Thursday, December 19, 2019

Using Labels with Pride

Selecting a Name
            I was sitting in a high school class, observing my student. There is a second student with hearing loss in that class as well. They’re not really friends but they do have several classes together and know each other. On this day, the class was reviewing for a unit test and would be playing a Jeopardy-style game. The teacher instructed students to pair up, come up with a team name, and write that team name on the board where the score would be recorded.
My student and the other student with hearing loss were sitting near each other and decided to work together. After a brief moment of discussion and a high five, the second student hurried up to the board and wrote in careful block letters, “THE DEAF PEOPLE.” As she scanned the team names on the board, the teacher’s face went from smiling to concerned. She glanced at me and then anxiously tried to get the boys to change the name of their group.
Why?” my student asked, “We’re both deaf. We’re the deaf people.”

Teaching Labels and Identity
Identity is so important for all people, students with hearing loss included. When I’m working with students on self-advocacy—beginning as early as preschool— labels are part of what we discuss. We talk about the differences between audiological terminology (hard of hearing, deaf, etc.) and identity terminology (deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, person with hearing loss, etc.) These labels may change over time as students get older; learn more about their hearing loss and communication style; and discover who they are as individuals within their communities.

Connecting through Differences

             Sitting in that classroom, I realized that it’s not enough to work with my students around choosing labels, but it’s also important to educate their teachers and school teams. Had this teacher realized that my student and his classmate chose the term “deaf” proudly, her reaction to them writing this on the board may have been different.
The teacher and I did discuss this event after class and she admitted that she was uncomfortable because she’d never had a student with a difference “own” it and express it so openly before. While most people want to ignore differences and pretend we are all the same, these students demonstrated that labels don’t have to be shameful or “bad” words. Sometimes the thing that makes you stand out is also the thing that helps you connect to others.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why We Must Make Our Work Visible

            As a teacher of the deaf, I know what I’m looking for when I observe in a classroom. I’m tuned in to how my student is responding and interacting, and I’m always taking notes both mentally and in my notebook. I can scan a piece of student writing and fairly quickly identify the missing language structures that I need to target in my sessions, as well as the ones my student has begun to carry over. I can look at my students’ responses on a test and know whether it was the content or the phrasing of the question that threw them off. I notice either the hesitation or the confidence when there’s an equipment malfunction and my student has to implement the advocacy strategies we’ve practiced.

I constantly look for ways to communicate my work and observations to the teachers and other professionals in the schools—with varying degrees of past success. When the students I work with struggle academically or socially, teachers often think that I can work some magic in my individual sessions and fix it.

When strong students struggle, teachers often think I’m exaggerating a problem because, “She’s getting all As,” or “He never complained to me about not being able to hear. I think it’s fine.”

And middle-of-the-road students suffer too. “Well, the whole class is struggling with that concept,” and “He just doesn't try. If he put in some effort he’d be able to do it,” are not uncommon statements. 

This year I’ve strived to make my work—my very specific strategies and tools—visible. It’s no easy task to take what is in my head and make it a physical, tangible item to share with other professionals! Rather than just verbally communicating my observations, I’ve started to photocopy and note directly on student work samples the clauses and structures which other students are using independently that my student has omitted. Additionally, I’m including writing samples from sessions where I’ve provided language frames or models to show exactly how I’m teaching those structures. I’ve continued to write directly on the tests that I administer when I rephrase a question, but now go the extra step to also share the language activities that I’m using to directly teach the language that my students struggle with in terms of test question comprehension and response. I’m very specific about targets for advocacy, giving “homework” for my student (e.g., asking for closed captions on media, taking listening breaks as needed with agreed-upon strategies such as getting a drink, etc.) and communicating this to the team, specifically asking for feedback when I’m not there to observe.

The results have been very positive. Overall, there is an increased sense of collaboration versus my work being separate from the life of the classroom. I’m finding teachers are approaching me more often with questions, asking for specific input, requesting feedback on organizers and seeking instructional strategies. One English teacher even asked me if I’d be willing to model what I meant during a discussion of organizing group dynamics to support my student by leading a read-aloud! It was fantastic and she carried over the techniques that I modeled!

I’ve always believed in collaboration and have sought to include teachers in my work with students. This slight shift to sharing more of what I do; what I see; and how I analyze has only served to increase that trust and communication which in the end, can only have a positive impact on my student’s academic, social and overall success!

