Thursday, December 19, 2013

Maximize FM Use

So, you went out and introduced yourself to everyone in the schools where you work, right? Perfect! Now you’re going to need the IT department and it’s a good thing you know each other J

Schools spend a great deal of money on FM systems for our students and it is our job as the itinerant teachers of the deaf to make sure that teachers are maximizing the use of the FM. I want to highlight a few of my favorites strategies here.

How many times have you walked into an assembly to find your student with no access to the person who is speaking? During assemblies, there are often multiple speakers making it necessary to pass the microphone from one person to another. Some of the speakers may have no experience with the proper placement of the FM microphone. It can also be cumbersome for the speaker(s) to wear the FM transmitter while talking into the main auditorium microphone. I have the perfect solution! In one school, we used rubber bands and a ruler to attach the FM transmitter to the auditorium microphone. I listened through a student’s hearing aid while another adult spoke– it sounded good! My students also reported improved access with this method as opposed to the shuffling of the FM transmitter back and forth.

When a classroom does not have a pass around microphone for peers to use, teachers often comment on the difficulty of passing their transmitter around for discussions. Generally, students do not know how to hold the transmitter microphone unless they have been explicitly taught, and my students with hearing loss complain of hearing “scratching” as it is passed around the room, impeding their access even further! My colleague shared the picture below of one clever solution:


Made from rulers and tape, students are now able to hold and pass the transmitter- without any scratching sound! Instantly, access improves!

Media shown on the Smartboard or other projectors is becoming more and more common in classrooms. While our students with hearing loss have visual access through the use of captions, they deserve to have equal auditory access as well. One of my cochlear implant users spoke with me about the poor quality of sound she perceived when the microphone of her FM transmitter was placed near the Smartboard speaker. Determined to resolve the problem, she and I investigated! We went online, we called audiologists, we called the FM manufacturer- there was an inexpensive solution… a splitter! I was able to purchase a splitter for under $10 at a local audio store. Connecting the splitter to the FM transmitter was not so simple (here's where IT comes in). I spoke with the head of the IT department at the school and he met me one morning in the classroom before students arrived. He knew what to do right away and was able to set up the splitter. Now, the class hears the media though the Smartboard speakers and my student gets the audio sent directly to her CI through her FM receiver. Because each classroom technology set up is different, I have enlisted the help of the IT department at each school where I work to help me set up splitters. I have had 100% success. I highly recommend it!


What are other ways you maximize FM use for your students ?

Monday, November 25, 2013

“Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

After I hear the buzzer, I open the heavy front door and turn left. I need to sign in and get my visitor badge before picking up my student. I hear an excited squeal as I approach the office. One of my favorite receptionists stands in front, leaning over the front desk. “Let’s see what shoes you’re wearing!” she exclaims, grinning. “I heard those heels and I knew it was you!”

Because we work in so many different schools, the life of an itinerant can sometimes seem like a lonely one. But, with some effort, it is possible to build meaningful connections with teachers, receptionists, paraprofessionals, and administrators all over the state! I’ve grown as an educator by observing teachers of all grade levels throughout the day. I’m invited to the monthly breakfasts before school and the baby showers after.  I feel elated! I feel connected! I feel like a member of a team!  And -- most importantly -- because everyone knows who I am, my students get what they need in their schools.

As itinerants, it takes time and persistence to build connections with the numerous people in each school building, especially when we are only there once a week or once a month. Yet, when we are able to build meaningful relationships with the staff at each school, the benefits to our students are immeasurable.  When a receptionist knows my name and the name of the student that I work with, she is more likely to help me arrange a quiet space for our direct service pull-out. When a paraprofessional understands my role, and his own support is validated, he is more likely to remember to text me when my student is out sick (and save me a long drive). When a classroom teacher views me as a colleague, he is more likely to implement my suggestions for providing visual access during instructional periods. When an administrator views my student's in-service PowerPoint or iMovie (hand delivered by myself and my student, of course!), he is more likely to follow though on acoustical modifications in the classroom. When a principal understands my role and how it is different from that of the other service providers, she is more likely to suggest services for additional students with hearing loss in the building.

