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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Sep
01

Pure Bliss

Pure Bliss Girl with arms in the air and balloons flying in the sky.

bliss

Artist Name - Pure-Bliss.mp3

I recently witnessed someone accomplish something that he thought he would really never be able to do. To be transparent, neither did his sister and I at the time. Let me clarify why we had the low expectation. This had something to do with an old bike lock, a lost bike lock key, a need to unlock the bike, a YouTube channel discovering that the bike lock might have had a recall & how to pick the lock, and a Bic writing pen. 
bic

It took about 15 minutes, but after some sweat and nearly giving up…click! That old bike lock fell into two beautiful pieces and set free a bike that had been prisoner for weeks!

I remember the moment vividly. There was a 3 second silent pause, we all made eye contact and then immediately screamed with excitement at the top of our lungs. We jumped up and down, high-fived and shouted and repeated that multiple times.

We described that moment later as “an intense joyful cleanse that made any negativity escape and fulfill us with pure, joyful bliss!” Happiness. It set the whole tone for the day. Even though we were downtown in a busy city, we got the best parking spots, never had to wait in lines, everyone was so nice and got a seat right away in all the restaurants. We had an extra pep in our step the whole day. Was that because of our own attitude change?

As educators, we seek those moments of accomplishments with our students. We celebrate with them. We attend their sporting events, their academic competitions, and give positive reinforcement when opportunities present themselves. 

Along those lines, I would not trade anything to witness students celebrating themselves and discovering on their own what they just accomplished. No one telling them; just an organic realization of what they personally accomplished. 

It reminds me of a student when shown how the iPad can read text aloud from a picture taken. Then being told that he was running around the classroom shouting, “I never thought I’d be able to read what my friends are reading!” Happiness. Pure bliss.

I remember a 5th grader reading his first chapter by himself by using text to speech and comprehending  everything he read. He celebrated himself by throwing his arms in the air shouting, “I did it!” The look in his eyes…happiness. The tone and his attitude of his whole day was shifted into empowerment. Pure bliss. 
yes
The commonalities of those 2 stories of students is not only excitement and happiness; it is accessibility. It is accommodations. The equitable access with the use of text to speech, enabling those students to discover that they can read, empowering them, celebrating themselves and feeling really good. Not only in those moments, but opportunities given to them that can change the entire trajectory of their life. 

Think about moments when you have felt ecstatic! I know that when I reflect upon those moments of such high emotions, I can nearly experience it all over again. I can also relive moments when I want something so bad but it feels like it is out of my reach; but I know that I could do it if I just had the right tool, opportunity or even support from others. 

Consider your students who can comprehend everything when an adult reads text aloud to them; but when they are asked to independently decode, they struggle and it looks like they are just choosing to not do the work. Decoding is the barrier but when they are able to gain that knowledge with support, they have a lot to say and share. 

When it comes to some specific reading disabilities, to truly give students opportunities to discover what they are independently capable of doing and feel empowered, they need support, accessibility, and appropriate accommodations. They need to be given the opportunity without judgment and with acceptance. 

Remind your students to use their own strengths to support barriers that appear to be a weakness. The combination of those two working together…pure, joyful bliss. Happiness.
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Jun
02

Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken

Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken

QR code to voice recording of blog text.

Artist Name - ruchick.mp3

My daughter just completed her first year of college and while chatting about papers she had to submit, we revisited the time when she was immersed in her writing creation of Banana Bird in elementary school. She used to walk around the house singing, “Banana banana banana bird, it makes the monkeys herd!” It definitely became an earworm tune and still is until this day when a banana is opened. It’s been nearly 10 years ago.

Meet the Banana Bird by then 9 yr old, Natalie Suding
Meet the Banana Bird

 

One day there was a Banana Bird. He sang this one morning: “Banana banana banana bird, it makes the monkeys herd!” He heard a noise. What was it? A monkey heard it! He started to climb a tree. “Shoo!” he said, but it didn’t work.

So, he jumped to a vine and so did the monkey. That didn’t work. Mr. Monkey was very bad. His name was Sam. So, he flew but Sam didn’t. He went down and went to the tree. He climbed a banana tree. The monkey was confused. “Which one was the Banana Bird?”

So, the monkey ate all of the bananas but the Banana Bird flew away happy. The end.

Binder of banana bird ideas

Ah, the creative storytelling of young people. She had a binder of ideas for future Banana Birds. I think my favorite one I looked forward to was “Monkey Attak” as she has written in her notes.

She wrote that story around the same time that I was making my first switch with a rubber chicken. That’s right, a rubber chicken toy. 
rubber chicken
She had a lot of questions as to why I was cutting open a rubber chicken to place wires and coins inside. This began a wonderful conversation about disabilities, access and accessibility. She decided that she wanted to make Meet the Banana Bird her first attempt to make her book more accessible for her friends. So, she did. 

I recently saw a sign in front of a rural school that said: “Small and mighty.” That is right…small and mighty. There is no but in what we typically hear people say, “small but mighty.” That statement within itself busts through mightset change, making it clear that there is nothing wrong with being small. It builds upon the word small and makes it as grand as the word deserves. 

Try not to underestimate not only your own power of change toward accessibility; but those we can facilitate with even the youngest of students. Model accessibility and inclusion. Talk about accessibility. Teach accessibility. Consider giving Book Creator a try in your classroom for student projects. The earlier our students understand the why and how of access for all, it can become the only way they know how and then ask a lot of questions when things are not accessible. Our students can be small and mighty.
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Mar
03

You Have The Superpower!

Turtle Drawing of a turtle

Guest Blogger! I cannot thank Mark Pruett enough for sharing his personal experiences on the power of what educators can bring to the classroom that can change the trajectory of students’ lives. The recording of him reading his blog definitely makes this blog an experience through storytelling. ?

Mark resides in Nashville, TN and is a successful editor for television for over 36 years. Along the way he bought a farm in Tennessee and has fallen in love with working outdoors. These days he splits his time between the computer and the table saw…continuing to be creative.

 Mark Pruett sitting on rock with a dogMark Pruett sitting on rock with a dog             QR code to audio versionsQR code to audio versions

Artist Name - Turtles.mp3

It’s been almost fifty years, but I’ve never forgotten what it was I wanted to paint. The why of it is lost to time and the odd fixations of an eight year old, but I definitely remember wanting, more than anything, to use that particular art class to paint a turtle in the rain. To this day, I can still recall my childhood vision, a heroic turtle on a rock in the pouring rain. Why a turtle, why heroic, why for heaven’s sake in the rain? Go figure. For some kids, it’s their dog or a firetruck or a lego set. Let’s just say that at eight, my thing was turtles. It’s at this point my mother, if she were listening to me tell the story, would chime in to tell you about the time I lost a turtle on an airplane. “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, please do us a favor and check under your seats. It seems a young man has lost his turtle.” Some things you never live down. 

Of course, at eight years old I knew very little about art and what it might take to make my vision of a heroic rainy day reptile a reality. Some of my friends constantly filled margins of notebooks with doodles, but that wasn’t my thing. I’m not even sure I was what you might have described as an “artistic” child. So, I wasn’t terribly aware that the log of a paint brush, larger around than my childhood thumb, wasn’t a good instrument for fine art. Not that a better brush would have made a big difference, but equipping a kid with what was essentially a house painter’s tool certainly didn’t help. And we didn’t have a huge variety of paint colors to choose from, jars of mostly primary hues along with some eye searing tones like Pepto-Bismol pink. There were plastic jugs with blue and black on my table, other jars scattered around the classroom to experiment with, and I remember going at the project with gusto. 

I hate to say it, but childhood gusto and a paint brush better suited to whitewashing fence posts didn’t get me where I wanted to go. I ended up with a dark un-turtle like mess in the middle of the page and big blue “dots” of color blobbed all over for rain, but that’s not why I really remember that day. My teacher, Ms. Allen, asked me what I was trying to do and then she took my work and held it up for all the class to see, as a failed assignment. It seems that I was supposed to fill the page with color and not leave any white, so she showed my painting to the class and told them I couldn’t follow direction. Oh, and she said that I might not have much skill as a painter either.

It took another fifteen years and a close friend forcing me to go through “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” for me to realize that I actually could learn to draw or paint. That one experience in grade school made me believe I had no talent.

