Creating the Least Restrictive Online Learning Environment

Creating the Least Restrictive Online Learning Environment for Students who are Deaf*/Hard of Hearing

The Impact of Learning with a Hearing Loss in the Online Classroom:
While speech delivered through a computer or tablet may be an adequate delivery method for a student with typical hearing, it creates a barrier for students who are deaf/hard of hearing. The listening effort required of students with a hearing loss is substantially greater than their peers and can result in fatigue, attention challenges and reduced retention abilities. The purpose of this article is to provide a resource of strategies to provide student access during online learning.

  Some challenges to students who are hard of hearing during online learning:
  • The way speech is acoustically transmitted through a computer is not optimal for students who hear through mechanical or electrical devices.
  • When hard of hearing students have to listen to computer presented speech, they lose visual cues as well as vocal intonation/inflection cues required for their understanding.
  • While the use of closed captions is beneficial, it requires the splitting of a student’s visual attention.
    Click here to read through the rest of the Late November 2020 Update
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Creating the Least Restrictive Online Learning Environment for Students who are Deaf*/Hard of Hearing

Creating the Least Restrictive Online Learning Environment for Students who are Deaf*/Hard of Hearing

The Impact of Learning with a Hearing Loss in the Online Classroom:

While speech delivered through a computer or tablet may be an adequate delivery method for a student with typical hearing, it creates a barrier for students who are deaf/hard of hearing. The listening effort required of students with a hearing loss is substantially greater than their peers and can result in fatigue, attention challenges and reduced retention abilities. The purpose of this article is to provide a resource of strategies to provide student access during online learning.

Some challenges to students who are hard of hearing during online learning:

  • The way speech is acoustically transmitted through a computer is not optimal for students who hear through mechanical or electrical devices.
  • When hard of hearing students have to listen to computer presented speech, they lose visual cues as well as vocal intonation/inflection cues required for their understanding.
  • While the use of closed captions is beneficial, it requires the splitting of a student’s visual attention.

These factors create gaps that the hard of hearing student needs to “fill in”, which in turn increases the required listening effort and cognitive load relative to their peers. Students who are hard of hearing, attending online classes will, without question:

  • Will have to work harder to listen and concentrate. Listening fatigue can contribute to self-doubt and stress
  • Have difficulty maintaining attention
  • Appear inattentive, distracted or frustrated at times
  • Experience difficulty following instructions
  • Hear little to none of their peers’ contributions

All of the above add to the deaf/hard of hearing student’s cognitive load.

There are, however, strategies for creating a least-restrictive online learning environment for students with a hearing loss.

* deaf – For the purposes of this article the word deaf refers to individuals who prefer to self-identify as ‘deaf’ but still use hearing technologies and spoken language to communicate.

Access to Teachers

Listening and learning virtually is just as challenging and fatiguing for students who are deaf/hard of hearing as listening and learning in the classroom through masks. The following recommendation will make it easier for your deaf/hard of hearing student to understand online lectures:

EXTERNAL MICROPHONES

One of the barriers to equal access online is the computer microphone.

  • Think of the sounds /p/ and /h/ that are just puffs of air
  • Or /s/, /f/, /t/ and /th/ that are so high pitched and soft that they just drop off before they get to the built-in microphone

Students with typical hearing may miss some sound but may still be able to ‘piece things together’. This is because they likely (unknowingly) overheard these words previously. Students with hearing loss on the other hand, do not have the same overhearing experience so their exposure, and thus ability to ‘fill in’ what they don’t hear, is essentially absent.

Unlike a built-in microphone, an external microphone is situated inches from the mouth, allowing the most important sounds for understanding speech (soft, high pitched sounds) to get to that microphone at full volume.

REDUCE BACKGROUND NOISE

Even the slightest background noise such as the low hum of a TV in the room or a fan can be enough noise to disrupt the signal of your voice and leave your deaf or hard of hearing student lost.

MAKE YOURSELF EASY TO SEE

Access to visual cues can improve understanding of spoken language for all students, but particularly for those who are deaf/hard of hearing.

Pinning the Teacher

Students can be taught to ‘pin’ their teacher on any given online learning platform so that they can see the teacher’s face

Google Meets- top image

Zoom – bottom image

Clear Image

A shadow over your face will make it difficult to read your lips.

  • Make sure to have light sources in front of you NOT behind you. Avoid sitting directly in front of a window.

Be aware of potentially distracting backgrounds. Most online platforms allow for the blurring of the background.

Internet Speed

A slow internet connection can result in a mismatch between the audio and video signal. This will cause confusion for students who benefit from watching your lips on screen.

