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Social-Emotional Support for Students (DHH): Elementary School Years Transcript

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[Video title display, "Stories & Strategies - Social-Emotional Support for Students Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing - Elementary School Years"]

[Screen fades and then a woman appears]

Diane (signing):  Elementary-aged children who are deaf or hard of hearing need instruction and guidance to develop social language and understanding of themselves in order to be aware of why they have challenges and to develop self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and friendship skills. Also, as mentioned in the introduction, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, will be referred to as “students” unless otherwise noted when compared to those who are hearing.  Language plays a critical role in the understanding of social norms and development of problem-solving skills. Students often struggle with making connections and understanding the social aspects of friendship because they lack access to communication with hearing peers and have limited or no opportunities for incidental learning or social norms. 

The following interview with Ka Lia by her teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing highlights the challenges she had as a student who was hard of hearing who was learning English as a second language in elementary school and how that affected her ability to connect with hearing peers in her classes.  

Lived Experience Interview:

Emily M (seated with Ka Lia, voicing): What was it like being hard of hearing in elementary school? What do you remember?

Ka Lia (voicing): Growing up as a hard of hearing kid made it hard for me to learn English, especially because it is my second language. I had a hard time hearing my teachers when they taught, especially when they talked quietly. I wasn’t able to learn like other children my age.  For example, I was a fourth-grader with the reading level of a second-grader. I was a shy child because I wasn’t able to speak English fluently. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, but when I did, I could barely hear the teacher’s responses. I remember kids would talk behind my back knowing I could hear nothing they were saying about me. It is also hard for me to understand and process the words through my mind. That affects how fast I think and my response time.

Emily M: How did you feel during that time? 

Ka Lia: I feel like I was left behind, like no one wanted to be close to me. I feel like I had a virus that stops other students from being friends with me. 

Emily M: Did you have difficulty connecting with students who spoke Hmong too? Or was just the English learning difficult?

Ka Lia: I had problems with both Hmong and English. It was more of like not hearing when someone is talking rather than the language. 

Emily M: You mentioned that kids would talk behind your back, what did you do when that happened? How did you react?

Ka Lia: It bothers me a lot but I didn't do anything about it because I know, sooner or later, once my classmates knows about my hearing loss, they will talk behind me so I was prepared for it already. 

Emily M: What do you know now that you wish you knew then? What do you wish you would have done differently?

Ka Lia: I would probably not even consider their words about me. I would take the time that I used to overthink to do something else that would help me better. 

Emily M: What do you think were the factors that changed how you felt about school socially?

Ka Lia: I think it is just the time that helped me because things like this cannot change overnight. It takes a lot of time to accept yourself and also for others to accept you. Another thing is that I think I was the oldest so I had a lot of responsibilities so I didn't have a lot of time to think about what other people think of me. 

Emily M: What about friends? When you were in elementary school did you have any really good friends? What were the struggles in making friends?

Ka Lia: I barely had any friends as a kid. I barely remember my childhood due to the fact that my family always moved all over the place so I have to move schools as well so this doesn't allow me to have good friends. 

Emily K (alone, voicing): As you learned, Ka Lia had some unique challenges as a child who is hard of hearing and learning both the American culture and English for academics and to make social connections.  This is important to remember as schools become more culturally diverse.  Teachers for students who are deaf and hard of hearing frequently are the connection point between teachers of English language learners and the general education teachers, reminding teachers, staff and parents that it is more difficult to learn English when you cannot hear it well and may or may not have amplification both in school and at home.

Let’s begin by discussing some home-based interventions. To help parents support their children, it is important to connect them to support groups or parent mentors. An example of one resource is Hands and Voices and the various activities and programs that they provide in regional areas. Another option to support parents and families would be for schools and programs to host family events within the district or region for all students who are deaf and hard of hearing. These opportunities to learn about the unique challenges young elementary children have when learning academic and social language are important to build understanding. These activities also allow students and families to interact with other families.  Interacting with adults who are deaf and hard of hearing promotes acceptance and understanding within the family culture. When the family has a greater understanding of the journey and connections to role models who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as a support system for dealing with the unique challenges for both families and children, then they are more likely to provide an environment for the child that will foster positive social interactions within the home. Meeting deaf or hard of hearing adults and perhaps other families on a similar journey helps to provide validation to both the family and the child that they are not alone and there are connections after high school.  It’s also important for parents to hear lived experiences from adults who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The following is a story that was shared with Jessalyn by a friend.

