Are you a teacher? Do you have difficulty hearing your students in the classroom? It may still be summer but it’s never too late to think about preparing for your teaching in the fall. Here are some strategies for managing your communication with your students.
Planning for a “good communication” school year
Teaching requires the individual teacher to respond and adapt to many different students and their learning styles, different personalities, abilities, and behaviours, some of which are obvious and others that are subtle but still need attention. Teachers who have hearing loss need to manage all of this on top of navigating their own communication challenges and barriers. This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully it will start a dialogue to add and expand on the list and build up a useful classroom resource.
Full disclosure right out of the gate
At the beginning of the school year, having an open discussion about your hearing loss and communication needs can help the students understand and participate in better communication overall. This is a great way to demonstrate being an advocate for yourself, something most people will have to do at some point in their lives. Some things you could consider talking about are:
- Type of hearing loss that you have
- If you wear hearing aids or use an assistive listening system and how they work
- Effective communication strategies to help you hear the students
This is an opportunity for your students to learn fantastic life-long communication skills like making eye contact with a conversational partner and speaking clearly. Some additional strategies are:
- speak a little bit slower
- speak a little bit louder
- if someone says ‘pardon me’:
- use different words/rephrase rather than repeating yourself
- spell the word
- break down what you are saying into shorter sentences (keep it simple)
Make a list that can be posted in the classroom for everyone to see. Everyone should participate in the communication rules for the class so it becomes a social contract. This is also a great opportunity to ask students if they have communication needs or preferences which can also be added to the list.
Hey you!…(is not okay)
This is also a good time to outline how to communicate respectfully with each other. Yelling or grabbing at someone is not an appropriate way to get someone’s attention, so talk about how you would like students to get your attention if they need you and vice versa.
1, 2, 3 Eyes on me….
Noisy classrooms make for challenging listening environments. For everyone.
- Soft surfaces such as carpet or installing acoustic tiles on the walls can absorb some of the noise.
- Tennis balls or felt socks for chair legs cut down on chairs scraping along the floor.
- A parabolic mirror can help you keep an eye on the class even when doing small group or one-to-one instruction so you can get a handle on things before they get out of control.
- A noise level meter can be a visual cue to students when things are getting out of hand. A stop light type visual system such as Quiet LightTM is an option but there are also free apps like the Too Loud – Noise Meter or Too Noisy app.
- Older students may respond better to a class reward that is earned over time. Each day the class is quiet or achieves being quiet when asked, they receive a token and once there are enough tokens there is a prize (such as a class popcorn party).
- Soft talkers up front. Try organizing the class so students who are more difficult to hear are closer to you.
While hearing aids are helpful, they don’t help as much in large groups and when people are at a bit of a distance. You can’t always be close to every student. This is where assistive systems can help.
- Some hearing aids have remote microphones that work specifically with their hearing aids. Place the mic in the middle of the class during class discussion or use like a ‘talking stick.’
- The Phonak RogerTM ON is a wireless microphone that works with receiving units. The receiver units are connected directly to behind-the-ear and some receiver-in-the-ear style hearing aids or in some cases may plug into a BluetoothTM accessory (e.g., Phonak ComPilotTM, Unitron uDirectTM) or some other remote mics (e.g., ReSound multimicTM, Oticon EdumicTM). The receiver units can be activated in some Phonak ParadiseTM and MarvelTM hearing aids as well as some Unitron Discover hearing aids ‘invisibly’, so you don’t have an additional attachment on your hearing aids.
- The Roger ONTM has adaptive microphones to ‘beam in’ on the speaker and can move as conversational speakers change (assuming people are being respectful and not speaking over one another). It has noise reduction built in to help pick up the speaker’s voice over the other noise.
- Hold mic and ‘point and shoot’ towards the speaker
- Place mic centrally. Direction of ‘beam’ can be left on automatic, or you can control the direction by an app on your phone.
- Try hanging the mic from the ceiling pointing down on the ‘wide beam’ mode to pick up the conversation.
- Phonak RogerTM Touchscreen and pass around mics. The Roger Touchscreen is a digital remote microphone with adaptive mics like the Roger ON. This microphone also requires special receiving units that are attached to the behind-the-ear and some receiver-in-the-canal style hearing aids. It can also work with pass around mics. The pass around mics can be placed around the class. Students can either walk up to the mic to talk or pass the mic between speakers in group discussions. The pass around mics can be set to voice-activated so they don’t have to be turned off and on.
- The Phonak RogerTM Touchscreen can also be used with a soundfield system where a speaker is placed in the classroom. This reduces the need for the teacher or student to have to talk over the classroom noise, and improves the signal to noise ratio reducing everyone’s listening effort.
- Teacher’s move around the classroom and you may need your hands free to assist a student. Get crafty and make a band to attach your mic on your forearm/wrist.
- CatchboxTM is a soft box that can have a remote microphone inside of it. The microphone wirelessly transmits to a speaker. The box is tossed between students during group discussion. It is a bit muted due to the soft cover, but it works quite nicely. This might be a workable solution in larger environments like the gymnasium where students are further away from the teacher and each other.