I had the good fortune to spend last week doing workshops in different cities in Norway for Phonak. I got to meet lots of interesting people and, as always, I learned as well as taught.
One of the exciting things was that in Norway, technology is a given. Both children and adults are allowed whatever technology they need, paid for by the government. Children can have whatever they need, including as many pass around mics as necessary. In fact, school personnel were telling me that, for children with hearing loss to hear what they needed to hear, there should be one pass mic for every two children in the classroom. WOW!!! In the US we consider ourselves lucky if we get one pass mic and here they receive as many as they need!
Since pass mics were so plentiful, I got to use them. I have a relatively mild hearing loss through 2000 Hz with a severe high frequency drop. Not bad at all compared with the children I work with. So here I am in a situation where there is a plethora of technology. The nice people at Phonak set me up with multiple mics so as we sat and talked in a group, each person was wearing a mic. I could not get over how much easier it was for me to listen. No strain. Me, who has been pushing FM for as many years as there has been FM had never had the opportunity to listen using multiple mics. It changed my attitude.
What should we be pushing for in schools?
There is a lot that children need to succeed in school but let’s just discuss technology. I am pretty sure that no one questions that children need FM in school. We know that schools are very noisy places and that, no matter what we want to do, we cannot completely control signal to noise ratio. There are two ways to improve listening. Positioning and using remote microphones. Positioning means we need to be sure that children are very close to the person talking. In a noisy place that would mean I want to the child to be within a foot or so of the talker. Not likely to happen in any classroom I know of. So we need to use remote microphones. Children need to hear the teacher to get new information. Teacher needs to wear a remote microphone.
Do kids need to hear anything else in the classroom? YES!!! Children need to hear other children. The questions and answers other children make during discussion is a critical part of learning. Even wrong answers tell you important things. In addition, classroom work is becoming more and more collaborative. This means that children need to hear each other in small groups. How are we going to assure that children hear other children?
Please please please use pass mics
I confess to being tired of arguing with school districts about the need to do what needs to be done to get kids to hear. Please close the classroom door. Please close the windows, especially if it is noisy outside. Please check HVAC to avoid excess noise. And PLEASE USE PASS MICS.
Children have soft voices. They do not accommodate for those around them. Adults may be willing to increase volume when someone has a hearing loss not children do not and cannot. We need to provide them with technology so that they can provide access to their peers with hearing loss. EVERY CHILD WITH HEARING LOSS NEEDS A PASS MIC IN THE CLASSROOM. At least one, but let’s start with that.
The talking stick idea
Native Americans use the talking stick concept when them have meetings. We can do this in classrooms. Only the person with the pass mic can talk. When children are old enough they can pass the mic around themselves. I have seen some classes in which one student was assigned to carry the mic around the room and hand it to the child who was talking. This teaches several things – respect for those who are talking (since we cannot interrupt) and helps children attend to others.
Teaching about hearing
I wish there were a way in which we could teach parents, teachers, and other school personnel about the value of using a pass mic, to help them understand what a child is missing if they do not hear. I understand that it is definitely a little difficult to have to control extra technology but isn’t it worth it? If we do not teach children to listen we are courting academic failure. We do not have the right to deprive children of the ability to hear in the classroom. In fact, just the opposite. We have the responsibility to assure that they do hear.