Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Although it sure doesn't feel it here in Massachusetts, spring is rapidly approaching. The end of the school year is busy with report writing, testing, IEP meetings and discussions of transitions to the next grade or school. I’ve been thinking about one of my preschool students who will start kindergarten next year. He will be in a new building with a new teacher, a new SLP and a new special education teacher. Many people in the building are familiar with hearing aids (I work with another student in that building as well), but they may not have experience with cochlear implants. I am fortunate that his team has already begun to think about what kindergarten will be like for this little guy and that they have welcomed my request to observe the kindergarten classrooms now in order to find the best fit for next year.

As teachers of the deaf, it can be helpful to observe the upcoming teachers and classrooms to think about the optimal placement for our students with hearing loss. This requires a trusting relationship with administrators in the district, as well as the ability to explain why we want to observe and what we are looking for. Additionally, such observations require time. Knowing that IEP meetings will occur throughout the spring, I start observing in March so that I have time to thoughtfully consider all options and work with the school team to make a recommendation. I cannot demand a particular classroom, but I can certainly make a case for optimal placement!

With my preschool and elementary students, I begin by working with each student’s case manager to explain why I want to observe and what I will be looking for. Many times I am told by the case manager why one teacher may be a better fit than another, which is helpful information to have when I go in to observe. Sometimes the case manager facilitates arranging the observation, other times I send an email or speak to teachers directly in order to set up the observation. My email explains my role as the teacher of the deaf as well as the purpose of this observation. Here are the things I look for in the classroom:
  • Where is the classroom located? At the end of a quiet hall? Beside the music room? Some noise sources can be reduced, others cannot.
  • Use of technology in the classroom – a  teacher who appears comfortable using the Smartboard, computers and other classroom technology may be more comfortable using an FM system than a teacher who appears to avoid or get frustrated with the classroom technology.
  • Classroom acoustics – Is the room carpeted? Are there high ceilings and cinderblock walls? What about hallway noise? Is this classroom near a “heavy traffic” area? Sometimes within a building, classrooms may have different acoustical treatments. Again, some sources of noise can be adjusted such as re-routing the path classes travel to get to gym to avoid constant noise outside the classroom, others may not be so easy to fix.   Once students get to junior high and high school, there is less flexibility. Many times there is only one eighth-grade English teacher etc., and so there are limited or no options. In such cases, I may still observe if I am not familiar with the school in order to get an idea of what instruction will be like for my student, but it is rarely possibly to observe every classroom in the spring. At the middle school level when there are choices of “teams” rather than choices of specific teachers by subject, it can be beneficial to observe and compare the different teams in terms of best overall fit for the student with hearing loss and weigh the overall characteristics of one team vs. the other. If a student is particularly strong or weak in a certain subject area, it is important to look more closely at those teachers which can make the difference in team choice. Additionally, observing even when there are not many choices can help identify specific things for teams to consider and adjustments to be made ahead of time (i.e. ordering coverings for chair bottoms, addressing noisy ventilation systems; a transition from one elementary teacher to several middle school teachers who use the smartboard may mean suggesting multiple splitters be purchased, etc.)

When I am watching teachers, I am looking to see:
  • Is the teacher using visual supports? A teacher who incorporates visuals as part of her teaching will be more likely to refine visual supports for my student with hearing loss than a teacher who does not use them inherently.
  • How does the teacher handle group discussions? When there is a clear, organized system in place for how group discussions will occur and the teacher demonstrates strong management skills, the student with hearing loss will benefit.
  • What do small group and independent work times look like? Is the room noisy? Are there quieter areas in the room where students can work? Are the expectations clear – do students appear to understand what is expected of them? The more organized and clear the expectations are, the more likely that the student with hearing loss could be successful in this classroom.
  •   How does the teacher speak to the students? If the teacher uses a lot of sarcasm, figurative language, lengthy explanation and tangential discourse, lessons will be difficult for the student with hearing loss to follow. In contrast, a teacher who is explicit in her instruction, breaks down information and notices when students do not understand may be a better fit for my students.
  • How do students talk to each other? Peer interactions in the classroom can be a reflection of what the teacher models or tolerates. When students are permitted to be short with each other, subtly tease or giggle when mistakes are made, or resist working with particular partners, this will create uncomfortable situations for our students with hearing loss. However, when such behavior is not observed or when teachers quickly put an end to it, these could be signs of a more supportive social environment.

There is no sure formula for identifying the perfect classroom and the perfect teacher, but observations are one way to help the team make an informed decision about placement for the upcoming school year.  The ability to observe and make recommendations is dependent on the relationships that have been built throughout the year. What role have you been able to play in making recommendations? What difference has this made for your students?

1 comment:

  1. I have just discovered this blog today. It has given me so much to think about and do. I'm am itinerant DHH teacher. This is my 3rd year and I have so much to learn. I came from regular ed and am still rather new tk the Deaf ed world. Thanks for posting.