Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can I Bring a Friend?

It’s Wednesday and Heather’s here. Jack, who will you invite?” The kindergarten teacher is seated with the class on the rug and hands a card to my student as I walk into the room to get him and his buddy. “Choose me, Jack!” “Pick me!” “Is it my turn?” Children scramble to get closer, waving their hands to get Jack’s attention, eagerly awaiting his response. He holds the name card in his hand, looks at the picture and name, then grins and walks over to Eli. “Eli, come play!” Jack takes Eli’s hand and they rush over to me, both beaming at each other. It’s time to work!

Many of our students with hearing loss become adult-oriented at a very young age. Hours of individual therapy with adults and the structured, predictable interactions with adults can lead to difficulties making and sustaining friendships with peers.  Reading social cues and keeping up with the fast moving, unpredictable conversations among peers can be much more challenging and result in frustration and withdrawal. Purposefully creating more structured interactions with classmates promotes friendships in the more causal settings in and outside of school. Some students participate in lunch bunches, groups that meet during lunchtime in a quieter setting to foster relationships. Bringing a peer to an individual session is another great way to start bridging this gap, as long as these sessions are thoughtfully planned. Allowing students to invite classmates, especially in upper elementary and middle school, can eliminate the stigma that is sometimes associated with leaving the room to work individually with an outside service provider. Typically hearing peers can serve as language models for our students with hearing loss and for us as the TOD/HOH as well! I find it helpful to listen to the causal conversations of peers in order to make sure my expectations for my own students remain high and age appropriate. Inclusion of peers is also a way to assess the skills our students with hearing loss have and the areas in which they need more practice and support. Some things to keep in mind:

·  You will need permission in order to take a peer out of class to join an individual session. I’ve never had a problem, but always check with my contact at the school as well as the classroom teacher. I’m also very clear on the purpose of bringing a peer. I explain what we will do and the benefits to both students. Collaborating with the SLP is another great strategy. Many SLPs that I work with set up situations where we can meet and have our sessions together with our students for activities that we have co-planned.

·    Teachers should have ample notice when you plan to take a peer so that they can plan for that student’s absence.

·   For younger students, a system that is clear to the whole class is also important since jealousy can be an issue if the same students always get chosen. Some classrooms have a sign-up list where students can request  to join one of my “Buddy Sessions.” Other teachers prefer to choose the peer themselves. Be clear about your expectations for the session when meeting with the teacher so that she can share her thoughts on choosing an appropriate buddy.

·   When possible, especially for younger students, have a set plan for when the student will bring a buddy. It is important that the student with hearing loss does not miss critical time from individual sessions. They should know when a friend can come and when it’s time for individual work. This will vary for each student. For example, I see my kindergarten student three times each week and he brings a buddy every other week for the first half of our time together. 

What do we do together? We work on social skills, listening, and self-advocacy! My students practice these skills with me but it is more meaningful to practice with a friend. Pre-teaching games that require language and listening before playing them with a friend allows the student with hearing loss extra time to practice and become familiar with the activity. Games such as *Moods (reading tone of voice and facial expressions), Imagine If (taking on the perspective of others), and Storymatic (listening to each other to create a story using prompts) are great for older students or students with higher language levels. For younger students or students with lower language levels, card games using a regular deck of cards or games such as Go Fish still require them to listen to each other and use language to interact.

Once the peer joins us, this quieter setting is an ideal time for the student with hearing loss to explain to the peer how and why to use the FM while playing, and to practice self-advocacy by asking for repetition or clarification as needed. Expressive language skills are practiced when the student has to explain the game to his peer using temporal and sequential language.

Bringing a friend to an individual session can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. My students with hearing loss gain social confidence, and their classmates learn to see my students in a positive light.

How to you help foster friendships?

*I always edit the decks of cards for any board game. Know your student and his skill level. Pre-teach vocabulary as necessary and be sure your student feels confident in playing before bringing a friend.

Referenced Games:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Scholarships for College Bound Students with Hearing Loss

College is expensive! Working with several students who have transitioned from high school to college has made that clear. Luckily there are many scholarships specifically for students with hearing loss. Below are links to scholarships that I’ve gathered over the years. I share these with my high school seniors (and often help them fill out the applications) and I encourage you to share them with your students as well. Many have deadlines in the next few months so let’s pass them along!

Caroline A. Yale Alumni Scholarship
This scholarship is specifically for Clarke School alums. Any student who attended any Clarke program for at least one year is eligible!

Helen Fleming Scholarship
This is a scholarship for students with hearing loss who live in Massachusetts. Below is the link to the 2014 version but students can contact the committee for the 2015 application.

Hamilton Relay Scholarship
This is another opportunity for students who live in Massachusetts.

Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation Scholarships
For students with a minimum 50dB bilateral hearing loss.

Minnie Pearl Scholarship Program
For students with a severe-profound bilateral hearing loss.

Sertoma’s Scholarships for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing
For students with a minimum 40dB bilateral hearing loss.

Graeme Clarke Scholarship
This scholarship is open to Cochlear Nucleus® implant recipients.

Travelers Protective Association of America

AG Bell
For students with pre-lingual bilateral moderate-profound hearing loss.

