Helping Hearing-Impaired Students in Physical Education

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Expect Varying Levels of Communication

Children with a hearing impairment have varying needs in a physical education class depending upon their level of hearing loss and their preferred communication methods. Some children may have some hearing, which is supplemented by hearing aids, while others may have no functional hearing. Students may rely on signing (Makaton or American Sign Language or Auslan etc) or lip reading (also known as speech reading). Some may use a combination of both sign and speech reading.

Children with a hearing impairment may already be quite effective at meeting their own communication needs through following other students and observing the action in a class. This is useful in PE as it means you can employ this strategy as part of your own teaching approach. Simply inform your group that a child with a hearing impairment will be present and able to communicate. Show them what to do, and encourage them to work together as a group to make sure everyone in their group understands what is going on.

Tips for Teaching Hearing Impaired Kids Outdoors

Teaching outdoors in physical education means there are some other issues that need to be managed. Here are some tips to help in an outdoor setting with hearing impaired children:

Establish a ‘stop and look’ strategy which is based on a visual signal (combined with auditory for your hearing students). Practice this often so it becomes second nature for everyone to ‘stop and look’ when you give the signal. It could be a colored flag, a hand signal, a wave, or something else that works for your setting.

Teach your class using a predictable pattern of activities - warm up, drills, minor game, cool down, etc. This gets students into a routine knowing what happens and where each task usually occurs. Remember to warn them before you vary this routine!

Establish an emergency signal (visual and auditory) that groups students at a set safe place if there is a problem such as a major injury that needs to be dealt with.

Teach everyone in the class some key Makaton signs for the sport or activity you are doing each term. This encourages everyone to learn some communication strategies that can work for the whole group and which are highly relevant to what you are doing. For example, if you are teaching aquatics, focus on the signs for water, swim, front, back, towel, wet, stop, look, etc.

Never talk with your back to the group. Teachers often do this when they are turning around to pick up a piece of equipment, writing on a whiteboard or directing their attention toward a particular student in the group. Remember that as soon as you turn around, anyone who is speech reading will lose their communication with you completely. It is as if you have simply stopped speaking for the whole time your back is turned.

Lastly, remember that communication is ultimately your responsibility as teacher, so you need to learn about the particular needs of your students with a hearing impairment and ensure you are able to effectively meet them.