This week has highlighted my deafness. I have a 70Db threshold in some frequencies and only the very high or very low frequencies are in the normal range for me. This website explains how this works and my personal audiogram looks like a U shape with another smaller dip in the high frequencies. I wear hearing aids and have done so since my late 20s, when I realised my hearing had deteriorated. I can thank my father for my type of deafness, it is hereditary and reasonably unusual. My dip in the high frequencies has most likely has come from playing in bands for years without any ear protection. This is a more common hearing loss, where loud noise has changed the ability to hear the higher frequencies.
Over the week, as part of my work, we have been visiting new schools that were built as Innovative Learning Environments or ILEs. These spaces are huge. They are mainly open areas where large numbers of students and staff can collaborate, learn and inspire each other. There are break out spaces where groups or individuals can work, but there are also wide open areas where students can work together or in smaller groups. We spent the two days as a group, always with people, sleeping in a dorm, eating together, and socialising. I found myself having to take some quiet time away from others, and feeling quite tired over the two days and keen to get home to a quiet space.
This week I had my annual checkup for my hearing and it really made me think about what I had been experiencing over the last seven weeks and in particular the last few days. I have been very tired and often have taken myself away from others to get some quiet time. I had thought it was around the amount of learning and the processing I was doing (and my age!), which was certainly a big part, but I know now it was also about my hearing loss.
When you are hard of hearing, you have to work a lot harder to make out what is being said all the time. My hearing aids are great and they do an amazing job at amplifying sound and making speech clear for me, but they don't do everything. I still have to pick out what I listen to within an environment and when there are 10 conversations going on at the same time, it takes effort to focus on one. I always place myself at the front of a presentation, but as soon as we break for groups, it makes it harder to concentrate and select what I am listening to. Very little of our time has been in our own quiet space or as individuals. There is no office to shut the door or to get away from others and have silence.
This made me think about the effect it had on me and how much this would also affect our students. This is not a new thing of course. This article on Stuff talks about how adapting our teaching practices to the environment is important if hearing impaired are going to be catered for in an ILE. I also like the last comment in this article: "It doesn't matter where they are, it's the relationship that's important." This for me means understanding and knowing your students, and staff, and being aware of their needs. I know that I need some time in quiet space during a day or I can feel quite overloaded with noise and many of our students will need this as well.
There are lots of resources out there on how to cater for hearing impaired students in the classroom and the TKI site has some great resources as well as a guide for teachers to help make their environments more effective for communication and social interactions. Another good site with some strategies for teachers with a hard of hearing student in their class is from the DeafTEC site. There is also an article from Noise and Health on "Noise in open plan classrooms" that I found really interesting and although it was written in 2010 and I know the acoustics have changed a lot since then, it has some good suggestions about dealing with noise in these environments. There is also a more recent (2016) Masters thesis by Leanne Munro, titled New generation learning environments: are students with hearing difficulties included? which, although I haven't read it all yet, has some great insight into this issue and has some research (albeit one school) to back up her findings. She has some considerations for schools, at the macro level for buildings, meso level for administration and I like the micro level:
"Thirdly, consideration must be given at the micro level where students are given agency to explore the learning environment and allow them choice of technology, spaces and places that optimise learning and foster a sense of inclusion."
It will be interesting to see what acoustic qualities our site has and what soundproofing is in place in our spaces. I am excited about working in the new environment as I feel it creates amazing learning opportunities for our students, but I am also interested as to how this will work for me and for others with hearing loss. I am going back to my hearing specialist during our first term next year to have another discussion around how I am coping and whether we need to adjust anything with my hearing equipment, or add any extra support for me to hear as well as I can.