Lived Experience: 

Jessalyn (signing):  A friend of mine shared a personal story of something that she missed in her family’s history.  Here’s her story:  One day I was talking with my family about how terrified I was about being in a car accident. My dad explained he understood how I felt because he killed someone. I looked at him and said “What? You killed someone?” He said, “You know that story.” I replied that I did not know that story. All of my family who were standing with me told me that I did because they talked about it many times. I adamantly said,  “NO, I do not know that story. I would remember something like that.” Here’s what I finally understood.  My dad was a daredevil bike racer and one time, a biker riding in front him fell off his bike, and my dad could not stop and ran over him.

The simple fact that my entire family knew, but I did not because I did not have full access to stories that were shared impacted me. My family always thought I knew the story, and I always thought I knew what everyone was talking about.

It is so important to understand that parents and teachers understand that access at the dinner table, incidental learning, and all the things that students hear from others, are not always available to students.  

Emily M (voicing): Another way to improve social functioning for children is participation in extracurricular activities. This can really be any community-based activities such as sports, clubs, Scouts, religious groups, or any group with a shared interest. Unfortunately, research has shown that students who are deaf and hard of hearing are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. This may be for a variety of reasons including personality and anxiety. It might also be related to communication access since group activities tend to have less structure, are noisy and more difficult for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to access and navigate, especially for elementary children who are still developing language skills. Parents are critical to encouraging students to participate in new activities and can also support language by talking about what might happen at an event.  Teachers can pre-teach social situations to prepare them for what might be said and how to respond.  Many children who are told to self-advocate and speak up know they need to do that, but often don’t know what to say.  Again, this is because they cannot overhear what their peers are saying, so preparation is key.

However, participation in these activities teach children important social skills like how to make social connections, how to analyze and adapt to social situations, and the understanding of concepts such as winning and losing. Participation in extracurricular activities also generally requires some degree of social interaction with same-age peers as well as provides a shared topic for conversation. This increased opportunity for social interaction outside of the educational setting can support social skills and promote positive self-esteem, especially when children have a buddy system or a neighborhood friend that they are able to interact with in a smaller scale first. 

Lived Experience:  

Ann (signing):  When I was in elementary school, I lived in a small, rural town that loved basketball.  I had grown quite a bit and was tall, so people encouraged me to try out for basketball.  However, I do not hear high-pitched sounds such as whistles.  So, being that I was the only student in the school who was deaf, I didn’t know what was the norm when trying to figure out basketball.  I remember one of my first practices.  The girls were lined up and learning out to do running drills.  I did not know that they would blow a whistle to stop the drill.  When we were running and the coach blew the whistle, I kept running and the others stopped.  I depended on what others were doing to figure out what I needed to do and was thoroughly embarrassed because others laughed.  No one told me about the drill, so I decided it was too hard to rely on the whistle and not have others let me know what’s going on.  Having someone preteach what would be happening or an adult to come and explain to me what happened and what I needed to do, or someone to create a visual system for me, would have helped me stay in the game.

Emily M (voicing):  Ann’s experience is common for students. The opportunity of playing basketball provided social interaction outside of the educational setting and created opportunities for positive social skill development. However, without prior information about what might be expected impacted her participation.

The second category of researched-based interventions are interventions that are provided directly with the student by teachers. First, and maybe the simplest, is to directly teach a correct or replacement behavior. Students don’t always know that what they are doing isn’t socially acceptable. 

Lived Experience: 

Jessalyn (voicing):  I have a friend who’s a teacher and when she was a graduate student, she was eating in the cafeteria at Gallaudet University when a student farted really loudly. My friend looked at him and said, “Seriously?” He looked at her and asked, “Does it make noise? You can hear it?”

She said, “Yes.”  He said, “I did not know that.”

Ever since that time, as a teacher, she has included teaching kids what body sounds can be heard. This includes farting, snoring, going to the bathroom, burping, and sneezing.

She made it a fun lesson but it was the most important social lesson for some because they learned it from a trusted teacher, rather than being humiliated or made fun of by hearing peers.

Diane (signing): Direct instruction about what behavior is appropriate in a social situation, like in the fart story, is one of the most effective strategies to teach social behavior, social etiquette, and social pragmatic skills.

A second student-based intervention is social activity interventions. These are activities such as playing games that teach students needed social skills. So if a student needs to learn how to ask and respond to questions, playing a game like Guess Who might be used. If a student needs to learn to understand the emotions or feelings of others, the teacher might use a role playing situation where the student has to discuss the point of view of a character from a story they read. This teaches the student to understand feelings and emotions. If a student needs to learn what to do in a social situation, the teacher may role-play a situation where the student is the other person and the teacher becomes the student who is deaf or hard of hearing, so that he can learn what to say.  Then roles can be switched so the student practices what to say. This really helps students to think about how others are feeling and to develop empathy skills. It also gives students words to use in different situations and that builds communication confidence. 

