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?