Diving into the
Steps to Success
After a summer of playing and swimming (and communication in less formal or demanding settings), it is now time for many of our kids to take the plunge back into a mainstreamed classroom. If your child is a veteran at this, there can still be quite a learning curve for the general education teachers. Here are some typical accommodations that general education teachers can implement to level the playing field for our kids with hearing loss.
Some of these accommodations help the student listen, and some support learning. Let’s look at listening first. Many students hear best at a distance from 3-5 feet in a quiet environment. Obviously that is a tough request in today’s classrooms. To assist the child in hearing more clearly and with less energy, here are some frequently used changes to the classroom listening environment.
Improving the Listening Environment in the Classroom
- Using an FM system to reduce background noise.
- Preferential seating: front and center placement is not always the best for each child. Many children with hearing loss prefer to be in the middle of the room so that they have easier auditory access to all kids in the room.
- Thoughtful classroom management:
- Announce whose turn it is to talk.
- Gain the students’ attention prior to giving critical information with a routine phrase, action, or song.
- Allow everyone to move where they can hear and see better.
- Teachers who can manage the learning environment through positive behavior support, teaching one child to talk at a time, and keeping the general noise level down are a gift to our students.
- When announcing whose turn it is to talk, the teacher can easily use a carrier phrase (“Yes, Johnny, would you share…”) to allow the child with the hearing loss time to turn and find the student who is talking. Repeating or at least summarizing the questions and responses assists the child in following a faster paced conversation.
- To gain the class’ attention, a phrase, song or action can be taught to the whole class including the child with hearing loss so that they will recognize and respond to the phrase. This phrase will look different depending on the grade of the child. For younger grades, the teacher can either use a clap response or a verbal response like “one two three, eyes on me.” Maybe younger peers are encouraged to “tap a friend’s shoulder” to get everyone’s attention. For older students, teachers need to use a consistent phrase that alerts the students to attend to the teacher, such as, “Okay class…”
- Be mindful of acoustics in the classroom. People who do not have hearing loss have learned to tune out environmental sounds, such as air conditioning units/fans, students in the hallway, the lawnmower outside, and the girl talking to herself in the next row. The teacher may need to move closer to the student to decrease auditory interference. Listening all day with echoes and competing background noise is exhausting, so quiet time and listening breaks are a welcome change for everyone.
- Placing tennis balls on the legs of chairs to decrease classroom noise. Teachers love this and the outcome can be dramatic.
- Use a notetaker when needed. This allows the student to fully attend to the teacher/interpreter. While looking down to take notes, crucial information may be missed. Consider using one or two other students to take notes and have the notes copied at the main office. The student with a hearing loss can pick up the copied notes after school. Keep in mind the notetaker should be a student who takes quality notes and not necessarily the top student in the class. (Sometimes, the more advanced students take only cursory notes as they may already know the information.)
- Having another student repeat directions. When directions are being given to the entire class, the teacher may have students seated near the child with a hearing loss repeat back the directions. This is beneficial to the whole class and does not single out the child with the hearing loss. Fitting in is often more important to the child than good access, so this less direct “checking for understanding” is often welcomed by the child.
- Write or repeat all announcements that are given over the intercom. These systems are not acoustically clear and can be difficult to understand.
- Enhance conditions for speechreading. Many students use more speechreading than they even realize. Facing the student or at least the class when talking, keeping gum for the drive home, and having enough light (without glare) makes that easier. Lots of kids have stories about teachers who “talk to the board.”
Other accommodations focus on assisting learning and checking for understanding. All people learn better in situations that are calm, offer some repetition, are reasonably predictable, and where information is presented in more than one way: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
Improving the Learning Environment:
- Pre-teach vocabulary and have new concepts written on the board so that students can see the correct spelling. Many students find multiple meaning words, (content, refuse, pitch, crop and many more) figurative language, slang, and any brand new words challenging.
- Story time: Some students do well reading along as the teacher is reading. Some groupwide pre-teaching benefits everyone, as in: “This book has a well on the cover. What do you know about wells? Where do you think the setting of the book is? What time period? Do you think it is fiction or biography or history?” That kind of discussion helps everyone be more ready to learn from the book.
- Visual schedules, visual aids, and lots of hands on activities: Inform the class what they will be working on in the coming weeks. Creating a routine visual schedule and list of homework projects at the same place in the classroom helps all the different kinds of learners in a class.
- Avoid using the phrase, “what did I say?” This leaves no room for the child’s genuine experience of what he or she actually heard. The teacher might have said “xyz”, but that doesn’t make the student wrong if the message came across as “abc.” Instead, ask “what did you hear?” That way, clarification can happen without making the student feel “wrong.” For example, one child may hear
“Jose, can you see…” for the opening of the Star Spangled Banner and the teacher could clarify by writing it out, acoustically highlighting and/or signing “O say, can you see…”.
- A note about repeating: Children who have hearing loss often know what part of a direction they have missed- the beginning, middle or end. It helps when a direction is given and repeated the same way the second time so that the child can auditorally focus on the part that was missed. If the student is still missing information, rephrase the direction and acoustically highlight the part you think the student missed.
- Finally, develop a signal or sign to let the child quickly share if they are struggling to understand. Some classrooms use a thumbs up sign, red/yellow/green signals, or of course, sign language.
Having access to these accommodations enables students to become invested in their education and increases their confidence. Here’s to making a huge splash in the new school year!
Editor’s note: Canales is an experienced Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing who has been in the field for 20 years. She teaches toddler groups throughout metropolitan Denver, serves on the cochlear implant team for Children’s Hospital Colorado, and works as an itinerant teacher at Englewood Public Schools.