Impact of Hearing Loss in the Classroom

About 2 to 3 out of every 1000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears (CDC, 2003). Whether they have mild or severe hearing loss, attend public or private school, and use an interpreter or not, these children must learn to communicate with others and become successful academically and socially. 

What impact does hearing loss have in the classroom setting? Hearing loss can cause delays in speech and language development. This can lead to poor academic performance, learning problems, and social issues.

It is important for parents and teachers to identify speech, academic, and social problems related to hearing loss based on the warning signs. Continue reading to learn about the connection between hearing and learning, the importance of early intervention, the signs that a student is struggling, and what can be done in the classroom to improve academic performance for those who are struggling.

Connection Between Hearing and Learning

The ability to hear is critical to both speech and language development. It is also important in the development of proper learning and communication abilities. Hearing loss can cause delays in speech and language development, which can lead to poor school performance and learning problems. Since poor academic performance is often accompanied by poor behavior or inattention in the classroom, children with hearing loss are unfortunately often mislabeled as having a learning disability, behavior problem, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), children with mild to moderate hearing loss who do not get intervention services are likely to fall behind their normal-hearing peers by several grade levels. For those with severe hearing loss, intervention services are even more crucial, since those who do not receive intervention may not progress beyond the third-grade level.

Why do these gaps occur? Sometimes the classroom environment is not properly equipped to accommodate the student with hearing loss. If a teacher has a poor understanding of a student’s hearing loss, he or she may be unable to modify his or her teaching style in order to accommodate the child with hearing loss. This may lead to the child feeling frustrated, unhappy, isolated, or confused. The student may struggle academically, as well as socially. If a child is excluded from social interactions or is unable or unwilling to participate in group activities due to his or her hearing loss, he or she could withdraw socially. This can ultimately hinder the student’s relationships with their peers.

Importance of Early Intervention To Prevent Developmental Delays

Just as early intervention is key when diagnosing and treating hearing loss, it is also important in fostering appropriate academic level performance and social interactions. According to a study on the impact of early intervention (Meinzen-Derr, et al.), children with hearing loss experienced improved language abilities that were maintained over time if early intervention services were initiated at an early age. Another study (Sarant et. al., 2015) found that children with hearing loss performed in the average or above-average range significantly less frequently than their hearing peers. In contrast, children who had greater parental involvement and earlier intervention scored higher on tests than those who did not receive those services.  

Parents and teachers alike must be proactive in helping children with hearing loss to become successful students. They can remain active in their student’s academic journey by looking out for potential problems and acting on them in a timely manner. Signs that students may be struggling academically include inattentiveness, daydreaming, behavioral problems, trouble following directions, and inappropriate responses to questions. If a child is experiencing difficulties or is struggling academically, it is important for parents, teachers, and other members of a child’s IEP team to consult with one another to develop a plan of action.

What Teachers Should Know

Children with hearing loss may require specific accommodations in the classroom setting in order to help them reach their full learning potential. Some students may have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a document that notes specific accommodations that must be in place for the child, as well as specific goals and benchmarks that the child should be reaching, depending on grade level and ability. In addition to the IEP, teachers can employ specific strategies in order to provide the best learning environment possible for the child with hearing loss.

Below are some helpful tips for teachers to utilize in the classroom in order to foster a better learning experience for students with hearing loss:

  • Understand your student’s hearing loss

Each student with hearing loss is different. Some children have mild hearing loss, while others have more severe hearing loss. Some students wear hearing aids or other types of listening devices in order to focus more during lessons, though their hearing loss may not be as severe as another student. It is important for teachers to be aware of different sounds that their students with hearing loss can and cannot hear in order to be as inclusive as possible in the classroom setting.

If your student wears hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other types of listening devices, it is important to understand how these devices work. Teachers must make sure that these devices are turned on and working properly before they begin teaching. If a student’s device is not working properly, he or she might not make their teacher aware and therefore miss much of what is being taught.

  • Set up your classroom differently

Students with hearing loss need to be able to hear their teacher, as well as the other students. Many students require preferential seating, which means that their seat is placed in a location within the classroom that will help them to hear most effectively. This is usually towards the front of the classroom, near the teacher.

