A speech pathologist recently reminded me that, on any given day, about one third of the students in Grades K-2, can’t hear the teacher. They are not permanently hard-of- hearing. They suffer from intermittent hearing loss caused by allergies, middle-ear infections, asthma and the common cold.
There are medical solutions, and periodic hearing tests are a good idea. There are also classroom practices to ameliorate the situation. Ambient noise should be minimized; students should sit close, facing the teacher, to be able to see her mouth and facial expressions.
The teacher, in turn, must project distinctly and directly to the students, not to the board or the book she is reading aloud. Since it is difficult, on any given day, to know which students have temporary hearing issues, it’s best to apply those practices to the entire class at all times.
(Corroborating information can be found on the Internet, especially the Healthy Hearing website.)
This research is not new. It reminds me of one of the best teachers ever. Ms. C. had a slight Spanish accent, a boom voice, and the iron determination that all her 30 or so first grade students would learn to read and write.
She had internalized the then-simple Open Court phonics system and went about methodically transferring it to her students. She had her own prescient RtI, keeping recalcitrant students for lunchtime tutoring. That never lasted long. Even six year olds can figure out that it is more fun to learn things as they are being taught than to participate in small-group intervention when your friends are in the playground.
By spring, Ms. C’s students were master decoders, and they were able to write little vignettes, in standard penmanship and mostly standard spelling, about attending birthday parties, losing teeth, and, even, hunting armadillos.
The only problem was noise. With Ms. C.’s bellowing and her students’ chanting, the sounds of English were ricocheting down the corridor and into other classrooms. As the fashion of the day was for early childhood teachers to speak in Tinker Bellian whispers, I decided to have a chat with Ms. C. about voice modulation.
Sometime between the appointment and the chat, I happened upon a piece in Ed Week about intermittent hearing loss in young children and the fact that some school districts were giving first grade teachers body mics, so that their voices could penetrate the phlegm.
At our chat, therefore, my advice to Ms. C. was to keep her classroom door closed.
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Be loud! Be brave! Be determined…and know your stuff.
We can help with the very last part.