as teachers of the deaf—something we advocate for—and in interpreting testing results, we often encourage listening breaks to prevent fatigue. But, what do these listening breaks actually look like in practice?
Students with hearing loss are working harder than their classmates with typical hearing to access, process and fill in missed words and phrases during periods of classroom instruction. Even our best students, who are auditory learners despite their hearing loss, are constantly filling in and struggling to keep up with the pace of lectures and discussions in a busy classroom due to the limitations of their hearing technology. Because sound must be processed through the hearing aid or cochlear implant before reaching the brain where it is interpreted, there is a very brief delay between when the auditory information is received and when it is processed. Additionally, microphones on hearing assistive technology (HAT) have a limited range. Even with the use of a HAT system, background noise and limited access to a speaker’s face further compound our students’ ability to access auditory information. Because they are working so hard just to access what is being said, it is more challenging for our students to then process and synthesize and make connections with previously known information. All this leads to listening fatigue: feeling tired from the seemingly simple act of listening.

Listening breaks can really look different depending on the age and needs of the student. For example, I had a third grader who was still learning about fatigue and how hearing loss impacts her learning. She and I made three listening break sticks (strips of heavy cardstock drenched in glitter, an idea I borrowed from a colleague) and she learned how to use them for breaks. During transitions or independent work times she’d hand one to her teacher and then had options such as looking at books in the reading area, coloring quietly, or taking a “walk around the block” (just a hallway stroll) with the classroom aide. The teacher was involved in the whole process and it wasn’t long before the student was pretty independent with her breaks, spacing them out throughout the day.

I currently have a high school student who has other needs in addition to his hearing loss. He fatigues quickly. His teachers are also very much a part of his plan which he helped to design. Similar to my younger student, during transitions or independent work time, when he needs a break, he can go to the bathroom or get a drink (his version of “walk around the block”) and that short walk is usually enough. Many of my junior high and high schools students have similar plans in place where teachers allow for these short walks. When this particular student becomes overwhelmed in class, his 1:1 aide or I take him to the library to work in our designated quiet room where he can take his time on work and we can discuss it without distracting the whole class. He also benefits from physical activity and we’ve arranged with the athletic trainer to use the weight room. Ten minutes or so of heavy weight work really helps him to refocus. He also has a daily study hall built into his schedule for extra support.

The key components of any listening break plan include:
- The student should be part of the process so they gain awareness of their own learning needs and how they’re impacted by listening fatigue. This also gives them a voice in terms of what works and what doesn’t work for a listening break.
-Teachers must be educated on the effects of listening fatigue and hearing loss on access and learning so that they support and reinforce the plan.
- There should be some formality to the breaks so that they are effective and structured for the student (focus on the true fatigue needs of the student vs. something where the student can take a “break” whenever they just don’t want to do the work).
- A system should be in place for the student to make up any missed work during a break (as with my high school student—he has study hall for the times he really needs a longer break).
- Visual schedules such as writing out the daily plan on the board will help students identify a good time to take a break, such as after the instructional section of the class or during independent work time so that they do not miss out on important information.

How do you help students and schools understand listening breaks?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

EdWeek Q&A

Happy New Year!

Have you checked out the online magazine for educators, EdWeek? Read my contribution HERE in the most recent publication!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

When Everything Goes Right

You’re here! I missed you so much!” my elementary student exclaimed, racing over, his curls bouncing, as he threw his arms around me in a hug. His teacher gave me a smile and a wave from across the room as my student chatted about his current writing assignment. A few classmates looked up form their work and greeted me as well.
This enthusiasm and the welcoming smiles are not unusual. I’ve been experiencing something new this year- everything is just really working in one district. From the outside, there’s nothing to lead a teacher of the deaf to believe that it would be any different from any other district. It’s not a particularly wealthy area and the schools do not have a lot of experience with hearing loss or with working with a teacher of the deaf. But it’s become my TOD utopia. I’d like to take all the credit for making these schools so ideal, but it’s been a real team effort. J

Originally contracted for just two students, the district has now increased that contract to include several more students in the school system—meaning even more students with hearing loss have access to the support services that they need in order to flourish in the mainstream. I made a real effort initially to not just explain but also show what a teacher of the deaf does. Consult times were scheduled on a regular basis and I planned lessons for those the same way that I do for my students’ individual sessions (see my post HERE for more tips about making the most of consult time). I invited support personnel and the administration into my sessions with students so that they could see for themselves how what I do differs from what the SLP or special education teacher does. While not every aspect of the classroom or equipment use was perfect, I was able to focus on what was working and easily weave in tips for improving access.
For their part, the administration in the district has allotted time for the entire teams for the students with hearing loss to meet quarterly, while also providing coverage for the regularly scheduled consult time so that all relevant staff can attend. Teachers come to consults with specific questions or requests for feedback from my classroom observations, which makes my job easier and more structured! At the end of each consult, we create an agenda for the next consult which was the SLP’s idea and I’ve started to implement this in other schools as well since it includes the team and is not just me deciding what is important. The district has prioritized the needs of the students with hearing loss and we’re already seeing a difference in performance and confidence!
Open communication, receptiveness to feedback, mutual respect and a genuine desire to create an optimal learning environment for all students between myself and my school teams have all contributed to one of the most ideal TOD situations. I’d love to recreate this type of environment in all of my schools and piece-by-piece, I’m learning how to do that.

How do you build positive relationships in school settings?