Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Time to Take Notes!

Okay, so I get that I tell my teacher why I can’t take notes and then I ask for a notetaker. But what do I say to [peer] when she asks why I’m not taking my own notes?” My eighth-grade student looks at me from across the table, his notecards, history text, and class handouts spread out as we begin to prepare for an upcoming test. Like many students with hearing loss, he is not able to take notes during class lectures despite the fact that his teacher writes key words on the board, paces lectures and class discussions appropriately, maximizes the use of his hearing technology, and provides organized handouts to accompany her lectures. Our one-to-one sessions provide a comfortable, reassuring place for him to practice what he can say. “I can’t listen, lip read, and write all at the same time. When I look down at my paper to write, I miss what [teacher] is saying. And then it’s all confusing and I have to ask her to repeat. That’s why it will be helpful to have your notes. So, you know, I can listen and know what everyone’s talking about,” he rehearses.

In order to help students fully access class lectures and discussions, especially in middle and high school, peer notetakers are a valuable accommodation. Because of the way hearing aids and cochlear implants process sound, students with hearing loss require extra time to listen and make sense of what they hear. Many students also rely on speechreading in addition to their hearing technology, making it nearly impossible to write at the same time. My students have had great success with peer notetakers when there are clear guidelines and when everyone is on the same page. Below are a few tips for setting this up for your students:

  •        Communicate with the teacher(s) and explain the rationale for peer notetaking. Sample notes the student has attempted to take and simulations of hearing loss can be helpful when teachers are resistant. Some teachers initially feel that use of a peer notetaker lets the student with hearing loss, “off the hook,” eliminating any sense of responsibility for that student. It is our job to help teachers understand that peer notetakers allow our students to access instruction more completely rather than simply reducing the workload.

  •        Involve the student.  Role-play with the student and support him or her in meeting with teachers to advocate for peer notetakers. Teachers are often more receptive when students are able to articulate their own needs. Conversations may include the difficulty involved in speechreading while trying to write, the pace of the conversation or lecture, and the likelihood of missing important details of not just content but also information such as safety and instructions in science labs when using chemicals and hazardous materials. 

  •     Support the student in advocating with the peer notetaker. Teachers are often able to identify a peer who would be a good notetaker. This student should be someone who is generally organized, has good attendance, takes clear notes, and is up for the responsibility of supporting the student with hearing loss by sharing notes. Some schools identify a second student as a back up in case the primary notetaker is absent or needs a break. One of my students chose to write a letter to her note taker outlining the specific information she wanted included. Another student chose to have a conversation with her peer with my facilitation. Think about including lecture notes, details of assignments, vocabulary terms, class procedures, rules, and instructions, and peer comments and questions. Many students are just learning how to take notes themselves and may require additional support or supplemental teacher notes.


  •       Decide how the student with hearing loss will get a copy of the notes.  Some students take notes on a computer and email a copy to the student with hearing loss. Others choose to photocopy hand written notes. A popular option is to use our carbonless Note-Writer paper, which provides an instant copy of notes. (Visit to order.) The student with hearing loss will be responsible for getting the notes from the peer notetaker and as the TOD, we can help facilitate this process.

  •        Identify an adult who can monitor the notetaking process. Adults should continue to check in with both students so that any challenges that arise can be addressed with adult facilitation. This way, if there is a problem the students can express their concerns without worrying about hurt feelings or creating tension.

  •        Help the student with hearing loss understand their role in class. Having a peer notetaker does not give our students the green light to check out during class. Many of my students choose to copy key terms from the board as a way of staying involved. Students should still be expected to participate in discussions, ask and answer questions, and clarify as needed.

By checking in regularly with the student, teacher(s), and notetaker, nuances of the process can be addressed and modified as needed in order to create a smooth system that benefits everyone involved.

What other strategies have you used with peer note takers?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Welcome Back!

School is in full swing here in Massachusetts! Teachers have finished setting up classrooms and are now focused on establishing routines. Students are still filled with the anticipation that the start of a new school year can bring. As teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, we are immersed in creating schedules, doing last minute orientations,, setting up FM systems, and establishing routines, expectations, and procedures of our own. Here are a few key pieces to keep in mind over the next few weeks:

Staff Orientations
Staff orientations provide an opportunity for the entire team to learn how to help our students and to ask questions. They are a critical component of our services. While I prefer to schedule these in the spring for the upcoming team of teachers, there are always situations that make this challenging and necessitate that the orientation must happen in the fall. It is important to get the student involved whenever possible. This can include having the student co-present with you (depending on the age of the student and your relationship with him/her), contribute slides to the PowerPoint, or create a media presentation such as an iMovie to introduce him/herself. This link from Karen Anderson provides a comprehensive guide to orientations.

Playing simulations is a great way for staff and other students to “experience” hearing loss. This link from Karen Anderson contains many resources including simulations of a variety of losses with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and with and without FM. I’ve used the Unfair Spelling Test with classes of elementary students as it is interactive and I’ve found students and adults are always surprised at their results!

Student Orientations
Sometimes it is beneficial for students to present their hearing loss and needs to their classmates. Such projects and presentations can easily be tied to self-advocacy objectives. These presentations can be supported by books or posters made by the student, PowerPoint presentations, or multi media presentations. Inclusion of simulations of hearing loss and model hearing aids and cochlear implants ( when available) enhance this experience for the other students. When there are multiple students in one building with hearing loss, it can be a great opportunity to facilitate the creation of a group presentation. Below is a link to a video created by my college with the four high school students she works with. They showed the video to the entire school with nothing but positive feedback!

Important People
Find out who is on your students team! I keep a list in my notebook of the names and roles of everyone I meet since it can be difficult to keep the new names straight during the first few weeks of school. Be sure you introduce yourself not only to the classroom teacher, but also to the receptionists, administrators, “specials” teachers, cafeteria staff, librarian, school nurse, IT department and anyone else you meet in the hallways!  The more people you know now, the easier it will be when you inevitably need their help later in the year.

  • Be sure you have recent audiograms and audiological reports for all of your students.
  •  Know who the managing audiologist as well as the FM audiologists are and have their contact information available (for some students this is the same person, for others FM is managed by a separate audiologist).
  • Be sure to write down the serial numbers and components of each students FM system. I find this makes my job easier when fixing or transporting broken equipment later in the year.
  • Listen to ensure that all amplification is working properly and identify the person at each school who will be trained to perform listening checks. Set a date for that training!
  • Identify where the FM will be stored at each school and who will be responsible for charging it. This is often the student’s job but for young children or students with additional needs, an adult may have to oversee this task.

Share Your Contact Information
Be sure everyone at the school knows how to get in touch with you in case problems arise. Find out how they prefer to be contacted. Additionally, be sure that staff understand your role is mulit-faceted. You are a teacher, an advocate for the student and a resource for staff. Relationships matter and first impressions go a long way, so keep it positive and emphasize the collaborative aspects and mutual benefits of this new relationship.

Set Up A System For Communication:
This can be informal and as simple as identifying whether people prefer to communicate over email or by phone. Some younger students may also have a communication notebook for staff and parents to write in. Especially in the first few weeks, be sure to include parents on relevant communication with staff and check in with them regularly. This helps alleviate parental stress as they are in the loop and know what is happening at school.

Have a great year!