There are several creative ways to rearrange desks in the classroom. If a classroom discussion is taking place where many students are participating, consider rearranging desks in a circle or semi-circle. This may help your student with hearing loss to have better visibility of which student is speaking so that he or she can better use facial cues and read lips. Additionally, make sure students are raising their hands and you are calling on them before they speak. This will allow students to know who is speaking and where to direct their attention and follow along. 

  • Make accommodations and lessons as accessible as possible

The use of visual aids can be very helpful for students with hearing loss since it allows them to obtain more context in instances where they miss certain parts of the lesson. Visual aids could be in the form of charts or graphs used as a supplement to your lecture. Handouts with outlines or notes may also be helpful.

Some students with hearing loss have difficulty taking notes in class since they are concentrating on what the teacher is saying. The student may be reading lips, watching an interpreter, or watching the screen of a CART reporter. For this reason, some students require a peer note-taker. The student who is hard-of-hearing can obtain these notes from another student after the lesson and reference them as needed.

If you use Powerpoint, you may consider providing students with printouts of the slides or of your notes. Make sure all notes are shared and easy for your students to access.

  • Check-in with your students often

If you have a student who has hearing loss, ask them what you can do to help them learn. Check in with them often and ask them questions about what works and doesn’t work for them.

Students may feel differently about discussing their hearing loss and learning accommodations with their classmates. Some students may want to be more discreet about their hearing loss, while others may feel more open to discussing it with the rest of the class. Therefore, it might be a good idea to ask your student how he or she feels about these types of discussions.

Some students may not want to draw attention to their hearing loss, even if they are having trouble understanding in class. If you realize that another student is not speaking clearly, you may want to repeat or summarize what was said. Additionally, if you are providing handouts or notes to your student with hearing loss, you may want to try making them for the whole class. This way the student with hearing loss can feel more comfortable without having attention drawn to him or herself.  

Just as there are several helpful tips that teachers can implement in order to create a better learning experience for their students with hearing loss, there are also several things to avoid.

Teachers should NOT do:

  • Face the board or cover your mouth when you speak
  • Chew gum or eat when talking to your students
  • Single out students with hearing loss
  • Seat children with hearing loss towards the back of the classroom
  • Fail to check to see if your student’s listening devices are turned on and functioning properly before lessons

Classroom Accommodations

As described above, there are several types of accommodations for use in the classroom setting for students with hearing loss. The list below briefly describes some of these options. It is important to remember that this list is not exhaustive. Each student is different. Therefore, some of the items in the list may be more appropriate to use than others. Consult with the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team to discuss the best possible options for each student.

  • Amplification
    • Personal hearing devices (i.e., hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing aids)
    • Personal FM systems (microphone worn by teacher streams speech directly to student’s hearing aid)
    • A sound field FM system
  • Environment Accommodations
    • Reduce background noise (use sound absorption materials to reduce reverberation and echoes)
    • Proper lighting
    • Flashing fire alarm system
  • Communication Accommodations
    • Preferential seating or specialized seating arrangements
    • Obtain the student’s attention prior to speaking
    • Reduce background noise
    • Reduce visual distractions
    • Enhance speech reading (avoid turning your back, chewing gum, talking with your hands by your mouth)
    • Clearly enunciate speech without over-enunciating
    • Allow extra time for processing
    • Repeat or rephrase other student’s answers
    • Check-in frequently for understanding
  • Instructional Accommodations
    • Visual supplements (i.e., PowerPoints, lecture outlines, handouts, notes, charts and graphs, whiteboard, projector, etc.)
    • Speech-to-text translation captioning
    • Captioning for videos, television, movies, etc.
    • Interpreter (i.e., American Sign Language, signed English, cued speech, oral)
    • Peer note-taker
    • Check for understanding
    • Breaks (time away from listening)
    • Detailed instructions
    • Extra time to complete exams, quizzes, assignments, etc.

Children with hearing loss are more likely to struggle academically than their normal-hearing peers, especially if appropriate intervention is not received in a timely manner. Parents and teachers must know the signs of a struggling student and consult with one another to develop a plan for academic achievement. There are several accommodations that can be made in the classroom. The information described above provides a brief overview of the importance of intervention and some changes that can be made in the classroom to assist those with hearing loss.

Jonathan Javid Au.D.

Jonathan Javid Au.D., a seasoned audiologist with an extensive background in the field of audiology. With over 11 years of invaluable clinical experience, Jonathan has dedicated his career to helping individuals enhance their hearing and improve their quality of life.

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