Extended School Year Lessons

Well we are half way through summer now and deep into ESY. As a special education teacher with a high-need skill, my contract has me on call for the extended school year (summer school for special ed), and every year, I’ve been called in.

I love it though, especially now as a classroom teacher during the regular nine month school year. ESY gives me a break in routine and lets me return to my itinerant roots, traveling to my students to work with them one on one on high need, functional skills: language and auditory training without worry for content knowledge like social studies and science. It’s a much more relaxing environment for me since there’s no curriculum pacing guide we have to rush to keep up with.

I try to make sure that is also a break for the students, too. It is summer after all, and none of them are happy to be one of the few who gets pulled from camp by their school teacher or, worse, has their teacher visit them at their house!

Here are some ways I try to make ESY lessons fun:


  • Go on a vocabulary scavenger hunt. This one requires you plan in advance and are familiar with hte environment. I will sometimes have students meet me at the public library or my school classroom, and this is one of my go to lessons for those settings. It’s pretty straightforward and real simple to prep. Give students a list of the vocabulary they are learning. They then have to find examples of those words in the room (or building or yard). Just make sure there is at least one item that would fit each word. This works best for nouns and some adjectives. Verbs and adverbs are tricky as there’s no guarantee someone will be doing something to fit the word. I have let students act out these words before, though, so if you really want to include them you can with a that minor modification.

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects.

  • Bring in the iPad! I have a personal iPad, and my summer students consider this the most sacred of rewards. Originally, I thought I would use the iPad in my classroom, but after our school iPad was broken by an overly excited student who forgot to put the iPad down before she started signing about her game score, I removed my personal iPad from the classroom. It’s too expensive a device to risk. However, I do bring it out during ESY. It’s a more supervised, one-on-one environment, so the risk is reduced, and the motivation and feeling of exclusivity for the students makes the risk worth it. For every 1 paper activity my students complete without complaint, they get to complete 1 round of 1 educational game on the iPad. They will do just about anything willingly to get that iPad access. We also usually write our own kid’s book using different iPad apps as a summer-long project. I publish the books and include them in our class library during the school year, so student has something to show off to the other students who didn’t have ESY.


  • Read outside. A change of scenery can make a world of difference. If a student is getting fidgety, I’ll let them pick a book, and we’ll go outside to read. This is my tricky way of testing auditory reception. We sit side by side, and I read aloud. (Sometimes I will let a sibling read aloud if they are available and willing.) At random moments, I stop and ask the student to point to the last word read. We tally how many times they get it correct, and if they beat their record from the earlier times, they’re rewarded. This activity requires them to pay constant attention, but it also lets me check how well they can follow auditory input in an uncontrolled environment with a variety of background noises, not to mention that we get to be outdoors and get some sun on a pretty day. 😉
  • Sound classification outside Speaking of all the outdoor noise, another great activity I use with my newly hearing or younger ESY students was dubbed Summer Sound Sorting (by a student who had just learned the word “alliteration”). This can be a relaxing activity for a student who is feeling frustrated with other work, but be aware it may be very difficult with student with severe hearing loss or who have been recently aided/implanted. We go outside and be as quiet as possible. The student has to try to name each sound they hear. Is it a bird? A lawn mower? A car? Was that the wind or a person? Sometimes, we’ll take the iPad out to record all the sounds to review later. One student made a sound book with audio clips for his summer book project.


  • Popular Songs During the school year, I have students bring in songs they want me to cue and/or explain for them. I’ve started requiring this of my ESY students. Each session they have to bring in a song them like (parent responsibility to check for appropriateness), and we go over the vocabulary, idioms, and figurative language that comes up. My students love it! I love it too, because it gets them listening to music more and gives them something to talk about with their chronological age peers. Often, my students get left out of many social conversation about bands and top songs, but this helps keep them in the loop. We even work on singing along!

conversation beech ball

  • Keep it active! For most ESY activities, I try to make sure the student is moving. Even just a little movement can go a long way. Instead of a matching worksheet, we’ll use flashcards and really spread them out. We will act out books instead of write summaries (although they may have to write the script for us to act it!). Thanks to this inspiring blog post, I also have a beach ball that I wrote conversation topics on. We toss it back and forth; whichever topic our left thumb lands on, we talk about for a minimum of 3 minutes and no less than 3 student sentences. Anything to get them moving will help keep your students engaged when they’d rather be playing.

