Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Break

 Like the students, Hear Me Out is going on break for the summer. I'll return in August with back to school planning tips! 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer FM Servicing

As itinerants, there are many things we’re thinking about as the school year comes to a close. I have multiple IEP meetings, in-services for some of my students, transition meetings and June progress reports. My planner is a rainbow of color-coded appointments and due dates! In addition, it is a priority to make sure all of my students’ FM systems make it back to the audiologists for summer servicing. I’m fortunate to work for Clarke where our audiologists manage many of the students that I work with. and In those cases, I know the summer servicing will happen. For students managed by other audiologists, I reach out to them, as well as my school contact, to ensure that this important aspect of FM management takes place.

     Summer servicing of FM systems (sometimes called Remote Microphone Hearing Assistance Technology or Remote Mic. HAT) is an important component of amplification management. Over the course of the school year, cords can deteriorate and fray, batteries weaken, pieces chip and bend, and connections between audioshoes and boots can loosen 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. 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 when my students are managed by Clarke audiologists. 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 a functional listening test with and without their equipment should occur before the start of the new school year

     An appointment for 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 for an audiologist to verify and program the FM and fit it 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. They imply take the pieces from the box and put them on the student, which I unfortunately see too often in the field. 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 decreases their access to 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 student’s 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. Part of the planning will be knowing for sure who will be designated to pick up the FM in the fall and return it to the school. Sometimes families bring the FM after the verification appointment, sometimes it’s me (the teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing), and sometimes it’s a designated school staff member.  It is also a good idea to start planning for next year in terms of trainings. If possible, schedule the in-service for the fall where relevant staff can be trained in how to use the FM in order to maximize access for the student with hearing loss. With some advanced planning, students, families and schools will not have to worry about the functioning of amplification next fall. J

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: