|A reader’s question: What strategies can Susan recommend for teaching literacy to students with hearing impairments who cannot recognise or hear phonic sounds?
“Phonics is one of the key skills in teaching children to read. As it depends on hearing the sounds in words, it can seem counterproductive to use it with deaf children. However, it is possible for many deaf children to access phonics teaching. Of course, the more access they have to sound the better so we need good acoustic conditions in the classroom and for the hearing technology they use to be working as effectively as possible.
“Many of the strategies in use for hearing children can be adapted for deaf children. All deaf children are different and teaching phonics requires an individual, differentiated approach. However, a particularly useful strategy to help deaf children discriminate between the different sounds is by using a visual cueing system (i.e. as a sound is spoken, a particular hand shape or movement accompanies the sound). It is important teachers feel confident in educating deaf children using phonics. NDCS strongly advocates teachers seeking as much advice and support from teachers of the deaf as possible.”
Teachers of the deaf will also be able to offer alternative strategies to learning literacy for those children who choose not to access sound.
A reader’s question: What kind of environment do I create in the classroom when the child is the only hearing impaired student? We have little knowledge of such, but the parents have been advised to expose her to normal situations, hence a classroom with hearing children. Please can Susan give me advice on the setting, positioning, volume and any other pertinent information?
“We would not teach a child to swim by throwing them into a swimming pool and hoping they would rise to the challenge and swim. Equally, we should never expect a deaf child to thrive in a ‘normal’ situation without making sure that there has been a proper assessment of their needs and all necessary reasonable adjustments are in place.
“Once these are in place, it might be that a deaf child can thrive in a mainstream setting with their hearing friends. However, some deaf children may need more specialist provision. We must always look at the needs of each individual deaf child.
“NDCS produces advice for schools on the type of reasonable adjustments that can be made to support deaf children in a mainstream setting – these are known as our ‘Supporting Achievement’ resources.
“The resource includes suggestions such as:
- Improving the listening environment by, for example, ensuring there are soft furnishings to prevent noise reverberating.
- Ensuring the child has access to the best possible hearing technology, if this is their preferred method of learning, and that this is being used properly.
- Seating the child where they can clearly lip-read the teacher and, ideally, their hearing friends.
- Ensuring that there is good deaf awareness in place across the school. This might include making sure that all staff know to speak clearly, at a normal pace and without anything obstructing their face.”
Please note: The ‘Supporting Achievement’ resources can be downloaded from: www.ndcs.org.uk/supportingachievement
A reader’s question: What advice is available for supporting a Year 10 English as an additional language (EAL) pupil who frequently removes hearing aids during lessons and what access arrangements would be suitable other than a live reader for language examinations? Please bear in mind that there are no teaching assistants at this independent senior school and access to LEA Specialist Teaching Services (STS) is also limited.
“It is important that you do not force your pupil to wear their hearing aids. This is only likely to make matters worse.
“The best approach is to understand why your pupil is unhappy wearing the hearing aids. Perhaps they are being removed because he or she is finding them uncomfortable or painful. This is an issue that can easily be rectified with the help of an audiologist who will check that the fitting of the aids is correct.
“If the pupil tells you they do not find the aids beneficial, perhaps an audiologist can adjust the settings or a teacher of the deaf could advise on alternative methods of learning. Be sure to share your observations with the parents if you are not in contact with the child’s audiologist.
“It may also be the case that the pupil has not come to terms with their deafness. Adolescence can be a difficult time for many deaf young people and, sadly, they may not always have a positive view of deafness, especially if they are the only deaf child in their class. If this is the case, they may benefit from emotional support or an opportunity to meet other deaf young people. NDCS offers a wide range of activities throughout the year in which we create a safe and deaf-friendly environment for deaf children and young people to try something new, improve their communication skills, meet deaf role models, and gain confidence in communicating with others – whether with speech, sign or a mixture of both.”
We also have a website for deaf young people aged between 12 and 18 called The Buzz which is full of games, events and discussion boards: www.ndcsbuzz.org.uk
“In terms of access arrangements, it is vital to ensure a deaf learner is not unfairly disadvantaged. Some deaf children have difficulties with language as a consequence of their deafness. This might make it harder for them to quickly understand what is being asked, or to show what they know in the subject being tested.
“Awarding organisations and universities have an obligation to make sure that access arrangements do not make exams easier for deaf students, so arrangements are limited. The following alternatives may be appropriate for deaf students, depending on their specific needs.
