Reflection on Memory, Retention, and Hearing Loss


In this reflection, I would like to discuss memory and retention, as it pertains to students with hearing loss in my Speechreading classes.  In addition to short-term and long-term memory as discussed by Barkley (2010) in our textbook, it is important to remember the role of sensory systems as the precursor of the memory and retention process.  For the Speechreading students, each of these entities is important to consider when thinking about motivation, active learning, and engagement.


It is unfortunate that there is a bottleneck in the learning process for students with hearing loss.  They know it, and it definitely has an impact on their motivation and engagement in the classroom.  In fact, it has an impact of whether they take the leap to even put themselves in this role.  It is frustrating for my students to put themselves in the potentially intimidating role of learner, to be motivated and involved, and yet to struggle to cross that first hurdle of merely understanding what was said.  They live in a hearing world and are faced with these obstacles both in and out of the classroom.  My students have reported: “I just don’t remember things like I use to”, “It’s hard for me to be a student, because I just don’t learn like I did before”, “It’s exhausting to sit in a classroom and listen”, and “I feel like I’m not as smart as I use to be”.

I need to address many of these issues before the class even begins.  There is pressure to reassure them with details of the supportive and inclusive class, the practical learning objectives, and accessibility-focused classroom setup.  I need to understand these implications, accommodate challenges, focus on strengths, and help the students learn the skills that will help to overcome the communication obstacles they face in their daily lives.


A classroom is a place where we have the opportunity to take in new information, new perspectives, new insights.  There are many ways to access those opportunities, but for most of us, it is typically done through listening, discussion, and collaboration.  We know retention is greater when we are involved in active learning; when new material makes sense and it is deemed meaningful by the student, learning is more successful and retention is greatly improved (Barkley, 2010).  This is where hearing loss is often a significant detriment.

“When we want to remember (or learn) something we have heard, we must hear it clearly because memory can be only as clear as its original signal…muddy in, muddy out.”  Doidge (2011, p.68).  There are additional implications, one of which can be explained by an effortfulness hypothesis (McCoy, Tun, Cox, Colangelo, Stewart, and Wingfield, 2005).  Simply put, the more effort a person must use to hear and understand the message, the fewer processing resources available to transfer that information to short and long-term memory for later retrieval.  It’s no wonder students with hearing loss are aware of changes in their efforts and outcomes.

Students in my Speechreading class have long complained about having more trouble remembering things than they use to have: names, details from conversations, information from classes.  It makes sense to me.  I explain it to them: the more mental resources used to perceive and comprehend what is being said, the less resources available to process and remember.  If the speech is degraded or the environment unfavourable, their brain is working harder to merely process the sounds.  If the information cannot be accessed by the sensory memory, it complicates (or obliterates!) the processing that would occur in the working memory.  When this occurs, what happens to comprehension, memory and the effort put forth?  I usually explain this concept by talking about capacity.  If you have a certain capacity and more of it is depleted to understand the message, storing that information for later retrieval might not be possible.  Does that mean those with hearing loss aren’t capable of being good students?  Of learning?  Of course not.  This is a problem we can address.


What does this mean to adult learners who have hearing loss?  I think it means that the issue needs to be acknowledged and addressed from multiple angles.  The instructor, the course material, and the student need to take this into consideration.

In my classroom, I think most of this responsibility falls to me.  Here are some choices I can make to address this issue and reduce the impact of hearing loss on memory, retention, and learning:

