I often allow my students to invite a friend to our one-to-one pullout sessions. It allows me to see them interacting socially and also gives me an opportunity to compare my student’s skills with those of their hearing peers—which helps me keep my expectations on target. Sometimes these visits also provide interesting insights into classroom life.
Last week my second grader Anna* asked to bring her classmate Lilly*. Her teacher overheard the request and gave me a nod along with a smile, letting me know it was okay to bring Lilly along to our session. After the short walk to the room where we work and the usual second grade discussion of who should sit where, I pulled out the self-advocacy activity I had planned, mentally changing a few aspects of my lesson plan so that it would be a game that the three of us could play together.
We took turns drawing cards, discussing various social situations and acoustic challenges, and brainstorming ways to handle them, assigning points for “bravery” and “creativity” (Anna and Lilly’s suggestions).
It was a pretty typical session until Anna drew a card that read, “Your teacher is giving a spelling test and is walking around the room. You didn’t hear the word she said. What can you do?”
Anna’s response surprised me. “Oh. You just have to figure it out or skip it, “ she said. Lilly nodded in agreement. Neither had anything to add. I prompted, “Well, what about raising your hand and asking [teacher] to repeat the word?” Anna looked horrified. “No way! “ she exclaimed. “It’s a spelling TEST! You can’t ask questions or even talk! You have to listen to what [teacher] says!” Lilly again nodded in agreement, adding an anecdote about a classmate who was talking during a math test and had to take the test in the back of the room.
This session got me thinking. I have the utmost respect for this second grade teacher. She’s firm, direct and students learn in her class. She stresses respect and collaboration; she’s inclusive and has never once hesitated to immediately implement any suggestion or recommendation I give. She uses the FM faithfully, doing checks at the start of each lesson to ensure that my student has access. When I observe, I see her really listening to her students and taking their thoughts and ideas seriously. And yet, Anna’s comment about the spelling test made me realize there is a significant misunderstanding in this classroom setting. Because of our ongoing communication and consultation, I know this teacher would repeat herself if Anna asked. It made me realize that Anna does not yet understand the distinction between advocating and being disrespectful, or breaking the rules.
While similar discussions have come up with other students in the past, there’s never been one clear way to address this distinction and I’m always a bit surprised when it comes up. We talk about self-advocacy; we encourage students to advocate for themselves starting in preschool. We meet with teachers to discuss students’ self-advocacy and how to integrate this practice into daily classroom life. It’s something our students will encounter throughout life and a critical component of their development.
So after my session with Anna and her friend Lilly, I shared this observation with their teacher. She was immediately responsive and we discussed the best way for her to address Anna’s concerns.
I also plan to follow up with Anna, discussing the difference between self-advocating when she misses something and simply not following the rules of the classroom. I’ll provide examples of both advocating and misbehaving and have her tell me which is which. I’ll also have her come up with her own examples. We’ll discuss the difference between not paying attention and missing or mis-hearing information.
I’m hoping Anna and I can compare notes after my next observation. It’s likely that Anna will observe at least one second grader self-advocate, while another simply won’t listen and cause a disruption. Over time Anna will see enough examples in her classroom.
My ultimate goal? Hopefully one day soon Anna won’t hesitate to ask for repetition if she misses a prompt for a spelling test.
*Names have been changed