Curricula such as Social Skills Training or Providing Alternative Thinking Strategies, also known as PATHS, are specifically designed to help regulate anxiety and promote alternative positive thinking. They also teach children how to identify and name emotions to be better able to explain how they feel when interacting with people.  Many young children seem limited to naming feelings as only “happy, mad, sad” and so PATHS teaches emotional vocabulary.  Both of these curricula have been studied and found to be effective interventions for students.

Instruction teaching children how to advocate for themselves empowers them with making decisions and getting support which also prepares them to communicate effectively in social situations. For elementary-aged students, this might be as simple as asking a buddy to repeat what the teacher said or to practice in a small group, using a hearing assistive technology microphones to be passed between students.

Lived Experience-

Kobe (signing):  A student shared his experiences in early elementary school.  Kevin remembers when he was in 1st grade and had just gotten hearing aids for the first time.  He met his teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing and did not know how to use the microphone with his teacher or the other students.  They played a game together to practice how to ask questions but also to learn how to play a fun game and learn the rules.  His teacher set up a Pal Day on Fridays and Kevin picked one or two different kids each week to join him for different games so they could all learn how to use the microphone and to make friends.  Kevin’s hearing was better in his left ear, so he learned how to ask for people to sit on his left side and a comfortable place.  Kevin remembers that later when he was on the playground, he felt more comfortable about asking kids to play with him or joining them because they got to know him in a fun place.

Emily K (voicing): The third category of research-based interventions are classroom-based. Research has shown that some changes to the classroom environment can greatly improve students’ ability to interact with peers socially. Sometimes a simple change can be made in the classroom to allow for more social interactions. For example, if the classroom is set up in such a way that the student is not able to see what is going on or not able to see their peers, the student might have difficulty with communication and consequently with social interactions in the classroom. Teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing can also help other teachers and staff understand why the child might answer questions that don’t make sense, especially when classes are noisy or there is a lot of activity.

Lived Experience-

Ann (signing):  I remember when I was in 2nd grade and in class.  I got in trouble with my teacher because I didn’t understand what “purpose” meant.  During class, I survived by glancing at other kids’ papers to figure out where she was supposed to be doing.  I did something incorrectly and my teacher had a mad face and asked my, “Did you do that on purpose?”  Ann responded that I did and wondered why the teacher was mad. In my mind, I thought the teacher asked if I did it on ‘purple’ and since it was my favorite color, so I nodded my head, “Yes.”  I didn’t figure out why I got in trouble until many years later when I learned the phrase, “on purpose”.

Emily M (voicing): It is really important that teachers do systematic observations to observe students in less structured situations, such as small group work, gym or on the playground, to help determine what barriers in the classroom might be interfering with students’ ability to access and participate in social activities. 

Coaching classroom teachers to target specific social areas in the classroom can be really effective. For example, if there is a morning meeting time in a large group circle, the student might be very quiet or appear distracted because the microphone is not being passed, or she doesn’t know who is talking and what others are saying.  The classroom teacher might not recognize the social and communication obstacles during sharing time.  Sharing can be difficult for young children who are not understanding what is happening and the questions being asked, and when they cannot hear their classmates.  If the microphone is not passed between children and they cannot see who is talking, then they do not know how to respond or what to say.  When young children do not respond in ways that are expected, this can make them seem odd to their peers, too. This, in turn, affects them socially.  So, it’s important to be sure the student has access, especially during sharing and fun times.

Lived Experience:

Jessalyn (signing) - Due to not being able to hear, I would often stand there and smile. I wanted so much to be part of conversations but I could not understand. To avoid embarrassment, I would often pretend that I understood. Teachers need to teach Self-Advocacy skills, help us gain confidence. Teachers need to teach peers and other kids about our differences and all of our differences. When teachers focus on the differences of ALL of us, it reduces the focus on the student. I had one teacher in my mainstreamed class that focused on embracing our differences, each of us had a topic to discuss that was personal to us. Some of the topics were, wearing glasses, some topics were how we learn, others were being deaf or hard of hearing. She made it engaging and fun and it allowed for kids to learn how to communicate with each other and how to ask questions. The class also talked about the hurt we experience when being called retarded, or deaf and dumb, and the value of friendships.  Teachers like this are not often found. It truly made a difference in my year when this was approached. She allowed us to teach sign language to hearing peers.

Emily K (voicing): In noisy social situations at school, such as in the lunchroom or on the playground, teachers and other students might notice the student nodding, like in Jessalyn’s story. Students frequently use bluffing strategies for a variety or reasons. Sometimes it is so exhausting trying to figure out what is going on that students smile and nod, much like Jessalyn did in her previous story. Other students are concerned that they might look different so they nod to pretend they understand. Others don’t know they are missing information and think they’re understanding and just agree. 

