Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Power of "Owning" Hearing Loss

     “Ugh! I HATE science! I give up!” my seventh grader grumbled, pulling her science book out of her backpack then laying her head in her hands, eyes closed. I opened the book to the unit her teacher had told me the class would be starting so that we could preview the material and concepts. He’d given me the page number, but not the topics. My student perked up as she watched me open to the designated page. “Hey! It’s about hearing!” She scanned the diagram of the ear, softly naming the parts, a smile beginning on her face, until she came to the bones. “Wait- hammer? Anvil? Stirrup? It’s the malleus, incus, and stapes! I should teach this lesson!” 
    When students have a concrete understanding of how hearing works, their own hearing loss and cause, and assistive technology, it’s empowering. There’s no longer a mystery as to why it’s sometimes hard to follow in class and they can advocate for their needs regarding access. The ability to independently answer questions posed by peers about the technology creates a sense of normality around the differences. Students who are able to have a sense of humor around their differences rather than constantly feeling uncomfortable are more accepted by peers. 
     Recently, a junior high student asked for help creating a presentation that she could share with her classmates. A strong advocate, she wanted to share information, particularly around the proper use of her pass-around mic to the whole group at once. It was her idea to personify the microphone as “Mikee” and do the presentation from his perspective. Her sense of humor around the equipment was well received by the group with peers laughing with her and asking relevant questions. The results have been fantastic- she reports fewer reminders to use the microphone during discussions and I’ve observed her classmates reminding each other! 

     And as for my seventh grader? Not only did she talk to her science teacher about a more in-depth lesson on hearing, after creating an in-service for her teachers, she supported two of my younger students in the school when presenting to their class, emphasizing for me to, “Teach them the real names for the parts!”  Alongside the two second graders, she served as a role model, expanding on what they shared with the class, comparing cochlear implants and hearing aids, and helping them to answer questions posed by the other children. This group has now reached celebrity status in the elementary school, featured as “Scientists of the Week,” further empowering all three! 

One of the second graders shyly slipped me this note as I was leaving. I agree! I think hearing aids are so awesome, too!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How Much Time?

We’ve all had the experience of having to fight for services for our students. Sometimes districts refute the recommendation for our direct services, sometimes they try to cut consult, and far too often, they try to cut TOD/HOH hours altogether stating that the SLP or sp-ed teacher can handle it. Lately, I’m finding the opposite. Districts are wanting more than my recommended time. I’ve established myself in several communities over the past few years and special education teams are starting to see the impact of my services as the students make documented gains in all areas. Families are asking for increased hours. Preschool teachers are recommending TOD support as soon as children enter school. Educational teams want even more consult. New families hear through the grapevine that these supports exist and are wanting the same for their children with hearing loss. It’s overwhelming.

So how do we make recommendations for services? We need to be looking at each students’ educational program, skill level, and individual needs. We need to balance our services so that students are getting the specialized instruction and support they need while still allowing for growth in independence without missing too much classroom time.

For example, I recommended reducing the direct service hours for an older student who was becoming dependent on me. I cited examples where she was almost regressing in coming to me with issues that she previously would have gone directly to her teacher with. She’s making steady progress and after several years, now needs more consult and in-class support to carry over the skills she’s learned, and fewer hours 1:1 with me.

Similarly, last spring, an elementary team requested an additional day of individual time for one of my students based on his performance with me versus his performance in the classroom.  Rather than add another full hour of pull-out, we spread the existing hours over more days and refined the skills that will be addressed during that time so that he would have the consistency with me but also have the important classroom time each day for subject areas where he is confident.

With a new first grader on my caseload with needs in addition to hearing loss, looking at the number of pull-out supports he was already receiving influenced my recommendation. Rather than excessive pull-out with me, meaning even more time out of the classroom, I recommended more consult so that his needs could be met across all service providers with some pull-out to address specific auditory and language skills.

I’ve used the Hearing Itinerant Service Rubric to support my recommendations. Additionally, Karen Anderson has several models for determining service delivery for students with hearing loss. These tools can help justify our recommendations when teams want more or fewer hours than we recommend.
The ultimate goal is for our students to make steady progress and eventually succeed independently in the classroom and outside of school as well. When they no longer need my intensive support- I know I have done my job! 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cue the Awkward Silence...

It’s the start of the year so I’m spending as much time as possible in classrooms, observing, consulting with teachers, and figuring out what my students need in terms of supports. Recently in a seventh grade Social Studies class, the teacher was leading a whole group discussion about the events of 9/11. Students were raising their hands to ask questions or share stories they had heard from their parents. I watched in anticipation as my student raised her hand and was then called on. “I had a soccer game over the weekend and I got hit in the face with the ball,” she stated confidently. I cringed. There was that awkward pause as the teacher was unsure how to respond until finally he called on another student and the class moved on.  Later in the week I was observing an 8th grade Science class. The topic was how topographical maps can help us to identify landforms as well as elevation changes. A question was asked and my student shot his hand up! When called on, he said, “These chairs remind me of my camp because we had the same desks there.” Again, cue the awkward silence.

            It’s not uncommon for students with hearing loss to comment off topic. Sometimes it’s developmental. Anyone who has spent time in a preschool or kindergarten classroom knows that MOST young children speak whatever is on their mind- related or not! Sometimes our students have missed the transition and are still focused on the original topic. Sometimes they miss or mishear what has been said due to distance or noise and the response is incongruous.
            In social situations, I often observe my students attempting to change the topic of conversation when they are having difficulty following or have limited knowledge of the topic. While not always socially appropriate, these circumstances are understandable. But my junior high students commenting this way during a whole group discussion?
            I checked in with both students after my observations. My soccer pal stated that she had just been thinking about soccer. Similarly, my camper told me he was thinking about camp and making a connection. My upcoming plans for these two will have to include strategies for participating in a group discussion. For my soccer player, I plan to help her find strategies to identify the topic of the group discussion and think of a relevant comment or question. Additionally, if she was tuning out and thinking about soccer, this may be due to fatigue that she is unaware of. Structured listening breaks may help. I will also include her teachers, working with them to be more visual than they already are. Writing the topic of discussion on the board and asking more direct questions so that my student can respond appropriately are two strategies.

