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!