Everyday, when you walk into the classroom, you have more influence than you realize. You might call it your superpower. The things you say and the care you invest can have an impact that lasts years, perhaps a lifetime. At eight, I was a painfully shy child. My parents had split a few years earlier and I didn’t have the best sense of self esteem. Like the young person I was fifty years ago, there are children in your classrooms, at this very moment, going through life events they aren’t equipped to handle. You really can make a difference and every class is another opportunity. Your presence can be the difference that helps a young person feel better about themselves, and maybe helps a child discover something in the learning process that sparks a new sense of enthusiasm. 

Be that spark, as a teacher embrace your superpower. It doesn’t always take a lot, a supportive word at the right moment or taking some extra time for one-on-one interaction. Think back for a moment to the adults who were kind influences on you as a young person. Be that person and pay it forward, one day a young adult may look back and realize that you changed their life. You can make that memory one to treasure.

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Dec
02

Small Steps, Big Gains

Screen-Shot-2021-12-01-at-12.35.23-PM creek with stepping stones

QR code to audio versions
QR Code to Audio Version

Artist Name - big-steps.mp3


Have you ever come upon a creek and need to get to the otherside? You think if you make a good run and jump, you can make it. I have done this more times than I can even count. I have made it a few times. However, splash! Your foot lands into the water and soaks through your shoes. You were so close! Now you walk away with soggy feet and potentially miserable for the rest of your journey. 

Now, think about the times when you come across a creek and someone before you has already set out the rocks or logs for you to walk on to get across. Perhaps you find them yourself and make a path on the water. You take your time, hold out your arms for balance and slowly make your way, really thinking of the strategy to make it across without falling into the water. Some of the rocks may have seemed unbalanced but you kept going even if nervous. Maybe you have someone on the other side who reached out their hand for that last jump across. You make it! You celebrate.

Yes, attempting to make the jump seems like a quicker way to get across. However, it is the steps you put down to slowly make your way and perhaps leave steps behind for others that is the most consistent. 

ladder with big steps and a ladder with tiny steps

Steps we need... 

As a PATINS Specialist, I have the honor to work with specific school districts who are recipients of our AEMing for Achievement Grant. Through this grant, school districts assemble a team to develop a sustainable system for the acquisition of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for their students in a timely manner. They are essentially creating a path, much like the rocks and logs, so that all of their teachers can get across and know how to ensure that all of their students receive their needed accommodations. They are setting the groundwork for current and new staff to know the why and how of AEM. Building those steps is key for long term success. 

More steps needed…

Students who qualify for AEM, assistive technology is often an element for access. Which also means there is a need for implementation of new accommodations for students. This could be new assistive technology, new schedules, new devices, new strategies, etc. Oftentimes we get so excited for our students to succeed, we hand over new ways so they can quickly jump into the new...when in reality, it is the steps between that will bring potential proficiency and consistency. Not to mention, those steps create opportunities for our students to succeed. These are all skills that need to be taught. It can be the difference between students embracing their support for learning and students who get frustrated and give up. 

Does your school district have accessibility and AEM policies and procedures in place? If so, do you know where to find them? If you are unsure, have you asked? Do you know what a Digital Rights Manager (DRM) is? Do you know who your DRM is in your district? Are your students receiving accessible materials in a timely manner? Are you intentionally teaching your students how to use their assistive technology accommodations? 

PATINS-ICAM staff can certainly assist you in developing those essential steps to support all of your students. We can help ensure that accessibility is in the forefront from start to finish… Contact us

door opening to stairs

While hoping you have superhero jump strength to jump across any barrier you may cross sounds pretty awesome, it’s when you lay out those tiny steps that can get you to the other side more consistently. A little more work upfront can alleviate so many unnecessary barriers for our students. Our students deserve it. 

While I have zero doubt we will end up with a few more soggy shoes in the future, let’s just be mindful that we will always make sure that those behind us can get across. 

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Sep
02

No More Sticks & Stones

“Ya know, I do not think you are college material. I think your best route is to just find a job when you graduate,” said the educator to a student when asking for advice on how to apply for college.

Does this statement make you cringe? Does it make you upset? Has something like this ever been said to you in some capacity? How did you feel? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.Mad bitmoji imageMany of you have most likely heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For me, that is one of the most untrue statements. I feel like it's merely a way to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. Not only can words hurt, they can truly change the trajectory of one’s life. 

Fortunately, the student that I mentioned above had an excellent support system. While those words did hurt, he was able to use them as fuel to pursue college and graduate. Not all students are so fortunate. Many students have already felt that about themselves their whole school career and those words would only be a confirmation. It makes me wonder how many times that one educator said that to a student, and how many took it as truth and confirmation.

The way we interact and the words we choose with our students can impact their daily outlook, not only academically but behaviorally and socially. 

I work with many students who share with me that they do not want to go to school each day. They do not want to use accommodations they may need in fear of looking different than their peers. I get it. While I am not one of these students, I certainly have experiences that help me relate to those feelings. We can gather experiences of our own to perhaps attempt to be relatable. If we cannot, our students' reflections of themselves can be validated by simply saying, “I hear what you are saying and while I have not experienced that feeling, I believe that you feel that way.” This certainly would never be a chosen opportunity to lower the expectations that our students may have of themselves. 

The student who is yelling, “I hate my dyslexia” after he fails a test, does not need us to feel sorry for him and then lower the expectation of the assessment. He needs time spent helping him understand his dyslexia, making sure he has the accommodations that he needs with accessible instruction. He is the student who does not want to look different from his peers. How can we help him not feel different from his peers? We have conversations about learning differences with all of our students. We immerse ourselves in the principles of Universal Design for Learning and then implement. Need help? Reach out to us!  

Do not underestimate the power of your position as an educator. We are not in the business to “make or break” our students. We are in the business of meeting our students where they are, with high expectations and ensuring equitable opportunities for all, not just some. 

Teach your students how to be champions for themselves. Then, when someone says to your student, “Ya know, I don’t think you can do that.” Their response: “Wanna bet? Watch me.” Teach them how to always bet on themselves. That is always a win.
If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore.


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  810 Hits
Jun
03

Learning Through Reflection

I am so thrilled to share Leslie DiChiara's words of reflection of this past year with you as our guest blogger this month. Leslie was a classroom elementary teacher for 15 years. Her background is special education and literacy. She is currently the Assistive Technology Specialist in her school district in New York. I met Leslie a few years back at a national conference and we became instant friends and a colleague in our field. Her passion for access for ALL students mirrors that of our PATINS team. #BetterTogether

Portrait of Leslie DiChiara

As John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience.” If you have spent any time over the past 15 months working in the educational system, you can unquestionably agree that the pandemic certainly provided its share of opportunities for reflection. What we once knew about education was swiftly flipped. The equivalent of literally having the rug pulled out from underneath your feet. Yet, with no notice teachers across the nation rose to the occasion to revamp every aspect of how they provided instruction to their students. Even if this looked different based on where you work or the student population you work with, the one thing educators had in common was that we were navigating uncharted territories together.  

As a mother to two school-aged children and an educator for the past 20 years, I was able to view the educational impact of the pandemic from multiple lenses. Questions swirling about how our children would make up for lost months, closing educational gaps, meeting their social and emotional needs, ways to creatively provide accessible instruction with various constraints. So many unknowns.  

Looking back a year later, virtual students are returning to in-person learning, desk shields are being removed from classrooms, masks requirements are lifted in some establishments for those who are vaccinated, schools are beginning to reopen, and a small sense of normalcy seems to finally be on the horizon.  But it’s safe to say that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on education, casting a critical light on everything from ed tech to student equity to accessibility to school financing.  

Many aspects of education were directly impacted by the pandemic leaving years for schools to successfully get students back-on-track, not only academically but also socially and emotionally.  Teachers, parents and students spent the better part of the year being pushed outside of their comfort zones and likely will seek a return to the educational world they once knew. However, we can argue that some changes resulting from COVID-19 were for the better and efforts will be placed by educational leaders to maintain those changes.  

With the end of the school year here or on the near horizon make time for reflection. The act of reflection provides an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos while sorting through and creating meaning from your experiences. The questions below are adapted from article Reflection Questions for Teachers and Students: Looking Back at Our Year created by Lydia Breiseth and Elena Aguilar’s Questions for Reflecting on a Year of Learning. The hope is for you to pause and think back on the challenges, the successes, the impact they had on and how it shaped yourselves, your students and families.

