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?