Saturday, June 24, 2017

Growing Our Own

I cannot believe it has been 1 1/2 years since I wrote my last post here. So much has happened to me professionally during that time. Yes, I have written for other online platforms; but I have gotten out of the habit of reflecting here. I need to share what my journey has been like recently. I will soon.


I am experiencing something right now that is sparking a fire in me to write.

The Educators Rising National Conference is currently happening in Phoenix, AZ. I have the privilege of being in attendance with over 1,000 rising educators. The conference is only half way finished, but I need to write now!

Let me just say, I thought ECET2 knew how to party; but at this conference, there was a DJ and dancing before the event even kicked off Friday night!


My guess is because students are in the driver's seat. The officers are all students; they are the ones we see on the stage leading the conference, introducing the speakers, sharing their stories! POWERFUL!

According to their website, "Educators Rising cultivates highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers, beginning in high school and extending through college and into the profession."

EdRising (the only preferred shortened version of the name) is an organization that supports teenagers in becoming teachers. Chapters are established in local middle and high schools with the express purpose of growing future educators. Students receive hands-on learning experiences of what it is like to teach, and are provided clinical experiences that many future teachers do not receive until they are juniors or seniors in college! 

The organization, with the support of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the National Education Association, created standards that "define what high school students exploring teaching need to know and be able to do to take their first steps on the path to accomplished teaching." There is a large virtual network that students can join. They can earn micro-credentials that give them a leg up when entering college. Competitions occur throughout the nation where these rising educators can demonstrate their knowledge, skills and leadership. Recently, a curriculum was released that can be used as a resource for creating teacher pathways.

Students in this organization are considered "rising educators," not "future educators". This is because they are already immersing themselves in teaching; they are making an impact now! 

What strikes me the most about Educators Rising is the whole concept of "grow your own". This really resonates with me when I think about the critical shortage of Teachers of the Deaf, and the even greater need of teachers who are themselves deaf. 

What are we doing as a profession to encourage our youth who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Deaf with Disabilities, and Hard of Hearing (DDBDDHH) to join the education profession?

Sure, we may be having individual conversations with our students telling them that they would make great teachers. We might be giving students opportunities to be peer tutors with the hope they would feel what we feel whenever we help someone learn. 

But, is that enough? No!
  • We need to start creating EdRising chapters at schools for the deaf, public school cluster programs and anywhere else that might entice our deaf youth to become rising educators. 
  • We must create teaching pathways in our high schools that will lead our DDBDDHH youth into the field of deaf education. 
  • We can give these students hands-on learning experiences to serve as language models to our youth, to feel our burning desire to make an impact in children's lives.

There is more we need to do beyond that.
  • We must do more to raise their literacy levels so they can pass the required PRAXIS or other exams needed to enter into college programs or to receive teacher certification. 
  • We must fight for alternative pathways for them to enter teacher prep programs or to become certified by eliminating the audistic barriers to these exams.

The future of education is at the hands of today's youth. Let's ignite a fire in them to pursue the best profession on earth - teaching!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Am I an Audist?

Here is an ASL version of this post on YouTube:

At the start of Winter break, I put on my To Do list to write a blog reflecting on 2015. It was a spectacular year professionally for me. However, when I sat down to start writing, something else came out of me...

I am in my 21st year as a Teacher of the Deaf and consider myself an ally and advocate to the Deaf community and Deaf education. I've been signing since I took my first ASL course in 1990 and am even a nationally certified sign language interpreter. I strongly believe in bilingual ASL/English education and am an opponent of simultaneous communication - aka Sim-Com (talking and signing at the same time). When I taught in a Deaf classroom it was very clear to my students: one either signs or speaks, but not both. I empowered my students to make their own communication choices. If they chose to speak in a group setting, then either I would sign the message to the other students or ask the student to then restate it in ASL for equal access to classmates. I've read countless studies about the ill effects of using Sim-Com and preach against it to whomever will listen. I know how despicable it is to communicate to a hearing person in spoken English if a Deaf person is present.


Why is it that in the last few years, after leaving the classroom to become an itinerant teacher, I find myself occasionally Sim-Comming around Deaf children and adults? Why is it if I engage in a conversation with a hearing person who knows ASL with a Deaf person present, we somehow end up talking while signing? It's not consciously intentional - we just slip into it.