For my camper, I want to help him identify what a connection truly is. I have desks at camp and desks at school is an observation, not a connection. Comparing and contrasting these two will hopefully help him to make meaningful contributions in class.
On the plus side- my students are contributing! Many students with hearing loss are resistant to speaking up in class at all. Now, my job is to help refine those contributions.

How do you help students contribute to class discussions?


Monday, September 19, 2016

Let's Practice What We Preach!

The school year is in full swing here in Massachusetts! I’ve spent the past two weeks like many itinerant teachers of the deaf: setting up FM equipment; doing orientations for schools where I was not able to meet with the staff in the spring; checking in with students and families; reading files on new students; responding to dozens of emails each day; drawing up, erasing and re-writing my own schedule and checking in with the staff that I mentor at Clarke. What a whirlwind!
As an itinerant, one of my most important roles is that of an advocate for my students. It’s my job to make sure that their accommodations are implemented. I advocate for optimal seating arrangements in classrooms and proper use of amplification so that my students have access.  I help my students to understand their own strengths and needs and to advocate for themselves with both adults and peers. I spend so much time and energy advocating for my students that I often forget to advocate for myself.

With fellow TODs at Clarke camp this summer

Mentoring last year, watching my colleagues, and recognizing the same behaviors in myself, I realized the impact that this overly accommodating attitude has on our work as itinerants. We are willing to work in hallways when we’re told that no classroom is available. We are willing to skip lunch or frantically eat while driving between schools in order to squeeze in that one last student at a time that a teacher requests. We are willing to create ridiculous schedules for ourselves in order to avoid conflicting with specials, lunch, recess and club meetings. I have literally run from my car to a school door, hurriedly checked in and booked it to a classroom, out of breath, because my time between schools was so tight. In short, we burn ourselves out.
This year, I plan to practice what I preach to my students on a daily basis: stand up for yourself! Don’t be afraid to let others know what you need!
So after gathering classroom schedules from my schools, I created my schedule as usual—but this year I didn’t offer a menu of options. Some of my schools are over an hour apart and I can't always be flexible. Surprisingly I encountered very little resistance when I told teachers when I’d be there to work with my students.
And I now refuse to work in a hallway. My students are important and my role in assisting them is important. I now have a designated space at each school after advocating for my needs. The back corner of the library suits me just fine. I plan to eat lunch this year. It may be in my car in a school parking lot but it will happen. J
So join me, itinerants, in advocating for ourselves! This year is already off to a great start and I’m optimistic that it will continue. As one third grade student commented last Friday while meeting in our library nook, “Remember last year when we worked in the hall and it was soooo loud? I like this better.”  I like it better, too. Cheers to the 2016-17 school year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


This school year is quickly coming to an end but as an itinerant, I’m already thinking ahead to next year. Some of my students will be transitioning to the next grade in the same building; some will transition to new buildings for kindergarten, junior high or high school and some are transitioning to schools in new districts. No matter what, each student will be in a new classroom with a new teacher! So along with scheduling in-services for staff trainings this spring (see my earlier post on Spring Orientations), I’m working with my students on projects that will introduce them to their new teachers.
            These projects take many forms. My preschooler and I are filming and editing an iMovie presentation; an older student chose to write and illustrate a book and a junior high student is working diligently on a PowerPoint. It’s easy to weave advocacy and language goals into these projects and it’s always more powerful when a student can tell teachers what they need in their own words—especially if that teacher is new to working with a student with hearing loss!

Tips for helping students create introduction presentations
·      Help students understand who the audience is and what the purpose of the project is.
·      Choose a media form that both you and the student are comfortable working with. Movies are fun to make but if you and the student are both new to this format, learning how to edit and add effects can be frustrating and counterproductive.
·      Provide the student with an outline or graphic organizer to guide the project. Topics generally include information about:
o   the student’s life and interests
o   how typical hearing works
o   the student’s hearing loss and amplification
o   beneficial instructional strategies (e.g., use of closed captions, note taking, facing the student when speaking, etc.)
o   factors that impede comprehension (e.g., hallway noise, sitting in the back of the room, etc.)
o   communication tips for peers
o   how the student feels about having a hearing loss
o   how the student feels comfortable advocating and where they’d like support.
·      Include language frames (e.g. “Before the sound travels to the_____ on my cochlear implant, it first enters the ______”) and prompts (e.g. How does the FM receiver pick up sound?”) as needed to guide the student and address language objectives. I edit my organizers slightly to meet the individual needs of each student that I work with.
·      Share examples of what others have made! Sometimes my students get stuck. YouTube has a wealth of instructional videos made by kids with hearing loss and with permission, I’ve shared PowerPoint presentations made by other students.

·      Decide with your student how the presentation will be shared with the new teacher. Most junior high and high schools do not announce teachers and class groupings/schedules until late summer, for instance.  But in some cases—especially with younger children or smaller school districts—there is only one teacher per grade and families find out who that new teacher is at the end of the current school year.

Working with students to create presentations is a great way to begin planning for next yea and can help alleviate any anxiety the student may feel because they are taking an active part in the transition process. How else do you involve students in the transition? Please share!