Advocacy Notes: Key Things for Classroom Teachers to Know

What are the key things that classroom teachers need to know in order to support my students?

 

Question from the field: I have students whose IEPs call for staff inservice training prior to school starting or within the first couple of weeks. Some use hearing aids and others use cochlear implants, but they are all placed in general education classrooms. Knowing that the general education teachers have limited time, what are the key things that they need to know in order to support my students?

 

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Surface Learning is Not Enough – the Need for Deeper Understanding

 

In most classrooms, new information is presented in a lecture format supplemented by reading material, until students build surface knowledge of the topic. Interaction activities such as classroom discussion, small group work, and partner problem-solving are used to solidify surface knowledge and to move students to a deeper level of understanding1.

Therefore, how well students are able to converse in the classroom setting truly impacts their move toward deeper understanding and learning at the expected pace.

 

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Advocacy Notes: Key Things for Classroom Teachers to Know

What are the key things that classroom teachers need to know in order to support my students?

 

Question from the field: I have students whose IEPs call for staff inservice training prior to school starting or within the first couple of weeks. Some use hearing aids and others use cochlear implants, but they are all placed in general education classrooms. Knowing that the general education teachers have limited time, what are the key things that they need to know in order to support my students?

Starting each school year with a staff inservice training sets the stage for success. This is a great question with which many Teachers of the Deaf (TOD) and Educational Audiologists struggle.

The 2 most important things to remember when providing trainings to staff who will be working with our students with hearing loss in the general education setting are:

1. Always share the WHY behind what you are asking them to do for the student. Once teachers understand WHY they need to use the teacher transmitter or pass-mic, WHY students need strategic preferential seating, and WHY we ask for pre- and post-teaching, most begin proactively thinking about what else they can do to support the student.

2. Everyone who will influence the success of the student needs to be at the training. It is critical that all staff who will interact with our students attend the training to hear the information from the TOD, AUD, or expert conducting the training. Asking teachers who attend the training, but are not experts in this field, to pass on the information is not fair to the student, the teacher who has just learned everything about the new student, or the teacher who missed the training.

 

General education teachers have shared with me that the following were things that they did not know and helped them to better serve the student with hearing loss:

  • Difference between hearing aids and cochlear implants: It is important for people outside of this field to understand that cochlear implants are not the same as hearing aids. Additionally, there are still teachers and administrators who believe that cochlear implants restore normal hearing or believe that the students are no longer deaf.
  • Understanding the audiogram: I explain the audiogram not from the technical perspective that clinical and educational audiologists understand it, but rather in order for teachers, coaches, and service providers to understand the speech spectrum and where the critical features of linguistic information occur. It is also very important for everyone to understand the unique loss and history of the student they will be serving. Many general education teachers and providers who have previously served students with hearing loss are under the impression that this means they understand what all students with hearing loss will need. Knowing the individual child’s loss, the technology they use, and their history helps everyone have a better school year.
  • Incidental hearing/Incidental learning: It is critical for everyone to have an understanding of how our students may have gaps in their knowledge of language and concepts that their typically hearing peers know and how that can lead to misunderstandings in both their academics and social interactions.
  • Hearing Assistive Technology (HATS): Hearing assistive technology is a term that encompasses the low incidence equipment in the IEP such as the personal FM/DM system, classroom sound field system, and pass-mic for access to peer input. After explaining what a student has in his/her IEP, it is very helpful to share the Hearing Loss in the Classroom video1.

 

Melinda Gillinger, M. A.
Special Education Consultant
www.melindagillinger.com

 

1. Hearing Loss in the Classroom video, J. Madel, Sept. 2010

 

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Surface Learning is Not Enough – the Need for Deeper Understanding

 

In most classrooms, new information is presented in a lecture format supplemented by reading material, until students build surface knowledge of the topic. Interaction activities such as classroom discussion, small group work, and partner problem-solving are used to solidify surface knowledge and to move students to a deeper level of understanding1. Therefore, how well students are able to converse in the classroom setting truly impacts their move toward deeper understanding and learning at the expected pace.

 

It is faulty to assume that:

(1) a student will ‘catch up’ once they enter school,
(2) just because a student has ‘okay’ language at school entry that he/she will be able to keep up with class expectations across the academic years, and
(3) non-DHH-specific specialized services provided with less intensity than needed for a student to close gaps and to keep up will be sufficient to counteract the access issues caused by hearing loss.