I have never considered myself an Audist, but after reflection, I as a hearing person, regardless of what I know is right in every fiber of my being, do have audist tendencies.

Audism was coined by Tom Humphries in his 1977 dissertation: "The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears." In essence, it is discrimination against people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. It can also be connected to linguicism - that one language is superior to another.

By using Sim-Com in front of a Deaf person, one is discriminating against that person by insinuating that ASL alone is not a language of equal value to English. It also does not take into account the thoughts and feelings of the Deaf person who is excluded in the conversations simply because the hearing people choose to Sim-Com, or to solely speak.

Why in the world would I do this???? It’s easy to say that I just follow what the other hearing person does, but sometimes it’s me who starts it. Regardless, I know it has to stop!

A few weeks ago after hitting myself in the head a few times, I came to the realization that I indeed have been portraying audist behavior. I made a decision to do whatever I can to stop myself from continuing this blatant discrimination. I attended a Christmas party at the Deaf classroom where I used to teach. I appreciate that the new teacher and staff continue to include me in their parties and secret Santa exchanges. Before I entered the classroom, I made a promise to myself that I would only use ASL the entire time I was there. I knew the Deaf students and the Deaf teacher assistant would be there, and I wanted to be sure I respected them the entire time I was there.

A few days later, I messaged the Deaf assistant and apologized to her for all the times I have visited the classroom and Sim-Commed or spoke to the teacher in her and the students' presence. I told her about my reflection and resolution to go back to doing what I know is right.

Sim-Com has been ingrained in the Deaf education system for decades. Despite all the research demonstrating how it negatively impacts the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children, it refuses to go away. There are protests and movements happening right now across the U.S. advocating for change in how Deaf children are educated, included how they are taught communicatively.

I must make clear, I am not an opponent of Deaf and hard of hearing children learning to speak. If they have the capability, they should be given the opportunity. I teach several students who speak. What I am saying is by combining and using 2 languages at the same time results in incomplete messages in both languages and ultimately hurts the development of these children.

I am taking a stance to never again Sim-Com. If I slip, please call me out on it.

Will you join me?

UPDATE - 1/11/16

I recently posted this on FaceBook and wanted to include it here.

Thank you to everyone who has read and/or shared by recent blog post "Am I an Audist?" I wrote this as a way to openly self-reflect on the practices I have been using and my vow to change. I hoped it would make people think and maybe spark some discussion. I had no intentions of almost 1,000 people reading it and it being shared widely. People have been candid to comment on the post itself, on FaceBook and on Twitter. I appreciate everyone for their thoughts. It's important to note that deaf and hard of hearing adults and children communicate in a variety of ways; some even choose to Sim-Com themselves. That is their right in which they are empowered to do so. I would never tell an adult or a child he/she must Sim-Com. And there are some adults who want the hearing signer to Sim-Com or at least mouth English. That, again, is their right. I have some hypotheses as to why this is so, but I'll keep that in my mind and not in writing. However, as an educator, for me to Sim-Com to another hearing adult in front of DHH adults and children is, in my opinion, morally wrong, as I stated in my post. The same is true if I communicate directly to DHH children using Sim-Com. It is not fair to them if I give them 2 incomplete languages at the same time. How can we expect DHH children to develop fluency in either language if we do not model to them true language form in either ASL or English? Finally, I want to applaud every parent who is learning to sign for their signing deaf children. It is not easy to learn a second language as an adult, and having to learn it for the sake of their child puts more urgency on the matter. These parents are doing what they know is best - providing language to their children. As they are learning, if they Sim-Com, that's OK in my book. They deserve to be excused from any criticism surrounding Sim-Com. They are doing their best for their children and are more often than not, learning as their children learn. Praise them for their efforts, never condone them for talking while signing. We just need more parents signing to their kids!

Thank you!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving Memories

Family gatherings are an integral part of our lives. The connections we have with our families are what make us thrive. They make us who we are. The relationships we build are paramount to every fiber of our being.  
Now, imagine attending family functions and not being able to hear your Uncle Bob talking about all the fish he caught the day before or your grandmother telling you how proud she is that you made the academic team. This is the life of many deaf children; they are part of families, but because almost 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, they are born into silence and isolation. Some parents learn sign language to communicate with their children, but not all do. This can make for lonely family gatherings.

