What if your student has a hearing impairment?


 It is perhaps important to point out first that all Deaf and hearing impaired students present differing levels of hearing loss, ranging from mild, moderate, severe, to profound.

On top of this there are differences in the frequencies that each student can hear, some hearing more high frequency sounds, others more adept at hearing low frequency sounds. Another factor is students can have unilateral (one side) or bilateral (both sides) hearing loss to varying degrees. Finally, students can have different equipment, different ages at which they received this equipment, and differing parental input and educational histories. So all these factors combined mean that Deaf and hearing impaired students are a heterogeneous group.

That said there are some general strategies (outlined below) that can serve us well as adults working with students with hearing loss. Also there are some New Zealand based websites around Deaf Education nationally, and information from the Ministry of Health that may be useful in understanding hearing loss and the services provided. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) also has some useful resources, articles and further links.

 Strategies for working with Deaf and hearing impaired students:

 It is good to be aware that touching a Deaf or hearing impaired student, or indeed a Deaf adult, on the top of the shoulder gently, is an acceptable way of gaining their attention. Of course this is only necessary if they haven’t noticed you are there. 

 Maintain good face-to-face communication, try not to cover your mouth with your hands, or items such as pens etc., as this can impede ability to ascertain the meaning from your face and will interrupt your lip pattern.

 Keeping good face-to-face communication also means not turning round as you talk, or talking as you are writing on the board. If there is a point of reference being discussed, point out the object, allow the student(s) to take it in, then gain their attention once more and continue explaining. The mistake would be to keep explaining whilst the student’s gaze/attention is still on the text, object, or screen that you may have been referring to. 

  • Always remember if you are working on something the student needs to look at or read, give them ‘take up time’. They can’t read, or look and watch you at the same time.
  • If you are a non-signing adult working with a Deaf student and you are using an interpreter. At intervals, be sure to pause to allow the interpreter to catch up the lag-time of what you have been saying. This sounds simple, but many people forget this when they are in the flow of their instructions.
  • If outside or in a sunny classroom, try not to have the sun behind you, this will mean the student is looking into the sun at you, it will be uncomfortable, and also cast your face into a shadow. The same goes for standing by a window, your face will be in shadow and harder to comprehend.
  • When working on writing or any kind of work that involves desk space, try to keep visual clutter to a minimum, this will make things more straightforward to comprehend what the focus is about.
  • When working on computer screens or iPads, be alongside the student, and use a fine pointing tool (a pen works well), this allows you to pinpoint something, and then gain the student’s eye contact and discuss or explain.
  • Also with computers, pointing and motioning to areas of the screen, always interspersed with face-to-face communication, can be a valuable strategy.
  • Clarify at the start with a student what their preferred method of communication is, it may be spoken language, sign supported English, or full NZSL (New Zealand Sign Language). Once this is established follow what the student prefers.
  • When working with students who have hearing aids or cochlear implants, at the start of the lesson it may be worth asking them if their equipment is turned on, if it is comfortable, if they need batteries. Also at the start you can check with the student (depending on their age) how comfortable they are with the volume of your voice and the distance you are from them (adjust accordingly)
  • For students who use some sign, or who are full sign, regulate your pace of signing to their level. Inquire regularly that they are following and if they want anything repeated or explained.
  • If a student has a unilateral loss (hears better on one side than the other) clarify which side is their better ear, and when working alongside them, or wanting to gain their attention, always try to remember to move towards their better side.
  • If you are working with a student, and they are engrossed in their work but you want their attention, you can lightly tap the desk near them, they will probably see it, feel it, and may hear it (depending on their residual hearing), this can be a nice unobtrusive way of gaining their attention.
  • Final tip, if you are working with a student who uses equipment that requires batteries (hearing aids, there are two sizes, large and small. Also some older model cochlear implants still take batteries) it is handy to always have some batteries close to hand for if they run out (at that key moment)

 Useful links:








Saul Taylor (Senior teacher of the Deaf)