Lunch Bunch is a common accommodation for students with hearing loss. Typically, rather than eating lunch in a noisy cafeteria, a student with hearing loss and a few peers meet in a quiet space with an adult (often a teacher of the deaf or speech-language pathologist). The adult facilitates games and activities while the students eat lunch. While the ultimate goal of these groups is to teach social skills and facilitate interactions with peers, I find Lunch Bunch groups often create further dependence on adults for communication support, rather than building the confidence and independence that we really want for our students. I’ve been working with my school teams to revamp the Lunch Bunch to decrease adult facilitation and instead pass that communication power on to students. It takes time but the results have been noticeable. Parents, teachers and even students have reported increased social confidence. If you are currently coordinating Lunch Bunch groups, a gradual shift will allow students to adjust to the new format rather than an abrupt change. Below are a few ways we’ve done this in the schools I work in!
Instead of having peers with typical hearing sign up or changing the group each time,
Try This: Strategically select the peers with typical hearing who will participate in Lunch Bunch. This group should stay the same for a duration of time to allow students to connect with each other and build trust. The best groupings are a mix of peers who are already good communicators to help carry the group, and some who need the same support as the student with hearing loss so that students with hearing loss don’t feel singled out. It takes time to get to know people. Constantly changing the group means the student with hearing loss is starting over every single time without the opportunity to build on relationships. As adults, when we’re in a social situation we often choose to sit with people we know and feel comfortable with. Our students deserve that same opportunity.
Instead of adult-facilitated games and activities,
Try this: Rather than bringing games to Lunch Bunch, begin to release some control to the group and facilitate a more typical conversation. Students have plenty of opportunities for adult-facilitated games in the classroom and during speech or other support times. As adults, we typically wouldn’t pull out a board game during a dinner party, we would chat with others at the dinner table. This is the skill we need to help our students build. During an individual session with a student with hearing loss, try brainstorming topics. I often make suggestions based on what I know of others in the group. For example, I’ve supported one student who is very interested in weather patterns. The student’s peers were not particularly interested in the weather but a few liked ice fishing and snowmobiling. With support, the student was able to see how their interest in weather was related to the interests of their peers who are eager for snow and cold. This sparked a lively conversation during lunch that was much more natural than if I had introduced a topic.
A dry erase board or note cards with some prompting questions to keep the conversation going has helped some students. During individual sessions we also practice open-ended questions (how, why, what) vs. closed (yes/no). The goal is to find common interests and keep the conversation going. After instruction and practice one-to-one, Lunch Bunch is the perfect opportunity to put those skills into action!
Instead of jumping in during the awkward pauses and uncomfortable moments,
Try this: Let it be awkward. Let it be quiet. Wait. As adults, we’ve all been in conversations when nobody had anything to say. We’ve all met new people at a social event and just didn’t connect. We’ve all had interactions with a difficult person. Generally, nobody jumps in to save us. We find a way to politely exit or change the topic. Sometimes, social interactions are simply uncomfortable. Our students need to learn how to politely end an interaction or start a new conversation topic. As teachers, we don’t like to see our students struggle but this is where the learning happens.
During individual sessions, we practice disagreeing and I model how to have a discussion where people disagree: “You said_____, but I disagree because_____.” We also practice how to end a topic if it is uncomfortable and move on: “Ok, I think we’ve talked about ____ enough. What do you think about____?” Watching students try these skills for the first time is… awkward. But it is also rewarding. If the ultimate goal is communication independence, then these awkward moments need to happen. Referring back to the first tip of keeping the same group of peers, as the space becomes more comfortable and familiar, students are more willing to try these techniques.
Lunch Bunch has its place, but we need to keep the purpose of this group in mind. Being strategic and thoughtful about how Lunch Bunch is set up and managed will help students develop social communication and confidence!