Several years ago, while working at an elementary program that served deaf and hard of hearing students from multiple school districts, the students and I decided to write and perform a Thanksgiving play. We adapted the book A Turkey For Thanksgiving, by Eve Bunting, by adding in Deaf characters and elements of Deaf culture to create A Deaf Turkey For Thanksgiving.

To add to the excitement of performing a play in front of the school and the children's families, we decided to host a Deaf Thanksgiving feast. I secretly wanted my students to experience a language filled Thanksgiving family experience. Each child's family volunteered to bring a dish, and the teachers provided the turkey and ham. The amazing cafeteria workers graciously cooked the meats for us in between serving lunch to hundreds of children. The preschool class created placemats with photos of the students and cute hand printed Thanksgiving decorations. These would become souvenirs for everyone who attended. My class made the mashed potatoes from scratch. I'm not sure how germ free the final product was, but the students loved contributing to the meal.

        My classroom was transformed into a mini restaurant. Table and chairs occupied the entire floor space in my room as we received over 50 hungry guests. The preschool classroom held the buffet line full of hand cut meats and mouthwatering side dishes. A separate table was covered corner to corner in traditional holiday pies and cakes. We could have never anticipated the graciousness of all the families. Every child had at least three people attend with them. Central Office administration had come to show their support, including the superintendent and a School Board member. Even my husband was there along with my daughter. Sounds of laughter filled the air of families young and old. Parents and children chatted away as teachers and interpreters served as communication bridges when needed.  My classroom was no longer just a place for learning; it was a place for families making lasting memories together.

        The Deaf Thanksgiving play and feast became a tradition for those in the regional program, and we saw an increase in attendance each of the next eight years. We quickly outgrew my cramped classroom and had to take over a corner of the gymnasium to accommodate the 75 plus that attended each year. Not only were parents coming, but they were bringing siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents! Even more administrators from Central Office were coming to see what we were doing.

This tradition quickly transformed into a Deaf family reunion. Parents of Deaf children who moved on to middle school and high school checked them out of school early to come to our feast. Even families that had moved across the state came back to reunite with their Deaf family.

At some point new district policies no longer allowed for home cooked dishes to be brought into schools. This didn’t stop us; instead we collected money to order the side dishes from a local restaurant while the teachers and I still provided the turkey and ham.

        Four years ago, I left the regional program for another position in the district. My departure also meant the end of the Deaf Thanksgiving tradition. It took a while, but eventually the Deaf children and their families stopped asking when the next feast would be. However, the bonds that were made as a result of the Deaf Thanksgiving reunion still remain. Once a family is formed, especially one of respect and joy, those bonds can never truly be broken. I still talk to many of the parents of former students, and they still connect with each other. Part of my heart will forever belong to my second family. I am a better teacher because of them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spotlight on Deaf Education

The following are portions of an article recently published in the October 2015 edition of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council Newsletter.

I share them here in hopes of continuing the conversations surrounding deaf education reform.

- Heidi

Spotlight on Deaf Education
An interview with Heidi Givens, by fellow TAC member Brooke Perry

Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time connecting with Heidi over our mutual interest in teacher blogging. Heidi teaches students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Daviess County Public Schools, in Kentucky. My relationship with Heidi has opened my eyes to the unique learning needs of the students she works with, along with the importance and scope of her job as an educator—something I believe is worthy of sharing with our peers.” - Brooke Perry

What are the main differences you see in the ways that hearing students and deaf/hard of hearing students learn?

There are assumptions that deaf children are just hearing children who cannot hear. This could not be further from the truth. Deaf children receive and process information differently, and therefore learn differently than hearing children. They have different memory strengths; deaf children have stronger visual-spatial memory and hearing children have stronger sequential memory. These differences are related to how the two groups use their senses to access language and the world around them. Hearing children are bombarded with sound, especially in the classroom, where teachers and students are talking all the time. They process information in the order the words were heard: linearly. Our English language also functions in a linear manner. Deaf children, however, experience the world visually, which af­fects how they learn. With their wider and stronger peripheral visions, deaf children pick up on many small visual details that hearing children miss. They are more sensitive to slight changes in facial expressions or to the positioning of items on different pages in a book. They also process information within a larger context in order to understand how the concepts they’re learn­ing fit in visually with what they already know. It’s like getting information as a picture rather than a stream of words. For ex­ample, if we were to say, “The cup is on the table,” that’s a linear statement. But to draw that sentence, most people would not draw a cup floating there first. You’d draw the table first, and then you would draw the cup on top of the table. That’s how language works for visual-spatial learners. So, using the same teaching framework with deaf students that we use for hearing students just doesn’t work.

