Listening in the Classroom

With the commencement of the new educational year well underway, many a parent or guardian will have had contact with their child’s teacher(s) during parent evenings and the like.  Every parent however dreads being told that their child is not performing as he or she should be.

“Before possibly labelling your child incorrectly, it is pertinent to be aware of the fact that children who experience a hearing loss, often present with many of the same signs as children with learning difficulties,” says Tally Sherban, a Client Relations Executive at Oticon South Africa, a leading hearing aid manufacturer.  “These can range from a lower academic achievement than their age, background or IQ scores would predict, or even inattention that is frequently related to frustration and fatigue,” she adds.

Tell-tale signs to look out for in a pupil with a hearing loss:

  • Inappropriate responses to questions
  • Watching other pupils to see what they are doing
  • Articulation problems – speech difficulties
  • Fatigue, especially at the end of the day
  • Academic failure
  • Poor self-concept
  • Day-dreaming
  • Apparent laziness

If your child exhibits any of these signs, it would be wise not to assume that your child has learning or behavioural problems.  “The first step to helping your child is to rule out hearing loss by taking your child to an audiologist who will look at any history of hearing loss or ear infections, and perform a hearing test to establish what your child’s hearing ability is,” explains Tally.

“If your child has a hearing loss, it is vital to inform your child’s teacher(s) of the situation as they have a tremendous impact on their pupils’ learning, self-image and social adjustment,” Tally explains.  “Working with pupils who have a hearing loss requires a team approach from the parents, classroom teacher, speech and language therapist and audiologist to determine the individual needs of each pupil and to develop an appropriate educational plan,” she adds.

Self-image and social adjustment

Focus on your child’s self-image is crucial throughout the process, as he/she will most likely perceive themselves as being different, especially if they are wearing hearing aids and/or utilising an FM system (wireless communication) in the classroom.  “Help your child to accept how their hearing impairment makes them different, while emphasising that hearing loss is not their only descriptive characteristic.  Focus on positive aspects and facilitate an understanding of what your child’s hearing loss is and how it affects their everyday lives.  Classmates will also benefit greatly from this knowledge,” suggests Tally.

Hearing instruments and FM in the classroom

The primary function of amplification in the classroom is to provide access to speech information and facilitate learning.  In most cases, hearing aids will benefit the child with a hearing loss, but in specific listening situations, such as in very noisy classrooms, hearing aids alone may not be enough.

“FM systems such as Oticon’s Amigo range, work with a child’s hearing aids to enhance the speaker’s voice for better speech understanding and immediate relief in the classroom.  It typically comprises of a microphone/transmitter worn by the teacher and a receiver that hooks on to the hearing aid worn by the child.  If this is an option that you are considering, it would be advisable to discuss the matter with your child’s teacher(s) in order to garner their support,” says Tally.

“An FM system will allow your child to sit anywhere in the classroom and hear the teacher’s voice as if it were only a few centimetres away.  By reducing the distance the teacher’s voice has to travel, the effects of background noise and echo are dramatically reduced.  Many children and teachers who use FM systems report less fatigue at the end of the day, as the teacher does not have to raise his/her voice to be heard and the child hears better with less strain,” explains Tally.

FM systems are not only for children with hearing loss. They can also be used by children with normal hearing who present with ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorders, language-learning difficulties, and so forth. Research has shown that children with these difficulties present with improved academic performance through the use of these FM systems.

Classroom tips for teachers:

  • When addressing the pupil say his/her name first and identify the topic you are covering
  • Seat the pupil for optimal listening and visual cues within the classroom. Ideally, this should be with the pupil’s back to the window, seated on third of the distance of the room from the teacher, not in the front row directly beneath the teacher.
  • Be aware of possible misunderstanding – avoid idioms, sarcasm, slang (if you use them, explain).
  • Sometimes ask other pupils if they have heard or understood rather than always focusing on the child with hearing loss
  • Speak in an ordinary tone of voice, without exaggerated lip movements, and at a normal rate of speaking
  • Make sure your lips are clearly visible. Face the class, not the blackboard, when speaking.
  • Make sure that the room does not have bright lights shining directly in the child’s face. Back-lighting is ideal.
  • Be aware that the pupil is unlikely to be able to lip read or fully hear during a film/slide presentation. Either use a captioned film or provide information (transcript) in advance.
  • Institute a buddy system – such as a classroom helper or official note taker.
  • Provide an opportunity for the pupil to share information with the class about the hearing aid and/or FM system and how it works.
  • Keep extra batteries on hand for your FM system.
  • It is important not to have a preconceived notion of function based on the degree of the child’s hearing loss.
  • Remember always to speak naturally and clearly. If using exaggerated mouth movements, extremely fast or slow rates of speaking or overly loud speech, the pupils may have difficulty understanding.
  • Be careful not to chew gum or eat while talking to pupils, to make lip reading possible.
  • Remember always to make a recognisable transition when moving on to a new subject.
  • Consider passing around a written copy of the day’s or week’s assignment for all pupils, or writing assignments on the board.

Confirm your child’s hearing ability before making any decisions relating to your child’s education.  “Be cognisant of the fact that many children with hearing loss are often incorrectly labelled as children with learning difficulties.  Make an informed decision that will allow your child to claim the best possible future for themselves,” concludes Tally.

For more information, please visit or contact us on +27 11 675 6104.

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