  • ensure potential students are comfortable and have any questions answered before the course begins.  A calm and relaxed student will likely hear and understand better.
  • be an effective communicator throughout the course.  Speak slowly, clearly, and with appropriate intonation and pauses.  Use my microphone consistently.  Set a good example and be an exemplar of what can happen when the input is not effortful.
  • encourage and support all students to be effective communicators.  They should face one another, speak as they wish to be spoken to, and use the tabletop mics.
  • provide a hearing-accessible teaching environment.  The tables and chairs should be arranged for maximum viewing, in a quiet room, with one speaker at a time.
  • ensure the content is relevant and practical.  This is always important, and even more vital here.
  • arrange learning opportunities that do not rely only on audition, if possible, to reduce the effort to comprehend (less lecture, more activities), e.g. focus on lip reading, facial expressions, or body language.
  • provide handouts for topics covered in class and provide handouts prior to class for those who have significant speech discrimination problems. If they have pre-read the material, they will be more familiar with the concepts.
  • ensure that I explain the concepts discussed in this reflection to be students (e.g. memory, effortful hypothesis, retention).  They appreciate knowing the physiology and neural explanations of what they are experiencing.  This allows them to understand what is happening to them and explain it to others.
  • research neural plasticity to find a level of explanation appropriate for the Speechreading students.  Our brains are changing in response to our learning.  Lifelong learning is good for our brains and our bodies, and how we hear (or don’t hear) plays role in this.
  • encourage sharing of resources about all aspects of hearing loss and learning.  More often now, students are coming to class and wanting to discuss books like The Brain that Changes Itself (Doidge, 2011).
  • ensure that the instructional activities I choose are helping the students to attach the new information to past experiences and what they already know.  This promotes retention and may be a good reason to promote reflection journals or introduce learning logs.
  • ensure the material is understood and sufficient opportunities to practice the learned behaviours occur.
  • use assessment and feedback to promote learning, with an emphasis on being authentic and formative.
  • teach metacognitive skills to give students an appropriate framework to make sense of and remember new information.  For example, addressing the organization of prior knowledge and providing a consistent framework for new material within the Speechreading course (e.g. Environment, Speaker, Listener, Message is a common mantra in my course).
  • As discussed in Barkley (1993), try to involve body, heart, and mind in learning.  Acknowledge the impact of motivation and engagement and recognize that students are more likely to remember information when they have an emotional investment in it and/or psychomotor or procedural memory for it.

These choices and decisions have a significant impact on the level of engagement and the retention of learning in the Speechreading courses.  While the list is extensive, ensuring these conditions are met is mutually beneficial.  Working with an informed student allows us to highlight factors that are beneficial and talk realistically about expectations and challenges.  A collaborative approach to this problem makes the course more effective and enjoyable for all involved.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: a handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Doidge, N. (2011). The brain that changes itself. Australia: SBS.

Mccoy, S. L., Tun, P. A., Cox, L. C., Colangelo, M., Stewart, R. A., & Wingfield, A. (2005, January). Hearing loss and perceptual effort: Downstream effects on older adults’ memory for speech. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 58(1), 22-33. doi:10.1080/02724980443000151


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Questioning Techniques

To be honest, I haven’t really thought much about what kind of questions I ask in class.  I ask whatever seems relevant and right at the time.  The course forum on questioning techniques has definitely helped me to think more deeply about this process.  I’m thinking about the various reasons why I ask questions.  Often it is to ask about their experience in certain communication situations, to encourage them to think critically about a situation and give feedback, or to ask them for real-life suggestions to use for group problem-solving.  I also believe that questioning can help steer the lesson in the direction you intend it to go or away from a direction that you don’t!

Thinking about Bloom’s Taxonomy with respect to questioning techniques (lower cognitive versus higher cognitive questions) is also useful to help maintain alignment between the learning objective, the potential assessment, and the instructional strategy.

The placement and purpose of questions and the timing allotted for someone to start answering and finish answering are all important considerations in the classroom.  There are many benefits to students when this is done correctly.  For example, it allows them to participate more fully, think more deeply, and formulate more complete answers.  Since I have a small group, it is possible to make eye contact with each student to gauge their willingness and readiness to answer – this is more likely to happen with a more vital higher cognitive question.

Effective questioning helps to connect the students to the lesson, to each other, to the overall learning objectives.  It’s worth thinking about!


Digital Project Review: Role Play

I have wanted to introduce the idea of role play into the Speechreading courses in the past, but haven’t taken the leap yet.  These digital projects gave me enough information to peak my interest and try them out in the classroom.

Kelly Chhor’s video gave me several things to think about:

  • Participants pretend to be someone else (instead of a simulation, where they play themselves)
  • Situations can be unfamiliar
  • You should assign an observer to provide feedback

Carmen Chan’s video reminded me of additional factors:

  • Role playing promotes problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • It’s important to connect the lesson to the purpose
  • Decide before you start how the roleplay will end
  • Ensure time for debriefing
  • Roleplay can help to introduce other perspectives

We spend a fair bit of time brainstorming troublesome communication situations.  Instead of general class discussions, roleplays would give a different way to encourage student participation and engagement and provide different insights.