  • What was the most difficult challenge (or series of challenges) I faced this year? my students and their families faced this year?
  • What strengths did I show in addressing those challenges?
  • Who or what helped me address those challenges? What helped my students and their families begin to address those challenges?
  • What opportunities did those challenges create?
  • What did I learn about my students’ lives, families, and past experiences? my colleagues? my school community? my local community? myself?
  • What impact did I have on my students and their families?
  • What impact did I have on the systems in my classroom, building, or district?
  • How did I grow as an educator this year? 
  • How can I harness what I learned and continue to move forward with it? 
  • What do I anticipate facing next year? What is my plan of action?
  • What has given me hope?
  • Who or what was particularly helpful in a moment when I needed it?
  • How did I take care of and nurture myself this past year?

If the past year has allowed us to reflect on anything, it’s that our teachers, students and their families are not only resilient but adaptable. It has taught us that our educators should not be taken for granted. It has taught us that not all COVID-19 changes were necessarily obstructive. It has taught us the powerful impact technology has had on how instruction is delivered. It has taught us a valuable reminder of the importance of in-person interactions and engagement both in and out of school settings. It has taught us there is more work to be done to change the challenges of our educational system and the inequities many students face. It has taught us to place priority on the things and people who matter most to us. It has taught us to celebrate small victories. It has taught us to be flexible and to step outside of our comfort zones.  And most importantly it has taught us to be forgiving and patient with ourselves as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters.

As we near the close to another unprecedented school year I can say with certainty that although the path we journeyed may have been divergent, with hills and valleys along the way, we emerged changed but maybe in some ways for the better. 

_______________
If you would like to hear more from Leslie, you can follow her on Twitter @lrdichiara and her blog Where It's AT.

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Mar
04

Laverne & "Surely"

Screen-Shot-2021-03-03-at-2.25.34-PM Laverne & Shirley
Laverne & ShirleyQR Code to audio version
Artist Name - blogLS.m4a

Have you ever seen the old sitcom, Laverne & Shirley? It was one of my favorite funny things to watch when I was very young. I loved everything about it, from the physical humor, how the characters engaged with one another, their accents; but more importantly, how Laverne wore the letter L on all of her clothes. I wanted to do that and I wished my name started with an L!

When I was in 2nd grade, I remember walking into the classroom for the very first time and seeing a row of the most beautiful letters I had ever seen hung on the wall. It was the cursive alphabet. This may seem strange to some but I have always been engaged in visuals and textures. Never passing a roadside sign without admiring how the letters would not only share a message but to me, was a creation of art. Even today, my camera roll is filled with photos of random signs, textures and quirky roadside attractions. 

While gazing at the cursive writings, the one letter that caught my eye was the letter “L.” The letter “L.” Laverne’s marking on her shirt. I felt that it looked magnificent. My teacher explained that we would be learning how to write those letters. Each day, we would learn how to write a new letter, and I could not have been more excited. Especially knowing that in 12 days, I would know how to create my L on paper. 

So, each day we would practice a new letter...A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K. It was finally the eve of getting to that L and I went to bed early just so I could wake up! The morning came and I woke up alright with a fever of 101 degrees. As you can imagine, I was devastated. 

The following day, my teacher didn’t skip a beat and we are onto the letter M. I still write the letter M disgruntled a bit. ? All I could say to myself was, “Surely, I can figure out that letter L on my own.” 

You may be thinking, what in the world does this have to do with anything? Well, let me ask you this before I move on: 

  • Do you know what motivates your students? 
  • Do you know their passions? 
  • Do you know how they feel most comfortable in a school setting? 
  • Do you know how they would prefer feedback? 
  • Have you ever asked your students, “What do you hope this school year will look like for you?” 
  • Have you asked your students how they feel about online learning? 
  • Have you ever asked your students to share when they feel engaged in school and even when they do not? 
  • Have you ever asked your students what they wish they could be better at achieving?
  • Have you asked your students what they feel they are good at doing?

At recess, I would air draw the letter L to practice. My teacher had recess duty and asked me what I was doing with my arms. When I told her about the day I missed and how sad I was, she listened. “Surely, we can find ways for you to learn the letter L,” she said. She gave me chalk to practice on the pavement. She let me write the letter L on all of my papers that I would turn in. She would let me write the L on the chalkboard and she would let me help others practice the letter L

You know what else she did that impacted me as an educator today? She never let another student miss a letter if they were absent. She heard me and made that change. It mattered to me and she made it matter to her.

What matters to your students? Do you know? If not, surely there is still time. 

  [drawing cursive L]

On a side note: If I am ever participating in an online activity like Kahoot, etc with you, know that I am always the Laverne in the room.
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  1483 Hits
Dec
03

Executive Function and Online Learning

I cannot express how grateful I am that Dr. Lisa Beth Carey is my guest blogger this week. Dr. Carey is the Asst. Director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education (CILSE) at the Kennedy Krieger Institiute. Her knowledge and brilliant approach with the principles of Universal Design for Learning always in the forefront, creates a welcoming and accessible space for fellow educators to be positively impacted in a way that allows them to immediately want to implement resources/strategies that she develops. Dr. Carey is an out of the box thinker with a great twist of humor as well, to which I have the upmost respect. I have learned so much from her and I have no doubt that you will too.

graphic of student sitting by computer

Imagine: It’s early in the morning. You go to your kitchen and go through all of the motions of brewing yourself a cup of coffee. You can do this half-asleep because you’ve done it so many times before.

Now imagine: You wake up and realize the power went out overnight. You’re running late, the coffee maker’s not turning on, and you realize that you need to go find the circuit breaker to restore power to the outlet. This new set of circumstances is out of the ordinary. Nothing about the power being out is rehearsed. This morning, you cannot brew your cup of coffee while half-asleep. In order to complete the task of making your morning coffee, you will need to use a set of cognitive skills called executive function.

Executive function is an umbrella term for the cognitive skills that work together to help us complete a task or goal (Diamond, 2013). The core executive function skills are inhibitory control, working memory and flexible thinking (Baggata & Alexander, 2016; Nigg, 2016).

  • Inhibitory control: Purposefully stopping/pausing when your immediate reaction will not help you accomplish your task.
  • Working memory: Holding information in mind temporarily in order to manipulate it.
  • Flexible thinking: Switching between different concepts and considering multiple perspectives and scenarios.
Executive function skills work interactively to support our ability to perform tasks that are novel or under-practiced. This important set of skills develops from birth through young adulthood, providing ample time to be shaped by the environment (Diamond, 2013). How we design our learning environments to support the development and use of executive function, or over-burden these still-developing skills, has a major impact on student academic achievement.

How Does Student Executive Function Interact With the Learning Environment?

How well we perform any skill is based on how well-matched our skill is to the demands of the context. For example, I’m a very strong swimmer, but put me in a riptide after a long day of swimming, and I’ll struggle, possibly even drown. Executive function is similar to swimming in various conditions. A calm, shallow pool is very different from rough, deep open water.

Likewise, students will do much better in a well-supported learning environment that matches their executive function skill levels, as opposed to in an unsupported learning environment with multiple executive function demands that are mismatched to their skill development. When there is a mismatch between the executive function demands and the skills of the individual, the result is an expression of executive dysfunction (Jacobson & Mahone, 2012).

Behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction (Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2015) include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulty with complex task completion
  • Difficulty with transitioning between activities
  • Difficulty shifting patterns of thought


How Does Online Learning Impact Student Executive Function?

An online learning environment is often highly demanding of student executive functions. This is even more true if the device, software, application or website being used is new, or if the student has limited experience using it for learning activities. Many times, we ask students to use an unfamiliar device, software, application or website on top of learning new academic content or skills. This causes many students to struggle to use their executive function skills to engage in tasks meaningfully. They start to exhibit the behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction listed above.

For example, students who are asked to use new software to record a response to a reading comprehension prompt will need to use their executive function skills to navigate the software, while also engaging their executive functions to organize their thinking and respond to the prompt. This combination of executive function demands is very likely to overwhelm a student and lead to difficulty completing the task.

In studies of students using personal devices (tablets, laptops, phones, etc.) for learning activities, teachers and students reported increases in student behaviors that aligned with the behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction (Islam & Gronlund, 2016; Kay, Benzimra & Li, 2017; Lei & Zhao, 2008; Sarıtepeci & Durak, 2017; Tallvid, 2016; Tallvid et al., 2015). Students using personal digital devices were more likely to become easily distracted, had trouble initiating and completing tasks, were engaged with off-task media or were attempting (unsuccessfully) to multitask, and had difficulty problem-solving when technology didn’t work as expected.

If we consider the role environmental demands play in students’ ability to use their executive function skills during learning activities, it’s unsurprising that online learning environments would place greater demand on student executive function skills. There are more chances for distraction, and thus more need to inhibit responses to all types of exciting stimuli (e.g., a chat from a friend or a link to a YouTube video). There are increases in information, and thus a greater demand on working memory. There are more ways in which to navigate a digital device than a notebook, and thus a greater demand on flexible thinking.

