Sunday, October 19, 2014

Learning A New Language

Foreign language instruction is increasingly part of the curriculum for students of all ages. Once reserved for junior high and high school students, I now see elementary school students receiving foreign language lessons as well. Exposure to foreign languages, customs, and cultures is a valuable experience for all students. With some careful planning, our students with hearing loss can be successful as well.

As teachers of the deaf / hard of hearing, we can help foreign language teachers understand and address the unique challenges a second language can present to our students. Here are some key points and suggestions to share with foreign language teachers, and to keep in mind when providing itinerant support to students:

Many of our students are still learning English grammar and syntax, so learning the rules of a new language can be challenging. Explicit instruction, use of visual supports, and copies of charts (such as those used for conjugating verbs) and vocabulary for the student to review independently can all be helpful.

Many languages have subtle auditory differences in words that can be harder for students with hearing loss to discriminate. Consider the masculine and feminine le and la in French, or the /s/ at the end of words in Spanish that denotes verb tenses. The student should have visual access to all new vocabulary, and ample opportunities to practice using and listening for (depending on auditory access) the differences in sounds. Speechreading can help the student gather additional information, so it is important for the teacher to face the student when speaking.

Help the student organize vocabulary with a system. The following presentation offers examples of this: 
While a bit outdated, the suggestions for color-coding would be beneficial for many students, not just those with hearing loss!

Students with hearing loss need extra opportunities to practice listening to and pronouncing new vocabulary words. At times, students may not want to participate in class due to fear of mispronunciations. Providing extra practice (such as utilizing support from the TOD/HOH or SLP) and use of visual supports can alleviate some of this stress,

Provide subtitles for videos and transcripts of any recordings used in class.

Assessments typically include oral and written components, and adjustments will likely be needed for the oral portions. Students with hearing loss should have the oral component read aloud by the teacher (vs. listening to a recording). This will provide visual information for speechreading, maximize auditory access and allow the student to ask for repetition as needed. For students who struggle auditorily, the oral component may weigh less towards to total grade for that student. Additionally, consider the student’s speech abilities. A student who does not have access to all speech sounds, and therefore does not produce them, should not lose points on an oral assessment for those errors.

Just like typically hearing students, there are many reasons students with hearing loss take foreign language classes. One of my students spends time in France with his family and wants to be able to communicate independently while there. Another student is taking Spanish simply because it is required and she wanted to give it a try rather than waiving the class (as many students with hearing loss are able to do). A third student attends a Jewish day school and is learning Hebrew as part of the religious curriculum, which includes reading religious texts. Yet another student has taken Latin as a way of improving his understanding of English. Each student has a different reason for choosing and participating in their language class. For students with hearing loss, there may need to be some adjustments in what is emphasized or weighted more heavily - whether it be speaking, reading, writing, or cultural exposure. But, it is usually worthwhile to consider the benefits of taking a second language before presuming it is not a possibility.

The first year taking a foreign language often goes well as long as the student’s first language is in tact. Because the teacher assumes that everyone is new to the language, the instruction is generally slow paced and very clear. The teacher slowly articulates, is careful about word boundaries and includes a variety of visuals such as posted vocabulary and conjugations of verb forms. Projects and cultural lessons make the experience hands-on and meaningful. Since everyone is working on syntax, the teacher often writes out whole sentences and is very explicit about grammar and syntax. It is helpful to point out these strategies and encourage teachers to keep using them, even more so as the student progresses through the levels. As instruction becomes more conversation based, teachers tend to drop some of the visual supports that the student with hearing loss will continue to need.

Above all, encourage the student with hearing loss to communicate with the foreign language teacher – both when difficulties arise and when strategies are working well.

How do you help students access foreign language classes?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Time to Take Notes!

Okay, so I get that I tell my teacher why I can’t take notes and then I ask for a notetaker. But what do I say to [peer] when she asks why I’m not taking my own notes?” My eighth-grade student looks at me from across the table, his notecards, history text, and class handouts spread out as we begin to prepare for an upcoming test. Like many students with hearing loss, he is not able to take notes during class lectures despite the fact that his teacher writes key words on the board, paces lectures and class discussions appropriately, maximizes the use of his hearing technology, and provides organized handouts to accompany her lectures. Our one-to-one sessions provide a comfortable, reassuring place for him to practice what he can say. “I can’t listen, lip read, and write all at the same time. When I look down at my paper to write, I miss what [teacher] is saying. And then it’s all confusing and I have to ask her to repeat. That’s why it will be helpful to have your notes. So, you know, I can listen and know what everyone’s talking about,” he rehearses.

