Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Overnight Trips

     The end of the school year is quickly approaching and with it, a variety of special excursions off school grounds. For several of my students, this will include their first overnight school trip! Eighth-grade campouts, overnight museum stays and city adventures are all on the horizon. With thoughtful preparation, my students are bound to have a great time!

To ensure school trips are successful for my students with hearing loss, there are specific areas I ask school teams to consider:

Sleeping Arrangements: Since students with hearing loss remove their amplification while sleeping and will be “off the air,” they may feel most comfortable with familiar peers or friends. Even when students are told that sleeping arrangements are random, I’ve never had a problem with teachers making an exception for my student.  

Storage Containers: Students should plan to bring containers to store hearing aids and cochlear implants within reach of their sleeping area at night. Also, consider having the student bring a small flashlight to keep near the container to help with communication with peers in the dark or in case of an emergency during the night.

Electricity: If FM systems are brought, they will need to be charged overnight. Also, many students use electric Dri-Aid devices for hearing aids, or use rechargeable batteries. If there will not be electricity, as was the case for a student on a recent camping trip, they will need to know ahead of time so that disposable batteries can be used. FM systems can be charged using a car charger which will have to be packed as well.

Schedule and Expectations: Students should be prepared for the overnight experience the same way that we would help them prepare for any other field trip. Printed out agendas, rules, expectations and so on will help the student with hearing loss feel more confident and independent. When instructions are only given verbally to the large group, the student is more apt to miss or misunderstand key pieces of information.

Night Activities: Campfires, flashlight hikes and nighttime explorations are so much fun! The problem is that understanding others becomes incredibly difficult for students who use speechreading in addition to listening. Help your student develop a plan ahead of time for managing communication during these activities.

Packing: In addition to the general packing list, students with hearing loss should also pack extra batteries and basic troubleshooting supplies. As the TOD/HOH, it is important to meet with the adult(s) who will be responsible for managing the equipment to review basic troubleshooting steps so this person will know how to help the student if a problem occurs. This person should also have a number to call if a problem cannot be resolved after basic troubleshooting.

Weather: Students with hearing loss should pack rain coats or umbrellas to protect their amplification in case of poor weather. This will allow them to continue participating in outdoor activities.

Wake-up Protocol: Discuss with your student how they would like to be woken up in the morning. If students are expect to wake themselves up, our students with hearing loss should have this same expectation. Some students may have alarms that vibrate instead of using an audible alert, but in cases where they do not, or, when there is no electricity available, include the student in the planning so that they feel comfortable. This may be an opportunity for the student to purchase such an alarm and practice at home prior to the trip. Additionally, if there is an emergency during the night, be sure the student knows how they will be alerted. All adults should be aware of plans that are put in place.

Overnight trips are a great opportunity for all students and will some advanced planning, our students with hearing loss can have a memorable experience as well!

For more ideas, see the article, “10 Tips For Successful Spring Field Trips”, page 3 of our Spring 2015 issue of Mainstream News!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


I walked into the eighth-grade health class for an observation after April break. Before class officially began, a student with typical hearing commented on my tan and asked where I had been. My student came up during our conversation and handed me his transmitter, showing me that the microphone clip had broken. I told him I had another, digging thorough my troubleshooting bag to find the baggie with replacement clips. “Ms. Stinson to the rescue!” the typically hearing student said, striking a superhero pose with a smile. My student laughed along with him.

Throughout class, I filled out my observation notes, identifying the number of times and how my student advocated, clarified, contributed, and commented on what others had shared. Students were patient with him, repeating or rephrasing when he asked, and his teacher willingly provided further explanation when he expressed confusion. This was really a model class, but not atypical for this student at this point in the school year.

Grades were handed back on an oral presentation students had done. My student broke out in a huge smile after reading his rubric and hurried over to show me – a perfect 100! A nearby student wanted me to see her rubric too, as she had also done well.

Walking out that day, I started thinking about those interactions with the typically hearing students in the class. They all know me and understand my role. I’ve been a quiet presence, observing their classes throughout the year, interacting with my student when he approaches me during class, and chatting with his peers as well. My interactions with him and his amplification have normalized hearing loss to the point where everyone helps this student access what he needs without judgment.