This is not to say that we should ditch our tech! Technology offers greater amounts of accessibility, connectiveness and collaboration. And in the age of COVID-19, we really need technology to safely connect at a distance. We just need to make sure that we are mindful of creating online learning environments that are responsive to student neurodevelopment (meaning that we don’t overtax student executive function with too many novel tasks and digital tools) and that provide executive function support as needed.


Tips for Supporting Executive Function During Online Learning

In any learning environment, we should take a two-fold approach to avoiding contributing to student executive dysfunction. We should reduce executive function demands that are extraneous to the content being taught, and we should provide supports, as needed.

As you design your online learning environment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my instructional design/tool/learning management system (LMS) overly demanding on my students’ inhibitory control? (i.e., do they have to focus on stopping/pausing impulses to engage in the task?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
  • Is my instructional design/tool/LMS overly demanding on my students’ working memory? (i.e., do they have to keep multiple pieces of information in mind as they manipulate the information to complete the task?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
  • Is my instructional design/tool/LMS overly demanding on my students’ flexible thinking? (i.e., do they have to focus on coming up with multiple ways to approach a task or problem, and do they need to independently troubleshoot their technology?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
Striking the balance between executive function demands and supports is critical for students to get the most out of their online learning experience. Keep in mind that students are highly variable, and that supports will need to be flexible to meet the needs of your various students. Stay tuned for future posts that include teacher experiences teaching online while considering student executive function!


References:

Baggetta, P., & Alexander, P.A. (2016). Conceptualization and operationalization of executive function. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10(1), 10–33.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.

Gioia, G.A., Isquith, P.K., Guy, S.C., & Kenworthy, L. (2015). BRIEF2: Behavior Rating  Inventory of Executive Function (2nd ed.). Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Islam, M.S., & Gronlund, A. (2016). An international literature review of 1:1 computing in schools. Journal of Educational Change, 17, 191–222.

Jacobson, L.A., & Mahone, E.M. (2012). Educational implications of executive dysfunction. In S.J. Hunter & E P. Sparrow (Eds.). Executive Function and Dysfunction: Indentification, Assessment and Treatment (ed., pp. 231–246). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Kay, R., Benzimra, D., & Li, J. (2017). Exploring factors that influence technology-based distractions in bring your own device classrooms. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 55(7), 974–995.

Lei, J., & Zhao, Y. (2008). One-to-one computing: What does it bring to schools? Journal of Educational Computer Research, 39(2), 97–122.

Nigg, J.T. (2016). Annual Research Review: On the relations among self‐regulation, self‐control, executive functioning, effortful control, cognitive control, impulsivity, risk‐taking, and inhibition for developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(4), 361–383.

Sarıtepeci, M., & Durak, H. (2016). Examining student perceptions regarding to usage purposes of tablet computers distributed under the scope of in FATIH project in the course processes and by students. Participatory Educational Research, IV, 171–181.

Tallvid, M., Lundin, J.L., Svensson, L., & Lindstrom, B. (2013). Relationship between sanctioned and unsanctioned laptop use in 1:1 classroom. Educational Technology & Society, 18(1), 237–249.

Tallvid, M. (2016). Understanding teachers’ reluctance to the pedagogical use of ICT in the 1:1 classroom. Education and Information Technologies, 21(3), 503–519.

Dr. Carey sitting beside student

Original Blog on Kennedy Krieger Institute

1
  1800 Hits
Sep
03

Assistive Tech Supports for Anxiety

anxiety Image of face profile with words questioing themself.

It is with great honor that I get to share my blog post week for my guest and dear friend, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Ph.D. Hillary is a certified Special Education Consultant in the State of Maine who specializes in breaking barriers to learning through the use of Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning. She is an educator with over 20 years of experience as a teacher of children with Autism and other disabilities including Developmental Disabilities, ADHD, and Dyslexia; as well as a published author of  “One Size Does Not Fit All: Equity, Access, PD, and UDL.” 

Portrait of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles


Hello there. My name is Hillary. I have Anxiety. I’ve had Anxiety my whole life. I’ve always worried about something. I never really had a name for it, nor did I really understand it’s impact until I decided to acknowledge it and work with it. It’s a life-long, ongoing process, but it’s one that is not to be ashamed of, nor to hide from,

My Anxiety tends to play out like the image below, which a friend from my Ph.D. days shared on social media. We are not alone in this. While one may see “high performing” or “busy”, or “having it all together”, it’s really a mask. It’s a feeble attempt to obtain worth and value through work (at least in my case). It’s an inability to say no for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It subscribes to the construct that in order to be of value in our society, that we need to “hustle”, “grind” and work ourselves to death. It’s also a fear of really being seen for the variable, beautiful, complex, soul that lies in all of us.
Graphic- High Functioning Anxiety. Two columns what you see versus what is really happening. There have been times in my life that Anxiety rears it’s darker side. During those times, I have sought out therapy and have used medication- both of which I’m not ashamed to admit. If I had cancer- I’d treat it. the same is true of Anxiety. Flares happen during times of excessive stress, overwork, or because things are good- so there needs to be SOMETHING to worry about, right? Anxiety tells you that you are not worthy if you are not busy, hardworking, giving, loyal, and of service to others. Anxiety will have you comparing yourself to others journeys and successes. Anxiety will have you believing horrible, ugly lies about yourself. Yet, everyone’s experience with anxiety is as unique as our fingerprints.

Anxiety is also playing out in schools. I see learners who are taking multiple AP classes, putting relentless pressure on themselves, and participating in multiple activities. While none of this is a problem on the surface, what is happening is that our learners in this high-performing dynamic are now identified as an “at risk" group. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the mental health concerns of those who are further disenfranchised, including race, gender, socioeconomic, and disability. Where access to mental health services is grossly inadequate and inequitable. Chronic stress affects one’s health and well being-period. Simply “sucking it up” doesn’t work and only exacerbates the issue.

Of course, being an Assistive Tech Specialist, I am always on the hunt for tools that will help others. In that quest, I have found some tools that have helped me to manage my Anxiety in the way that makes sense for me. Perhaps one of these tools will make sense for you. When I am using the tools and taking care of myself consistently, my Anxiety floats on a little puffy cloud as opposed to it rearing its ugly head.

Meditation/Mindfulness

Probably the best tool that has helped me to better manage my anxiety has been daily meditation/mindfulness practices. I talk about how mindfulness has helped save my life in other blog posts for Everyday Mindfulness. Mindfulness practice has to resonate with you. There are apps that can help you to start your own mindfulness practice.

Calm is an app and site that is chock full of evidence based mindfulness and sleep resources. The app is free and contains a ton of great meditations. I use this breathing exercise in workshops and classes to set the tone for everyone as well as when I need to step back and take a minute.



Sound Therapy

The use of sound has been around since ancient times. Research has shown that using sound is useful in helping to relieve emotional , mental, and physical suffering. Fauble (2016) demonstrated in his research that “music and sound healing can help us release emotional traumas and end the downward spiral of PTSD.” Furthermore, Akimoto et.al, (2018) determined that the use of 528hz solfeggio frequency in their study resulted in lower levels of cortisol, tension, and Anxiety- even with exposures as low as 5 minutes.

Personally, I have used sound therapy for years. I play frequencies at various points depending on how I’m feeling, and use solfeggio tones in daily meditations. Here is a great one:



Movement

Exercise is a great way to keep one healthy, but it’s also a great tool to keep one’s Anxiety manageable. Workouts do not have to be complex. They can be a walk on the beach, yoga, lifting weights, riding a bike. The key is to do an activity that makes you sweat a little, brings you joy, and connects with nature. The AT comes into play with my fitness monitor. You can use a wearable such as the Apple Watch, a Fitbit, or MyZone. Find the features that work best for you and use it to track your heart rate and emotions during and after exercise.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude daily helps to manage stress and increase happiness (Wong, et. al. 2017). Having a daily gratitude practice is as simple as a pen and paper. You can keep a gratitude journal to write what you’re grateful for (I kept a gratitude journal where I listed 5 things that I was grateful when my uncle and grandmother were dying in 2016. It helped tremendously). There are also apps that you can use to journal for gratitude, including Apple Notes. Practicing an “attitude of gratitude” helps keep things in perspective when times are challenging. It can be as simple as that your favorite show was on, or the sunset, or a laugh with a dear friend.

