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What Is a “Listening Break”?

I was recently asked about listening
breaks. What is a listening break? What does it look like? Most importantly,
why do students with hearing loss need a listening break? It’s something we
talk about as teachers of the deaf—something we advocate for—and in
interpreting testing results, we often encourage listening breaks to prevent
fatigue. But, what do these listening
breaks actually look like in practice?

Students with hearing loss are
working harder than their classmates with typical hearing to access, process
and fill in missed words and phrases during periods of classroom instruction.
Even our best students, who are auditory learners despite their hearing loss,
are constantly filling in and struggling to keep up with the pace of lectures
and discussions in a busy classroom due to the limitations of their hearing
technology. Because sound must be processed through the hearing aid or cochlear
implant before reaching the brain where it is interpreted, there is a very
brief delay between when the auditory information is received and when it is
processed. Additionally, microphones on hearing assistive technology (HAT) have
a limited range. Even with the use of a HAT system, background noise and limited
access to a speaker’s face further compound our students’ ability to access
auditory information. Because they are working so hard just to access what is
being said, it is more challenging for our students to then process and
synthesize and make connections with previously known information. All this
leads to listening fatigue: feeling tired from the seemingly simple act of

Listening breaks can really look
different depending on the age and needs of the student. For example, I had a
third grader who was still learning about fatigue and how hearing loss impacts
her learning. She and I made three listening break sticks (strips of heavy
cardstock drenched in glitter, an idea I borrowed from a colleague) and she
learned how to use them for breaks. During transitions or independent work
times she’d hand one to her teacher and then had options such as looking at
books in the reading area, coloring quietly, or taking a “walk around the
block” (just a hallway stroll) with the classroom aide. The teacher was
involved in the whole process and it wasn’t long before the student was pretty
independent with her breaks, spacing them out throughout the day.

I currently have a high school
student who has other needs in addition to his hearing loss. He fatigues
quickly. His teachers are also very much a part of his plan which he helped to
design. Similar to my younger student, during transitions or independent work
time, when he needs a break, he can go to the bathroom or get a drink (his version
of “walk around the block”) and that short walk is usually enough. Many of my
junior high and high schools students have similar plans in place where
teachers allow for these short walks. When this particular student becomes
overwhelmed in class, his 1:1 aide or I take him to the library to work in our
designated quiet room where he can take his time on work and we can discuss it
without distracting the whole class. He also benefits from physical activity
and we’ve arranged with the athletic trainer to use the weight room. Ten minutes
or so of heavy weight work really helps him to refocus. He also has a daily study
hall built into his schedule for extra support.

The key components of any listening
break plan include:

– The student should be part of the
process so they gain awareness of their own learning needs and how they’re
impacted by listening fatigue. This also gives them a voice in terms of what
works and what doesn’t work for a listening break.

-Teachers must be educated on the
effects of listening fatigue and hearing loss on access and learning so that
they support and reinforce the plan.

– There should be some formality to
the breaks so that they are effective and structured for the student (focus on
the true fatigue needs of the student vs. something where the student can take
a “break” whenever they just don’t want to do the work).

– A system should be in place for
the student to make up any missed work during a break (as with my high school
student—he has study hall for the times he really needs a longer break).

– Visual schedules such as writing
out the daily plan on the board will help students identify a good time to take
a break, such as after the instructional section of the class or during
independent work time so that they do not miss out on important information.

How do you help students and schools understand listening breaks?

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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