- Modified language papers: the language and sentence structure of exams can be changed so that deaf students find it easier to understand the question. The exam board or a teacher of the deaf will be able to provide further advice. Modified papers are not available in Scotland.
- British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation: students who use BSL can have the contents of a question paper signed to them in some exams. This is not permitted in English, Gaelic, Welsh or modern foreign language exams, either in the ‘speaking and listening’ or the written parts. However, BSL interpreters can interpret the instructions on some papers.
- Extra time: some deaf students need longer to process what they read and for this reason they are allowed up to 25% extra time. Sometimes deaf students will be allowed extra time in combination with one of the adjustments described above.”
“Finally, it is important to remember that all schools have to follow the Equality Act 2010 and make reasonable adjustments to support deaf children. Although your school is independent of the local authority, there is an argument that the school should buy in support from a teacher of the deaf to make sure that deaf students can achieve their potential. If, as a school, you are not confident of being able to meet a deaf student’s needs, it is vital that you discuss this with the child’s parents as a matter of urgency.”
A reader’s question: A student has been granted 25% extra exam time because she needs more time to process language. As far as I can establish this is true for class lessons which involve discussion. Does severe hearing loss impact on processing speed purely in verbal situations or also in written work?
“It is known that deaf children can sometimes experience challenges with working memory. This means that it can be harder for deaf children to retain something in the mind whilst working on something else. It is thought that these difficulties arise due to language delay in the early years.
“This is an area where more research is needed to determine exactly how deaf children are affected and how best to support them. As the deaf child’s auditory memory may not be as well developed as other children, the NDCS stresses that it is important to cover the following three essential elements:
- Build processing time into lessons, particularly if they contain new information or a ‘question and answer’ session.
- Include opportunities for repetition in lesson time.
- Avoid overloading lessons with too much information or too much talk.
A reader’s question: An AS level student with Pendred’s syndrome currently wears bilateral radio aids and also relies on the use of a microphone aid in class. He will be undergoing a cochlear implant next summer at the end of his A2 studies. I have not had any formal training in how to best support hearing impaired students and I have only worked with two or three students so my knowledge is limited.
We have had lots of difficulties with this student – a boy who is intellectually extremely bright but who appears unmotivated and unengaged. Finally, at the end of this year in his annual review meeting, I realised that we could be mistaking his lack of effort, motivation and very poor organisational skills for an overlapping learning need that we may have missed because potentially he could be a gifted and talented student.
So my question is this: with all other specific learning difficulties there can frequently be needs that overlap (i.e. comorbidity). What do stats/experience reveal for hearing impaired children with other learning difficulties?
“The government does not collect data on comorbidity, so it is hard to give definite answers.
“Some research has indicated that 40% of deaf children have additional needs, though it is clear that many of those needs may be very minor, such as someone who wears glasses. A survey by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) suggests that 20% of deaf children have an additional special educational need, of which the most common is a moderate learning difficulty.
“It may be that your student has an additional learning need. However, it may also be beneficial to check that he is fully able to access your teaching and is not suffering ‘listening fatigue’ from long periods of listening. If you have not done so already, you should seek feedback from the student himself. If he is unable to understand everything in the classroom, it would not be surprising that he is disengaged.
“I am surprised to learn that you have not had any formal training. Have you been in contact with the specialist education service for deaf children at your local authority? It may be that a teacher of the deaf can provide you with specialist advice and support (though this may depend on your local authority’s eligibility criteria for support).”
A reader’s question: My grandson has glue ear. He has been offered a hearing aid as the waiting list for grommets is 11 months (a whole school year). Would hearing aids really help?
“Glue ear is a common childhood condition where the middle ear becomes filled with fluid. With fluid blocking the middle ear, it becomes harder for sound to pass through to the inner ear. This can make quieter sounds difficult to hear.
“Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds and can be useful for some children with glue ear, especially those awaiting surgery for grommet insertion. There are different types of hearing aids that are suitable for children with the condition such as behind the ear hearing aids or bone conduction hearing aids.
“Good quality, digital hearing aids are available free of charge for all children on the NHS.”
Do you have any closing words for SEND practitioners?
“It is important to remember that deafness is not a learning disability. Providing the right support is in place, there is no reason why deaf students cannot do as well as their hearing peers. Having high expectations for the deaf children in your class is crucial.
“Education professionals should not be afraid to seek advice and support from specialists on how best to support the children. Contact your local authority specialist education service for support from a teacher of the deaf or contact the NDCS Freephone Helpline: 0808 800 8880.
“We have had a challenging few years and there are many more to come. By working together, we can all help to ensure that every deaf child achieves their full potential.”