Microsoft DisAbility Scholarship
For students with any disability who plan to major in a technology related field.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To Be A Role Model

It was one of those Mondays. Everywhere I went hearing technology was malfunctioning, students were upset, teachers were frustrated, and I was late all day long. Signing out of my last school, the receptionist and I joked about counting down the days until Friday; she was exhausted, too. Mentally composing the list of things I needed to do once I got home, I headed towards the exit when I was interrupted by an enthusiastic middle school girl. Beaming at me, she introduced herself, said she had seen me around the building and asked if she could talk to me about my job. Caught off guard, I agreed. As she ran off to let her soccer coach know she’d be late for practice, the French teacher approached me. “*Kara has been talking non-stop about you so I encouraged her to talk to you,” she informed me. I let her know Kara had done just that.

For the next hour Kara and I sat in an empty classroom while she asked questions about my role as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. She inquired about hearing loss and hearing technology, about my educational background and college coursework, and about the day-to-day responsibilities of the job as an itinerant. I pulled a model cochlear implant and hearing aid from my bag as well as a three-dimensional model of the ear, explaining each one to her. Kara examined each piece, running her finger along the electrode array of the cochlear implant, and gently opening and closing the battery door of the hearing aid. Frequent exclamations of, “Cool!” and “Wow!” escaped her.

 Kara talked about her own interest in the field, sparked by watching me work with several students at her elementary school and the two students in her current school.  She commented on the ease with which I interact with my students and the patience I demonstrated while re-syncing the FM transmitter and pass-around microphone students used during history class that afternoon. She described her fascination with the way that I am part of the class, co-teaching, observing, and collaborating with classroom teachers.  I was impressed by Kara’s articulate questions, but more so by her observations. I’ve always worked to be a role model for my students and the teachers I support, but never gave much thought to the role I play with the hearing students other than being generally friendly. Kara reminded me that even on my worst day, someone is watching, looking to me for inspiration, and yes, my job is pretty “cool.”

*name changed

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Learning A New Language

Foreign language instruction is increasingly part of the curriculum for students of all ages. Once reserved for junior high and high school students, I now see elementary school students receiving foreign language lessons as well. Exposure to foreign languages, customs, and cultures is a valuable experience for all students. With some careful planning, our students with hearing loss can be successful as well.

As teachers of the deaf / hard of hearing, we can help foreign language teachers understand and address the unique challenges a second language can present to our students. Here are some key points and suggestions to share with foreign language teachers, and to keep in mind when providing itinerant support to students:

Many of our students are still learning English grammar and syntax, so learning the rules of a new language can be challenging. Explicit instruction, use of visual supports, and copies of charts (such as those used for conjugating verbs) and vocabulary for the student to review independently can all be helpful.

Many languages have subtle auditory differences in words that can be harder for students with hearing loss to discriminate. Consider the masculine and feminine le and la in French, or the /s/ at the end of words in Spanish that denotes verb tenses. The student should have visual access to all new vocabulary, and ample opportunities to practice using and listening for (depending on auditory access) the differences in sounds. Speechreading can help the student gather additional information, so it is important for the teacher to face the student when speaking.

Help the student organize vocabulary with a system. The following presentation offers examples of this: 
While a bit outdated, the suggestions for color-coding would be beneficial for many students, not just those with hearing loss!

Students with hearing loss need extra opportunities to practice listening to and pronouncing new vocabulary words. At times, students may not want to participate in class due to fear of mispronunciations. Providing extra practice (such as utilizing support from the TOD/HOH or SLP) and use of visual supports can alleviate some of this stress,

Provide subtitles for videos and transcripts of any recordings used in class.

Assessments typically include oral and written components, and adjustments will likely be needed for the oral portions. Students with hearing loss should have the oral component read aloud by the teacher (vs. listening to a recording). This will provide visual information for speechreading, maximize auditory access and allow the student to ask for repetition as needed. For students who struggle auditorily, the oral component may weigh less towards to total grade for that student. Additionally, consider the student’s speech abilities. A student who does not have access to all speech sounds, and therefore does not produce them, should not lose points on an oral assessment for those errors.

Just like typically hearing students, there are many reasons students with hearing loss take foreign language classes. One of my students spends time in France with his family and wants to be able to communicate independently while there. Another student is taking Spanish simply because it is required and she wanted to give it a try rather than waiving the class (as many students with hearing loss are able to do). A third student attends a Jewish day school and is learning Hebrew as part of the religious curriculum, which includes reading religious texts. Yet another student has taken Latin as a way of improving his understanding of English. Each student has a different reason for choosing and participating in their language class. For students with hearing loss, there may need to be some adjustments in what is emphasized or weighted more heavily - whether it be speaking, reading, writing, or cultural exposure. But, it is usually worthwhile to consider the benefits of taking a second language before presuming it is not a possibility.

The first year taking a foreign language often goes well as long as the student’s first language is in tact. Because the teacher assumes that everyone is new to the language, the instruction is generally slow paced and very clear. The teacher slowly articulates, is careful about word boundaries and includes a variety of visuals such as posted vocabulary and conjugations of verb forms. Projects and cultural lessons make the experience hands-on and meaningful. Since everyone is working on syntax, the teacher often writes out whole sentences and is very explicit about grammar and syntax. It is helpful to point out these strategies and encourage teachers to keep using them, even more so as the student progresses through the levels. As instruction becomes more conversation based, teachers tend to drop some of the visual supports that the student with hearing loss will continue to need.

Above all, encourage the student with hearing loss to communicate with the foreign language teacher – both when difficulties arise and when strategies are working well.

How do you help students access foreign language classes?