It’s the start of the year so I’m spending as much time as possible in classrooms, observing, consulting with teachers, and figuring out what my students need in terms of supports. Recently in a seventh grade Social Studies class, the teacher was leading a whole group discussion about the events of 9/11. Students were raising their hands to ask questions or share stories they had heard from their parents. I watched in anticipation as my student raised her hand and was then called on. “I had a soccer game over the weekend and I got hit in the face with the ball,” she stated confidently. I cringed. There was that awkward pause as the teacher was unsure how to respond until finally he called on another student and the class moved on. Later in the week I was observing an 8th grade Science class. The topic was how topographical maps can help us to identify landforms as well as elevation changes. A question was asked and my student shot his hand up! When called on, he said, “These chairs remind me of my camp because we had the same desks there.” Again, cue the awkward silence.
It’s not uncommon for students with hearing loss to comment off topic. Sometimes it’s developmental. Anyone who has spent time in a preschool or kindergarten classroom knows that MOST young children speak whatever is on their mind- related or not! Sometimes our students have missed the transition and are still focused on the original topic. Sometimes they miss or mishear what has been said due to distance or noise and the response is incongruous.
In social situations, I often observe my students attempting to change the topic of conversation when they are having difficulty following or have limited knowledge of the topic. While not always socially appropriate, these circumstances are understandable. But my junior high students commenting this way during a whole group discussion?
I checked in with both students after my observations. My soccer pal stated that she had just been thinking about soccer. Similarly, my camper told me he was thinking about camp and making a connection. My upcoming plans for these two will have to include strategies for participating in a group discussion. For my soccer player, I plan to help her find strategies to identify the topic of the group discussion and think of a relevant comment or question. Additionally, if she was tuning out and thinking about soccer, this may be due to fatigue that she is unaware of. Structured listening breaks may help. I will also include her teachers, working with them to be more visual than they already are. Writing the topic of discussion on the board and asking more direct questions so that my student can respond appropriately are two strategies.
For my camper, I want to help him identify what a connection truly is. I have desks at camp and desks at school is an observation, not a connection. Comparing and contrasting these two will hopefully help him to make meaningful contributions in class.
On the plus side- my students are contributing! Many students with hearing loss are resistant to speaking up in class at all. Now, my job is to help refine those contributions.
How do you help students contribute to class discussions?