It’s never too late to build connections, even months after the school year has begun. If you have not been introduced to a key person on the student's team, take a moment to seek that person out and introduce yourself. If administrators do not know your student by name, help your student set up an informal meeting where he or she can share a project or a piece of writing you are working on together. There will come a time when support is needed and having connections with school staff can help you get your student what he or she needs. Do you know everyone?

Special Education Director
Rarely visible in the school buildings, it may be easiest to call or email to introduce yourself and explain your role. Mention anyone on the team who has been particularly helpful to you. All administrators like to hear positive feedback about their staff!
Principal and Vice Principal
Introduce yourself by stopping by the office(s). Share highlights of your work with the student and, again, identify any teacher or paraprofessional who has made a difference in your work.
Receptionists and Guidance Counselors
The receptionists tend to know all the details of how the school is run! Be sure to greet them by name as you sign in. Guidance counselors have power in schools. If your student needs something changed or adjusted, it will be easier if you have a relationship with the guidance counselor.
School Nurse
The nurse can often be involved in the daily listening check and troubleshooting of amplification. Make sure you connect!
Cafeteria Workers­­ and Custodians
A colleague recently shared a story about a cafeteria worker who was not aware of a student's hearing needs and reprimanded a peer for walking over to speak to the student with hearing loss when the cafeteria rules state that students must remain seated. Everyone needs to know who our students are and how their needs may vary in each setting.
The IT Department
From enabling captions to helping you with splitters and audio adjustments, these are your go-to people in every building!
“Specials” Teachers and Paraprofessionals
Modifications may be necessary for art, music, P.E. etc. The Clarke resource, Have You Heard?contains handouts that can be shared with these professionals. Paraprofessionals often attend "special" classes with the students. If they are informed and trust your suggestions, carryover is more likely to happen throughout the student's day.
Librarians are great resources for information and may also be willing to purchase books featuring characters with hearing loss for the school library. One of my students wrote a letter to her librarian requesting that these books be purchased as part of a project on persuasive writing. I met with the librarian prior to having my student deliver the letter so that I could explain the project. This librarian not only purchased books but engaged the student in every step of the process!
Classroom teachers, special education teachers, reading specialists, writing specialists… you should connect with every adult working with your student on a regular basis. Collaboration is key!
Speech Language Pathologists
We often collaborate closely with the S/LP on the student's team --  a strong working relationship is important.
Every Person You Meet in the Hall
“Hi! I’m Heather. I’m the teacher of the Deaf working with _______ this year. I don’t think we’ve met?” Take a minute to say hello - you might end up working with this person at some point in the school year!

How do you connect with key people at your schools?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Strategies for the Reluctant FM User

As a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, I love FM!  FM systems – wireless devices made up of a transmitter and receiver– can make it feel like the teacher’s voice is right next to the student’s ear. The signal-to-noise ratio is improved!  Attention improves! Who wouldn’t want this? The answer is, unfortunately, many of our students. The excuses are endless: “The receiver sticks out.” “I can’t hear the other students.” “Oh, I don’t need it in this class.” “FM doesn’t actually help me that much so I’m not going to use it.” “I think it’s broken.” “I don’t want to carry the transmitter around all day.” And on, and on, and on…

Still, achieving FM success is possible, even with the most reluctant user. The first step to ensure that the equipment is in working order is to ask the student how it is functioning and to listen to it yourself. The sound should be consistent, not intermittent, with no static or distortion. The teacher of the deaf should also check with the managing audiologist to be sure that the students’ hearing aids have been verified using Real Ear to Coupler Difference (RECD) and for transparency. Proper settings will ensure proper amplification. It may be true that your student does not perceive sound as he or she should.

Students who do not feel that they benefit from FM may need to develop a greater sense of self-awareness as part of their self-advocacy program. Using the Common Phrases auditory checklists or the Listening Inventory for Education- Revised (LIFE-R), both available from Karen Anderson, can help students identify areas where they struggle with auditory comprehension. If students are not aware that they are missing auditory information, they will not see any need for a resolution! These tools are designed to help students better understand what and how they hear.  Students must understand why these inventories are being used so that it doesn’t feel like the teacher is merely pointing out flaws. Such tools can also be used with younger students who use FM willingly to emphasize the benefit and prevent future rejection.

