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?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Making Sure We Are Teaching

            Every teacher of the deaf has probably been asked a million times what exactly it is that we do. After responding, the comment, “Oh, so you’re like a tutor?” is not uncommon. I’ve found myself explaining the difference between teaching, progress monitoring and tutoring on so many occasions and I’m sure that I am not alone!
            Instruction or teaching involves explicitly explaining and helping students practice the skills necessary to successfully complete a task. This should be the primary component of our job as the teacher of the deaf. For many of our students with hearing loss, lack of incidental knowledge, gaps in schema or skill set, or difficulty with language and syntax prevent them from performing to their full potential in the classroom. It is my responsibility to not only teach skills necessary to complete current assignments, but additionally, to recognize and fill in gaps while ALSO anticipating and teaching upcoming skills. It can be overwhelming at times! Having a clear understanding of the hierarchy of skills required for any given task is critical to effectively teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
            In contrast, progress monitoring involves analyzing student work samples and noting errors or patterns of errors. It includes classroom observations and noting behaviors and potential barriers. Progress monitoring is also checking off the box when a student is able to successfully complete a task or demonstrates independent use of a skill that has been directly taught. At times, progress monitoring can be mistaken for instruction. For example, when progress notes indicate skills a student lacks but does not specifically state how those needs are being addressed. Progress monitoring alone will not lead to effective progress; direct instruction is necessary.
            Tutoring is also often mistaken for the specialized instruction we do as teachers of the deaf. Tutoring generally involves reviewing or previewing content related to class, drills such as flash cards or matching games, or similar study-type tasks. While some general overview is necessary, we must also make sure that this does not take up the bulk of our sessions and that we continue to focus on the instructional component.
            For example, many high school students have vocabulary as a component of the English class curriculum. One of my students has a weekly Latin and Greek root word list with quizzes each Friday. My instruction focuses on helping her learn the roots and using that knowledge to determine the meaning of new words. 
The vocabulary word, CIRCUMNAVIGATE, is on the opposite side of the card. This student benefits from including relevant examples as well as the provided definition when learning new terms.

The tutoring component I leave to her academic support team which could involve playing a matching game to help the student learn the words and definitions in order to pass the weekly quiz. The progress monitoring portion is my tracking which words she gets correct and which ones she misses on the quizzes and looking for potential patterns in her errors.

Latin and Greek roots at the bottom as well as color coding are strategies that help my student. 

            Similarly, students are expected to annotate texts in most junior high and high school classes. This is a skill that requires direct instruction. I model my thought process while reading aloud with students, and together we decide what to write in the margins of the text. 

Progress monitoring is part of my process as I periodically check my students’ books to see how they are annotating and adapt my instruction to meet specific needs. For example, I may focus on how to help my students ask questions or make predictions within the text or, I might teach them strategies for annotating for a specific purpose such as related to a formal paper.

            While instruction, progress monitoring and to some degree, tutoring, are all components of our job, teachers of the deaf specialize in the instruction for students with hearing loss. Being reflective about our own teaching and process can help to ensure that the bulk of our sessions are spent on this most important component- instruction.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Are you familiar with the online magazine, Accessibility, Equity and Compliance in Education (AC&E) ? If not, check it out here and look for my back-to-school article on page 24!

One Essential Goal for the New School Year

Welcome back! It’s been a busy (and here in Massachusetts, HOT) start to the new school year!

I was recently consulting in a third-grade mainstream classroom, and got into a conversation with the teacher about representation of students with varied abilities and physical appearances in children’s literature. She strives to create a classroom library where each student can find themselves in the characters in the books she reads and provides. This teacher asked for book recommendations featuring characters with hearing loss. I reached out to my good friend and fellow teacher of the deaf, JennyKate Marble, who is a school librarian. She sent me the list below and I’m excited to share it here with you.

Picture Books:
The Deaf Musicians by Pete Seeger
Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer
My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully
The Printer by Myron Uhlburg
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
The Moses Goes To series by Isaac Millman

Chapter Books:
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte

Graphic Novels:
El Deafo by Cece Bell

Let’s take on my cooperating teacher’s goal of equal representation and make sure our students are represented in all classroom libraries (and maybe update our own collections, too!)  Cheers to a new school year!