With back-to-school just around the corner, it's important to talk about an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in children under 18—hearing loss. Three of every 1,000 children are born with some form of hearing loss, and 15% of children develop hearing loss later in childhood. It's crucial to be mindful of this, as unaddressed hearing loss can lead to challenges in the classroom, especially when it comes to verbal communication.
Children with hearing loss often require certain accommodations to help them reach their full potential in the classroom. Many will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which is a legally binding plan that notes what accommodations the student must have, and benchmarks they should be reaching. Beyond the IEP, there are other things teachers and parents can do to provide the best environment possible. Below are some helpful tips for teachers that can foster an awesome classroom experience for students with hearing loss. Take a look!
Understand your Student's Hearing Loss
The ways in which our ears and brain works to hear is a complex system, and people with hearing loss often require more than just amplified sound. The more you educate yourself on hearing loss, the better equipped you will be to understand how your student hears best and what they need. Remember, each student is different and their hearing loss will be too. While you probably won't be able to get a full understanding of your specific student's hearing loss, it is definitely worth learning more about.
If your student wears hearing aids or cochlear implants, be sure to learn more about those too. You may find new ways to use this technology to your student's advantage in the classroom.
Try to Set Up Your Classroom in Different Ways
Breaking away from the traditional classroom set-up can change the way your student with hearing loss is able to access you and other peers.
If the desks are able to be rearranged, making circles or semi-circles is often helpful, as those students with hearing loss will be able to see every peer. Some hearing impaired students read lips, so having the best visibility helps them tremendously.
Many students require preferential seating, which means their seat is placed in a location that will help them hear or learn most effectively. For example, if your student has a cochlear implant in his left ear, he will likely prefer to sit at a desk where his implant is facing the majority of the classroom.
It's usually helpful for the student to take a seat in the front (or one of the first few rows) so they can turn around and see the students speaking, rather than having the student's backs toward them. You can also ask students to stand up if they are about to say something, which will clearly indicate where the speaker is, making it less difficult for the hearing impaired student to find the person speaking.
Become Familiar with Different Kinds of Accommodations
Knowing how to best execute your student's accommodations is key. There are many different accommodations students with hearing loss may require, but here are some common ones:
FM System: An FM system is a personal listening device, which often includes a microphone worn around your neck. This microphone connects to the hearing impaired student's cochlear implant or hearing aid. It allows them to hear your voice louder and clearer. Because most FM systems are worn around-the-neck or clip on the front of the shirt, be sure to leave any dangling, loose jewelry at home, as wearing it will hit up against the microphone. Also refrain from chewing gum or eating while wearing the FM system. Your student will be able to hear every sound close to the mic, and it can become distracting.
CART Reporters: CART reporters are people who are either present in the classroom or work remotely via Skype. They use a stenographer's keyboard to type out everything that is said in the classroom, and the report is displayed on the student's laptop in real-time. This allows them to better follow along with classroom conversations and improve their participation. Most CART reporters are remote, so they can't see you or the students. Repeating or summarizing what other students say will help if the CART reporter misses some of the conversation. It's also helpful to make sure only one student is talking at a time or the conversation isn't moving too quickly to follow.
Interpreters: Interpreters are used for those who know American Sign Language and need someone to sign and for them. The interpreter will be in your classroom signing what's being said and relaying it to the student. While you teach like you normally would, the student will follow the interpreter. While some students may need the interpreter to translate their words for them, some only need the interpreter to translate the words of others. It's important to make sure your student and the interpreter have an unobstructed view of each other.
Be Aware of Certain Habits or Other Factors in the Environment
Many people who have never experienced hearing loss don't recognize environmental factors or habits that can cause people with hearing loss to miss important sounds. It is especially important to be mindful of this in the classroom.
For example, students with hearing loss sometimes read lips. If you are facing away from them, they're likely to miss information. This means when you are doing things like writing on a board, refrain from talking until you turn back around to face the students. Both excess sunlight and darkness can make it hard to see who in the room is speaking. Sunlight may block the hearing impaired student's view of other's mouths, while darkness can make it hard for them to see who is speaking.
Even things like gum, mints, or throat lozenges, can make it more difficult to read lips and understand. You may not realize it, but having something in your mouth while talking alters how you form your words. Again, this can be disruptive if the student is using an FM system.
It's also important be aware of noises in the classroom that affect the student's ability to hear everything. If there is a fan, doorway, or other noise source, the student should sit away from it, and check in with them to make sure it's not too distracting.
Make Everything as Accessible as Possible
Visual aids are often very helpful for those with hearing loss because it gives them more context in case they miss certain sounds. Think of creative ways to incorporate those into your curriculum. Creating diagrams as supplemental handouts engages other parts of the brain and helps memory.
Videos are helpful, but if you decide to play a movie or short clip, be sure to find one with closed captioning. If a video isn't closed captioned, tell your student beforehand and figure out a way to help, such as showing them the video before class, having their CART reporter caption it live, or find a transcript online. It's also recommended not to test students on information presented in films unless there are corresponding notes or a transcript.
It can be difficult for students with hearing loss to follow along with the class and take notes simultaneously, especially if they are looking up to read lips or see their interpreter. If you write notes that you reference while teaching, providing those for the hard of hearing student can increase their ability to focus in class instead of struggling to keep up. When possible, print out hard copies of documents. If the documents are digital—like a website—make sure they are shared and easy to access.
Sometimes having a peer note-taker is effective because the peer can record things the student with hearing loss may be missing. There are carbon copy paper pads you can use for note-taking that are very reasonably priced. This makes it so no one has to make copies after class or forgets to do so. With carbon copy, the student gets the second copy immediately after class ends.
It's important to check in with the hearing impaired student frequently to see if the notes are effective and beneficial. You can have the note-taker send you the electronic copy of the notes, or give you the carbon copy of the paper to review before handing it off to the hard of hearing student. This is a great way to see if the note-taking process is going well in the beginning and help assess any issues proactively.
Talk to Your Student about their Hearing Loss
The best thing you can do if you have a student with hearing loss is ask them what helps them learn. After all, they know better than anyone else! Asking them questions about what works best and checking in with them frequently will help you both feel confident and at ease in the classroom.
It's important to keep in mind that each student may feel differently about discussing their hearing loss and accommodations in front of the class. Some students may be open to telling their classmates about how they hear, others may want to be more discreet. It's typically a good rule of thumb to keep conversations about hearing loss or accommodations private, but be sure to talk to your student about it.
There are subtle things you can do to help your students with hearing loss hear better without calling them out or disrupting the flow of the class. For example, if you notice another student is not speaking clearly, summarize what they said once they are done speaking. Or if you make supplemental handouts for your students with hearing loss, try making them for the whole class. Small things like that can help your student feel more comfortable.
If your student is eager to tell their classmates about their hearing loss, help them do so. This can actually be very helpful in the long run, and can make interactions in the classroom more effective. It's also a great opportunity to educate all of your students. Here are some hearing loss educational resources to get you started.
Lastly, remember that your student with hearing loss is there to learn and socialize just like the other kids in your class. While they may hear and communicate a little differently, there's a lot you can learn from them!