Middle school is a difficult time for all students but for students with hearing loss, the normal feelings of self-consciousness can be compounded. Having a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing following them around observing in classes, meeting in public spaces such as the library, and collaborating with teachers has the potential to make them feel that much more different. In this situation, the teachers have set the tone in the classroom by welcoming me and openly collaborating with me. Their attitudes and interactions have helped me to integrate into the class of eighth graders which has impacted how hearing peers view my role as well as how they view my student. As the year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about how confident all of my middle school students are right now, and how comfortable they are approaching me in front of their peers. I’ve worked hard to build and maintain these relationships and it has paid off. An outsider would never know that this is the same student who told me when I started working with him that he felt ashamed and embarrassed by his hearing loss.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Student Involvement in the IEP

Although there is still cold weather in the forecast here in Massachusetts, I’m told it’s spring!  Along with the potentially warmer weather, spring also means end-of-the- year reports and for many of my students, IEP and 504 meetings. Decisions made in these meetings impact our students for the next year so careful planning is critical. Along with the academic goals, self-awareness and self-advocacy are important areas to consider. It’s never too early to involve students in the IEP and 504 process and this specific instruction can be written into the IEP as well.

Two factors that impact such lessons are the student's level of maturity and parent consent. I often start talking with my students about the IEP in kindergarten or first grade. I communicate with the families about the purpose of such lessons as well as my plan (whether I'll use the actual document, just show the goals, or present a simplified version for younger students). Some parents don't want their children to see the original document, feeling that what is written focuses on the deficits and could make the child feel bad. In those cases, I can usually work with the parent and create a modified document for instruction purposes that emphasizes growth and success, such as the self-evaluations which I described in a previous post. By late elementary/early middle school, my students and I talk about the IEP and the meeting in more detail. By then, parents are usually comfortable and familiar with the process and its benefits. Even though students are not required to attend the meetings at that age, some may stop in for an introduction at the beginning, or if they will not make an appearance, I bring the material we've worked on such as a statement from my student with what they want included under Strengths, Vision Statement, and Current Performance for each goal. By the time students start attending meetings in high school, it's all very familiar. 

There are many kid friendly IEP guides on the internet which I often modify to fit the needs of my individual student. In addition, I emphasize that because the student has hearing loss, adults want to make sure they are successful in school and an IEP is a document that makes sure they get what they need. We talk about accommodations and highlight the skills we work on in individual sessions as well as the carryover I look for when I observe in class. Whenever I observe in class, I share my notes with students no matter how young they are and we always bring it back to the IEP. We set goals together which keeps the student involved and informed (e.g. When I observe, I want to see you raise your hand two times, and tell the teacher to mute/un-mute the microphone ...). 

While the teams that I work with generally value such relevant, experiential learning, it still must be “measurable” in order to get written into the IEP. A sample objective under the Self Advocacy goal might read:

Student will demonstrate an understanding of her IEP accommodations by advocating for their application in all school settings with decreasing adult support. 

This allows me to work 1:1 with my student, to help the student  apply skills in the classroom with appropriate observational documentation, and move the student  towards independence. Then I can work on applying the accommodations in other school settings and involve the student in refining what is written or adding to the accommodations for the next IEP period. 

Similarly, objectives such as the two below, allow me to formally work with my student on self-evaluation and move from the highly supported to more open-ended evaluations that I described in an earlier post. In reports, I state specifically what supports I start with and where we end up. This documents the decreasing adult modeling, and is therefore "measurable."

Student will demonstrate increasing responsibility for her academic progress by formally reviewing her IEP objectives on a quarterly basis with decreasing adult modeling.

Student will explain how hearing loss impacts her ability to access her education by participating in monthly / quarterly / weekly (you decide) formal progress monitoring with decreasing adult support. 

The IEP may take up only a small percentage of the total time working with students, but it influences the entire process. The more engaged and involved students can be early on, the more ready they will be to actively participate when the time comes.

