How to Best Help Students Hard of Hearing

Lori McDonald
Lori McDonald
Elementary school teacher; Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration
A close-up shot of a young boy wearing a hearing aid while reading a book in a classroom.

Children with hearing loss can be affected at many different levels of significance. Some children may only experience a mild hearing loss while others may experience extreme hearing loss or even deafness. Some children are born with hearing loss and have had several years to adapt to the challenges. Children can also lose their hearing as a result of an injury, severe infection, or accident. Teachers must be aware of the range of severity in hearing loss and know how to help the deaf and hard of hearing students in their classroom.

We as teachers must be able to recognize the signs of hearing loss in children, as there may be students in your class that have not been diagnosed with hearing loss.

Possible signs of hearing loss include:

  1. May have difficulties in learning
  2. May not pay attention or follow directions
  3. May have a significant speech issue
  4. Often ask for parts of the conversation to be repeated
  5. May not be able to hear sounds like the school bell or morning announcements

Instructional Challenges Students Hard of Hearing Face

Students hard of hearing can face many challenges in the classroom. One of the most significant challenges is hindered visual cues. Children with hearing loss will rely more heavily on visuals than others. Therefore, the classroom must be free of anything that will make it difficult for students hard of hearing to see the teacher or the front of the classroom.

Hard of hearing students can also struggle with phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in primary grades.  Hearing loss can cause other academic problems for the student. Another significant challenge that students with hearing loss face is not fitting in. These challenges can make a classroom feel very unwelcoming or even frightening.

How to Best Help these Students in the Classroom

Seating

Students hard of hearing are often given preferential seating. This is an accommodation that we see often, but it means different things for different students. For students with hearing loss, it means sitting close to the most commonly used area for visuals. An ideal seating arrangement for this is a circle or horseshoe shape seating arrangement. Students also need to see the teacher and the board, or wherever the central visual area is for the classroom.

Face Students While Teaching

Some students can read lips. Therefore, you must face students when you are speaking to them. Try to eliminate the habit of speaking while doing other things, like passing out papers. Speak slowly and clearly to help the students with hearing loss understand what is being said.  This can help the other students as well. Shouting or speaking very loudly does not help with lip reading. This can distort your mouth and face in such a way that would make lip reading nearly impossible.

Visuals

Using lots of pictures, graphs, and labels benefit students’ hard of hearing. Choose visuals that are easily recognizable and use a variety of types of visuals. Many deaf students or students hard of hearing are visual learners. However, there will undoubtedly be other students in the classroom who are also visual learners who can benefit from the expanded use of visuals.

Technology

There is a great deal of assistive technology available for students with hearing loss. Voice recognition on computers and video captioning are a couple of the more common types available for classroom use. Teachers can always consult with experts to find out the latest technology for students with hearing loss.

Plans for Missed Instruction

Be proactive and develop a strategy beforehand with the student and parents about how the student will make up for times out of the classroom. Students hard of hearing may have more doctor’s appointments to attend, which will make a plan very helpful. For example, teachers can make a copy of notes from the classes missed. They can also spend some extra time throughout the day helping the student with what they missed to assist in student learning.

Minimize Background Noise

Using effective classroom management and procedures to minimize noise will be extremely helpful to students hard of hearing. Also, allow students with hearing loss to have a quiet space somewhere to work as needed.

Celebrate Differences

Most notably, celebrate the differences in abilities in your classroom. By creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their strengths and weaknesses, they quickly learn that everyone has something to offer. It creates a community of learners who are willing to help each other and contribute to the class’s success as a whole.

Challenges Outside of the Classroom Students Hard of Hearing Face

Outside the classroom, students will face many of the same challenges. However, there will be some challenges that become more pronounced in social situations. Limited social skills can be a challenge for students outside of the classroom. Also, dealing with emotions and a feeling of isolation can be especially difficult for some students.

In extracurricular activities, participants may not be aware and, therefore, may not be as understanding and supportive of the hearing loss, which can further contribute to the child’s feelings of isolation and rejection. Because of these issues, a lack of self-confidence can also be a real challenge for children hard of hearing.

How to Best Help these Students Outside of the Classroom

While a teacher’s involvement outside the classroom may be limited, there are some ways that teachers can better support their students in preparing for situations outside of the classroom.  These ideas can also be shared with parents and others involved in the child’s life regularly.

Here are just a few ideas for helping students deal with the challenges they experience outside the classroom.

Practice Social Interactions

Because social language development can be delayed for children with hearing loss, they can lack the social skills needed to interact with peers appropriately. The best way to prepare children for these interactions is to give them situations they can practice. This can be done at school or home.

Deaf/Hearing Loss Awareness

Another way to help these students outside the classroom is to promote deaf and hearing loss awareness in the extracurricular activities the child will be participating in. Speaking to a coach, for example, and the other children involved can make a big difference as far as understanding and learning how to most effectively interact with the student hard of hearing.

Encouragement

Perhaps the most important thing is to give the child all the encouragement and support you can while they are in your classroom!

Who is Qualified to Help these Students?

While audiologists, hearing aid specialists, and ENTs are specially and highly qualified to treat students with hearing loss, teachers and parents are necessary in the support systems for these students. Teachers and parents are on the front lines of working with students with hearing loss. Therefore, it is critically important that teachers and parents do their part to do the research to provide the best kind of environment and support that they possibly can.

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