How do you make your work visible?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Helping my Students Set #FriendshipGoals

It’s that busy back to school time! As I’ve shown up for many first days at various schools over the past two weeks, the sights and sounds are familiar. Students rush through the halls decked out in smiles, new sneakers, stiff new backpacks and that perfect first day of school outfit. Squeals and excited chatter fill the air as friends and classmates reconnect after a summer apart.

When I set goals with my students during our initial sessions, almost every student included making friends as a goal for the new year—whether in elementary school, junior high, or high school.

When asked to name their friends, most of my students will name peers in their classes, or the students they sit with at lunch. As they get older, many students start to realize that their concept of a friend may not be complete. Sometimes they discover that what they’ve perceived as friendship may in fact be more superficial and less authentic than a true friend relationship. Friends frequently text or video chat. Friends hang out at each others’ houses on the weekends and after school. Friends get together over the summer. Friends share secrets (and keep those secrets!). Friends encourage each other to join the same clubs or play the same sports. Friends coordinate outfits and hairstyles. Are our students with hearing loss included in these ways?

My plan is to start by helping my students identify the characteristics and values that they would like in a friend. Having a better understanding of their own interests and strengths whether that is a sport, art, music, or hobby will help to identify clubs or activities that may be of interest at school. Extracurricular activities often offer more opportunities for socializing than class time. Self-confidence is another key piece to making friends. I want my students to fully accept all parts of themselves and have the confidence to approach potential friends, or to further their relationships with current acquaintances. I also plan to tune in when I’m observing in classes so I can better understand how to support my students’ connections with their peers. My hope is that my students can be authentically part of that chatter and excitement that comes with each transition back to school.

Maybe some kids come to school because they’re super excited about ionic bonding and algebra but for most, the motivation is social. It’s universal—everyone wants to feel included. As teachers of the deaf, how else can we support our students in forming genuine friendships?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Summer Break!

                          Like the students we work with, Hear Me Out is on summer break! 

                Check out my latest EdWeek contribution HERE and I'll see you back in the fall!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Tiny Office Living

 Tiny homes, with an average of less than 500 square feet of living space, have become a trend. Living a minimalist lifestyle with only things that “spark joy,” thanks to a popular Netflix show, has also become trendy. As an itinerant, I mastered this minimalist, tiny-home style long before it was in vogue. The key is to maximize your available space (mine is approximately 80 square feet) and minimize possessions in a way that would make that popular organizing guru proud. Below is a guide to my Tiny Car Office.  

1.     This Tiny Car Office boasts a spacious snack cabinet which includes room not only for snacks to enjoy while on the road, but also storage for utensils, napkins, reusable straws and condiments for the days when you will also be eating lunch in your car. Never worry about forgetting to grab chopsticks with your take-out sushi, there’s plenty of storage space for a few pairs right here!
2.     As an itinerant, my students must be able to see my face in order to speech read along with using their listening skills. This office includes a styling station with everything one would need for the optimal up-do. Hair ties, bobby pins, and headbands are easily accessible for those mornings when you’re running late and need to let your hair dry in the car before putting it up. In a pinch, a pair of sunglasses doubles as a headband in this multi-use accessory station.
3.     As a bonus, this tiny space also includes a hair dryer which when set on high, sends a blast of warm air to help quickly dry your hair on the road.
4.     You may think that you have to make sacrifices to live in a Tiny Car Office, but think again! You can have a complete home office with sticky note bulletin board reminders, pen and pencil storage, an electronics charging station, and convenient phone mount which will allow for Skyping, voice dictation, GPS access and so much more!
5.     In addition, an audiological center is packed nicely into this pouch and fits neatly in the front seat while still allowing room for bags and other materials. All your troubleshooting tools will be ready to go as you head into the schools.

6.     As we all know, it can be challenging to find time to exercise. You’ll have no excuses with your very own Tiny Car Office gym! The low ceilings allow for controlled, isometric movements which really concentrate working the small muscle groups. My physical therapist would be happy to see that I incorporate my shoulder exercises throughout the day.