Some ways to bring this activity to life in the Speechreading class:

Students who typically behave more passively with regard to their hearing loss could be asked to ‘act’ like someone who is more assertive.  Students could be asked to be accommodating to requests (or not!).  Scenarios could take place in the classroom, or in other areas (e.g. cafeteria), and noise could be introduced through a babble sound file to make the situation more challenging and realistic.  The discussion following the roleplay would be important to share the various observations and perspectives and could promote lessons not easily described through group discussions.

Positive Learning Experiences

Positive learning experiences and environments are important for any classroom.  I know how vital they are in my Speechreading classes.  My students, who have hearing loss, are reticent to put themselves in a typically challenging listening environment. When they register for this course, they are taking a leap of faith that I, as the instructor, understand the barriers that hearing loss can introduce in the classroom and will address them appropriately.

I believe I do address them.  I also make my efforts evident.  We discuss how I set the classroom up, my rules for classroom conversation, and my experiences with successes and challenges in the classroom environment.  I think this discussion is an important step in their learning.  If they can acknowledge the benefit these decisions have on their learning experiences, they are encouraged to seek and create similar accommodations elsewhere.

Here are some of the things I do to create a positive learning environment:

Before the class begins:

  • communicate personally with them in person, or through email or a phone call
  • ensure them that class sizes are relatively small (maximum 10)
  • ask if they have any questions or concerns
  • ensure they know where to park (if applicable) and how to find the classroom

In the first class and ongoing:

  • create name tents so they (and I!) can learn the names
  • introduce my class rules:
    • one speaker at a time
    • every has the right to understand what is said, and we will work as a team to ensure that happens
    • the classroom is a safe and supportive place to practice communicating more effectively
  • tell them that we are a team in their learning efforts (they will learn from me and their classmates, but that I will also learn from them)
  • introduce the learning objectives and ask for feedback
  • set realistic expectations for the tools and strategies we will practice
  • use my lapel microphone and teach them how to properly use their table mics
  • have each student introduce themselves
  • encourage them to remind one another to use clear communication strategies
  • demonstrate (through example) that humour is an important tool

I love watching my new students at the end of our first class together.  They are excited, energized, relieved, and looking forward to coming back.  I believe a large part of this is due to the positive environment I help to create.

Single, Double, and Triple Loop Learning

We’ve been having a good discussion about single, double and triple loop learning in one of our course forums.  While this is deemed to be ‘organizational learning’, I can also see the relevance in my personal decision-making process and also in strategies that I teach my students as they are learning to communicate more effectively.

Here are the distinctions between the different degrees of learning:

single double triple loop learning

Single loop thinking is using the same approach that you usually use to try to solve a problem.  Does your action improve your results?

Double loop thinking involves taking a step back.  A better understanding of the problem might lead to a more effective action and a better result. Why is your problem happening?

Triple loop thinking means asking if you are asking the right question in the first place.  To do this, you need to question your assumptions and review your objectives.  Understanding what your wider goals are might make you see your problem in a new way, leading to a more effective action and better result. What are you actually trying to achieve?

It makes sense to moves towards more innovation, examining underlying causes of problems, looking at things in new ways, examining core values, and rethinking fundamental purpose and principles.  Then we can truly begin to solve our problems and help our students learn to solve theirs.

Knowledge/Interests/Skills Checklists as a Classroom Management Tool

I’ve been doing some reading on classroom management.

It can be defined as “the wide variety of skills and techniques that teacher candidates use to keep students organized, orderly, focused, attentive, on task, and academically productive.”                                                        

I believe the management strategies required are often dictated by the students and their reasons for being in your classroom.  The adult students who come to my class have hearing loss, or are coming along with someone with hearing loss, to learn to communicate more effectively.  They have all sought out this course, and they are very motivated to learn practical and effective communication strategies.  They show up, participate, reflect, and (as I am learning to encourage it more often) self-assess.

How can I make the most of our time in the classroom?  I recently learned about Knowledge/Interests/Skills Checklists (Angelo and Cross, 1993).  I think this is a tool that can help.  Why?

