Challenges are present daily in schools, and students with specific learning disabilities experience many different challenges in addition to those a general learner faces. Deaf and hard of hearing students can find themselves in learning environments that are not conducive to their needs, therefore, creating a struggle in learning. This can become frustrating and overwhelming for students that are hard of hearing, giving them a feeling of defeat rather than a feeling of optimism.
Instructional Challenges Students Hard of Hearing Face
There is a multitude of instructional challenges that deaf students face in school. The actual acoustics in a room presents a challenge as students hearing devices may amplify sounds that can distract students. Students that are hard of hearing struggle with communication in school as delays in language and speech can often be present. It can be difficult for students to understand directions from teachers or to participate in class discussions.
Experiential shortages are another instructional challenge that students hard of hearing face. Students that can hear well are constantly absorbing new information and knowledge through everyday happenings such as conversation and daily noises. It is more difficult for students experiencing hearing difficulties to do so. Hard-of-hearing students also often lack the same problem-solving, language, and number concept skills as their peers.
How to Best Help Students Hard of Hearing in the Classroom
Find the Best Ways to Communicate
One such way is to make sure you face the class and students when speaking and giving directions. Many students that are hard of hearing rely on reading lips when trying to understand spoken words. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented another issue: masks make it extremely difficult for hearing impaired students to read lips. Some masks have a clear piece over the lips, and if your district allows those to be worn, that can be helpful for students that rely on lip-reading.
Another way to best communicate with students that are hard of hearing is to use nonverbal cues such as body language, hand signals, and facial expressions. You do not want to over-exaggerate these motions, but it can be helpful for students deciphering what you are saying.
Another way to help student learning for those hard of hearing is to provide written directions to complement the verbal ones, as well as provide handouts of any notes for the students so they can focus on listening versus listening while also copying notes. If providing copies of notes does not work for you, you can assign the student a “note buddy” that takes detailed notes and can help provide missed notes or instructions to the hard of hearing student.
Closed captioning is vital for students that are hard of hearing. This will help students better follow along with videos used in class. It is also an excellent idea to try to reduce background noise as much as possible. Keeping the classroom door closed, putting tennis balls on the legs of chairs, or placing a carpet down can reduce noises that can be distracting for students.
Seating arrangements can be crucial in contributing to the success of students that are hard of hearing. If you can arrange students in a large circle or a “U” shape, it will help students collaborate with others in the class. This can help the students to feel engaged and more included with their classmates.
When facilitating a discussion in class, pointing to students and calling them by name is important to direct the attention from speaker to speaker in an effective manner. This will help increase the ability for a hard-of-hearing student to engage in the discussion and not miss important pieces of information being shared.
Hearing Assistance Technology
Hearing aids, microphones, sound field systems, and voice-to-text translators can also be an efficient way to best help students that are hard of hearing in the classroom. Hearing aids can be hooked up to a microphone worn by the teacher to amplify the teacher’s voice or a sound system that would amplify the teacher’s voice across the entire room. In a noisy classroom environment or one where the student has extreme hearing difficulties, the voice-to-text can be the best option.
Sign Language/Nonverbal Cues
Another idea for younger grade levels is to have deaf and hard of hearing students show others some ways to communicate using sign language or nonverbal cues. This is a great way to have the students teach their class how to best communicate with them. This is a helpful life skill as many younger students will likely love learning another language and making the hard-of-hearing students feel more involved in conversations inside and outside of the classroom.
Challenges Outside of the Classroom Students Hard of Hearing Face
Communicating with other students can be a challenge when the teacher does not facilitate it. For example, when students are playing a game on the recess field and students struggle to communicate with the students that are hard of hearing.
There are social concerns for students that are hard of hearing as they might feel embarrassed of their disability at a young age. They may feel inadequate to their peers and struggle to keep up with conversations which can affect the student’s self-confidence levels. Self-esteem is imperative to develop at a young age to lay the groundwork for high self-worth and confidence in tasks throughout life.
How to Best Help Students Hard of Hearing Outside the Classroom
It is essential to show the students that you care about them and support them. Be present to have conversations, and make sure to keep parents informed about ways to best support their child at home. Teach other students in the class different strategies to communicate best. Often, best practices of communication are great for a classroom in general, not just to communicate with those that are hard of hearing.
Students who are hard of hearing can accomplish anything they put their mind to. The better we all understand how to support their needs academically, emotionally, and socially, the better the experience. Just as Mark Twain stated, “Kindness is language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Making your classroom environment a safe and welcoming one will cross over into all aspects of the lives of your students.