  • Ask your students if your audio and video are in sync
  • Connect with your district IT support personnel if necessary

Teachers’ use of external microphones provides the least-restrictive online learning environment for students who are deaf/hard of hearing and is the most effective way to improve online accessibility for all online learners.

While technology is always being updated the following external microphones are currently popular with online teachers.

Bluetooth Headset/Microphone

USB Headset/Microphones

USB Microphone only (no headset)

CAPTIONING

While captioning is a complicated subject due to the variety of online delivery platforms and devices being used, many students rely on captions for complete access to spoken information. Note – benefit will vary from student to student depending on age and level of literacy. Please consult with your teacher for the deaf/hard of hearing.

In addition to remote lectures and instructions please consider captioning:

  • Multimedia Presentations (e.g. videos, movie clips)
  • Recorded lessons
  • Announcements

* Contact your Educational Audiologist for more information.

USE OF FM/DM SYSTEMS

Assuming the consistent use of properly functioning hearing aids and/or cochlear implants, plugging in a personal FM/DM system will provide the deaf/hard of hearing student with a better sound quality than listening through headphones. To achieve this your student will need:

  1. 1. Properly functioning hearing aids and/or cochlear implants
  2. 2. Access to a personal FM/DM system and receivers
  3. 3. An audio cord to connect the FM/DM transmitter to the computer, Chromebook, iPad, etc

See Listening to Electronic Devices with Hearing Technologies for specific and detailed information and instructions.

Access to Peers

Students with hearing loss typically experience difficulties understanding multiple talkers. This is true in both live and online communication environments. The following recommendation will make it easier for your deaf/hard of hearing student to follow the dialogue of multiple talkers online.

One Talker Rule

  • Enforce a one taker rule during discussions
  • Depending on the age of your students, establish control over muting participants or encourage students to mute themselves and only unmute when called upon to speak
  • Determine a procedure for student contributions (E.g. physical hand raise, typing ‘Q’ in the chat, app extensions, etc.)
  • Image – Google Meets – Nod extension

The Smaller the Group the Better

  • During breakouts, assign your deaf/hard of hearing student to partner work versus small groups
  • If small groups are necessary, try to keep the size to 3-4 students

Peer Contributions

Identifying who on screen is speaking can be tricky for a student with hearing loss. Your deaf/hard of hearing student will need time to fill in gaps and identify who is talking.

  • During discussions, ask students to identify themselves
  • Paraphrase or repeat or peer contributions
  • Visually represent student comments, questions, and answers on your screen for the whole class to see

Be aware that these challenges may result in further social isolation

Access to Materials

It is best for all materials to be made available to your student prior to the classroom lesson.

  • Share slide presentations, videos, recorded lesson, PDF docs, etc BEFORE the online lesson so that your deaf/hard of hearing student can preview the material and research words with which they may be unfamiliar
  • Provide student access to a list of upcoming keywords (e.g. list in Google Classroom)
  • Provide both print and electronic textbooks so that your student can use the glossary and preview upcoming material

Fatigue and Cognitive Load

Like their typically hearing classmates, students with hearing loss may experience what has been coined as “Zoom Fatigue”, an online learning fatigue which many of us have experienced firsthand. Unlike their typically hearing peers, students with hearing loss are not only learning by listening to computer quality sound (as opposed to live speaking) but doing so through a compromised auditory system and mechanical or electrical devices. As well, they may mishear but be unaware of their misunderstanding, adding another layer to their fatigue and cognitive load

What You Can Do To Help

  • If possible identify time to meet 1:1 with a student for support and/or provide online EA assistance
  • Check in frequently with student (privately) to ensure that they are following the lesson
  • Offer listening and learning breaks
  • Ensure that a Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Educational Audiologist are a part of your student’s learning team
  • Be patient and kind!

Image References

  1. 1. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/8/creating-emotional-engagement-in-online-learning
  2. 2. https://www.clipartkey.com/view/iiTRbh_english-clipart-english-course-learn-online-png/
  3. 3. https://www.howtogeek.com/673264/how-to-look-better-on-zoom-and-other-video-calling-apps/
  4. 4. https://tmieducation.com/tmi-virtual-learning-portal
  5. 5. https://www.redefy.org/stories/connecting-my-high-school-experience-in-a-pandemic

About the Author: Krista Yuskow, has 20+ years of experience as an educational audiologist working with teachers and students in Edmonton, Alberta. She has extensive expertise in using assistive technology to improve student access. Krista has authored the Tech Talk section of the Teacher Tools e-magazine for several years.