On the way to deeper understanding: For students with hearing loss, keeping pace in moving to a deeper level of understanding can be very challenging. Background, or world knowledge is necessary to build surface level understanding of a specific topic. Prior knowledge is an excellent predictor of performance. Our students tend to have ‘Swiss cheese language’ with unpredictable knowledge gaps in vocabulary and concepts. They also are often limited in the number of language attributes they use to describe objects or concepts, further contributing to their gaps and limited world knowledge. Imagine learning about the conquistadors if you lacked knowledge of geography, discoveries of early explorers, and that there are different countries and they may desire different things.

 

Filling the gaps. Due to prior knowledge deficits we can expect that surface learning will take longer for students with hearing loss than their typically hearing peers. Students who have a less complete understanding of surface level information are not going to benefit to the same degree, or at the same rate, during interactive peer activities that are meant to move them to deeper understanding. “Closing the language gaps” is not something that is a nice extra touch to provide to our students if there is a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing available – it is a necessary accommodation for equal access to learning.

Filling in the gaps in prior knowledge is necessary if a child is to be able to develop the surface learning needed prior to developing deeper understanding. Without this surface learning, a deeper understanding similar to that of class peers is not possible.

Added to typical knowledge deficits is the reality that reduced precision listening ability caused by hearing loss very often delays literacy skill development and slows reading fluency. Teaching vocabulary, when the student does not have sufficient phonological awareness skills, will not develop the reading fluency needed for comprehension, especially in the secondary grades.

 

Conversational inequalities. Research2 has indicated that during one-on-one conversations in a quiet setting, students with hearing loss have conversational skills equivalent to their hearing peers. This includes skills for initiating a conversation, maintaining a dialogue over several turns, shifting the topic, and terminating the conversation. In a typical mainstream classroom, there are many choices for communication partners along with background noise, reverberation, and listening at distances beyond 3 feet. These conditions all interfere with speech perception of students who are hard of hearing.

 

Students with hearing loss make 25% fewer overall communication attempts than their hearing peers. They also often seem unaware that their peers had tried to initiate conversation and do not attempt to maintain a conversation. When they attempt to maintain a conversation, they generally use one-to-two-word phrases to maintain communication and do not add new information.

 

A teacher repeating key information from class discussions cannot ‘level the playing field’ for our students.

Students with hearing loss frequently try to maintain the conversation by bringing up a topic that is unrelated to the conversation. In other words, they are not aware enough of the content of the conversation to contribute information, so they bring up a new topic. Thus, when classroom activities move to peer interaction as a way to facilitate deeper understanding it is often very challenging for students with hearing loss to participate successfully. As can be inferred by the research, in quiet settings performance in conversation equal peers. Therefore, it is the unequal acoustic access in the classroom that results in conversational challenges for students who are hard of hearing. This provides a powerful argument for the use of hearing assistance technology that will improve perception of peer voices in 1:1 or group settings.

 

Moving to a quieter area for discussion will not ensure full participation by the student with hearing loss. Including him or her in a group that sticks to the topic will heighten the value of the activity for the learner with hearing loss and improve the deepening of understanding.

Challenges repairing communication breakdowns. Another aspect of conversation relates to what a person does when they do not fully understand what another person has said. One study3 found that persons with hearing loss have difficulty when a shift in topic is made during conversation. The more predictable the conversation, the fewer the likelihood of communication breakdowns. If a student is sitting with a group of peers who maintain their focus on the problem-solving task, the level of understanding is likely much higher than if the student was in a group who wandered off topic repeatedly. The teacher needs to be aware of this issue when pairing our students with different partners or groups.

 

Keeping up in the classroom is a challenge for children with hearing loss due to access issues that interfere with understanding conversational communication and the gaps in knowledge resulting from decreased  auditory access since infancy (or sign communication with limited language models since infancy). Filling the gaps of vocabulary and phonological awareness is necessary for students to keep up with class expectations for developing surface learning. Access to classroom discussion and for all group activities is necessary for

deep learning to occur. Providing the appropriate access technology is a necessity if we are to allow deeper learning to occur within the classroom. Selecting appropriate group partners and honing communication repair skills is also critical to achieving at the same rate and to the same level as peers.

 

References:

  1. 1. Fisher, Frey, Hattie (2016) Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K12: Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. Corwin/SAGE, Thousand Oaks, California
  2. 2. Duncan (2001). Conversational skills of children with hearing loss and children with normal hearing in an integrated setting. The Volta Review, 101(4), 193211.
  3. 3. Caissie (2002). Conversational topic shifting and its effect on communication breakdowns for individuals with hearing loss. TheVolta Review, 102(2), 4556

 

Some products to check out related to this topic:

 

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