Like a famous psychiatrist says “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”. There are options and ways to manage Anxiety that include taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. First and foremost, please seek medical attention. Talk to your health care provider. Find a good therapist. Support yourself and know that you are okay just as you are. Approach anxiety with a curious heart, and learn the ways it shows up in your life. Use tools such as mindfulness, exercise, sound therapy, and gratitude to help manage your anxiety.

*Disclaimer: The statements made in this post about Anxiety are based on the author’s experiences with Anxiety. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat Anxiety, but to share supports that have helped the author manage their Anxiety. Please seek medical attention for the diagnosis and treatment of Anxiety.


References:

Akimoto, Kaho & Hu, Ailing & Yamaguchi, Takuji & Kobayashi, Hiroyuki. (2018). Effect of 528 Hz Music on the Endocrine System and Autonomic Nervous System. Health. 10. 1159-1170. 10.4236/health.2018.109088.

Fauble, Lisabeth. (2016). Medicinal Music: An Anatomy of Music in the Healing Arts.

Wong, J., & Brown, J. (2017, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved February 21, 2020

 


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  2456 Hits
Jun
04

Road Trips & Fitted Sheets

Do you remember the days of paper road maps? We would drive with one hand on the steering wheel and hold our maps with the other. Sounds safe, right? I have no clue how I even got around in this world due to my lack of proficiency of map reading and directional self guidance. However, I always ended up exactly where I was supposed to be or at a place I didn’t realize I was supposed to be at the time. It was always an adventure to say the least and moments unveiled that mattered.

Lake with rock formationsI recently went on an epic road trip. One with no agenda but 7 days to spare and a direction chosen...
west! Eight states later and over 3800 miles traveled, my words to describe the moments, views, wildlife, adventures, laughs and fun would never give this road trip the justice it deserves. Now, knowing that my navigation skills could use some serious work, I heavily relied on my Google map for I had no idea where I was really going but prepared for the journey. Open road. Open mind.

This was all new and unfamiliar territory but I have a passion for adventure and traveling and was confident that I would figure it out...and I did. During my miles on the road, I realized that I cannot solely rely on technology for navigation and must have a basic understanding of direction. I discovered that challenging myself led me to spectacular views and experiences. And, it was an opportunity to strengthen my weaknesses where I struggled. I am a better traveler now and left a smile with all of those whom I met. I feel pretty darn good about it. 

When I returned home, I was unpacking and settling back in. I removed my bedsheets from the dryer and thinking about my unforgettable trip. I folded the top bed sheet and then out came that dreaded fitted sheet. Does anyone really know how to fold a fitted sheet?? WNYC Studios frustration adulting michelle buteau adulting podcast GIF

I have 2 ways: 1. The rapid roll up with both hands and smashing it down to make it as flat as possible. 2. Making it into the best square shape I can and again, smashing it down as flat as I can. After getting back from such a laid back trip, I laughed at myself and thought, “Does it really matter that I fold this sheet perfectly? I mean, afterall, the goal is to make the bed or make it fit in a drawer...and I can do that everytime!” I had developed a refocus.

In the new way of virtual education that we are now experiencing, there have been so many unknowns, fears and “I have no idea how to’s”...including what the upcoming school year will look like and how we prepare. Some of you have probably even second guessed your career. 

Let’s face it, it has been new and unfamiliar territory. Look at you now! You are doing it and still figuring it out as you go! You have most likely found the most professional development that you have been able to in a very long time…recognizing weaknesses and turning them into new strengths! 

New discoverings have been made and new skills that make us better educators due to the unexpected transition from brick and mortar to virtual classrooms. The strengthening and use for accessibility has been in the forefront for students which may have not been valued for student independence and access in the past. A refocus has been developed.

You have had to refocus from the idea of the perfect classroom set up to just “folding it” the best you can because the goal is educating...and you can do that everytime. I celebrate you! ?

From paper maps to Google maps...from fitted sheets to making a bed...from four walls of a classroom to virtual learning...we figure it out. You are an educator. You are here because you have a passion for teaching. The goal is to educate...and again, you can do that everytime. Be confident in your abilities, resilience and open your mind to current challenges and those that may lie ahead. You won’t know until you get there, but you can figure it out and the PATINS staff are on your team to help with the navigation. Open up to the journey. Breathe.

Pink lotus flower in water

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  1939 Hits
Feb
26

#Dyslexia: Celebrating Those Beautiful Brains

IMG_1557-2 Beautiful Brain Sticker
I read an audiobook a few weeks ago by Jonathan Mooney titled Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines. Jonathan was identified with dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when he was a kid and did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He writes with a hilarious twist of confessions and speaks about the uniqueness of learners. Jonathan leaves the message that instead of trying to fix these students...let’s empower them to be successful in their own way.

He shares after being sent to the office due to some choices he made and his mom was called to come to his school, “I had crossed that invisible line between the normal and the not normal, which we all know is there. Though we aren’t quite sure where it is all of the time, or who drew it, or how, or why. At that moment, I knew for sure that whatever normal was, I wasn’t it.”

I am constantly meeting and working with new students who have been identified with dyslexia. I am tasked with the privilege to explore with them ways that they may learn and ways they can feel empowered in their own learning. I often get to see their new learning journey with assistive technology accommodations such as text-to-speech, word prediction, speech-to-text, etc. to keep them from getting further behind in school. Each time I am with a student, they teach me something new which makes me a better educator. I am so thankful.

When meeting new students, I have to create relationships very quickly. This often begins with talking about anything but dyslexia. I have laughed so hard with students at the amazing conversations we have had and the stories they share about life in general. I have also left schools with my chest so heavy due to students feeling so stomped down from the weight they feel from struggling to read. They do not feel smart and feel shame, which leads to low self esteem and often matched with bullying. 

Instead of writing a blog about dyslexia, I wanted to put some faces to dyslexia. Each time we talk about dyslexia in schools, there is a face to every single number. Each time accommodations are denied, there is a face to that denial. We have to remain connected in order to prevent the disconnection of accessibility. 

So! I rounded up just a few kiddos who have impacted my own life in some way this past school year, brought together by dyslexia...but relationships built due to all of the other amazing conversations those beautiful brains have shared with me. I asked them a few questions and I have no doubt you will lift them up with me. 

First, Samantha was a feature on PATINS TV! After meeting her one time and working with her for accommodations on the iPad, the next time I came back, she showed me some ways she was using her iPad that I was able to share with other kids. She is brilliant!

Meet Sam
Sam
  Age: 11 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?  Driving the ATV and maneuvering it with a trailer anywhere!

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? Sam is in 4-H and shows ducks, chickens, and pygmy goats. This year he is going to try his hand at the lawn mower driving project and LEGO building project. When he grows up Sam wants to be a farmer because farming is cool. 

The first time I met Sam, we had a race. He was in his running shoes and well, me in my high heels. He won but I’m ready for a rematch. Sam is an impeccable problem solver. His thoughts take him into creative action on a route we may not think of at the time. I was fortunate to see Sam show one of his goats at his county fair. It felt like 110 degrees in the summer inside a metal barn; but Sam took it like a champ (unlike me sweating profusely). He had an adorable and rambunctious goat that he gave 100% attention to in the heat and he placed! Also, this kid can do the Floss dance better than I have ever seen and brings it alive on the drop of a hat! I can’t wait to see him one day on his own farm...living his dream and being a mentor for those who want to learn his craft of farming. He is unstoppable.


Meet
Precious
Precious
  Age: I am 16 years old. I’m going to be 17 years old in March. 

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: My favorite   book is Dork Diaries

 What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
My favorite hobby is art. 

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I am a homeschooled student. I want to show my artwork to encourage everyone. I am building my own art studio called Shout Loud. I want people to know, "You can do it!"
Precious's artwork of colorful tree

As you can imagine by her answers above, Precious is extremely kind and talented. I was honored to see her art spotlighted at an event in Indianapolis, Indiana. I noticed on her art displays, the first line was “I have dyslexia.” The way that she sees colors and puts them together truly amazes me.


Meet
Piper
Piper
  Age: 9 years old, March 1st!

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: Adventure, crime solving
  and mystery genre


  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at
  doing?
Art, ice skating, skiing, and acting.

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I would like
  the world to know that I love having dyslexia, because it helps me be even more creative than I thought.


Piper helped me out when I presented on assistive technology accommodations. After learning that she loves to act, I can see now how she stood in the front of the crowded room with me with ease. When I showed Piper the C-Pen Reader, she practiced and figured it out quickly. Then, she proceeded to try it out backwards, upside down and up and down. She then explained to me all the ways one should not use the C-Pen. Ya know, she is right...we need to know that part. Thank you, Piper! 