In order to help students fully access class lectures and discussions, especially in middle and high school, peer notetakers are a valuable accommodation. Because of the way hearing aids and cochlear implants process sound, students with hearing loss require extra time to listen and make sense of what they hear. Many students also rely on speechreading in addition to their hearing technology, making it nearly impossible to write at the same time. My students have had great success with peer notetakers when there are clear guidelines and when everyone is on the same page. Below are a few tips for setting this up for your students:

  •        Communicate with the teacher(s) and explain the rationale for peer notetaking. Sample notes the student has attempted to take and simulations of hearing loss can be helpful when teachers are resistant. Some teachers initially feel that use of a peer notetaker lets the student with hearing loss, “off the hook,” eliminating any sense of responsibility for that student. It is our job to help teachers understand that peer notetakers allow our students to access instruction more completely rather than simply reducing the workload.

  •        Involve the student.  Role-play with the student and support him or her in meeting with teachers to advocate for peer notetakers. Teachers are often more receptive when students are able to articulate their own needs. Conversations may include the difficulty involved in speechreading while trying to write, the pace of the conversation or lecture, and the likelihood of missing important details of not just content but also information such as safety and instructions in science labs when using chemicals and hazardous materials. 

  •     Support the student in advocating with the peer notetaker. Teachers are often able to identify a peer who would be a good notetaker. This student should be someone who is generally organized, has good attendance, takes clear notes, and is up for the responsibility of supporting the student with hearing loss by sharing notes. Some schools identify a second student as a back up in case the primary notetaker is absent or needs a break. One of my students chose to write a letter to her note taker outlining the specific information she wanted included. Another student chose to have a conversation with her peer with my facilitation. Think about including lecture notes, details of assignments, vocabulary terms, class procedures, rules, and instructions, and peer comments and questions. Many students are just learning how to take notes themselves and may require additional support or supplemental teacher notes.


  •       Decide how the student with hearing loss will get a copy of the notes.  Some students take notes on a computer and email a copy to the student with hearing loss. Others choose to photocopy hand written notes. A popular option is to use our carbonless Note-Writer paper, which provides an instant copy of notes. (Visit to order.) The student with hearing loss will be responsible for getting the notes from the peer notetaker and as the TOD, we can help facilitate this process.

  •        Identify an adult who can monitor the notetaking process. Adults should continue to check in with both students so that any challenges that arise can be addressed with adult facilitation. This way, if there is a problem the students can express their concerns without worrying about hurt feelings or creating tension.

  •        Help the student with hearing loss understand their role in class. Having a peer notetaker does not give our students the green light to check out during class. Many of my students choose to copy key terms from the board as a way of staying involved. Students should still be expected to participate in discussions, ask and answer questions, and clarify as needed.

By checking in regularly with the student, teacher(s), and notetaker, nuances of the process can be addressed and modified as needed in order to create a smooth system that benefits everyone involved.

What other strategies have you used with peer note takers?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Welcome Back!

School is in full swing here in Massachusetts! Teachers have finished setting up classrooms and are now focused on establishing routines. Students are still filled with the anticipation that the start of a new school year can bring. As teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, we are immersed in creating schedules, doing last minute orientations,, setting up FM systems, and establishing routines, expectations, and procedures of our own. Here are a few key pieces to keep in mind over the next few weeks:

Staff Orientations
Staff orientations provide an opportunity for the entire team to learn how to help our students and to ask questions. They are a critical component of our services. While I prefer to schedule these in the spring for the upcoming team of teachers, there are always situations that make this challenging and necessitate that the orientation must happen in the fall. It is important to get the student involved whenever possible. This can include having the student co-present with you (depending on the age of the student and your relationship with him/her), contribute slides to the PowerPoint, or create a media presentation such as an iMovie to introduce him/herself. This link from Karen Anderson provides a comprehensive guide to orientations.

Playing simulations is a great way for staff and other students to “experience” hearing loss. This link from Karen Anderson contains many resources including simulations of a variety of losses with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and with and without FM. I’ve used the Unfair Spelling Test with classes of elementary students as it is interactive and I’ve found students and adults are always surprised at their results!

Student Orientations
Sometimes it is beneficial for students to present their hearing loss and needs to their classmates. Such projects and presentations can easily be tied to self-advocacy objectives. These presentations can be supported by books or posters made by the student, PowerPoint presentations, or multi media presentations. Inclusion of simulations of hearing loss and model hearing aids and cochlear implants ( when available) enhance this experience for the other students. When there are multiple students in one building with hearing loss, it can be a great opportunity to facilitate the creation of a group presentation. Below is a link to a video created by my college with the four high school students she works with. They showed the video to the entire school with nothing but positive feedback!

Important People
Find out who is on your students team! I keep a list in my notebook of the names and roles of everyone I meet since it can be difficult to keep the new names straight during the first few weeks of school. Be sure you introduce yourself not only to the classroom teacher, but also to the receptionists, administrators, “specials” teachers, cafeteria staff, librarian, school nurse, IT department and anyone else you meet in the hallways!  The more people you know now, the easier it will be when you inevitably need their help later in the year.

