Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Benefits of Spring Orientations

We’ve all been there in the fall. The frantic scramble to try to orient the various teams of teachers, SLPs, special education staff, principals, and additional service providers to the needs of our students with hearing loss is a daunting task. Not only do we need the teams to understand each student’s specific learning needs, we also need them to make acoustical modifications, find captioned media, modify lessons and instructional styles, and create optimal seating arrangements. There must be a designated location to charge FM systems and we may possibly have to re-route the flow of traffic in the hallway to avoid commotion during times of instruction. Oh, and we get two days to do all this if we’re lucky. 

I had grown to dread the fall for this very reason. I felt pressured and rushed. Teachers were frustrated by having to take time out of their precious few prep days before the start of school to attend an orientation and then re-do whatever set up had already occurred in the classroom to meet the needs of the student with hearing loss. A few years ago, I decided to make a change and try doing orientations in the spring. What a difference it has made for my students, the teams I work with, and myself!  While this is not always possible due to limitations within some schools, in many cases spring orientations can be arranged. Below are some tips so that you, too, can have a more pleasant fall!

·      Work with your school contact person to arrange a spring orientation for the upcoming teachers and support staff. Even if a specific teacher has not been identified, many schools will encourage all the 5th grade teachers to attend, for example, knowing that they will all interact with the student at some point. Offering Professional Development Credits if you are able) can also motivate school staff.

·      Make the purpose of the orientation clear by distributing a handout or sending an email with a brief description. For example, “In this presentation, the topics of the educational impacts of hearing loss, proper use of assistive technology, instructional strategies, and modifications will be covered.” Provide as much detail as you feel pertinent.

·      Encourage student participation. An orientation right in the building is a great opportunity for your student, no matter how old, to meet the new team. The student can present a brief PowerPoint, create an iMovie or similar presentation, or simply come in to introduce him or herself. When students are able to articulate and share their needs, the adults are more likely to listen to your expanded and more detailed presentation.

·      Use specific examples including video (with parent permission), work samples, or modified lessons to demonstrate the most effective strategies for this student.  This will help the new team set reasonable yet challenging expectations for your student.

·      Play simulations of hearing loss to help the team understand the nature of hearing loss and the benefits and limitations of assistive technology. Even with the best technology, our students are working harder than their peers to hear and the risk of missing information is greater.  Putting staff in the position of experiencing a little bit of a hearing loss helps to make this point. Clarke offers a CD of simulations for sale on our website: Additionally, check out the other products we have that can assist with orientations such as, Have You Heard, and the new Sound Advice book which can be shared with staff.

·      Bring samples of the amplification the student uses if possible so that teachers can practice listening to a hearing aid alone and through an FM.  Although they will likely need a refresher in the fall, holding the equipment without the rush of a classroom full of students helps build comfort and confidence and increases the likelihood of daily listening checks.

·      Alert the team to specific acoustical needs for the fall so that they can take time to plan during the summer. Tennis balls will need to be moved to desks and chairs in the new room. Area rugs may also have to be moved. If the student uses a soundfield tower in addition to personal FM, where will it be placed? Where can amplification be charged safely each night? Where will listening checks occur and what materials are needed? Teachers and custodian appreciate time to plan for such changes.

·      Media will have to be captioned. Encourage teachers to find captioned versions of media that they regularly use each year and to learn how to enable captions on online resources.

·       Alert teams to specific modifications that help your student, such as providing study guides at the start of a unit rather than just before the test. This allows time over the summer for teachers to re-arrange materials if necessary.

·      Most of all, be encouraging. This is your opportunity to build a relationship with the new team, so focus on the upcoming opportunity for collaboration, build excitement and confidence, and make it clear that you are a resource for the whole team. Your positive attitude will carry through!

Have you ever given an orientation in the spring? Let us know how it went!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Participation in Assemblies

“Do my bangs look okay? I want them to look like my sister’s.” My seven-year-old student smoothed her curly hair to the side as she twirled, a look of anticipation in her eyes.  I’m gonna look at you when I’m on the stage!” she called over her shoulder to me as she ran to return to her classmates. Across the crowded auditorium, her older sister gave me a guarded smile and a small wave. It is the dress rehearsal for their elementary school’s all-school concert. True to her nature, the younger sister eagerly awaited her turn to perform in front of an audience, confidence bursting from her small frame. Her sister, older, more guarded, and more aware of the impending challenge of playing the musical bells with her class, demonstrated poise and calm that separated her from her giggly, whispering peers. 

While both girls do well in school and are in classrooms with teachers who willingly work with me to modify curriculum and instruction, school events such as the all-school concert require some additional thought and planning. After meeting with both teachers and receiving a copy of the program for the concert, I attended the dress rehearsal to assist in ironing out technical issues that could affect my students’ access to information presented during the performances. Both girls use personal FM systems, which needed to be “synced” to one FM transmitter. This transmitter was then  attached to the main microphone on the stage, allowing the girls to access the spoken aspects of the performances. The girls’ classes were the first to arrive at the assembly, a strategic plan so that they could sit in the front and speechread in order to help follow along during the rehearsal. Additionally, both girls would have a turn performing with their classes, so we needed to think about their positioning on stage

Below are strategies we used to ensure that both girls were included and comfortable on stage and their needs were met without interfering with the flow of the program. After the dress rehearsal, the performance went flawlessly the following night!
  •  Find out who will be leading the performance. Sometimes an adult, such as a music teacher or principal, introduces each class. Other times, students have this responsibility. Support the student with hearing loss in communicating specific needs to the person(s) in charge. This might include explaining the importance of speaking clearly into the microphone and making their face visible for speechreading.
  • Get copies of scripts, song lyrics and other spoken information ahead of time. The student with hearing loss can read over plays or skits before the actual performance in order to follow easier. Reading the entire script and discussing the plot can help the student with hearing loss understand his or her role in the performance. In the case of my students described above, we got copies of what each class planned to perform so that my students were able to preview the entire concert.
  •   When more than one student with hearing loss will be in the audience, on stage, or both, determine ahead of time which transmitter will be used on stage. Ensure that the students arrive with enough time to sync them to the designated transmitter.
  •   When students with hearing loss are performing, provide them with copies of the program ahead of time so they know the order of performances as well as any intermissions, introductions and cues for entrances or exits. We wrote such information on the girls’ actual program. Sometimes an adult backstage can be designated to cue students.
  •  Be sure the student with hearing loss knows what will be expected in terms of singing, acting or playing instruments. We often go over songs or lines for a play together to be sure my students are able to pronounce all of the words and understand the meaning of the songs or text.
  •   When students are in a play and need to hear their peers, work with teachers to set up staging that allows for the student with hearing loss to access peers visually and auditorily. For example, the speaker should be close to and able to face the student with hearing loss rather than positioned far across the stage. With planning, this staging can be done in a way that does not draw extra attention to the student with hearing loss.
  • Work with all students to understand the importance of speaking and singing loudly and clearly. This will help not only the student with hearing loss, but the whole audience!

How do you help your students participate in all school performances?