Students come to the classroom with a broad range of pre-existing knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes, which influence how they attend, interpret and organize in-coming information.  How they process and integrate new information will, in turn, affect how they remember, think, apply, and create new knowledge.  Since new knowledge and skill is dependent on pre-existing knowledge and skill, knowing what students know and can do when they come into the classroom or before they begin a new topic of study, can help us craft instructional activities that build off of student strengths and acknowledge and address their weaknesses.

For this classroom assessment technique, the instructor creates a list of topics covered in the course and the skills required to achieve the learning outcomes for that course.   The instructor decides on a simple, clear, and effective way to code the student responses.  For example, to gauge interest, you can choose to have the students respond to each potential course topic based on whether they have:

No Interest in topic Interested in overview of topic interested in reading about and discussing topic interested in learning how to apply ideas about topic

Students then self-assess related skills and knowledge, for each item, they could check whether they have:

no skills or knowledge basic skills and knowledge functionally adequate skills and knowledge advanced level of skills and knowledge

Because each checklist is created for a particular course, the responses can provide the instructor and learner with more useful information than a general interest inventory.

It is important to let the students know why you want them to perform this task.  Make sure they understand that their responses really can guide choices that you make about the syllabus, order of topics, and instructional activities used in the course.

These checklists work best in a course where the syllabus is flexible.  They are also best suited for higher level courses, such as graduate courses or seminars, adult education courses, and professional and personal development courses. When this checklist is completed before the course begins, the feedback can impact the design of the course and the students’ response to the material.  Instructors can plan more effectively how to approach topics, and this can be especially useful where students rated certain topics as high or low interest. They can adjust their teaching agenda in a way that reflects the data; topics and activities can be adjusted to accommodate existing knowledge and skill levels.  The checklist may also help students to more realistically self-assess their interest and preparation for the course, thus enhancing classroom management.


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: a handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.


A New Word! Heutagogy

I stumbled upon a new word today: heutagogy.  I had never seen it before.  I found out that it is simply the study of self-directed learning.  Of course, there’s so much more to it than that.  This chart gives a good perspective on the differences between three learning -gogies.

ped andr heut compared

As I read more on the topic, it made me reflect on how far I’ve come – it was a short 10 months ago that I heard the word ‘andragogy’ for the first time.  With four PIDP courses under my belt, I’ve learned so much.  Just as much though, I feel as though I’m finding the terminology for the beliefs that I have had all along.

What do I want to happen when students come into my classroom?  I want them to find some of the answers they’ve been looking for.  I want them to discover new questions.  I want them to develop the tools to continue on their learning journey long after they’ve left my class.  Maybe they might even come back and share what they’ve learned.

Here is what I want to support:



How do we know if we are facilitating these 21st Century skills and attributes in the learning environment?  Jackie Gerstein gives us some guidance, pictured below:


Yes.  A new word.  But also a confirmation of what I believe and why I love what I do.


Digital Project Review: Learning Logs

Sabrina Ngo’s digital project on learning logs can be viewed here.  The video is very well done and told me what I needed to know about the topic: purposes, pros, cons, roles of learner and instructor, and possible prompts.  The video captured my attention from the beginning and kept me engaged till the end.

Learning logs provide a means for students to explore their learning experience.  I want the students in my class to apply the strategies they learn in class to their communication experiences in their own worlds.  I also want them to come to class with challenges that we, as a group, can help solve.  A logbook would provide a place to capture those experiences and processes and help the students to see the changes in their attitudes, skills, and beliefs over time.  Learning about their hearing losses, their personal theories of communication, and the changes that are happening as a result of what they are learning is something they have told me they are interested in capturing.

This past semester, I did introduce the idea of a reflection journal.  I did this as a direct result of my realization of the benefit of reflective writing, which I am experiencing through the various PIDP course requirements.  I think the learning log is not so different from this, but I like the idea of giving the students prompts that will help guide their entries.

I don’t feel the need to analyze their learning logs.  They can be quite personal and private.  I like the idea that the design of the “log” can be very individual: bullet- points, prose, sketches, in actual logs books or online.  Setting the guidelines and expectations from the beginning are important. Learning logs provide a way for the students to capture their lifelong learning journey.  I like the idea of providing a rubric for self-assessment.  It would be great for the students to write a summary or rationale for assessment purposes.  This would give me evidence of their growth and would also provide an opportunity for each student to review his or her own journey.

Time to plan for next semester!