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.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Including Students in the Assessment Process

It’s January! Along with the bitter cold, snow, and ice here in Massachusetts come the quarterly and mid-year progress reports. As teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing, we spend hours each quarter reviewing data from individual sessions with each student, analyzing observation notes, and compiling a semesters worth of information and work samples into a comprehensive report showing how we’ve addressed or met specific IEP goals and objectives. A few years ago a student who was in sixth grade at the time told me that his mom had shared my progress report with him. He was aware of his IEP but didn't know that I wrote reports about him each quarter. He had so many questions and stated that now he understood why I wrote so much in my notebook while we were working. This experience was eye opening for me as well – why shouldn’t students know about progress reports?  Better yet, why not include them in the process?

We all know the importance of including students in the IEP process, but including them in ongoing assessment throughout the year is equally as important. When students are familiar with their IEP goals and objectives and participate in regular self-assessment, their ability to advocate and actively participate in their educational programs improves. In addition, it helps students become more aware that our lessons have context; what we do together relates to their short and long term goals. It is important for students to understand why they receive support services from a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Involvement in quarterly self-assessment is one way to approach this need as students become participants in the planning and assessment of their entire academic and social school programming rather than passive recipients of support services.

All of my junior high and high school students, and many of my upper elementary students (depending on individual readiness and ability), formally assess their own progress quarterly. I use my progress report due dates as a guide. During individual sessions, each student is given a print out of their IEP goals and objectives that we have targeted during the term, and with my support, they write a short narrative of how they feel they have progressed in each area. I encourage students to provide examples, discuss what was easy and what was challenging, what they feel they can now do independently and areas where they feel they need continued support, and what they see as the next steps. Sound familiar? These are the same aspects targeted in our quarterly reports! Not only do students become involved, but it’s also an opportunity for me to assess my own teaching:  Can my student articulate what we’ve worked on? Were my examples and lessons clear or is my student confused or off track?  Do my student and I agree about his independent and guided abilities? In my own progress narrative, I often cite examples from student self-assessment as this data is valuable not only to me, but to everyone working with the student. 

Here are a few tips for including students in quarterly self-assessment:

Discuss the purpose and process for quarterly self-assessment with the student’s parents. If parents have concerns, they can be addressed prior to beginning the process with the student.

Help the student understand the purpose of the self-assessment. When students understand that self-assessment is part of looking at growth and progress rather than focusing on deficits, they are more willing to participate honestly.

Structure the assessment according to student needs. I find creating a table with the objective in one column and space for the student to write is the most organized. For some objectives, I simplify the language in parentheses beside the formally written objective to be sure my student understands. I also include prompts for the criteria I want students to write about.

Make the self-assessment applicable. When students indicate areas where they want more support, I am sure to include those areas in our individual sessions and explicitly refer to their self-assessment notes. Sharing the assessment with other service providers and teachers (with the student’s permission) can help the student to see the benefit and carryover as well.

How do you include students in on-going assessments?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mainstream News Available Online

Clarke's newsletter, Mainstream News,is now accessible online and free of charge thanks to sponsorship from our friends at Oticon Pediatrics. The Winter 2015 issue is now available, along with the Fall 2014 newsletter and those from the 2013-2014 school year. 

Mainstream News offers timely, practical articles to help professionals and parents provide students with effective support and access in mainstream educational settings. We are also committed to introducing our readers to role models who inspire, encourage and celebrate all that is possible for students with hearing loss. 
We are thrilled to offer this publication online so that it may reach school professionals and families far and wide. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts when each new issue is posted online!

A Few Highlights from Our Winter 2015 Issue:

  • Learn why students with hearing loss need opportunities to recharge after periods of intense listening. Our lead article offers simple ways to incorporate breaks for students across the grades.
  • Meet a dynamic group of students from Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton, MA. These students explained to school administrators the challenge of accessing public address announcements. As a result, they started this school year with a new system in place that improves access to announcements for all students at the school.
  • Our fifth-grade friend, Wil, returns for another installment of his "Dear Wil" column. This time around he responds thoughtfully to students who asked about managing communication and hearing aids at a pool party and during sports activities.
  • Does your student have a pass-around microphone as part of his or her FM system? Are you considering adding one? The final article in this issue answers frequently asked questions to help school teams make the most of this technology.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can I Bring a Friend?

