Naomi Epstein

The Special Needs Issue – Naomi

Keeping the Lines of Communication Open  – ELT and the Special Needs LearnerNaomi Epstein

Looking at the title of this post, a reader may be tempted to wonder who is presumptuous enough to lump all the widely different kinds of “special needs learners” into one post. Surely there is a world of difference between the one learner in your class who can’t hear well, the one who can’t see well, the one who is dyslectic and the learner who can’t sit still for more than a few minutes.

Well, I am.

Because there is one thing that all these learners have in common. They need to have an open line of communication to you, the teacher, outside of the lesson. While adult learners may be able to tell the teacher, in front of the whole class, something like: “You spoke with your back to the class and I couldn’t hear you, please repeat that”, most children avoid drawing attention to themselves like they avoid the plague. Children, particularly those between the ages of 9-15 are much more concerned with what they believe their peers think of them than with ensuring they are getting the accommodations the need. They will nod emphatically to indicate that they have understood even when they haven’t, just to avoid any special attention from the teacher.

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Therefore, the teacher and the learner need to find a way to communicate regularly in a manner which will not embarrass the child. The options are many, ranging from face-to-face (the student stops by during the teacher’s weekly yard duty) to weekly phone calls, emails or video chats. Not only will these short exchanges allow the teacher to ensure that the child understood technical information (such as which material must be reviewed for the exam) but will give the child and the teacher an opportunity to work out “secret signals”.

Consider these two examples:

When a teacher switches back and forth frequently between English and the mother tongue, a child with a hearing loss may have a difficult time following. It takes such a learner more time to register that there has been a switch and then an adjustment of lip-reading skills focused on needs to be made. Some teachers and learners agree on a tiny hand signal the teacher makes when switching languages.  No one but the student notices it.

Sometimes a teacher may not notice that her black marker (for the whiteboard) is beginning to fade away. Or perhaps the teacher may not pay attention that she/he has written on the board with letters that are smaller than the size needed.  The student with a visual impairment may pretend to suddenly have a cough, which alerts the teacher to the fact that the board must be examined.

In many cases, the children themselves are the best source of knowledge as to how to help them function in class. But they won’t say a word in class. The teacher needs the opportunity to listen to the student, outside of the classroom.

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Naomi Epstein

For the past twenty-five years I have specialized in teaching English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing pupils in Israel. I began my career as an elementary school teacher but have taught high-school for the last 21 years. I have a B.A. in Deaf Education, a B.E.D. in EFL and an M.A. in Curriculum Development. I'm the author of two textbooks for these pupils. I am both a teacher and a teachers' counselor. As a firm believer in the quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world" (Gandhi) I have found that sharing with others, networking and reading have helped me keep my enthusiasm for teaching burning bright. I've recently discovered the joys of audiobooks - I now read books AND listen to them while doing housework! Naomi's blog: Visualizing Ideas

4 thoughts on “The Special Needs Issue – Naomi”

  1. Naomi, Shalom!
    . I appreciate, so much, your comments. I am a teacher for students who are deaf and hard if hearing and tour comments could not more true. Students in middle and high school (grades 6-12) are particularly sensitive about being singled out or put in the spotlight.
    . The difficulties I have are with general education teachers not wanting to change some of the procedures to allow the students with special needs to be included or assimilated into the classroom discussions. It can be very frustrating.
    . We need to teach them, both students and teachers, better ways to interact and participate in the educational process. Thank you for spotlighting a few of the ways to start breaking down the barriers.

  2. Hi Naomi,

    I praise all teachers for having such skills. And very reassuring to know that we should keep a line of communication outside the class with all teens actually. because I ask them for small notebooks for the writing productions and it is also where we can keep a line of communication. I love leaving them messages, ask them to write for the opinion on something, reflect. And I also like communicating with them outside the class. I use Facebook too for that.

    It takes time though to build trust with them as most of them are not sure if they can really tell you how they feel about something. But once they do feel comfortable is amazing how much they teach us about themselves.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Rose,
      I agree, time is a key factor. Noone opens up at once. Teaching is a long term things. We don’t see the rewards at once, neither do the students. So glad to hear how you combine use of physical notebooks and facebook – get the best of both worlds.
      Thank you for stopping by!

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