7.     The roomy center console is the perfect place to store all of your hygiene needs. Nobody likes a teacher with coffee breath! Mouth wash, gum, and mints are right within reach with this handy storage space! There’s also room for bandaids, deodorant and hand wipes for those messy meals that are eaten on the road.
8.     Most people view this as simply the back of a seat, however, it also doubles as a coat rack for those rainy or snowy New England days!

9.     How many times have you chosen a pair of shoes to wear in the morning only to regret it later in the day when your feet are tired and blistered? Tiny Car Office features ample shoe storage so that you will always have options to change your shoes during the day.
10. Snow? Rain? No problem! All your weather needs are readily available right here whether you need an umbrella, a snow scraper, or even a small shovel to clear that winter weather away! Did you get to a school only to find out your student is not there? In the winter, snowshoe storage means that you can take a quick walk in the fresh air while you wait for your next student.

11. Finally, the largest storage section of our Tiny Car Office. Files are neatly organized in these bins for easy access. Frequently used assessments, books, and teaching materials are also organized and right where you need them.
12. Schools don’t always have the specific materials we need. Art supplies, dry erase boards, toys and manipulatives are all stored in this crate system.
13. Do you need to stop at the grocery store on your way home? Maybe you forgot an item you need for a session and need to run into the dollar store quickly to pick up a new one. Reusable shopping bags have their own storage on the side for those last minute shopping trips.
14. Again with the exercise! As a triathlete and marathon runner, fitness is important to me and I’ll never make an excuse to skip a workout! However, especially in the winter when it gets dark early, it can be hard to fit in a long run when I’m at schools late. This closet of workout clothes and space for running shoes means that wherever I am, I can stop, quickly change and get in a run before heading home.

Mastering the art of working from a Tiny Car Office means never having to sacrifice while out on the road. You too can have it all! Now, who’s ready to join me in this trendy movement? J

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

EdWeek Contribution- GAMES!

Do you incorporate games into your sessions? Read my suggestions HERE on EdWeek for tips on how games can enhance the process of learning!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Your Students are Ready for Testing. Are their Teachers?

While my students have definitely started the countdown to the last day of school, my work is far from over! Spring means preparation for state assessments, standardized testing, PSAT / SAT for high school students, and final exams for junior high and high school kids.  While I don't have control over the standardized assessments other than advocating for accommodations, I can control some aspects of final exams for class content! 
It is important to include as many accommodations for testing as possible into students IEPs and 504s so that they are ready when exams come. Depending on the needs of the student, some of the most common accommodations are: 
  • Extending testing time 
  • Reading aloud and/or clarifying test items  
  • Use of the HAT system by the test administrator 
  • Use of organizers and outlines 
  • Providing individual or small group test space  

I’ve found that with some preparation, most teachers are receptive to simplifying or rewording test questions so that my students with hearing loss can show what they really understand about a concept rather than getting questions wrong because they were confused by the phrasing of a question. Since we have integrated this practice of modifying test items all year long, teachers understand the need for final exam modifications as well.  
For example, some students struggle to extract the questions theyre expected to respond to when they’re embedded in lengthy text. In the example below, I read the test item aloud to my student, had him extrapolate the test questions—which I simplified and rewroteand then he was then able to accurately respond, demonstrating his understanding.  

Similarly, while many of our students with hearing loss are capable of using complex syntax to respond to open response items, they may still require word banks in order to use conjunctions and connective language correctly to respond to test items.

Students who are working on including structures such as cause and effect or persuasive language, may require language frames to support their open responses as in the image below.

While some students are perfectly comfortable with the teacher, myself, or another adult writing right on their test, others are more self-conscious and do not want extra attention. To resolve this issue, one high school English teacher gave me access to her Google Drive. This way, I can go in and modify the test for my student online. When the teacher hands out tests, my student gets her modified copy but it doesn’t look any different from anyone else’s at a quick glance so she does not feel uncomfortable. This teacher told me recently that she’s started giving my version of the test to several other students in the class after realizing it was her questioning format that was causing students to lose points, not their lack of understanding! Many students can benefit from modified test questions!  
While teachers may not initially want to modify tests due to the extra work, once they understand the purpose, they are generally receptive. Making it clear that we are assessing what a student knows about a topic and NOT whether or not they can answer a question embedded in complex syntax also helps. As we teach students more and more of those language structures, they can become increasingly independent and successful with testing.  

                         How do you work with teachers to modify assessments?