AG Bell 2010: Saturday Concurrent Sessions

Essential Practices for Listening, Language, and Literacy
Lyn Robertson, Ph.D.; Denison University
Denise Wray, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, LSLS-Cert. AVT; University of Akron
Carol Flexer, Ph.D., CCC-A, LSLS Cert. AVT; University of Akron


According to the AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language, Domain 9 of the Listening and Spoken Language Specialist’s competencies is “Emergent Literacy”.    The focus of this domain is on the auditory and language skills that underlie and support the acquisition and advancement of literacy.  Listening and Spoken Language Specialists don’t teach children how to read, we create the infrastructure (auditory brain development, language/vocabulary, reading aloud, and practice) and environment for reading.  Pronouncing the words is necessary, but not sufficient, for being a proficient reader.  Some children, however, seem to get “stuck” at only the most basic reading levels, with problems due to lack of knowledge of complex sentence structures, vocabulary and conceptual knowledge, story structures and informational structures, cause and effect, main idea, chronological orders, enumeration and categorization, and/or strategic memory.


What can parents and professionals do to help?

  • Talk constantly with the child


  • Create experiences and talk about them


  • Use complex language, explain it, and link it to the experiences


  • Read aloud on a DAILY basis — use books that are slightly beyond the child’s present level to stretch their linguistic abilities


  • Use synonyms and antonyms and point them out (builds comparing and contrasting skills)


  • Show curiosity — ask questions and show the child how to find answers


  • Play word and board games


  • Sing, dance, and play instruments (“The brain loves music!”)


  • Organize information (and show the child how to do it, too!)


Reading aloud to children is essential.  The presenters shared the Emilie Buchwald quote, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” and reminded us that laptops don’t have laps — we must unplug and engage with our children in shared reading activities each and every day.  Lifetime readers become lifetime achievers, and when we initially teach children to want to read and focus less on how to read, they develop literacy skills that are not only age-appropriate, but self-motivated as well.



Challenging Children: Tips and Tricks for Success
Betsy Moog Brooks, M.S., C.E.D., LSLS Cert. AVEd.; The Moog Center for Deaf Education


How can professionals and parents have success with children who are challening?  Well, first we must define “success” and “challenging”.  For the purposes of this presentation, Ms. Brooks defined success in spoken language as intelligible enough speech for people to understand, good enough understanding to converse, and good enough language to read.  Children with challenges might include those with difficult to manage/disruptive behavior, additional complicating factors (additional disabilities), and children with deficiencies in one or more academic area.


What strategies can parents or teachers use to ensure that these children have the best possible chance for success with listening and spoken language?  Ms. Brooks suggested:


  • Establish a routine (use picture schedules, write the order of activities on the board, provide information prior to transition times)


  • Don’t argue or engage with a disruptive child


  • Have clear and specific rules/consequences


  • Have clear expectations


  • Involve the child when possible


  • Be consistent


  • Recognize age-appropriate behavior (are you as the parent or professional expecting a two-year-old to act like a mini adult?), have realistic expectations, and tolearte behavior that is age-appropriate


Ms. Brooks also discussed the specific challenge of working with children with hearing loss and additional disabilities.  She emphasized that, as professionals who have chosen to work in this field, we have an ethical obligation to help every child in our care.  Even if the methods we’ve used successfully for the first 700 students in our program don’t work for student #701, that is our responsibility as adults to adapt the program, not the child’s fault for not fitting our mold.  Instead, Ms. Brooks suggested:


  • Familiarize yourself with the child’s issues (talk to the parents, call a doctor, look on the Internet, etc.)


  • Educate yourself about other impacting conditions


  • Take responsibility for learning to manage the situation


In terms of classroom or therapy session management (for all children, but especially those who are “challenging”), here is just a small sample of some of the tips and techniques discussed:


  • Expect the child to listen and talk — create the expectation that the child will participate verbally (even if they are in the pre-word stage, just taking turns with cooing or babbling is still an important skill of vocal turn-taking) instead of turning the session into a teacher/therapist/parent-dominated monologue


  • In group settings, teach a small number of children with similar language levels at the same time to better target areas of weakness (especially important in older children who have lots of catch-up to do)


  • Provide language appropriate activities and check for mastery of simpler concepts before moving on to those that are more complex (if you’re going to the zoo, teach dog and cat before hippopotamus!)


  • Check frequently for comprehension — don’t let the child get though by “faking it”


  • Emphasize vocabulary development — give them the words upon which language and conversation and reading are built


Ms. Brooks emphasized that even very young children are acutely aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.  Can you imagine going to school and having your weakest areas emphasized for six hours a day?  Children know when they are not doing well.  Especially for children with a lot of challenges, teachers  teachers, therapists, and parents must find areas of strength and work from there to give children a much needed feeling of success.  Provide lots of positive reinforcement — not necessarily candy or stickers, but a smile or a “Good job!” to let children know how proud you are of their hard work.


What factors affect learning and progress in talking?  Ms. Brooks highlighted three:

  1. Access to Sound (how well the device is programmed, how well the child perceives speech)

  2. Teaching Factors

  3. Child Factors


To determine which one (or more) of these issues is at play, analyze the difficulty and act!  Waiting is not an option — children may learn at different rates, but they all must learn.  There is a small window for the best time to learn language, and children must have ways to communicate with the world around them.


If access to sound is a problem, we need to raise our expectations.  With today’s technology, we should expect high-level auditory access and speech perception.  Benchmarks include expecting evidence of hearing in the first 6 months post-cochlear implant, and vowel discrimination in the first year with a CI.  If this is not happening, communicate with the parent and audiologist.  The child may need a MAP change or hearing aid reprogramming.  Professionals must be in touch with audiologists who perform speech perception testing so we are aware of what the child can perceive through his/her device and be aware of changes.


If the problem is teaching, we as professionals must be unafraid to take a good hard look at ourselves and make the changes necessary to serve all children to the best of our abilities.  Perhaps we are being too global and not providing enough structure and detail in our lessons.  Perhaps we are not focusing enough on expressive language.  Perhaps we are simply not providing enough opportunities for children to practice talking — how can you become good at anything if you don’t have ample opportunity for practice?  The teacher’s language level may be too high or too low (not at that “just right challenge” level) or teaching may not capitalize on the child’s areas of strength while targeting their areas of weakness.


If the child has behavior issues, cognitive deficits, language learning problems, attention problems, speech production problems, poor short-term memory, or a combination of the above, we must determine how much input the child can manage at one time and adjust our teaching to deliver information in manageable “chunks”.  Children need lots of repetition, but this repetition must be meaningful, not rote — talking about the same concept again and again in slightly different ways is very different than drilling it over and over without any context.  Teach to the child’s attention level and structure the task for success.


In summary, Ms. Brooks said, we must believe that children with hearing loss CAN be successful, and that teachers need to take responsibility for student learning.  Students may present with several factors, but by assessing their problems and providing strategies, we can create an environment conducive to learning.  Don’t be afraid to try new teaching strategies.  Most importantly, raise expectations — for yourself as the parent or professional, and for the child.  Above all… believe in the child!



Parent Advocacy Training Super Session
Bruce Goldstein, J.D.
Inez K. Janger
Bill Corwin, J.D.
Ann Godmere


This two-hour “Super Session” aimed to give parents an understanding of federal special education law, the negotiation skills necessary to develop and manage Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), and to learn how and where to access up-to-date information on special education law with the aim of securing a Free and Appropriate Public Educatoin (FAPE) for all students with hearing loss, as required by law.  Soon, this excellent advocacy program will be available on the AG Bell Website.



Teacher/Therapist Share
Teachers and therapists from programs around the country — public and private, school-based, center-based, and home-based, came together to show off their tips and techniques to their colleagues.  Some activities included:

  • Mary Browning from the Moog Center for Deaf Education shared how she uses celebrations (some typical, like Hundredth Day of School Day, and some novel, like Take a Bird to School Day) to keep children’s interest high while teaching important new vocabulary and language concepts through celebrations and fun

  • The Training and Advocacy Group (TAG) teaches important social, self-advocacy, and community service skills through a social group for tweens and teens with hearing loss.

  • The organization Partners for a Greater Voice shared information and pictures from their trips to help establish listening and spoken language programs and auditory access in the Dominican Republic

  • Professionals from the John Tracy Clinic shared their Chatterbox handouts that are full of parent tips in both English and Spanish

  • Teachers from the Listen and Talk program shared their Daily Pictures program where they print and send home photo pages with explanatory text about the day’s activities for children in their preschool program


These are just a few of the many great presenters who came from diverse programs across the country to share their best practices in a spirit of cooperation.  Though the presenters came from different organizations, all had the same goal of providing high wuality listening and spoken language services for children with hearing loss, and through this event, they were able to learn and grow from each others’ experiences.

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