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Encouraging Class Participation

There
are many reasons to encourage our students to participate in class. It helps
the teacher get a better sense of what our students know and where they need
clarification. It allows typically hearing peers to see the student with
hearing loss as an equal contributor to the class. Participation empowers our
students as they are heard and acknowledged. However, participation does not
always come naturally; it is a skill that often must be taught. When I observe
in a classroom, participation is one of the many things I look for. How does my
student’s participation compare to that of his or her peers? Participation means
knowing that a peer is speaking and turning to face that person; raising a hand
to answer a question; responding verbally when called on; initiating
interactions during small group work; responding to a comment made by a peer – the
list is vast and varying.

For
elementary students, the classroom teacher plays a leading role in helping all
students learn how to participate.  Most
classrooms have rules for participation around what good listeners do. Many
have systems in place where the person speaking stands. One fourth-grade
teacher I worked with required students to summarize what the previous person
said before commenting to ensure that all students were listening to each other
(e.g. “Jack said he thinks the answer is
_______, but I think…”)
. Often, elementary classrooms have agreed upon visual
cues that students can use to indicate that they share the same idea or
perspective (such as a hand signal). When these systems are not in place
naturally, we must work with teachers to set up good listening and
participation expectations for the whole class.



At
times, even with clear expectations, my students report reluctance to
participate in class for a variety of reasons, ranging from fear of being wrong
to feelings of discomfort regarding their speech quality. Knowing why a student
is hesitant helps me strategize with the student. One of my third graders reported
that she did not like to answer questions in class because she didn’t want to
be wrong in front of her peers. Yet, when I checked in with her, she often had
the correct information! In order to help my student overcome her fear of
speaking in class, I devised a system with her classroom teacher. The teacher
gave me a list of questions she was planning to ask during a period of
instruction and my student had to choose one that she was comfortable
answering. She was able to write in her response, knowing that while I
observed, the teacher would call on her to answer that question. Having the
answer written out in front of her, she knew that she could not be “wrong.” She
was initially anxious, but after a few times using this method she began to
relax and her participation gradually increased, even without previewing all
the questions.

Another
elementary student had the opposite problem. Wanting so desperately to appear
knowledgeable in front of his peers, he raised his hand to answer every
question, called out responses, and went on tangents giving far more
information than was necessary to answer the question. The frustration was
noticeable as his peers rolled their eyes or groaned every time his hand went
up. My student and I spent time observing together, paying attention to how
other students responded to questions and shared information. Working with his
teacher, we set up a system where he had three marbles in his desk, which
equaled three participation turns during an instructional period. Each time he answered a question or made a
comment, he had to give a marble to his teacher. Knowing he could only answer
three questions, this helped my student self-regulate and make contributions
that were more thoughtful and meaningful. It also gave others a chance to
contribute. He no longer needs the marble system and his contributions are
appreciated by his peers rather than dreaded.

With
my older students, I share my observation notes and we are able to have candid
conversations about what I’ve observed, set goals and strategize to make
participation more meaningful. For one student, this initially meant tallying
how many times she turned to look at a peer who was speaking. Once she mastered
that skill and could articulate the importance, she commented that she often
missed what a soft-spoken boy said, realizing that she was missing his answers
to questions as well as information he contributed to the discussion. She later
implemented the communication repair strategies we practiced together (e.g. “I
heard you say_____but missed the last part.
”). Now, this student is working on
commenting on what her peers say, rather than just focusing on answering her
teacher’s questions. She reports that she is feeling more connected to her
peers, participating in the debates and discussions that happen in class rather
than being an observer.

For
high school students, support with participation may look different for each
student. One student brings me oral presentations so that we can practice
together and write in words phonetically to build her confidence when presenting. Another student was placed in a history class
that involved many group projects. Together, we outlined her individual strengths
as a group member (note taking, organization of ideas, layout and artistic
design of visual supports, oral presentation) as well as areas of weakness and skills
she should look for in a partner (written syntax, grammar, transitions between
topics). Her teacher reported that she
handled group projects in a surprisingly mature manner and showed leadership
skills that she had not demonstrated previously.

Our
individual time with students is important, but classroom time must be meaningful
as well. I strive to make sure my students are “heard” in the classroom just as
much as their typically hearing peers. What helpful strategies have you seen
related to class participation?

Hear Me Out

The Hear Me Out blog provides unique resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's a forum for itinerant teachers of the deaf to share their experiences as they grow as professionals! It is produced by Clarke's Mainstream Services team as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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