Links to Student IEP Guides:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Silver Lining

You’re so lucky you’re deaf. You can just turn everyone off.” My head whipped up just in time to notice the look of dismay briefly cross my seventh-grade student’s face. He recovered quickly, smiled hesitantly, and muttered, “Yeahas he muted the DynaMic. He needed to concentrate on his independent work in the noisier than usual classroom where students were completing a variety of assignments before the end of the term.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a comment like this or seen such a reaction. Technology is such an integrated part of our world and everyday experiences that well-intentioned peers (and adults) may overlook that fact that using this technology is a necessity rather than a perk for our students with hearing loss. The majority of students that we work with are in mainstream classrooms with typically hearing peers. This was an innocent comment referring to how the student with hearing loss can mute his microphone and work in quiet whereas the typically hearing student can’t block out the noise in the classroom in the same way. What the hearing student didn’t realize was the effect his comment of being lucky could have on his peer with hearing loss. He has an acceptance of his hearing loss, but this boy would not describe himself as “lucky.” Even though PowerPoint presentations related to hearing loss, inviting peers to join individual sessions, and ongoing advocacy work with our students can all help raise awareness of hearing loss in the mainstream classroom, others still forget. We work so hard on teaching our students to speak up and advocate but there are still days they decide to let it go or get annoyed, and that’s part of being a regular kid.  It’s unrealistic to expect our students to advocate in every single opportunity.

Helping students think of a response they can use when someone makes a similar comment to them can be helpful. As a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, I continue to learn the best way to respond, too. After a science teacher that I work with reported overhearing a similar comment in her classroom, the parent of the child with hearing loss responded to the group email by describing how she spoke with her child about the difference between being “lucky” and in seeing the silver lining. While it may not always feel “lucky” to have hearing loss, there are those silver linings –  in this case, the mute button.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why Does It Matter How We Hear?

“Oh! Here…nope, not this one. It says, ‘hammer, anvil, and stirrup.’ I want one with the scientific words –malleus, incus, and stapes,” my eighth grader softly explains as he scans internet images of the ear on my computer, looking for just the right color scheme as well as correct labeling of the parts. We’ve been talking in great detail about how hearing works and how hearing loss impacts comprehension of spoken language. He’s fascinated and wants to put together a presentation to share with his classmates so that they can better understand how he perceives and processes sound. Finally, he selects the image below, inserts in into his presentation, and says, “perfect.”

Why does it matter how hearing works? Kids (and adults, too!) want explanations for how and why things work the way they do. Without concrete explanations, students often feel that misunderstandings are always their own fault. Many students express moments in school and in social situations of feeling dumb, confused, lost, or on the outside of the group. Helping them to understand how hearing works and how hearing loss impacts comprehension can alleviate some of the self-blame and negative feelings and instead empower students to advocate. All my students have self-advocacy goals and objectives in their IEPs, and learning about hearing fits right into those objectives. Even with my youngest students, we study diagrams of the ear, create our own diagrams and label the parts, and trace the path of sound up to the brain (what a great opportunity to include sequential language instruction!). Recently, my first grader was overheard telling a classmate who asked about her hearing aids, “Don’t you know already? Hearing aids make sounds louder and help sounds get to my brain.” 

As students get older, they are able to explore in more depth how hearing impacts language. One parent emailed me saying that my fourth-grade student drew a diagram of the ear during a family gathering and used it to explain to her grandmother who also has hearing loss, why dinner conversations are difficult to follow. Another middle school student showed me sketches of the ear and hearing aid that she had drawn while on the bus, explaining to her friends how she hears when they asked. As for my student creating his presentation? The change in him has been remarkable –once sitting in class unsure of what was going on and having few strategies to figure it out, he now advocates for information to be written on the board, alerts teachers when the FM is muted or muffled, and explains what he needs to new adults and peers. He can quickly sketch a drawing of the ear and explain where the breakdown occurs for him based on the cause of his hearing loss. He understands that it is not his fault when he misses what was said but that it is his responsibility to get the information. My student confidently presented his PowerPoint to his classmates, responded to questions, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  He no longer blames himself or feels badly when misunderstandings occur because he understands why; there’s a scientific explanation for mishearing.