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Working with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
by Naomi Epstein


Naomi Epstein gives us a great start for working with deaf and hearing-impaired students at all levels for the new school year, including:

  1. Overall Recommendations:

    1. The Survival Kit-vocabulary!
      Vocabulary is the aspect of language acquisition most difficult for the hearing impaired child. When you don't hear the words spoken around you (and sung on MTV) it's harder to remember them. Obviously, the pupil must work at remembering vocabulary. But it's critical to instill in the pupil the confidence that he/she won't "drown" if they forget a word, there's a solution to the problem:

    2. The Dictionary!!!
      The dictionary should be an integral part of the pupil's equipment, along with the sourcebook and pencil box. He/She should be permitted to use it during class work, and (when necessary) on tests. If part of the test is a "Vocabulary only" section, then a pair of scissors is all that's needed. The pupil does the vocabulary section without the dictionary, cuts off and hands in that section, then continues doing the test with the dictionary.

      Beginner: Homemade Dictionary.
      Each page of a notebook has a designated letter. Ready made alphabet notebooks can be found in stores. The pupil adds vocabulary items as he/she learns them, with a drawing or a translation into Hebrew.

      A picture, topic-based dictionary is not particularly useful because "forgotten" words cannot be easily located.

      Intermediate: A Pocket Dictionary should has basic vocabulary and can be easily carried.

      Advanced: Hearing impaired pupils are allowed to use electronic dictionaries on the "Bagrut" examination. Hence it is extremely helpful if they use it throughout high-school. It allows them to deal with the complex vocabulary found in the texts taught and enables them to become competent dictionary users. An electronic dictionary is a tool, and like any other tool-students must become very familiar with its capabilities, as well as its limitations, in order to make the most of it. Electronic dictionaries are time-savers, which is very important to a pupil who must look up a great number of words.

  2. Lip-Reading: The Catch 22 Effect
    The term "lip reading" is actually a misnomer. What people who can lip-read actually do is message read because, unfortunately, eyes can't take the place of ears.

    Sounds such as /x/ /k/ /g/ cannot be seen on the lips at all, while other sounds, such as /n/ /t/ /d/ are indistinguishable from one another.

    On the basis of his/her knowledge of the language, the lip reader fills in the visual gaps, using situational and contextual clues.

    When a hearing impaired pupil begins studying English, he/she faces the following situation:

    The pupil:
    Cannot hear/see all the sounds teacher is saying
    Needs knowledge of the language to fill in the gaps
    Lacks the necessary knowledge of the new language
    Has trouble acquiring the necessary knowledge
    Cannot hear/see all the sounds teacher is saying

    Learning English through "message-reading" is obvious a very difficult way, on its own, to acquire EFL for those who are unfamiliar with it. Therefore, the hearing-impaired pupil must learn to read English at a very early stage. Through reading, the pupil is exposed to the language in the most complete manner.

  3. Working with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing: "Shema" Letter to High-School Teachers

    The following letter is sent to the homes of deaf and hard-of-hearing high-school pupils throughout the country every September, along with a letter in Hebrew, asking the pupil to personally give this letter to their English teacher. Based on the amount of requests for information we have received, the number of English teachers who have received this letter is greater than it was when "Shema" used to send the letter to the schools.

    In the lower grades, the flow of information is usually easier because in many cases a "Shema" tutor comes to the school on a weekly basis and can talk to the English teacher personally. However, in high school, most pupils are not tutored by "Shema" teachers and the school counselor is the main contact person. Unfortunately, some counselors may deal with the required paperwork but neglect to inform the English teacher regarding unique allowances and the option of receiving assistance.

    Please note that even if you have had deaf and hard-of-hearing pupils in your classes before, or spoken to a colleague who has taught these pupils, it is necessary to obtain information regarding the "Bagrut" exams for each specific pupil. Not everyone needs, or is entitled to all the allowances available.

    Feedback and requests for assistance for any grade level are most welcome. Contact information appears in the letter below.

    September, 2006

    Dear English teacher,

    First, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New-Year and a pleasant school year!

    This year you have a pupil with a hearing loss in your class. Learning a foreign language when your hearing is impaired is a particularly challenging task. The Ministry acknowledges the unique difficulties these pupils face and has given them certain allowances on the "Bagrut" exams, based on the severity of their hearing loss. Each module of the exam has its own structure and its own allowances, some of which may include alternative sections.

    The best way to assist your pupil is to have all the necessary information regarding the pupil's hearing loss, the "Bagrut" exams and samples of the special sections. In order to obtain this information, there are two simple things to do:

    1. Contact your local Shema branch at: ___________________________ (see numbers below)
      Find out if your pupil is eligible for all the accommodations or only some of them.

    2. Send a fax message to Naomi Epstein, 03-5712017 or an email to Naomi Epstein: Please note: you must include the information obtained in the previous section in your message since it determines the type of counseling you need to receive. You will receive written information, samples of previous exams (or mock exams) and answers to anything related to teaching English to hearing impaired pupils.

      Shema Tel Aviv: 03-5715658
      Shema Haifa: 04-8512381
      Shema Tiberias: 04-6716274
      Shema Beer-Sheva: 08-6492002
      Shema Jerusalem: 02-6428359

    Respectfully yours,
    Naomi Epstein,
    Shema Counselor for English for the Hearing Impaired.

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