Students often comment that they are not able to hear their peers as clearly when the FM is in use and therefore reject using it. For some CI users, this may be due to the internal settings of the processor map and may be resolved by having the managing audiologist adjust the mixing ratio in the student’s cochlear implant speech processor(s). This will ensure that the student is receiving a proper signal from the environmental microphone when an FM system is in use. Requesting a copy of the student’s cochlear implant MAP will allow you to see the settings in the speech processor when connected to the FM.  Audiologists want the best for their clients, and as the teacher of the deaf, you are in a position to help the audiologist maximize the student’s access.

Include the student in choosing a class where they can try out the FM system for the first time. We know that the FM is designed to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and is most beneficial for students in larger classes. With that being said, large classes may actually be the most uncomfortable setting for our reluctant FM users to begin a trial. I often work out a compromise with my students and begin the FM use in one class each day, typically a small class where the student feels more comfortable, and with a teacher who will be supportive. For students who are willing to use FM in some classes but not others, it is important to find out why – perhaps the teacher is not muting and unmuting the microphone appropriately, making it difficult for the student to concentrate or follow along. Students may also need a listening break and not even realize it! Choosing not to use FM during some classes may be their way of getting this reprieve from concentrating. With this knowledge, you can work with your student to find alternative times for listening breaks.

Encourage classroom teachers to support the student in FM use but not to pressure them or embarrass them in front of their peers. One of my reluctant FM students recently reported, “[Teacher] keeps saying, ‘Well, that’s what your FM is for. Bring it to class,’ in front of everybody. It’s just annoying.” I have a trusting relationship with this student, and like many teenagers, her resistance to the equipment grows as outside pressure to wear it increases. I have since had conversations with teachers encouraging them to allow me to be the “bad guy” around FM use since the student and I have an agreed-upon plan. If you do not have a trusting connection with your reluctant FM user, find out who does and guide that person in helping begin consistent FM use.

Most importantly, listen to what your reluctant FM user is telling you. Many legitimate concerns can be addressed through adjustments to the FM programs, building self-awareness, or starting slowly. Although I’d love every student to start the year using the FM full-time in every class, I know that patience, and slow integration of FM – as well as making my student a partner in decisions regarding FM use – will pay off in the long run! Still not convinced? Listen to what my high school student, Stephanie, has to say!

(To access captions, view the video on YouTube.)
Try these strategies with your reluctant FM user and let us know how it goes! What other strategies have you used successfully to help your student accept an FM system? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Making the Most of Consult Time

Cooler evenings, the slow changing of leaves, harvest decorations adorning the front doors of houses, bright yellow school buses… all signal the beginning of autumn in New England.  A less well-known sign is the sight of an itinerant teacher frantically erasing and rewriting her schedule in an attempt to fit a whole caseload into just five days -- all while avoiding lunch, recess, specials, reading support, and the rotating high school schedule. And did I mention consult time?

The start of the school year brings many challenges for us itinerants and some of the greatest challenges come with scheduling consult time. At Clarke, consult time, along with direct service, is included for each student on the IEP grid. But that doesn’t mean that every teacher will be willing to sacrifice prep time to meet! Consult time is a valuable opportunity for itinerants to learn about the curriculum, the goals of an assignment or lesson (which helps with pre-teaching), and the social expectations of the classroom. This can help ensure access for our students and build relationships with classroom teachers. To help start the year off right, here are a few strategies to successfully use consult time.

Set a Regular Time to Meet 

Consult time in an IEP grid will vary for each student with hearing loss. Some students have 30 minutes to an hour each week of consult time, while others may have 30 minutes a month. Some may only have a few hours for the entire school year. Older students typically have different teachers for every subject, making connecting with each person face-to-face a challenge. In this situation, arranging consult time with a primary contact (such as a guidance counselor or special education liaison) might be most practical. Setting a regular schedule with classroom teachers is the best way to ensure that the consult takes place. Not many teachers can leave their classrooms for a meeting. Instead, try scheduling during times when students are at lunch or specials or meeting before or after school.

Observe and Meet in the Same Day

Whenever possible, I try to observe the student in class and meet with the classroom teacher that same day.  That way, the classroom teacher and I can discuss the class, share our observations, and brainstorm strategies to improve access for the student with hearing loss while the lesson is still fresh in both of our minds.

