A Teacher's Guide to Hearing Disabilities and Learning
written by: Stephanie Torreno
• edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
• updated: 10/29/2013
Students with hearing impairments often experience educational gaps because their disability is invisible and includes communication difficulties. Some pretend to understand concepts without fully learning them. Use this guide to teach students with hearing impairments and improve learning outcomes.
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Hearing Loss and Its Effect on Education
Hearing loss varies in children and can be classified according to the part of the ear that malfunctioned, according to when it occurred, or according to what caused it. Conducive hearing loss results from damage to the middle or outer ear and is often caused by chronic ear infections in young children. This type of hearing loss is temporary and can be corrected with surgery or other medical treatment. A more serious type, sensory neural hearing loss, is caused by damage to the cochlea or the hearing nerve. Prelingual deafness occurs before children develop language skills, while postlingual deafness occurs after language development. Hearing loss can also be caused by environmental factors (acquired), or caused by genetics (heredity).
Most children with hearing disabilities require educational accommodations to achieve academic success. Students with unilateral hearing loss, for example, should sit where they can hear instruction with the better ear. Classroom acoustics, in fact, play a major role in how well any student hears the teacher.
Students With Hearing Disabilities in the General Classroom
As more and more children with various degrees of hearing loss learn in classrooms with typical students, parents and teachers should have knowledge of inclusive practices. In addition to specific academic accommodations, inclusion works best when educators, parents, and students work together to communicate effectively. Teachers and peers should learn basic sign language (if the student signs) to promote acceptance of the student.
The auditory-oral approach to educating deaf students is based on the belief that they can better function in the future with people who hear by having more effective spoken language and communication skills. This approach concentrates on using spoken language to teach students with hearing loss in the general education classroom. Parent involvement, teacher support, and auditory devices are all essential in the auditory-oral approach.
General classroom teachers, special educators, parents, and students themselves should identify and implement specific accommodations together. These accommodations may include having the student work with a peer in the classroom, providing the student with lecture notes and other written information before class, and sending written announcements of important events home. Visual materials, such as pictures, charts, and graphs, should be used to allow students to see what they are learning.
Children with hearing loss use different communication methods to send and receive verbal messages. Speech reading involves watching lip movement and observing facial expressions and bodily gestures to interpret what is being said. American Sign Language (ASL) is used by all types of students, and it is often taught by both groups. Learning ASL can benefit those who are hearing impaired as well as students who can hear because speaking and signing instruction better addresses the learning styles of visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners. Plus, ASL is fun to learn and adds an interesting element to the classroom.
The Internet is very useful in learning and improving sign language skills. Various sites target students at different grade levels and offer games that make learning ASL fun. Other sites can be accessed through mobile devices and provide an extensive ASL reference.
Specific activities can help children with hearing loss grow academically and socially. Students who pretend play, share classroom responsibilities, or sign words during story time develop communication skills and confidence. Games involving social skills and activities that encourage students to sign in public teach children that their hearing disability does not define them.
Assistive technology also allows students to see beyond their disability and accomplish what they thought was impossible. Participating in an online community for the deaf and connecting with a mentor can introduce students to new possibilities for the future, too.
Hearing impairments requires parents, classroom teachers, special educators, inclusion specialists, and students themselves working together for the common goal of learning. Teaching strategies, academic accommodations and assistive devices can aid in reaching student goals in school and in future opportunities.