Meet
Reed
Reed
  Age: 9 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
  Shooting 

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? If the world wants to
  know anything else, they need to meet me!!


Reed wasn’t so sure about me at first. He was the observer and then came over to me when he was ready, which works just fine for me. Once he did, he told me about Dog Man and was extremely well spoken about not only the book; but about anything we talked about. Reed heard me say that I had a fear of grasshoppers. At the end of my talk, he walked up to me with his hands closed and said, “Hey, I caught a grasshopper for you!” I thought he was serious for about .2 seconds, which felt like an eternity. He asked me to come back, but Reed, you better watch out! I like to play tricks as well! Reed is right, the world needs to meet him one day. I have a feeling they will as he will positively change the world in his own unique way.

Note: Sometimes kids are labeled as shy, when in reality they just need time or need a purpose to engage. As an educator, practicing wait time and as well as creating purpose can make all of the difference. 


Meet
Jackson
Jackson
  Age: 7 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dyslexic Legends Alphabet. This
  is my favorite book because it has the people that are famous
  because they have dyslexia. Even though you have dyslexia, you
  can still read using audiobooks! 


What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing? Playing baseball and hockey! I really enjoy reading audiobooks. 

(Hey Brent Sopel...I think you've got a huge fan in the making for more than one reason!)

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? That you can do any job that you want, even though you have dyslexia! Even though dyslexia is hard, you can still do whatever you want! 

Clearly, Jack is a true champion for himself in the way he learns best. When he says “...enjoy READING audiobooks,” that kiddo is ahead of the game! Of course he is reading! He is reading with his ears! Jack is an inquisitive thinker and I feel pretty confident when he is not playing hockey or baseball, he is tackling his younger brother. I am hoping to recruit Jack in a future training video on how we all read differently. We can all learn something from Jackson for sure. Besides, he and I have matching shirts... T shirt: Dyslexia is not a disability, it's a different ability.

Jonathan Mooney continues to say and I would like to echo this to all students…

“...I want you to know that normality is a problem to be struggled with, to be resisted, and ultimately, an idea to be rejected and replaced. ...When normal comes for you, I want you to be able to say what I couldn’t when it came for me. Normal sucks.”

What is normal anyway? It’s a measurement we can forever chase and never find. If we always consider the variability of all learners, presume competence, appreciate the diversity and be facilitators toward independence with accessibility in our instruction...our impact will be larger than imaginable. It can literally change life paths in a positive direction for all those faces for not only dyslexia but for all students.

#Presuming Competence is the easiest or the hardest barrier to #inclusion. The hardest because you can't force someone to believe in ability. The easiest because believing in ability costs nothing. It requires zero resources. The ? is, what side of history do you want to be on?
What side do you want to be on? Let's celebrate those beautiful brains...together! 


Note: Make sure you click on each picture to enlarge!  Also, If you have a student or child you would like to celebrate in ANY way, please email me at 
ksuding@patinsproject.org, tweet me @ksuding, or share in the comments below and I will lift them up with you and share!

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  3467 Hits
Aug
21

Empowered Muggles

Irish logo, DNA logo, Muggles, German Flag
I recently discovered through DNA testing that I am 53% Irish and 33% German. There are stereotypes of being Irish and/or German and if you know me, you may not be that surprised with those recent findings. I may or may not be stubborn at times and I do enjoy a good pub. My locks of curls are red and I do have blue eyes. Although, I am a vegetarian and do not eat schnitzel. I was emotionally impacted by discovering my heritage.  

Also, a few weeks ago at a conference that I attended, I participated in a session titled: “What Harry, Hermione and Ron taught me about learning” and was presented by Tony England. Tony is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at Elkhart Community Schools in Indiana and all around brilliant individual. 

At any rate, discussions were had about the diversity of each of us as individuals and how we and our students can appreciate others diversity when open to understanding. This could be certain behaviors, personalities, traits, etc in a classroom setting coming together with our strengths and weaknesses. Also, taking this into consideration when assigning group work, thinking about our own friends who we surround ourselves daily and how we can positively build upon differences.

What does this have to do with Harry, Hermione and Ron, characters from Harry Potter you may ask? After some fun activities throughout the conference session, it was concluded that my personality and traits could reflect that of Harry Potter’s. Of course, due to feeling highly intrigued, I began reading the entire Harry Potter book series. I am nearly embarrassed to admit as an educator, I had never read those books. Where have they been all my life? My Amazon wish list is now stacked with sorting hats, wands, owls, maps and stickers.

Why am I telling you this? Well...as the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” That could not hold more truth in my recent findings of my own self. Knowing my heritage gave me a sense of empowerment, deeper understanding and eager to learn more about where I come from. Constantly seeking new knowledge about the diversity of others and reflecting upon myself, gave me some unexpected permission to be ok with being curious and passionate about things and just jumping into it and figuring it out. That yes, I can be “competitive” and “fiercely independent” but at the same time being “supportive, easy-going, spontaneous and comfortable to be around.” At this point, I even feel completely ok with purchasing those Potter items on my wish-list! 

As educators, we are seen as individuals in a position of power. How can we use that power in a way to empower our own students? We have classrooms of students full of diversity and learning differences. How can we empower all students in embracing not only who they are but who their peers are and creating a safe place to not only succeed; but to fail?
question mark and light bulb ideas


What if…
  • We asked our students how they learn best? Then, begin teaching how our students learn best? aka: Universal Design for Learning If they don’t know or understand, how about helping them discover themselves as learners? Help them understand why they may read with their ears (auditory) and/or eyes (visual) and perhaps why using a stand up desk or a fidget can enable them to embrace their unique way of receiving and comprehending information. Empower them.
What if…
  • We talked about disabilities in our classroom? Do not fear those conversations.  The International Dyslexia Association states:
About 13–14% of the school population nationwide has a handicapping condition that qualifies them for special education. Current studies indicate that one half of all the students who qualify for special education are classified as having a learning disability (LD) (6–7%). About 85% of those students have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing. Nevertheless, many more people— perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language.

Isn’t this an important conversation to have? Having these conversations can provide understanding and acceptance of why some students may be reading with their eyes and some with their ears. This will help those students who use assistive technology accommodations to not feel different; but accepted. Again, knowledge is power and this means educating all students about learning differences. Empower them.

What if…
  • We asked our students what they wish everyone knew about them? Let them speak freely, write them down and share if they choose. Create an environment with school and/or community resources that students know where to go if they need someone to talk to or get help. Empower them.
What if…
  • We not only celebrated successes of our students; but also their failures? This will empower them through teaching resilience and to keep trying! What if our students do not know how to regulate their negative reactions to failures? How about we model the behavior, celebrate loudly and practice the celebrations by setting up opportunities to fail.

I challenge you to have sign on the entrance of your classroom door or building that says:

“You do you.”

What if...we really let them?
2
  3934 Hits
May
16

Helping Students Move Forward

Grieving from the loss of someone or even a big change or transitions in your life is probably one of the hardest emotions to tackle. In grieving, so many other emotions are entwined with sorrow, pain, sadness and often misery. It’s like a tornado of memories that keep us attached to our loss or change that is constantly spinning out of control. How do we find control?

Everyone handles grieving in different ways. Some of us just shut down or we get angry. Some of us throw blame or stay so busy that we can almost pretend it didn’t happen or will not happen. Some seek supports and surround themselves with friends and family.

When we know that someone is grieving, we seem to be more lenient and understanding in how they respond to grieving and try to figure out how we can play a helpful role.

This leads me to the end of the school year approaching and how we can play that helpful role. As a teacher, besides holiday breaks, we often see many behaviors on the rise during this time. Often times, these behaviors are associated with the overwhelming joy that summer is coming and students can’t wait! While I have no doubt in most circumstances that is true; let’s not overlook those students who may be in grieving within the anticipation of no longer being at school because they may have food insecurities, violence, zero social interactions, deplorable living conditions or even perhaps no longer access to reading material.

Some students count down days to loneliness, violence and hunger.

We can predict this pattern of behavior toward the end of the school year; which means that we can also do our part in prevention. How can we help?

First, let’s not assume all students are excited about summer break and then make all of our writing and conversations about that excitement. I challenge you to ask your students what they will miss about not being in school, if they have fears, what they wish you knew about them and what they wish they had over summer break. Then, talk with your students and create solutions and goals.

Create summer calendars for your students to support the visual of each day to countdown summer days.

