Thursday, December 6, 2018

When Everything Goes Right

You’re here! I missed you so much!” my elementary student exclaimed, racing over, his curls bouncing, as he threw his arms around me in a hug. His teacher gave me a smile and a wave from across the room as my student chatted about his current writing assignment. A few classmates looked up form their work and greeted me as well.
This enthusiasm and the welcoming smiles are not unusual. I’ve been experiencing something new this year- everything is just really working in one district. From the outside, there’s nothing to lead a teacher of the deaf to believe that it would be any different from any other district. It’s not a particularly wealthy area and the schools do not have a lot of experience with hearing loss or with working with a teacher of the deaf. But it’s become my TOD utopia. I’d like to take all the credit for making these schools so ideal, but it’s been a real team effort. J

Originally contracted for just two students, the district has now increased that contract to include several more students in the school system—meaning even more students with hearing loss have access to the support services that they need in order to flourish in the mainstream. I made a real effort initially to not just explain but also show what a teacher of the deaf does. Consult times were scheduled on a regular basis and I planned lessons for those the same way that I do for my students’ individual sessions (see my post HERE for more tips about making the most of consult time). I invited support personnel and the administration into my sessions with students so that they could see for themselves how what I do differs from what the SLP or special education teacher does. While not every aspect of the classroom or equipment use was perfect, I was able to focus on what was working and easily weave in tips for improving access.
For their part, the administration in the district has allotted time for the entire teams for the students with hearing loss to meet quarterly, while also providing coverage for the regularly scheduled consult time so that all relevant staff can attend. Teachers come to consults with specific questions or requests for feedback from my classroom observations, which makes my job easier and more structured! At the end of each consult, we create an agenda for the next consult which was the SLP’s idea and I’ve started to implement this in other schools as well since it includes the team and is not just me deciding what is important. The district has prioritized the needs of the students with hearing loss and we’re already seeing a difference in performance and confidence!
Open communication, receptiveness to feedback, mutual respect and a genuine desire to create an optimal learning environment for all students between myself and my school teams have all contributed to one of the most ideal TOD situations. I’d love to recreate this type of environment in all of my schools and piece-by-piece, I’m learning how to do that.

How do you build positive relationships in school settings?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Making Sure We Are Teaching

            Every teacher of the deaf has probably been asked a million times what exactly it is that we do. After responding, the comment, “Oh, so you’re like a tutor?” is not uncommon. I’ve found myself explaining the difference between teaching, progress monitoring and tutoring on so many occasions and I’m sure that I am not alone!
            Instruction or teaching involves explicitly explaining and helping students practice the skills necessary to successfully complete a task. This should be the primary component of our job as the teacher of the deaf. For many of our students with hearing loss, lack of incidental knowledge, gaps in schema or skill set, or difficulty with language and syntax prevent them from performing to their full potential in the classroom. It is my responsibility to not only teach skills necessary to complete current assignments, but additionally, to recognize and fill in gaps while ALSO anticipating and teaching upcoming skills. It can be overwhelming at times! Having a clear understanding of the hierarchy of skills required for any given task is critical to effectively teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
            In contrast, progress monitoring involves analyzing student work samples and noting errors or patterns of errors. It includes classroom observations and noting behaviors and potential barriers. Progress monitoring is also checking off the box when a student is able to successfully complete a task or demonstrates independent use of a skill that has been directly taught. At times, progress monitoring can be mistaken for instruction. For example, when progress notes indicate skills a student lacks but does not specifically state how those needs are being addressed. Progress monitoring alone will not lead to effective progress; direct instruction is necessary.
            Tutoring is also often mistaken for the specialized instruction we do as teachers of the deaf. Tutoring generally involves reviewing or previewing content related to class, drills such as flash cards or matching games, or similar study-type tasks. While some general overview is necessary, we must also make sure that this does not take up the bulk of our sessions and that we continue to focus on the instructional component.
            For example, many high school students have vocabulary as a component of the English class curriculum. One of my students has a weekly Latin and Greek root word list with quizzes each Friday. My instruction focuses on helping her learn the roots and using that knowledge to determine the meaning of new words. 
The vocabulary word, CIRCUMNAVIGATE, is on the opposite side of the card. This student benefits from including relevant examples as well as the provided definition when learning new terms.

The tutoring component I leave to her academic support team which could involve playing a matching game to help the student learn the words and definitions in order to pass the weekly quiz. The progress monitoring portion is my tracking which words she gets correct and which ones she misses on the quizzes and looking for potential patterns in her errors.

Latin and Greek roots at the bottom as well as color coding are strategies that help my student. 

            Similarly, students are expected to annotate texts in most junior high and high school classes. This is a skill that requires direct instruction. I model my thought process while reading aloud with students, and together we decide what to write in the margins of the text. 

Progress monitoring is part of my process as I periodically check my students’ books to see how they are annotating and adapt my instruction to meet specific needs. For example, I may focus on how to help my students ask questions or make predictions within the text or, I might teach them strategies for annotating for a specific purpose such as related to a formal paper.