What do we need to know about the #DeafEd Twitter chat?

The chat began with a visiting professor and students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I stumbled upon the chat on Twitter in 2014, and I knew I needed to learn more. The students had come up with questions and made videos to sign them. The level of professionalism and participation was so impressive, but since it was a culminating project for the college students, there wasn’t a plan to continue the chat. I asked the professor, TL (@talilalewis), if I could take over. We held the next #DeafEd chat in mid-April of this year, and it was a hit. Prior to the start of this chat, there really wasn’t a national platform for conversa­tions about deaf education. Our intent is to vary the topics each month and have prominent experts in the field serve as hosts. My hope is to encourage any teacher who is or could be working with deaf or hard of hearing students to participate. The title of the chat on October 1 was, “The Intersection of Education and Language of Deaf Students of Color,” and the November 5 chat, hosted by TL and students, will be about Deaf identity.

What are your hopes for the future of deaf education?

A bill was just introduced in the US Congress—H.R. 3535: The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act. It looks at the Indi­viduals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which falls short on students who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind. The IDEA states that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment. “Least re­strictive environment” is often interpreted to mean the regular education classroom, but for deaf children, that is often the most restrictive environment. Because of the way people interpret the law, deaf students have to be in the same classroom as hearing students, and often that’s a detriment to the children. A lack of direct access to communication and opportunities to be with similar peers has a harmful effect on many deaf and hard of hearing students. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act aims to ensure that the language needs of deaf and hard of hearing students are made a priority. If the bill passes, you’ll see more deaf children where they’re supposed to be, and that’s in a school for the deaf.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Plain Video is Not Enough: How Educational Videos Fail Teachers of the DHH and their Students

The below post was originally published on the Redesign Challenge website July 9, 2015 and can be found here.

Where are the Professional Learning Videos for Teachers of DHH Students?

Use of video for professional learning is commonplace among teachers everywhere. With the focus on personalized learning, teachers are utilizing various websites and other media to find exactly what they need to grow professionally. However, as a teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), I often struggle to find videos that meet my needs. Sure, there are archived webinars or recordings of conference presentations specific for teachers of the DHH that appear sporadically online. However, if I wanted to learn how to teach DHH students to analyze an author’s point of view, I would be hard pressed to find a video. I do not have a one-stop shop of videos as my go-to for professional learning.

The root of the problem is not that professional learning video providers are intentionally ignoring the needs of educators of this unique population. I would argue that it is not possible for them to ignore what they do not know. The fact is my students learn differently from students who can hear. For example, DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Therefore, I cannot just use strategies and curriculum for hearing students and present them in American Sign Language (ASL). Also, content teachers who learn ASL but teach the same way to DHH students as they do to hearing students, without pedagogical knowledge of DHH learning, may not achieve the desired results. A perfect example of this difference is when we look at prepositional phrases. In English, we would say “The cup is on the table.” The words must fall in this sequence in order to be grammatically correct and make sense. However, now think about how you would draw this sentence; you would first draw the table then the cup on the table. You would not have the cup floating in space then a table magically appearing. This is parallel to how this sentence would be signed in ASL; you establish the presence of the table, then place the cup on the table. Without knowing the distinction between prepositional phrases in both languages, teachers would not be using the appropriate strategies needed for DHH students to fully comprehend the concept in either language. This is a problem, and it is insidious because we cannot address it if we do not know a problem exists. The average person is not aware of these specific learning needs of DHH students. Consequently, it is imperative that teachers of DHH students take the lead in educating the public and advocating for their students. The Redesign Challenge has presented me the opportunity to do just that.

It’s Not Just About Teachers of DHH Students- The Problem is Universal.

