Vol. 10, Issue 2, December 2009

Solutions for NYS TESOL professionals

TESOL professionals ask and answer questions about problems related to work.

Sharon Lawrence
From: Sharon Lawrence

Problem: One of our new students is not only an English Language Learner, but she is also hearing impaired.  I have not yet met her, but I've been told that she reads lips (in Chinese) and that she can hear between 60-70%.  Does anyone have any suggestions as to where we might begin with her? What have your experiences been with ELLs who have hearing loss? I understand that she has learned some English and can read at a beginning to high beginning level.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions that you may offer.


Victoria Pilotti
TESOLution from: Victoria Pilotti

Dear Sharon,
When working with students with hearing impairments, be sure to stand where they can see your face when you speak. This student will need to see classmates when they speak, as well.

Your student may be entitled to

  1. a hearing enhancement device with headphones for the student and a microphone for you to attach to your clothing; and/or
  2. a paraprofessional who will transmit your lessons by laptop for transcription to be sent to the student by email.

This link to a pdf about the Assistive Technology Evaluation Process in the NYC public schools might be helpful even if it is not your school district.

This link might be of help in learning more about the educational implications of hearing impairment.

Be sure to write what you say whenever possible and use pantomime, gestures, drawing, visuals, realia, etc. It is also helpful to model touching your throat when making vibrating sounds such as z, and v so that students can "feel" the different sounds when they speak. You will do just fine with your knowledge and implementation of TESOL strategies in helping an English language learner with a hearing impairment. After all, aren't we all a little deaf when learning a new language?

More from Victoria Pilotti:
Dear Sharon,
After I sent you my response, I asked a hearing impaired specialist, Vicki Nieter, Ed.D., your question and here is Dr. Nieter's response.

TESOLution from Vicki Nieter:
The student should be listed as having a hearing impairment and receive an IEP - a 60 to 70 degree loss is moderate to severe. The student is entitled to the services of an itinerant teacher of the hearing impaired to work specifically on her auditory receptive skills, her ability to discriminate voice in isolation, in structured speech and in continuous discourse.  She should be wearing hearing aids and have a group FM system in school.  A speech therapist cannot fulfill the needs of a deaf student's special requirements. She is entitled to services of a licensed teacher of the deaf.  She is also entitled to extended time for all testing.

As far as her bilingualism is concerned, the classroom teacher should use a microphone of an FM system. She can pass the mic around during class discussions for other students to use. Facing the deaf student is also important.  When another student answers a question, the teacher should first call on the students answering the question by name, so that the deaf student can locate who is answering the question and then the teacher should repeat the answer in her response to the class so the deaf student will hear it clearly.

A set of written notes is important for the deaf student.  It is impossible for a deaf student to listen, read lips, read the board AND write her own notes at the same time.  Every time a deaf student looks down to write a sentence, she misses the next two sentences and concepts taught by the teacher. With a note taker, the student can maintain eye contact and use her residual hearing to follow the lessons.

When showing DVDs or videos, they must be closed captioned.  After 1993 all manufacturers were required to make TVs with closed caption access.  If a school has older videos they need to be replaced.

An itinerant teacher of the deaf will work with a classroom teacher to instruct her on how to use an FM unit correctly and keep it charged and functioning.  It should accompany the student to all classes, including music, art, physical education, etc.  The teacher or one person in the school must be trained to monitor the hearing aids as well. (Sometimes it is the school nurse or a speech teacher.) The student must have extra batteries for her hearing aids with her at all times. A teacher should not assume that the hearing aids are on and functioning.  The teacher needs to ask the student if she has her hearing aids on and if she can hear.  There is a simple, quick five-second sound test that will help discern this.  Also, when the FM unit is on, it needs to be checked to assure that it is on and functioning. Often, after lunch, for example, a deaf student will turn off the aids due to the intense noise, and needs to be reminded to turn them back on.

If the student is normally bright, use techniques such as task cards with words and pictures to increase vocabulary and she will catch up quickly.

It is important to discuss with the parents what language they will be speaking at home and whether or not English will be used. Even though it may be unnatural, it is important for the deaf child to have the ability to listen and learn the language of the country in which they are living.  If the parents don't speak the language, other siblings may be able to help.  It is actually useful for the parents to allow a certain amount of television. Perhaps the teacher and parents can come to agreements on some good English programs for the student to watch. History Channel, Discovery, etc.

One last little known fact:  A deaf student works several times harder than her hearing counterpart just to keep up with the class.  By the afternoon, closer to the end of the day, many deaf students have eye-strain, headaches, even migraines. It is more advantageous for major subjects to be taught earlier in the day and easier for a deaf student to work in a smaller group or one on one as the day progresses.  Reading lips, listening, learning and translating in order to keep up with hearing peers wears on a student as the day wears on. If teachers are aware of this, even if they don't have control over scheduling, they can at least take the disability into account and be patient if the student becomes stresses or frustrated.

All of this is assuming the deaf child is oral and auditory, not a signer. There are different interventions and accommodations for signing bilinguals.

Sharon Lawrence is the Assistant Head of School for Academics at the Knox School in St. James, NY.  Apart from her administrative role, she currently teaches two sections of French and helps place English Language Learners in Knox’s English as a Second Language program. She has taught French, Spanish, German and ESOL in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Victoria Pilotti is currently teaching ESL and sophomore English at Jamaica High School. Victoria is a former NYC Region 3 mentor, Office of Adult and Continuing Education ESL teacher, and St. John's University TESOL adjunct. She has presented numerous workshops on best practices for English language learners.

If you have a question or problem you would like addressed contact TESOLutions at: dialogue@nystesol.org.