It’s Wednesday and Heather’s here. Jack, who will you invite?” The kindergarten teacher is seated with the class on the rug and hands a card to my student as I walk into the room to get him and his buddy. “Choose me, Jack!” “Pick me!” “Is it my turn?” Children scramble to get closer, waving their hands to get Jack’s attention, eagerly awaiting his response. He holds the name card in his hand, looks at the picture and name, then grins and walks over to Eli. “Eli, come play!” Jack takes Eli’s hand and they rush over to me, both beaming at each other. It’s time to work!

Many of our students with hearing loss become adult-oriented at a very young age. Hours of individual therapy with adults and the structured, predictable interactions with adults can lead to difficulties making and sustaining friendships with peers.  Reading social cues and keeping up with the fast moving, unpredictable conversations among peers can be much more challenging and result in frustration and withdrawal. Purposefully creating more structured interactions with classmates promotes friendships in the more causal settings in and outside of school. Some students participate in lunch bunches, groups that meet during lunchtime in a quieter setting to foster relationships. Bringing a peer to an individual session is another great way to start bridging this gap, as long as these sessions are thoughtfully planned. Allowing students to invite classmates, especially in upper elementary and middle school, can eliminate the stigma that is sometimes associated with leaving the room to work individually with an outside service provider. Typically hearing peers can serve as language models for our students with hearing loss and for us as the TOD/HOH as well! I find it helpful to listen to the causal conversations of peers in order to make sure my expectations for my own students remain high and age appropriate. Inclusion of peers is also a way to assess the skills our students with hearing loss have and the areas in which they need more practice and support. Some things to keep in mind:

·  You will need permission in order to take a peer out of class to join an individual session. I’ve never had a problem, but always check with my contact at the school as well as the classroom teacher. I’m also very clear on the purpose of bringing a peer. I explain what we will do and the benefits to both students. Collaborating with the SLP is another great strategy. Many SLPs that I work with set up situations where we can meet and have our sessions together with our students for activities that we have co-planned.

·    Teachers should have ample notice when you plan to take a peer so that they can plan for that student’s absence.

·   For younger students, a system that is clear to the whole class is also important since jealousy can be an issue if the same students always get chosen. Some classrooms have a sign-up list where students can request  to join one of my “Buddy Sessions.” Other teachers prefer to choose the peer themselves. Be clear about your expectations for the session when meeting with the teacher so that she can share her thoughts on choosing an appropriate buddy.

·   When possible, especially for younger students, have a set plan for when the student will bring a buddy. It is important that the student with hearing loss does not miss critical time from individual sessions. They should know when a friend can come and when it’s time for individual work. This will vary for each student. For example, I see my kindergarten student three times each week and he brings a buddy every other week for the first half of our time together. 

What do we do together? We work on social skills, listening, and self-advocacy! My students practice these skills with me but it is more meaningful to practice with a friend. Pre-teaching games that require language and listening before playing them with a friend allows the student with hearing loss extra time to practice and become familiar with the activity. Games such as *Moods (reading tone of voice and facial expressions), Imagine If (taking on the perspective of others), and Storymatic (listening to each other to create a story using prompts) are great for older students or students with higher language levels. For younger students or students with lower language levels, card games using a regular deck of cards or games such as Go Fish still require them to listen to each other and use language to interact.

Once the peer joins us, this quieter setting is an ideal time for the student with hearing loss to explain to the peer how and why to use the FM while playing, and to practice self-advocacy by asking for repetition or clarification as needed. Expressive language skills are practiced when the student has to explain the game to his peer using temporal and sequential language.

Bringing a friend to an individual session can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. My students with hearing loss gain social confidence, and their classmates learn to see my students in a positive light.

How to you help foster friendships?

*I always edit the decks of cards for any board game. Know your student and his skill level. Pre-teach vocabulary as necessary and be sure your student feels confident in playing before bringing a friend.

Referenced Games: