Beyond Child’s Voice: The Challenges of Partner Work in the Mainstream

by Carrie Jackiewicz, Special Services Coordinator

During my mainstream observations this year, I noticed that teachers were incorporating more partner work into their lessons. Teachers often say, “Turn and talk to your neighbor” about a specific vocabulary word or topic. Teachers also have partners read to each other during certain lessons. I have seen teachers ask students to work together on a specific worksheet or activity. These are all great ways for students to learn to interact with each other and collaborate as they learn; however, these interactions can be challenging for students who have a hearing loss.

One reason partner work can be challenging is there is a great deal of background noise when all of the students talk at once. It is difficult for a child with hearing loss to hear their partner talking over everyone else’s voices. The student’s partner speaking with a quiet voice also complicates the situation. One solution is the use of a remote microphone. Many teachers take off their remote microphones and give them to the student’s partner. Remote microphones increase the volume and the clarity of the partner’s voice over the background noise.

During one of my observations, the teacher effectively incorporated partner work into her lesson. She joined the group with the student with a hearing loss and she helped to facilitate the conversation when necessary. She also had a second remote microphone, which she could give to the student’s partner so the student with hearing loss could hear her partner’s voice clearly.

A second reason partner work can be challenging is that students may not be comfortable talking to other students because they are shy. Some students will not make eye contact with their partners. The student with a hearing loss needs to be able to see the partner’s face so they can watch them speak. I observed one of our alumni get up off his chair to bend over to see his partner’s face. It may be beneficial for the student’s Hearing Itinerant to give a peer in-service, where she could explain the best ways to communicate with a person with a hearing loss. 

Some practical tips could include 1) look at your partner, 2) speak with a clear and slow voice, and 3) wear the remote microphone correctly. Teachers could also role-play interactions and using communication repair strategies, such as “Can you talk slower?”, “What did you say?” and “Please look at me when you are talking.”

I observed a Hearing Itinerant who helped one of our alumni during a group activity. Before the group began to talk, she explained how to use the remote microphone. She reminded the student to use repair strategies if she did not understand. The Hearing Itinerant participated in the discussion and she made sure the student with hearing loss understood. She brought up pictures of specific vocabulary on her phone to help the student understand the group’s idea for their project. The Hearing Itinerant did an excellent job of providing support to this student so she could participate and feel a part of the group. It may be beneficial for Teachers to ask Hearing Itinerants to push into their classes when there is a partner or group activity, so the Hearing Itinerant can help facilitate interactions.

What could parents do to support their child’s interactions with peers in the classroom? Parents could enroll their child in extracurricular activities where they would have more experience with hearing peers, such as sports, dance, or art classes. Parents could also set up play dates where they could help facilitate interactions with hearing peers.

Children with hearing loss may be challenged during group work in school. Marwa shows one way to help make communication easier by making eye contact when she speaks.