So how about you guys? Do you have any great summer therapy or ESY lessons? How do you make summer learning more fun for your students?

Communication Modalities

I am only in my 4th year of teaching, but when it comes to communication modalities within Deaf and hard of hearing programs I think I may have seen them all, from various U.S. sign languages all the way to oral/aural.

My student teaching was at a school for the Deaf that followed the bilingual/bimodal modal, or claimed to. It was supposed to be American Sign Language instruction in all classes except English Language Arts, Reading, and Speech. ELA supposed to use Signed Exact English, Reading was to use Signed Exact English and then be translated into ASL, and speech was speechreading and oral expressive communication. However, what actually happened was all instructors signed at their level in whatever sign modality they were familiar with, which was mostly various degrees of Pidgen Signed English and attempts at Total Communication/SimCom. I don’t think anyone used Signed Exact English, and the only teachers who were pure ASL were the ASL and Deaf History teachers. It was a messy conglomeration. I wish I had a chance to see an actual bi-bi system in action.

When I was itinerant, I taught ASL and auditory verbal therapy, trying to create as close to bilingual/bimodal instruction as I know how. I was in no way an expert of either system, but I worked closely with experts through video communication to make sure I was teaching everything correctly. American Sign Language is a beautiful, fully accessibly language to everyone without vision impairments, and it is my personal favorite, if only for the fact that it is its own language and can be taught as such with all the benefits of a brain that is fluent in more than one language. I also saw excellent success with auditory verbal therapy in students who had cochlear implants, both those who also signed and those who were only oral/aural. Spoken English language developed quickest in those who were strictly oral/aural, but there was often something missed at times. With those who also signed, they had visual spatial language to fall back on, and when that signed communication was PSE or a version of SEE provided by an interpreter, it was often well synchronized with the speech of the original speaker.

I am now in a program that uses Cued Speech. It is one of the largest Cued Speech programs in the nation, and it is the only such program in our state. Learning and implementing Cued Speech has been highly enlightening to my instructional practice. I have found both strong pros and strong cons for the system as it’s used in my district. I think Cued Speech is a fantastic reading instruction tool and opens up decoding strategies for students who would otherwise be limited to their current vocabulary sight word knowledge. This phonics access is a tremendous benefit! However, I think that it is only a reading tool for many students. Some students could use Cued Speech as a communication modality successfully provided they meet the 12 diagnostic criteria set out by Orin Cornett when he was developing the system. However, I think somewhere along the way someone decided to ignore Cornett’s list of qualifications for successful use of Cued Speech as a communication modality and applied Cued Speech to all DHH students indiscriminately. This is, in my opinion, unfortunate, and while I know some would disagree, I am not seeing the successes with all students that I do with those that match the criteria.

I think the field of Deaf education has been polarized so long that many professionals, and thus many families, seem to believe that there is only one correct answer, whether that is sign language, oral/aural communication, or Cued Speech. I, for one, feel that this has greatly hindered progress in the field. Why can we not offer students with all the tools we have available? Surely each modality has its best situation and best candidate. Can we not find ways to combine our systems and create well-rounded students with a full set of resources readily available to them to help them in success in the world after school education?

Where do you stand on the communication debate? What successes have you seen with various modalities? Do you strongly prefer one over the others? If so, can you share your strategies and results? If you use a combined approach, what results have you seen? Which do you prefer on a personal, as opposed to professional, level?