Monday, January 14, 2019

What Is a “Listening Break”?

I was recently asked about listening breaks. What is a listening break? What does it look like? Most importantly, why do students with hearing loss need a listening break? It’s something we talk about as teachers of the deaf—something we advocate for—and in interpreting testing results, we often encourage listening breaks to prevent fatigue. But, what do these listening breaks actually look like in practice?
Students with hearing loss are working harder than their classmates with typical hearing to access, process and fill in missed words and phrases during periods of classroom instruction. Even our best students, who are auditory learners despite their hearing loss, are constantly filling in and struggling to keep up with the pace of lectures and discussions in a busy classroom due to the limitations of their hearing technology. Because sound must be processed through the hearing aid or cochlear implant before reaching the brain where it is interpreted, there is a very brief delay between when the auditory information is received and when it is processed. Additionally, microphones on hearing assistive technology (HAT) have a limited range. Even with the use of a HAT system, background noise and limited access to a speaker’s face further compound our students’ ability to access auditory information. Because they are working so hard just to access what is being said, it is more challenging for our students to then process and synthesize and make connections with previously known information. All this leads to listening fatigue: feeling tired from the seemingly simple act of listening.

Listening breaks can really look different depending on the age and needs of the student. For example, I had a third grader who was still learning about fatigue and how hearing loss impacts her learning. She and I made three listening break sticks (strips of heavy cardstock drenched in glitter, an idea I borrowed from a colleague) and she learned how to use them for breaks. During transitions or independent work times she’d hand one to her teacher and then had options such as looking at books in the reading area, coloring quietly, or taking a “walk around the block” (just a hallway stroll) with the classroom aide. The teacher was involved in the whole process and it wasn’t long before the student was pretty independent with her breaks, spacing them out throughout the day.

I currently have a high school student who has other needs in addition to his hearing loss. He fatigues quickly. His teachers are also very much a part of his plan which he helped to design. Similar to my younger student, during transitions or independent work time, when he needs a break, he can go to the bathroom or get a drink (his version of “walk around the block”) and that short walk is usually enough. Many of my junior high and high schools students have similar plans in place where teachers allow for these short walks. When this particular student becomes overwhelmed in class, his 1:1 aide or I take him to the library to work in our designated quiet room where he can take his time on work and we can discuss it without distracting the whole class. He also benefits from physical activity and we’ve arranged with the athletic trainer to use the weight room. Ten minutes or so of heavy weight work really helps him to refocus. He also has a daily study hall built into his schedule for extra support.

The key components of any listening break plan include:
- The student should be part of the process so they gain awareness of their own learning needs and how they’re impacted by listening fatigue. This also gives them a voice in terms of what works and what doesn’t work for a listening break.
-Teachers must be educated on the effects of listening fatigue and hearing loss on access and learning so that they support and reinforce the plan.
- There should be some formality to the breaks so that they are effective and structured for the student (focus on the true fatigue needs of the student vs. something where the student can take a “break” whenever they just don’t want to do the work).
- A system should be in place for the student to make up any missed work during a break (as with my high school student—he has study hall for the times he really needs a longer break).
- Visual schedules such as writing out the daily plan on the board will help students identify a good time to take a break, such as after the instructional section of the class or during independent work time so that they do not miss out on important information.

How do you help students and schools understand listening breaks?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

EdWeek Q&A

Happy New Year!

Have you checked out the online magazine for educators, EdWeek? Read my contribution HERE in the most recent publication!