Identify What Went Well

Whenever I meet with a teacher, I begin by identifying what went well during my observation. Genuine acknowledgement such as, “I noticed that every time you wrote on the board, you paused, and then continued talking when you faced the class again. This is really helpful for Jack who needs to speech read,” will encourage teachers to continue these strategies until they become second nature. It can be intimidating for classroom teachers to have someone observing and nobody wants to feel judged! Positive reinforcement will help build trust so that if there is a problem, it’s much easier to approach it in a constructive way.

Ask Questions 

I have observed enough third grade science lessons to know everything there is to know about sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock! That said, each teacher will have different objectives for the same lesson. Asking open-ended questions such as, “What do you hope students will know at the end of the unit?” gives me a sense of what to focus on during my individual sessions. One teacher may want students to know the vocabulary and be able to give examples of each type of rock. Another teacher may focus on having students understand the research process involved in learning about each kind of rock.

Help the Student Access the Curriculum

As a former classroom teacher, I remember having mixed feelings about visits from specialists. Sometimes it seemed like they immediately launched into a laundry list of everything that was wrong with the environment or my lesson. I strive NOT to be that person in my current work! While some modifications are necessary in order for a student with hearing loss to have equal access, these modifications generally do not require a complete overhaul of the classroom or instructional style. In a classroom where the teacher focuses heavily on vocabulary, handing out study guides at the start of a unit (rather than right before a test) will help students with hearing loss prepare throughout the course of the unit.  A class that is taught primarily through the use of multimedia may require some modifications (such as captions or movie notes handed out prior to watching the film in class).  The ultimate goal is not to change the class, but rather to help our students access what is already happening in the classroom.

Provide Ongoing Training on Hearing Loss 

It is common for itinerants to provide an in-service at the start of the school year for all new teachers and staff. This in-service – which we think of as “Hearing Loss 101” – provides an hour-long overview of hearing loss. Regular consult time is an opportunity to provide ongoing training specific to the student with hearing loss you are supporting. Throughout the year, playing DVD simulations of hearing loss can remind teachers that even students with very clear speech have limited auditory access and require support. Sharing informal assessments and student work samples allows the classroom teacher to learn that even errors that appear to be age-appropriate may indicate a need for additional direct instruction due to a lack of incidental learning opportunities (a result of hearing loss). With some preparation, students as young as kindergarten can also briefly attend consult meetings to share their needs directly with the classroom teacher.

When Meeting in Person is Not Possible

There will always be situations where you are not able to meet directly with the teachers with whom you are working.  That doesn't mean that you can’t consult!

  • Videotape sessions to share (with parent permission) This has been an effective strategy for some of my younger students. With this method, the classroom teacher is able to see what the student can do in a quiet, structured, one-on-one setting. This can help inform expectations for classroom work. 
  • Create a group email so that you are able to communicate with larger teams. Apply the same strategies of pointing out the positive aspects of the instructional period and asking questions. 
  • Create a shared online document where each member of the team can contribute to an ongoing discussion regarding effective strategies or modifications.  Teachers are generally receptive to collaborating with colleagues. The itinerant teacher of the deaf can help moderate an ongoing discussion. 
  • Use a communication notebook to share ideas and strategies. This is also particularly effective for younger students with hearing loss. 
  • Use a system to share monthly objectives among service providers. IEPs can be overwhelming. Identifying a few objectives to target throughout the student’s day will help reinforce skills. 


Smile, say “thank you,” follow the rules of the classroom, leave your coffee in your car, and remember that you are a guest in this classroom.  Happy Consulting!

Those are a few of my tips. How do you use your consult time? 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Welcome! As an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing working with students who use a listening and spoken language approach, I spend a great deal of time on the road. I am fortunate to have a home base at Clarke Mainstream Services in Northampton, MA, where I am able to collaborate with colleagues, brainstorm solutions to challenging situations, discuss all aspects of the job, and seek advice or guidance. I’ve come to realize that not all professionals have these same regularly scheduled opportunities. At conferences, itinerant teachers often gravitate towards each other. We seem to be able to connect even in the largest of crowded exhibit halls, drawn together for the briefest of conversations and a momentary, “Hey! What do you do when…” exchange. The purpose of this blog is to bring itinerants together for longer than just that brief weekend conference. Here, we will build a community of itinerants -- a “home base” for those of us who spend our days on the road traveling between schools.

Have a question or comment for Heather? Drop us a line.