            While instruction, progress monitoring and to some degree, tutoring, are all components of our job, teachers of the deaf specialize in the instruction for students with hearing loss. Being reflective about our own teaching and process can help to ensure that the bulk of our sessions are spent on this most important component- instruction.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Are you familiar with the online magazine, Accessibility, Equity and Compliance in Education (AC&E) ? If not, check it out here and look for my back-to-school article on page 24!

One Essential Goal for the New School Year

Welcome back! It’s been a busy (and here in Massachusetts, HOT) start to the new school year!

I was recently consulting in a third-grade mainstream classroom, and got into a conversation with the teacher about representation of students with varied abilities and physical appearances in children’s literature. She strives to create a classroom library where each student can find themselves in the characters in the books she reads and provides. This teacher asked for book recommendations featuring characters with hearing loss. I reached out to my good friend and fellow teacher of the deaf, JennyKate Marble, who is a school librarian. She sent me the list below and I’m excited to share it here with you.

Picture Books:
The Deaf Musicians by Pete Seeger
Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer
My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully
The Printer by Myron Uhlburg
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
The Moses Goes To series by Isaac Millman

Chapter Books:
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte

Graphic Novels:
El Deafo by Cece Bell

Let’s take on my cooperating teacher’s goal of equal representation and make sure our students are represented in all classroom libraries (and maybe update our own collections, too!)  Cheers to a new school year!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Education Talk Radio Interview

I’m honored to continue the conversation from the April 10 Hear Me Out blog post with Education Talk Radio! Tune in to Education Talk Radio to hear more.  Episodes can be accessed on-demand! 

Friday, June 1, 2018

SmartBrief Award Recipient

I am honored and humbled to receive the SmartBrief Education monthly education content award for my blog post, Keeping our students safe. Thank you to my readers for your continued support, and to the schools and students that I work with each day who inspire my posts! 

Too Good To Be True?

I walked into my junior high student’s classroom a few minutes early for our session. She was absolutely beaming, surrounded by a group of giggling girls who were passing her phone around excitedly. I overheard bits of the conversation. “A boyyyy?!?” I teased, walking over to the group. My student grabbed her phone from her friend and thrust it into my hand, starry eyed. I quickly scanned the Direct Message (DM) conversation on her Instagram account. Immediately, I was alarmed. Before I could ask any questions, her friend announced, “They met on Instagram and they’re gonna have a date!” It was clear to me immediately from the DM conversation that this was no junior high boy my student had been communicating with, it was a predator.

Catfishing- predators luring children and teens through social media- has become more and more prevalent. Movies have been made on the topic, it’s on the news and parents are encouraged to talk with their teens about online safety. However, motivated by this teen, I’ve found very little in terms of actual resources and strategies on this topic. After acquiring social media packets from several schools which are sent out to families, and asking colleagues to do the same, the overarching message from schools to parents is more about online bullying between peers. Only one packet mentioned catfishing or predators outside of the student body. From what I observed, parents should proactively seek the most up-to-date information from resources beyond their child’s school. Here are the safety and privacy settings for Facebook (not frequently used by students today), Instagram, Snapchat, and (an app that almost all of our students are using).
While all students are susceptible to catfishing, perhaps our students with hearing loss are even more so. This student has friends and a close family support system but many students with hearing loss feel isolated and may be more naïve. I was able to see just how this person had lured my student but also convinced her friends. When I intervened that day in class, my student justified her discussions with this stranger because although she didn’t know him, “he’s following all my friends so someone must know him…” The other girls all agreed that this was logical. A peer chimed in with, “But look- his profile picture is clearly an 8th grade boy,” which began a conversation about the ability to Google Image and create a fake account. Becoming more desperate, another girl commented, “He wants to meet to get to know her better. It’s actually really romantic.” I asked who the most romantic boy in their grade was. The girls all giggled, started imitating their classmates, commenting on how none of them are even remotely romantic. “Exactly. Junior high boys are not romantic. They don’t want to be alone with junior high girls- they’re afraid of junior high girls,” I said. Another red flag. The group got quiet. My student agreed to talk with her parents, knowing that I would be talking with them too since this was a major safety issue.

Motivated by her experience, this teen is now taking action. She’s met with her school counselor and has begun the task of spreading the word. “I’ve seen the show Catfish but nobody told me this was real!” Below are links to some resources that we have found. Rather than being fearful, the counselor and I hope to empower my student through education, awareness and activism. Her situation ended in the very best way possible- she is safe, her friends and classmates are safe, and she has an opportunity to prevent this from happening again at her school. It may not be in my job description to be promoting social media awareness but sparked by this experience, I’m willing to take this project on with my teen.


1. Includes advice and tips for parents and teens on current social media trends:

2. Internet safety lesson plans for students in grades k-12 with increasing awareness

3. Webinars and additional education materials related to internet safety

4. Internet safety including catfishing – keeping kids safe

5. Safety and strategies for teens and kids related to navigating the internet and social media

6. List of popular apps, how they work, and how parents (and educators) can ensure safe use by teens