Across the U.S. approximately 80% of all DHH students are educated in public school settings, spending at least part of their time in regular education classrooms surrounded by a sea of students and teachers who can hear. These teachers are not fully equipped to properly educate DHH students; they don’t understand that merely wearing a microphone does not provide the student with equal access to instructional content. DHH students learn differently! Even more troubling is that regular education teachers typically have little to no training in strategies that work for their DHH students. They may not even be aware that their best instructional moves are ineffective, at best, for DHH students.

Clearly, there is a great need to provide support to classroom teachers so that they have the necessary tools and skills to best meet the needs of DHH students academically and socially. I have spent countless hours searching for resources to help myself. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for teachers who are not trained in educating this population to develop the competencies in working with them. Therefore, there must be an avenue for them to learn how to effectively teach DHH students; videos that can demonstrate the strategies needed to effectively transform their teaching methods to reach all children, not just those who can hear. Additionally, DHH teachers in resource or classroom settings should also have equal opportunity to high quality videos so they too can hone their craft.

DHH teachers are not alone. This problem extends well beyond DHH contexts. There are teachers of other disability areas, related arts, world languages, early childhood, etc. that just don’t have video resources like those available to ELA and math K-12.

There is a huge push for increased professional learning videos in this country so that ALL educators are better equipped to teach today’s students. Teachers, regardless of the setting, must be provided the same opportunity and resources to learn how to best educate their students. The problem is now clear so where do we go from here?  How can the Redesign Challenge address this issue?

When I think about the lack of video resources for my own professional learning, it makes me wonder about the access to instructional content videos for my DHH students. There is a plethora of videos for students on a variety of subjects; however there again is a lack of similar resources for DHH students. Are video developers not targeting these students, or do they just not know that they should develop videos differently for them?

Video Captions Do Not Equal Access for DHH Students.

In today’s digital age, there are countless resources that focus on enhancing student learning. Classrooms around the country are transforming themselves into blended learning environments.  Teachers are creating their own videos or using ones from such places as Khan Academy or Crash Course. Students from the largest cities or the smallest rural towns can equally access all of these videos, via computers, laptops, tablets, or even smartphones.

As a teacher of DHH students, I look at all these amazing advancements in education and think to myself, “What about my students who can’t hear what is being said in these videos? How can my students who communicate in ASL and are learning English as a second language have equal access to the high quality videos that all other children can access?”

To truly personalize the blended learning environment for DHH students, there needs to be instructional content videos presented in ASL readily available for ANY teacher of DHH students to use in their classroom. These videos must be produced in a way that capitalizes on how DHH students learn best. Remember, experts in deaf education know that DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Using the same curriculum and strategies designed for students who can hear with DHH students may not have the desired results. Plus, closed captioning is not enough since many DHH students are not reading fluently at the speaker’s rate and do not have enough academic English vernacular to fully comprehend closed captioned messages. An entire video library would have to be created that illustrates the desired content in a way in which DHH children’s brains process information.

Having such videos could benefit ALL students in unforeseen ways:
  • Since many DHH classrooms include students from multiple grade and ability levels, the videos would allow for more individualized learning
  • Using instructional videos that are presented by fluent ASL users from around the U.S. will increase the amount of language models to which students have access
  • In regular education classrooms, DHH students can freely collaborate quickly and easily with their hearing peers, on the same video project, by EVERYONE adding closed captioning and voice-overs to each ASL video
  • Hearing peers will have opportunities to learn ASL from the videos and the DHH students to increase their English skills from viewing the captions. This could have positive outcomes of reduced social isolation of the DHH students in mainstream settings.
  • DHH students can view these at home while doing their homework for relearning of content or enrichment.
  • Parents of DHH children can use the videos as a tool to better learn how to communicate with their children
I have no doubt that teachers of world languages, early childhood, other disability areas are in the same conundrum as me. They could easily craft a similar proposal of instructional content videos for their population of students or specialty area.

The parallel problems shared by students and teachers are alarming. With the abundance of online resources available to today’s teachers, there has to be a way to make 21st century learning more available to students who find themselves “in the margins” of the mainstream public school setting. Have you found a solution in your school? If you have any ideas of how to do so, I would love to hear them.