I often allow my students to invite a friend to our
one-to-one pullout sessions. It allows me to see them interacting socially and
also gives me an opportunity to compare my student’s skills with those of their
hearing peers—which helps me keep my expectations on target. Sometimes these
visits also provide interesting insights into classroom life.
Last week my second grader Anna* asked to bring her classmate
Lilly*. Her teacher overheard the request and gave me a nod along with a smile,
letting me know it was okay to bring Lilly along to our session. After the
short walk to the room where we work and the usual second grade discussion of
who should sit where, I pulled out the self-advocacy activity I had planned,
mentally changing a few aspects of my lesson plan so that it would be a game
that the three of us could play together.
We took turns drawing cards, discussing various social
situations and acoustic challenges, and brainstorming ways to handle them,
assigning points for “bravery” and “creativity” (Anna and Lilly’s suggestions).
It was a pretty typical session until Anna drew a card that
read, “Your teacher is giving a spelling
test and is walking around the room. You didn’t hear the word she said. What
can you do?”
Anna’s response surprised me. “Oh. You just have to figure it
out or skip it, “ she said. Lilly nodded in agreement. Neither had anything to
add. I prompted, “Well, what about raising your hand and asking [teacher] to
repeat the word?” Anna looked horrified. “No way! “ she exclaimed. “It’s a spelling TEST! You can’t ask questions or
even talk! You have to listen to what
[teacher] says!” Lilly again nodded in agreement, adding an anecdote about a
classmate who was talking during a math test and had to take the test in the
back of the room.
This session got me thinking. I have the utmost respect for
this second grade teacher. She’s firm, direct and students learn in her class.
She stresses respect and collaboration; she’s inclusive and has never once
hesitated to immediately implement any suggestion or recommendation I give. She
uses the FM faithfully, doing checks at the start of each lesson to ensure that
my student has access. When I observe, I see her really listening to her students
and taking their thoughts and ideas seriously. And yet, Anna’s comment about
the spelling test made me realize there is a significant misunderstanding in
this classroom setting. Because of our ongoing communication and consultation,
I know this teacher would repeat herself if Anna asked. It made me realize that
Anna does not yet understand the distinction between advocating and being
disrespectful, or breaking the rules.
While similar discussions have come up with other students in
the past, there’s never been one clear way to address this distinction and I’m
always a bit surprised when it comes up. We talk about self-advocacy; we encourage
students to advocate for themselves starting in preschool. We meet with
teachers to discuss students’ self-advocacy and how to integrate this practice
into daily classroom life. It’s something our students will encounter
throughout life and a critical component of their development.
So after my session with Anna and her friend Lilly, I shared
this observation with their teacher. She was immediately responsive and we
discussed the best way for her to address Anna’s concerns.
I also plan to follow up with Anna, discussing the difference
between self-advocating when she misses something and simply not following the
rules of the classroom. I’ll provide examples of both advocating and misbehaving
and have her tell me which is which. I’ll also have her come up with her own
examples. We’ll discuss the difference between not paying attention and missing
or mis-hearing information.
I’m hoping Anna and I can compare notes after my next
observation. It’s likely that Anna will observe at least one second grader self-advocate,
while another simply won’t listen and cause a disruption. Over time Anna will see enough examples in her
My ultimate goal? Hopefully one day soon Anna won’t hesitate
to ask for repetition if she misses a prompt for a spelling test.
*Names have been changed