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The Power of the Read-Aloud

The Power of the Read-Aloud

  • The ability to read empowers success!
  • Readers come from readers – those children whose parents themselves read and made a habit of reading daily to their child/children, have a higher interest in reading.
  • Better reading ability leads to higher education which can be tied to longer life.
  • The inability to read costs – from high school drop-out rates, to colleges that have to offer remedial reading courses, to lower paying jobs, to having fewer people in the workforce.



Click here to read through the rest of the Early November 2020 Update

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The Power of the Read-Aloud

The Power of the Read-Aloud

  • The ability to read empowers success!
  • Readers come from readers – those children whose parents themselves read and made a habit of reading daily to their child/children, have a higher interest in reading.
  • Better reading ability leads to higher education which can be tied to longer life.
  • The inability to read costs – from high school drop-out rates, to colleges that have to offer remedial reading courses, to lower paying jobs, to having fewer people in the workforce.

The ability to read is empowerment; it is self-confidence; and above all, it is independence.  Children begin their appreciation for books and stories in the arms of their parents and caregivers. By the time children are school-aged, the love of hearing/seeing stories read in the home is transferred to the classroom. It makes our job of teaching so much easier.

But for students with hearing loss, listening to stories sometimes takes more time and effort—more effort to hear and see, to process, and finally to comprehend the information presented.  It is of equal importance that we expend the time and effort to make hearing, seeing, processing, and comprehending a bit less difficult. To accomplish this:

Do

  • Familiarize yourself with the book before you read it to the child/group.
  • Read aloud/sign the title, author’s name, and illustrator’s name every time you read no matter how many times you read the same book.
  • Tell the child/group something about the writer and illustrator.
  • Take note of the text elements and adjust the emotional register of your voice/signs/body language to accompany the feelings of the characters or the intensity of the plot.

Don’t

  • Make every page in the book a time to quiz the child/group.
  • Read too fast.
  • Feel like every book has to be tied to the curriculum.
  • Use reading as a punishment.

 

How can you critique and/or improve your read-aloud skill?

Check your reading rate of speech:  You will need a timer, a book of choice, and a computer with access to a speech to text feature such as Google documents. Open a blank document, enable the speech-to-text feature, start your timer for 1 minute, and start reading at your normal rate of speech.  When 1 minute is up, stop reading, and check the word count.  I did this recently, and found that I read at 160 wpm.  Adults talk at approximately 200 words per minute, but most children only process about 125 words per minute.  It took me a few tries to get my word count down to 125 words per minute.  The slowest I felt comfortable reading was around 140 words per minute. I now know, like most adults, I need to slow down my read-aloud rate.

Check your enunciation: The speech-to-text feature is also a great tool if you want to check whether you are enunciating words properly. In Texas, we have a tendency to runallourwordstogether.  Making a conscious effort to enunciate words properly, especially target words and phrases, is difficult but it can be done.

Check your body language or signing from the viewpoint of the child/group:  Video record yourself reading and/or signing a book.  It’s best if you can record yourself at the natural time you read to your students.  Check your posture, the gestures you use, the sentence structure and signs you use.  Turn the sound down and watch the recording. Does the story flow? Are the signs correct?  Does your body language match the tone of the story? See principles of reading to Deaf children in ASL.

Check your engagement level:  With proper permission, record yourself reading to your class or student so their reactions can be seen on the video.  Are they interested? Are they engaged?  Can they hear/see you? How many times are you stopping to quiz the audience?  What kinds of questions are the students posing?  How many times are you interrupted?  An alternative to recording yourself is to ask a trusted colleague to observe you and give positive and constructive feedback. Have a short list of behaviors for the observer to focus upon.

Telling stories is an art.  With practice it can be done well.  When you think about it, there is a story waiting to be told in every subject area. Reading aloud doesn’t have to be confined to English Language Arts class.  Stories of discovery and invention in science and math, stories of victory and loss in history and sports, stories of imagination and perspective in art, stories of overcoming the odds despite disability, race, gender, and society norms – the list is endless.

I like to close my student sessions with  a story just for fun, allowing the student to choose the book from three or four I’ve brought along.  Most of the time, it’s a positive end to our time and the books are remembered well when/if  they are read again. Whatever the age of the students you serve, I encourage you to read-aloud to them.

Sources:

  • Trelease, J. (2013). The read aloud handbook (7th). Penguin Books.
  • Cole, E.B. & Flexer, C. (2016). Children with hearing loss: developing listening and talking. Plural Publishing.
  • Hart, B. & Risely, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Brookes Publishing.



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