Authors: Laura Hemberger, M.A.T. and Kathryn Morrow, M.A.T. Trinity University


There are several places a teacher should look in an attempt to explore the negative behavior of students with hearing impairment or deafness.  Many times, inappropriate student behavior results from a lack of understanding (Oral Deaf Education Homepage, 2005).  For example, a teacher may ask her students to gather in groups of four to work collaboratively on an assignment.  A Deaf student, having missed this instruction, may see peers moving from their desks and assume that the class period is over and students are preparing for lunch.  Thus, the teacher must be overly conscious that all directions and expectations are explicitly communicated in a way that the student will be able to understand.  Teachers should consider the following strategies to make sure all students are aware of what is going on around them:

  1. Make eye-contact and be sure you have the student’s attention before important directions are given;
  2. Use visual cues, such as calendars, symbols, or drawings of frequent activities, as much as possible;
  3. Use written words (on the chalkboard, a hand-written note, charts of procedures);
  4. Use gestures and pointing to indicate importance;
  5. Use extended wait time.  Hearing teachers may tend to present verbal and visual stimuli simultaneously.  However, a student with hearing loss needs time to absorb visual information before attending to the verbal message, whether received by lip-reading or through an interpreter;
  6. Post the daily schedule and any changes in a highly visible place;
  7. If the student communicates predominantly through the use of ASL, learn signs for frequently used words and for emergencies, such as “fire drill.”

Some students, especially adolescents, may engage in negative behaviors as a means of coping with insecurities about their hearing loss.  Being perceived as difficult to talk to or understand can have negative social consequences with other students.  Below is a list of nonproductive strategies cited by Pakulski and Kaderavek (2002) in their article on classroom interventions for students with hearing loss:

  1. Pretending to understand rather than asking for help;
  2. Withdrawing socially to avoid communication difficulties;
  3. Dominating conversations to maintain an understood topic;
  4. Giving in to feelings of anger, hostility, or self-pity;
  5. Feeling anxious and tense, before, during and after conversations.

These negative reactions must be minimized as much as possible.  Earlier suggestions for developing a positive classroom environment should address some of the social needs of students with hearing impairment.  However, if social difficulties seem severe or the student seems to be overly depressed, he or she should be referred to a counselor for further assistance.  (Please see the chapter Counseling Students with Hearing Impairment on this web site.)

If social needs in the classroom are not adequately addressed, isolation may be the cause of negative behavior among students with hearing impairments.  Because so much of social interaction involves listening, Deaf students may frequently feel isolated from their hearing peers.   Charles, Senter, and Barr (1995) note that all students have an innate desire to be part of the group and that misbehavior reflects the mistaken idea that such activity will gain students the recognition they want and are otherwise not receiving.  Suggestions for helping students with hearing impairment learn to communicate in a more positive way appear below, in the section entitled Helping Students to Communicate.