Share resources for local libraries, online access to reading materials, audiobooks or create a YouTube playlist of individuals reading books aloud for children. I love this story of how a principal is using Facebook to make sure her students get bedtime stories.

Make sure all of your students know how to call 911 and also have resources for local helpline numbers. This should also include information about local summer kitchens that provide meals for students at no cost.

Create a summer group backchannel to help prevent isolation and loneliness. This would be a place that students do not have to have “friend requests” but are already a part of the group. This could be a FlipGrid, Padlet, private Twitter feed with GroupTweet or even create summer pen pal kits, AKA: snail mail. (Yes, with stamps, envelopes, paper...shocking, right?)

mailboxes

I do believe some students begin to grieve the upcoming summer break. I recently watched a Ted Talk on grieving. The speaker mentions how we don’t “...move on from grief. We move forward with it.” Moving on being leaving what you know and moving forward being taking all of the skills and memories alongside you and growing with them. Also, knowing how and having supports. I found that extremely resonating and applicable for so many things on many levels. It is definitely worth the watch.

While our students head out for summer break, let’s not focus on them moving on toward the next transition...let’s help them move forward with supports, skills and tools they can use to continue to grow and self advocate for their well being.

We can make a difference. Believe in it.


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  11361 Hits
Feb
07

Playing beneath the clovers...

“It was late in the night when she heard her mother screaming from her bedroom. Even through the headphones she wore each night to block out those sounds, she could hear.  She ran to the door and threw it open to find her mother being held beneath scalding water in the shower fully clothed. She already had bruises but immediately stopped crying and said to her daughter, “I’m fine. I am sorry, go back to bed...I am OK.”

She left like she always did, not hearing her mother make another sound. She lay on the floor beside her sister’s bed in the corner as she always did when her mother and stepfather came home late at night. She put her headphones back on and dreamt of wishing she could shrink small enough to play beneath the 4 leaf clovers in the grass where no one could see her or ask any questions about her or her family.

She woke up hungry, put on clothes that had not been washed and walked to the bus stop away from the large, beautiful home with the facade of a happy, safe place...her siblings not even waving as they drove past her to school.

The bus door opened, the driver offering her a large smile and she offered one back making a joke that she woke up late, barely caught the bus and that’s why her shirt was so wrinkled. She found her friends on the bus and headed to school.

Field of clovers with heart shaped open patch.
Her teachers adored her and appreciated that she always asked about their day. She loved to laugh, even though insecure about her own smile...laughter was the medicine that kept her afloat. Her friends commented on how well she listened and that she should think about being a psychologist one day. She did think about that; for it would keep her in a place to continue to listen but not have to share. She developed and honed in on that skill of listening...truly listening, hearing, caring and helping all those around her. 

One day while at school, she found herself in a daze in class and a tear must have escaped her eye. Her teacher approached her and asked if she was ok. She responded, “I’m fine. I’m sorry...I’ll get back to work. I’m OK.” Words she heard so often from her mother...nearly every night. Once again, she succeeded…she was able to continue to play “beneath the clovers,” then get back on the bus and start it all over again.”

This is just one story of a student. There are many left untold, unfixed, unnurtured. I once read an article about “ghosts” in the classroom. These are the untold, unseen stories of our students who come to our class each day. These are stories that get suppressed, buried deep inside because they feel like they have no outlet or a safe place to share.

There is so much trauma that comes to our classroom each day. Give students multiple outlets to share, share your own struggles, offer understanding and make it known that we all have stories. These stories need to be shared, nurtured and cared. Do not let these stories define our students; that leads to feelings of shame. Everyone has a story...make sure you are listening with ALL of your senses. Be a Ghostbuster. Ghostbuster logo.

If you do not have this commercial in your life yet...take the 3 minutes to make that happen now






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  1908 Hits
Nov
01

Hopscotch Moments

I wrote a blog post last year titled, Happy Birthday to… Me? There I described my difficulty in answering on the spot questions about myself…to the funny (not funny) moment of actually making up my birthday date after going numb from a simple question, “Kelli, when is your birthday?” You’ll have to read it to believe it.

This past summer, I had the professional development opportunity to spend a week at Camp Yes And at Indiana University learning the art, skill and the power of improv to support social and emotional learning for students on the autism spectrum. This is on the spot responding at it’s finest, which the idea made my heart race. Jim Ansaldo, Ph.D. from the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and heads Camp Yes And states: “Improv is not about being funny, it’s about being you.” It was intensive, meaningful instruction in the morning and then immediate implementation with students with autism in the afternoon.

3 people sitting on chairs on stage

This type of professional development was out of my comfort zone knowing that I once succumbed to making up my own birthday from fear of being judged of my slow processing. However, I also know that we cannot grow as educators if we remain in our comfort zone. Students deserve the best us and they deserve to know and have the skills to be the best them. Modeling plays a considerable part. Their success often begins with our support so count me in with zero hesitation!

What if you don’t know where to start? Start with finding your tribe. Your tribe does not mean like-minded people. It’s about finding fellow educators who will push your thinking and at the same time support you. Besides your colleagues, PATINS staff is always ready to gently get you out of that comfort zone. Join Twitter and develop your personal learning network. Joining Twitter may even be out of your comfort zone…which means 
do it!
iPad with question mark on screen.

Register for Access to Education 2018 and attend sessions that are geared toward the integration of methods, tools and equitable education for your students. When you come to barriers in education, don’t stop and stare…find solutions. When you are not sure how to do something or working with a student you cannot seem to find that breakthrough, ask for help. All of this will not only impact you but also your students!

As I was typing this blog, I received an out of the blue message from a young lady on Facebook who I have not actively spoken with in probably 21 years. She was in elementary/junior high school at that time. She was one of my “little sisters” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program where I volunteered. Her message states this: “My aunt sent me pictures after cleaning out my grandmother’s place. There was an article about you being the Big Sister of the Year. Thank you so much for helping me at some of the hardest times of my life. My childhood was extremely rough, but you have no idea how you inspired me to have a better life. You helped me break the cycle.”

I had no idea that I had that impact on her after all of these years until 10 minutes into writing this blog. Here I was trying to break my own cycle of my painful childhood by supporting those who were struggling. I was out of my comfort zone then but realized that no change can be made by staying there…just like taking that improv class. We may never hear of the stories of how we have changed a student’s life; however, push your own thinking and remain that expert learner and seek those out of box moments to be the best you…because you indeed can help students be the best them. I was told that we can’t control the lives of our students…but we do have influence.

I LOVE this video and have watched it more than a dozen times. It is worth the few minutes to watch. What would you do? Would you be able to release all inhibitions and play? Get uncomfortable and find your hopscotch moments…and let’s model for our students that it’s ok to be “you.” #KidsDeserveIt

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  3400 Hits
Jul
25

Trust + Acceptance = The Moonwalk

I am so excited to introduce my friend, passionate educator and guest blogger, Beth Tharp...

Moonwalking is the most important asset I have as an educator. Scary to consider and not something I have built into my “Back to School” presentation or resume, although maybe I should consider it! As a seventh grade math teacher, moonwalking -- or being cool at all for that matter -- is a mighty stretch. It started as just a #RunningFantasy -- you know, about two minutes into your run when you consider putting your smartwatch on your dog to complete your steps for the day because who would really know? Come on, don’t pretend like you have never considered it. In those moments I turn to music, and Michael Jackson had the answer that day. Divine intervention? Perhaps! And the answer was, I was going to teach myself to moonwalk. So, after hours and hours (which, honestly, stretched into weeks and years) of practicing in my living room, I was a moonwalking fool looking for the right moment to unleash my impressive new skill.

My blaze of glory didn’t happen the way I planned. In fact, ten years had gone by and I had all but forgotten that I even had this hidden talent. The day was just like hundreds of days previous; first period started at 7:45 a.m., students were working on mathematical tasks in small groups, and I was there to facilitate instructional conversations. On this particular day, I had a student who desperately wanted to avoid anything and everything related to math. Task avoidance wasn’t at all out of the ordinary for him. His attendance was spotty at best, and when he did show up he seemed more interested in distracting and antagonizing others than in completing any content related task. When I would try connecting with him, I was met with a wall solidly built on insults and language that would make even the most seasoned sailor blush. He made sure to tell me, and anyone else who would listen, that he
disliked school but that he hated math above all else. I had all but given up on him (a fact I am not proud to admit). That day he was mouthing the words to a Michael Jackson song. If he knew the song, he surely knew the moonwalk. This. Was. My. Moment.