  • Be sure you have recent audiograms and audiological reports for all of your students.
  •  Know who the managing audiologist as well as the FM audiologists are and have their contact information available (for some students this is the same person, for others FM is managed by a separate audiologist).
  • Be sure to write down the serial numbers and components of each students FM system. I find this makes my job easier when fixing or transporting broken equipment later in the year.
  • Listen to ensure that all amplification is working properly and identify the person at each school who will be trained to perform listening checks. Set a date for that training!
  • Identify where the FM will be stored at each school and who will be responsible for charging it. This is often the student’s job but for young children or students with additional needs, an adult may have to oversee this task.

Share Your Contact Information
Be sure everyone at the school knows how to get in touch with you in case problems arise. Find out how they prefer to be contacted. Additionally, be sure that staff understand your role is mulit-faceted. You are a teacher, an advocate for the student and a resource for staff. Relationships matter and first impressions go a long way, so keep it positive and emphasize the collaborative aspects and mutual benefits of this new relationship.

Set Up A System For Communication:
This can be informal and as simple as identifying whether people prefer to communicate over email or by phone. Some younger students may also have a communication notebook for staff and parents to write in. Especially in the first few weeks, be sure to include parents on relevant communication with staff and check in with them regularly. This helps alleviate parental stress as they are in the loop and know what is happening at school.

Have a great year!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Vacation!

Like our students, Hear Me Out will be on vacation for the next few weeks. I'll be back at the end of August as we prepare for another school year. Happy Summer!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Servicing for FM Systems

Summer servicing of FM systems (sometimes called Remote Microphone Hearing Assistance Technology or Remote Mic. HAT.) is an important component of the management of amplification. Over time, year, cords can deteriorate and fray, batteries weaken, pieces chip and bend, and connections between audioshoes and boots can become loose from wear. Even if equipment is working fine now, proactively servicing the FM system can prevent the student from having to go without it at the start of a new school year if something should break then. Summer is the perfect time for an overhaul since students typically do not use their FM systems during the summer. Even when students do require FM for summer school or related activities, it is still critical that all equipment is inspected by a managing audiologist before the start of the new school year.

Ensure Delivery to the Audiologist
Work with your team to decide how the FM system will get to the audiologist for summer servicing. Some students have an educational audiologist on their team and that person is responsible for picking up equipment at the end of the year. Sometimes this job falls to the special education liaison, and sometimes I pick up and deliver the equipment myself. Most importantly, I do not assume someone else will handle the delivery I want to know for sure who will be held responsible for each of my students! Some schools require me to sign a responsibility form when picking up and delivering FM system for summer servicing, so be sure to check with your contact at each school so that you understand the expectations. Additionally, some audiological contracts include summer servicing; for others, this is an additional cost. Be sure to communicate with your team and your student’s managing audiologist so no surprise bills arrive at the school.

Comprehensive summer servicing should include:

·      Replacement of rechargeable batteries
·      Replacement of any frayed cords
·      Repair or replacement of any pieces with loose or worn connections
·      Cleaning of all of the components
·      Full testing of the FM system to ensure all components work properly together
·      *An appointment for your student for FM verification (transparency) and functional listening test with and without their equipment should occur before the start of the new school year

I’ve starred the last item because FM verification is an aspect of equipment management that I find is too often overlooked by school systems and their contracted audiologists. Just as it is important to have an audiologist verify and program the FM and fit to each child when it is ordered, it is an essential step in annual service. While some audiologists verify the equipment according to the American Academy of Audiology pediatric guidelines as part of their protocol, many skip this step, simply taking the pieces from the box and putting them on the student. When this happens, the student may not be getting optimal auditory input through the FM system and their specific hearing aid and/or cochlear implant settings. This means that the FM signal may be too soft preventing optimal access, or too loud which decrease their access to their peers.  In either case, when the FM is not transparent, the student may reject the equipment as it either does not seem beneficial or negatively impacts their ability to hear and learn from other students in the classroom. I remember seeing a student for the first time a few years ago at the start of the school year. Her teachers reported that she used her FM consistently and never reported any trouble with it. While meeting with the student, I asked her how she felt about her FM. She commented that it was fine but didn’t really know what it did for her or why she had to use it. When I listened through her hearing aid, the signal from the FM was so soft I could barely hear it! No wonder she didn’t see the benefit! After speaking with her audiologist and getting her parent involved, the FM system was verified, the volume of the FM was increased appropriately, and the student then had access through her FM.

If you are unsure if your student’s FM system has been verified, speak with the managing audiologist and ensure that this is part of the students’ management plan. As verification often requires the student to go to the audiologist for an appointment (unless the audiologist has portable verification equipment), work with families to set that appointment now before it gets forgotten in the hustle of the fall and the start of a new school year.  With some advanced planning, students, families and schools will not have to worry about the functioning of amplification next fall J