Teaching Hearing Impaired Children
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, November/December 2008
By Ron Doorn
Hearing is what keeps us in touch with our world. It plays a significant role in expressing and receiving language. Hearing loss creates problems in how an individual expresses and receives language in turn causing social, communication, and educational problems (Hall, Oyer, & Haas, 2001). Educators therefore need to seriously consider the short and long term affects of how hearing loss impairs a person’s ability to understand spoken language when developing their programs.
Educational Adaptations and Strategies
Teachers need to make special considerations when teaching hearing-impaired children. Much of the consideration involves common sense that sharpens through close collaboration with the student, the student’s family, and the speech language pathologist (SLP). The student and student’s family can certainly offer the teacher support on a daily basis through constructive criticism of what is or isn’t working for the child in the classroom. The following are suggestions by Hall, Oyer, & Haas (2001) for teaching hearing-impaired children:
- Ensure the child has an optimal hearing and listening environment in the classroom;
- There should be minimal distance between the teacher and the child to facilitate lipreading
- Face the child during all oral communication;
- Ensure there is good lighting to reinforce clear sight of visual aids;
- Don’t exaggerate pronunciation as this will deter understanding;
- Use as much visual information as possible to reinforce auditory information provided;
- Keep environmental noise to a minimum to keep from interfering with listening devices; and
- Teachers should frequently check to see that the listening devices are working properly.
Teachers need to be sensitive to the social, academic, and emotional challenges a child with hearing loss has in any given day. Extra energy is required in interpreting information through lipreading that would otherwise be simply heard by children without a hearing loss. There are extra steps in processing audio information that a hard of hearing student needs to take in order to fully comprehend. The student with a hearing device will use more energy in having to concentrate on sound from a direct source like a teacher while blocking out environmental noise like the humming of lights or air conditioners. A student with hearing loss will therefore expend much more energy coping than a student without hearing loss.
Teachers need to be sensitive to the reality that there is usually more than one visual thing happening at one time like a teacher talking while expecting students to take notes of the lecture. Expecting a hearing impaired student to read lips and take notes at the same time is not realistic. The main notes could be provided to that student beforehand so that the student can focus on lip reading the lecture. Volunteer notetakers could be assigned to support hearing impaired students in the higher grades or university where notetaking is done on a daily basis. Many hard of hearing students will also be required to take more work home to prepare themselves for class material to be covered the next day.
Hall, Oyer, and Haas (2001) suggest that teachers support hard of hearing students by frequently checking to ensure the child understands information provided in class. They provided an alternative suggestion in assigning a hearing peer to assist the hearing impaired child to be an active participant in school activities for those times the teacher is preoccupied with other students. Another suggestion was for the teacher to “learn to read” the child’s facial expressions in order to have feedback about his/her understanding of material presented. This particular suggestion takes some time as the teacher gets to know the student better (p.147). In cases when the student doesn’t understand what was said, rephrasing with additional words relevant to what you want to say can provide cues to aid speech comprehension. “When rephrasing, use words central to the main idea of the communication. For example, if you are saying, “You can get your coat from your locker now,” and the student doesn’t understand, you could say, “Everyone is getting ready for the bus; you can get your coat from your locker now” (Kaveravek, 2002, p.16).
Schools haven’t extensively addressed environmental noise in the classroom despite research revealing classroom acoustics as a problem. “Too many classrooms have been found to be excessively noisy and not appropriate for the learning of a hearing-impaired child using amplification” (Ross, Brackett, & Maxon, 1991; Crandell, & Smaldino, 1996). Background noise proves to have the greatest effects on the hearing ability of children with mild hearing losses (Anderson, 1999). Therefore, teachers need to be acutely aware of their teaching environment and adapt accordingly if possible. Adaptations can start with basic things like ensuring heating and air conditioning systems, fans, and lights are all working properly to alleviate unnecessary vibrations or hums in the class (Kaderavek, 2002, p.16). Anything the teacher can use to absorb noise in the classroom becomes an asset for a hearing-impaired child.
Teachers need to maintain close communication with the SLP in order to receive guidance and consultation that can help in increasing the child’s success in the classroom. “The teacher should be fully informed about a hearing-impaired child’s performance standards and potential” in order to develop a program with realistic goals for the child to achieve (Hall, Oyer, & Haas, 2001, p. 147).
Hearing impaired students face many challenges in our audio saturated world. Educators need to be aware and sensitive to those challenges when developing school programs. Ignorance of these challenges only leads to frustration for the hearing impaired student that could lead to classroom management problems for the teacher. Environmental noise is one of those challenges that schools need to address more seriously because it interferes so much with support for hearing-impaired students. Teacher awareness comes from maintaining close communication with the student, the parents, the SLP, and community agencies. This communication is imperative in developing proper support services for the child.
Overall, there has been substantial progress in assistive technology and support services that offer hearing impaired people and organizations a much wider range of options to choose from when designing therapeutic goals to facilitate their lives.
Anderson, K. (1999). When it comes to classroom acoustics, what’s appropriate? Volta Voices, 6, 16-17.
Hall, B. J., Oyer, H. J., Haas, W. H. (2001). Speech Language and Hearing Disorders: A guide for the teacher (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Kaderavek, J. N., Pakulski, L. A. (2002). Minimal Hearing Loss is not Normal. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(6), 14-18.
Ross, M., Brackett, D., & Maxon, A. (1991). Assessment and management of mainstreamed hearing impaired children. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.