Michael Jackson doing Moonwalk dance

I picked up a pencil, moonwalked to his desk, and placed the pencil in his hand while simultaneously giving him the “shhhh” signal. I immediately regretted my choice, especially when he didn’t smile and instead scowled at me. I had made myself vulnerable and wanted to avoid any contact but couldn’t when the boy stayed after the bell to talk to me. I had already made up my mind he was approaching me to insult me; after all, I had been the target of many of his tirades in the past. I mentally prepared my armor and reminded myself that no matter what he said, it wasn’t personal. But instead of an insult, he said something I never considered would come out of his mouth. “Mrs. Tharp, I never would have thought you could moonwalk. I mean, you’re a math teacher and kind of older. How do you even know that song? Who knew you could do something so cool?” I. Was. Speechless.

I had to hide my cringe at the word “older” and the insinuation that people didn’t know how cool I was (like ice, that’s how cool, in case you were wondering), but in setting my (bruised) ego aside I was able to see he was giving me a compliment. Not only that, I knew he was able to understand how far outside my comfort zone I had traveled, and how weird I was feeling. He met me in that scary place with a compliment and assurance that would give me confidence. It was then realized I often asked him to travel to that scary place and I did not meet him with understanding and assurance. That realization made my soul hurt. I was sacrificing connection for content, and I realized that in order for him to absorb any content, he needed me to empathize with the fear of feeling vulnerable. I was dead wrong; this was and should be personal.

This is the part where I would love to tell you from that day forward this boy came to class every day with a positive attitude and ready to learn. I would love to tell you that he emerged as a leader and made great academic and social gains. I would love to tell you that this one moment was so profound it changed the course of his life forever. These are the moments we go into teaching hoping and dreaming to achieve. But I can’t tell you those wonderful things because that isn’t what happened. It wasn’t a profound moment where he suddenly loved math and all things school. Instead, it was a subtle shift in trust -- almost imperceptible to those outside his small circle. He still struggled in math and told everyone he hated it, but he now made sure to add that it wasn’t my fault, and that he knew I really understood him and I was there for him. He was now able to be vulnerable and would try new tasks without shutting down before even starting. He was able to feel understood, a feeling he had never before experienced at school.

This student that taught me the greatest lesson I have ever learned as a teacher: content is important, but trust is vital. And sometimes you just have to take a chance and moonwalk.

As you begin this year, find whatever fills you with joy and makes you a little uncomfortable (be it the moonwalk or something else) and let that feeling drive making connections your priority. Fear not, awesome teacher, once you establish connections, content knowledge will surely follow.

Beth Tharp, her husband, and sonBeth's Bio:

Beth Tharp is a 7th grade math teacher at Avon South Middle School. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Education, and a Master’s degree from Ball State University in Educational Leadership. She will begin her 9th year working with kiddos, focusing on Math 7 and Pre-Algebra. She loves trying to keep up with her son and husband on adventures, moonwalking, and completing Tough Mudders with Kelli Suding.
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  3440 Hits
Apr
10

The Ugly Cry Is Beautiful

You know you are a special education teacher if “it takes years for your student to reach a goal and when they do...you just want to cry.”

Oh yes...celebrations of students’ success…big or small. Those are moments when you feel the rush from the pit of your stomach and then it slowly starts flowing through your veins….then explodes like a can of pop that was shook and quickly opened...which leaves your eyes dripping with salty excitement...and the next thing you know...you are doing your interpretation of the happy dance. If you are a teacher or anyone who has celebrated a child, you know exactly what I am describing. No, it’s not always pretty...but I can guarantee that it is always beautiful to the student to which brought about this emotion.

Happy Dance

I will never forget the first time I experienced this organic feeling. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway with a 5th grade student who independently decoded an entire paragraph for the very first time of a book we were reading together. He paused at the end of the paragraph and was nearly shocked by his own reading. The moment he turned his head, smiled and looked at me...the unexpected floodgate began. It was lovely chaos...I was celebrating him and he was consoling me! Ha ha It’s like sitting in a baseball stadium and your team hits a home run...the next thing you know...you are on your feet cheering and clapping! It’s uncontrollable excitement.

I have to admit, celebrating myself is a personal struggle. However, doing whatever it takes to facilitate a student in success of emotional, social, behavioral and/or academic skills...I am all in. While I am not in the classroom any longer...I get the privilege to have shared classrooms and students across the state. With that said, I am still “all in” for you as educators and your students. In fact, my whole team is all in for you.

The year is coming to an end. Find time for pause and instead of just looking directly at a student’s struggles as we support them, also look around them...see and feel the moments to celebrate.  I have great adoration for this quote from the book Wonder, “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.” Go ahead, it’s ok to get ugly; because it’s beautiful.
Woman crying holding tissue to face.
Fun ways to celebrate your students while also motivating them:
  • Send an email or note to parent/ guardian or school administrator
  • Praise verbally
  • Throw graffiti parties
  • Ring a bell
  • Expression by using GIFs
  • Allow students to write down what THEY feel they did best, crumble paper and have them shoot into a “shining moments” basket at the end of the day.  
Wonder Book
0
  4120 Hits
Jan
04

The Best Things In Life Are Free

scs
I stumbled upon an old song that Sam Cooke re released in 1964 called, “The Best Things In Life Are Free.”

“Moon belongs to everyone

The best things in life, they're free
Stars belong to everyone
They glitter there for you and for me
They are yours and me

Flowers in spring
The robins that sing
Sunbeams that shine
They're yours and their mine

Love can come to everyone
Best things in life they're free
All of the good things
Every one of the better things

The best, best things in life
They're free”

While the lyrics are very simple, the reflection it gave me as I listened was rather deep. Knowing that research constantly reflects that teachers can be one of the most impactful persons in a student’s life, it made me immediately think about all of our students who may struggle daily; whether academically, socially or emotionally.

I had recently been with a passionate group of educators who were seeking ways to support their students. Together we brainstormed some considerations for appropriate accommodations. Assistive technology tools were introduced to facilitate independent learners and support students on the autism spectrum. Strategies for classroom management and behaviors were also shared. We engaged in conversations about specific learning disabilities and had discussions about accessible educational materials.

So, what does all of that have to do with a song titled, “The Best Things In Life Are Free?” Chance. It all comes down to Chance. It’s free and sometimes...it’s all a student really needs...to be given a Chance.    


Sing it Sam! 


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  3352 Hits
Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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  2688 Hits
Jun
14

"I got this."

fishing jumping from one bowl to another with the words I got this
Reflect, reflect, reflect is what my college professors used to say constantly. I always felt like I was going to lose my mind with one more forced reflection because I never understood the “why” of reflection.

If you have ever been to one of my trainings, you will know that I discuss the “why” in all that I talk about. I do feel that if we do things for a purpose because we know the meaning and relevance for ourselves, then we will most likely stay ignited in the passions we pursue or grow within the learning environment. We will want to learn. We are presented with the big picture and we can actually see it. We will apply and we will continue to remain expert learners; which in turn...can turn glazed-over eyes that look upon us in a classroom- into active, independent, engaged participants in their own learning. Our students.


I naturally reflect almost daily now as I work in education. This wasn’t an easy thing to do for myself because I am my biggest critic. Reflection makes you pause and think about the recent past and when you feel like you have failed; it’s so hard to relive in the moment because most of us just want to accept that feeling and just get away from it. However, within that pause, we can find change, we can find resolution, we can find growth.

Flower reflectionIt’s now summer time when most of us finally take that moment and reflect over the entire year. If you are like me, do not only reflect as your own biggest critic; but also as your own biggest fan. Look back at the awesome things you have accomplished, the changes you have made, the lives you have touched and the laughter that you may have sparked. Grow within those awesome moments and pack up the feelings of failures, learn from them and become a stronger, better teacher because of them.  

As you take some much needed time off this summer and begin the planning of the new school year, consider adding reflection into your days, weeks, months...not only for you, but for your students. Explain the “why.”  In thinking of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of engagement and action and expression, here are some examples for fun and engaging ways to incorporate reflection into your classroom:

  • Tools such as Padlet for weekly reflections to share.
  • Try using the app One Second Everyday from the first day of school until the last to create a virtual diary by taking one picture each day. The app quickly makes a video contemplation of your entire school year. What a fun way for students to reflect and to share!
  • Consider using furtureme.org to email the “future you” for goals to yourself or for your students. However, there are many good ways to use this free online tool.  

Relax and enjoy your summer.  When the moment comes to get back into the swing of things, pause...look at yourself and repeat, “I got this.”

PATINS staff has got your back also. Contact us anytime.  

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