Learning at school can pose a number of different challenges for any student, but for a child with hearing loss, that number can be even greater. Luckily, there are many ways teachers and administrators can accommodate a child’s needs outside of an established IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in order to help him or her overcome any difficulties and reach his or her full potential. This list includes some ideas, but it is in no way exhaustive! It’s a good idea to discuss these options, as well as brainstorm your own, during parent-teacher conferences or other school meetings so that everyone involved in the child’s education is on board.
1. Find ways to communicate more effectively with the child
Don’t talk while you’re turned away from the student, such as when you’re walking around the room or writing on the board. The student will understand much more of what you say if he or she can see your face while you’re talking.
Use facial expressions and body language to highlight your points when appropriate. Don’t exaggerate or overdo it, but nonverbal cues like these will help with the student’s comprehension.
Give the student a handout of any notes so that he or she doesn’t have to concentrate on writing while trying to listen. Alternatively, assign the student a buddy who will take good notes and listen carefully; this way, the student can get any notes he or she missed or have any instructions repeated.
Make sure any videos or movies played in class have captions.
Develop a secret signal with the student to indicate when he or she is having trouble hearing. This could be a “thumbs down” signal or anything else that’s discreet yet effective.
2. Reduce background noise as much as possible
Close the classroom door whenever feasible so that noises from the hallway are diminished. This modification will likely help all the children in the class.
Put tennis balls on the legs of chairs, tables, and desks. This way, it won’t be as noisy when students are moving around or transitioning between sitting and standing.
If the classroom has tile floors, try to find a carpet to put down. This helps the room’s acoustics and will absorb many incidental sounds that would otherwise be distracting.
3. Help the student engage with the rest of the class
If possible, arrange the desks or tables in a large circle so that the student can see and respond to others in the class. This will help the student to feel engaged and included, even if he or she can’t always hear what’s been said.
Point to students and say their names as you call on them. This will help direct the child’s attention effectively from speaker to speaker and decrease the likelihood of him or her missing something that was said.
If the student is in a lower grade level and uses sign language, have the student teach the class one word in sign language per day. It’s a good idea to show children early on that hearing difficulties are not insurmountable and that efficient communication is possible.
4. Consider hearing assistance technology
If the child has a hearing aid, there are many different ways to use it in a classroom setting. Most involve a microphone worn by the teacher that emits a signal directly to the hearing aid, amplifying the teacher’s voice.
Sound field systems also require the teacher to wear a microphone, but the sound is amplified across the entire classroom through speakers placed strategically. This technology can actually benefit all students in the class, as it increases the speech-to-noise decibel ratio (a measurement of how much louder the teacher’s voice is than other background sounds). Without amplification, this ratio in classrooms is often much, much lower than it should be, meaning either the teacher’s voice is too quiet or the background sounds are too loud (or both).
Some systems can translate voice into readable text on a device such as a tablet computer. This could be a good option, especially if the student has profound hearing difficulties or if the rest of the class just tends to be a noisy bunch; in this situation, the other options may not be as effective.
These modifications to a classroom setting or teaching style can move mountains when it comes to helping a child with hearing loss excel.