Teachers must help students to understand the impact of missed access to communication and teach them how to ask for clarification in many different ways.  For example, sometimes if it’s noisy, students can ask a trusted friend to say it again in a quieter place or to gesture. Teachers also must validate the struggles of not being able to hear everything and tell stories to explain how other students may have felt or dealt with a challenging listening situation by telling stories about other students in similar situations. Literature and YouTube videos of stories told by other students may also be used.

Teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing should in-service classroom teachers and help them to recognize when a situation is not accessible. Rather than have students call out answers, teachers should call on students and identify them by name so that students can look at the speaker. Teachers should also repeat what students say during group discussions or when asked a question. Teachers can directly teach students how to communicate within large and small groups in a way that allows everyone to participate. One activity to support turn-taking is to have students pass a ball or another object during group discussions. This helps all students identify who is speaking and focus on what the speaker is contributing. Teachers should also structure small groups so that the student’s group can move out into the hallway or to a quieter place. All of these accommodations should be made by the teacher in a way that does not single out the student who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Lived experience:  

Ann (signing):  I remember when I moved to a new small town when I was in third grade.  I was a solitaire in a town that had never had a deaf student before.  Because I could speak, people thought I could hear.  My third grade teacher made me go before the class and show everyone my hearing aid and talk about moving from the East.  After that, the students were less friendly and did not come up to me and chat with me.  Later, I learned from my younger sister at the school that kids thought I was stuck up.  They had assumed I could hear fine with my hearing aid and also because I nodded in noisy places.  I could not hear them calling my name behind me.  Many years later, as an adult, I learned to alert people that if they called my name and I kept walking, I was not ignoring them, but didn’t hear, so they should wave or tap to get my attention.

Diane (signing): Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need help to develop the language and understanding of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social friendship skills. Students often struggle with making connections and understanding the social aspects of friendship especially when play becomes more language-based and less physical. It is the job of the teacher to facilitate the development of these skills using researched-based strategies. Learning how to relate to people and understand what they’re saying and what needs to be said again begins in the home and continues in school during small group and individual instructional times.  Elementary students benefit from curricula such as PATHS as well as small group times to connect in quieter, friendlier situations.  

Additional materials and ideas can be found on the Resources list linked to this webinar.  We hope teachers discover ideas to support social-emotional development and skills that are unique to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

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Thank you to the following individuals who contributed their time, knowledge and skills to this webinar production:

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, Director of Community and Civic Engagement - Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing

Emily Kedrowski, Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing - St. Paul Public Schools

Emily Manson, Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing - St. Paul Public Schools

Ann Mayes, Dean of Students/Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing - Intermediate School District 917

Anna Paulson, Coordinator of Educational Advancement and Partnerships - Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing

Diane Schiffler-Dobe, Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing - Brainerd Public Schools/ Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative

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Thank you to the following people who shared their Lived Experiences as deaf or hard of hearing students:

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank

Jaemi Hagen

Ann Mayes

Diane Schiffler-Dobe

Kobe Schroeder

Hannah Taylor

Ka Lia Yang

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Thank you to the certified sign language interpreters, including a certified deaf interpreter, for their services to provide additional access.

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Resources for Social-Emotional Webinars

Antia, Shirin D., and Kathryn H. Kreimeyer. Social Competence of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Batten, G., et al. “Factors Associated With Social Interactions Between Deaf Children and Their Hearing Peers: A Systematic Literature Review.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, vol. 19, no. 3, 2013, pp. 285–302., doi:10.1093/deafed/ent052.

Narr, R. Friedman, and M. Kemmery. “The Nature of Parent Support Provided by Parent Mentors for Families With Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Children: Voices From the Start.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, vol. 20, no. 1, 2014, pp. 67–74., doi:10.1093/deafed/enu029.

Norman, Nancy, and Janet R. Jamieson. “Social and Emotional Learning and the Work of Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” American Annals of the Deaf, vol. 160, no. 3, 2015, pp. 273–288., doi:10.1353/aad.2015.0024.

Oliva, Gina A. Alone in the Mainstream: a Deaf Woman Remembers Public School. Gallaudet University Press, 2005.

Oliva, Gina A., and Linda Risser. Lytle. Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren. Gallaudet University Press, 2014.

Xie, Y., Potmesil, M., & Peters, B. (2014). Children who are deaf or hard of hearing in inclusive educational settings: A literature review on interactions with peers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(4), 423-437. doi:10.1093/deafed/enu017

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This project is made possible, in part, with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education using federal funding, CFA 84.027A, Special Education - Grant to States. This project does not necessarily represent the policy of the federal Department of Education or the Minnesota Department of Education. you should not assume endorsement by the federal government or by the Minnesota Department of Education.

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Produced by Infinitec, with funding provided by Metro ECSU and the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, and shared with MN educators and Infinitec Coalition members with permission. 2019 Copyright metro ECSU All rights reserved.

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