Teacher to teacher

Teaching children who are hearing-impaired

One of the best decisions I ever made was to teach hearing-impaired kids. When I took a sabbatical in 1999, I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship in deaf studies and was able to follow my dream to combine my love of language and special education and to breathe new life into a longstanding career.

I ended up as a classroom teacher of hearing-impaired youngsters in a school more beautiful than I could ever imagine with amazing children who have enriched my life immeasurably. But working with challenged students is not for everyone, and it can be particularly demanding for educators. Meeting the needs of hearing-impaired students certainly requires that educators be patient, flexible and resourceful.

If a student is having difficulty paying attention or following directions, lacks oral communication or has speech difficulties, then part of the evaluation should include a hearing test by an audiologist.

Of course, there are degrees of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound. “Hearing Impaired” covers the gamut.

Not all children with hearing impairments are in self-contained classes. Some teachers will have the opportunity to work with hearing-impaired youngsters in their general education, collaborative team teaching, special education and/or inclusion classes. Depending on the student’s Individualized Education Program, this may or may not include a sign-language interpreter and/or an itinerant Hearing Education Services provider.

No need to panic, however, if you are unfamiliar with this population. Here are some basic suggestions that may help you welcome a hearing-impaired child into your class:

Be sure that the student wears his or her amplification device and you are wearing your microphone. Whether the student is deaf or hard of hearing, chances are that he or she will have a frequency-modulated (FM) unit that will connect to a microphone that you will wear around your neck or clipped to your clothing. The audiologist or hearing education teacher will gladly explain how this works.

The apparatus will need to be charged daily to ensure that the batteries are working and that the student’s hearing aid or cochlear implant is working with the FM device. The FM device allows your voice to be heard directly by the student. Keep in mind that it is important to repeat what other students say so that the hearing-impaired student has access to all information in the class.

Keep in mind that few people are totally deaf. Most have some sort of residual hearing, and we want to utilize it fully.

Make sure your student has preferential seating with a direct view of your face and mouth. Contrary to popular belief, not all deaf people are great lip readers, but facial expressions are important. Don’t be afraid to be animated.

Don’t yell at your student. Speak in a normal tone. Remember the microphone you have on? It is amplifying your voice, and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s ears.

If your student has an interpreter, then give him or her a copy of the lesson in advance. That way the interpreter can prepare the vocabulary.

Remember that there is no need to talk to the interpreter. You don’t have to tell the interpreter to tell the student to open the book to page 45. Just speak to the student the same way you do with the other youngsters. The interpreter’s job is to relay information that is spoken by the teacher.

Don’t speak while writing on the board. The child needs to see your face, not your back.

Use lots of pictures and graphic organizers. These kids are visual learners.

Repetition is key, as is the use of hands-on activities. Hearing-impaired youngsters are concrete learners and often have difficulty with abstract concepts. We have to ease into such concepts.

Every lesson is a language lesson. Hearing-impaired kids often lack necessary language skills, so every word counts. Label objects in the classroom to help them learn nouns and spelling. Keep your classroom print-rich because it helps deaf kids build language skills and works well with hearing youngsters, too.

These suggestions can go far in helping hearing-impaired students, and the joy you will see reflected in their eyes when they “get” it is a feeling you will always remember.

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