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Feb
01

5 Questions for AEM & AT in DHH IEPs

5 Questions for AEM & AT in DHH IEPs 5 Questions for AEM & AT in DHH IEPs
  1. Where are AEM and AT located in the Indiana IEP system?
    • Provisions and Services page 
  2. screenshot image from IIEP with red boxes around accessible materials and assistive technology areasWhat could be considered AEM for DHH Students?
    • Any materials used in the classroom that need to be in an accessible format for the student to access their curriculum at the same time as their peers such as closed and open captions, transcripts in (but not limited to) foreign language learning classrooms, access to print material in digital formats (This is not an exhaustive list).
  3. What could be considered AT for DHH Students? 
    • Any device or technology used to provide access to the curriculum such as a tablet or Chromebook/laptop for access to live transcript applications, AAC device, FM/DM ear level transmitter/receiver, t-coil, neck loop, induction loop, remote mini microphone, Bluetooth device, built-in or stand-alone sound-field speaker and microphone, book clips, speech to text software/applications, text to speech software/applications (This is not an exhaustive list).
  4. Even if the case conference committee decides that the student does not need AEM and/or AT to provide FAPE do we select “No” and leave the box blank?
    • When a case conference committee decides that the student does not need either AEM or AT to provide FAPE then select “No” in the appropriate box and comment in the box on what was considered, discussed, and the outcome.
    • Note: Leaving the box blank can suggest that the team did not consider or discuss AEM or AT during the conference.
  5. How can our team determine if AEM and/or AT are appropriate for our DHH student(s)? 
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Dec
14

Sitting Inside the Checkbox

Artist Name - Recording-Blog-Sitting-in-the-Checkboxes.mp3


As the end of the year nears, holidays run together and family and friends come in and out of our doors. Sometimes the wrapping paper, meal preparations, and travel plans take up most of our time.

 Checklist boxes with a red marker making checkmarks

For me the holiday checklist is at the forefront of my mind. Those that know me are familiar with my love of checklists. Boxed bullet points give more order, help me stay on-track, and give me a sense of control of the things going on around me. Unlike in the past, this year my checklist became a source of anxiety about the holiday season. But I could not figure out why. I was doing all the suggested holiday traditions that are supposed to bring more joy during this time of year. Yet joy just did not seem to be inside those multiple squares. On the other hand frustration and anxiety showed up checkmark after checkmark. 

So I applied a recently discovered method of the “5 whys.” 

The first why?: Why were these activities bringing me frustration and anxiety? Answer: I didn’t enjoy the activities that we were doing. Now I could have stopped there and just changed the activities but I would not have gotten to the root of the cause.

So I asked a second why?: Why wasn’t I enjoying these activities? Answer: They felt rushed. 

Third why?: Why were the activities rushed? Answer: I felt like I needed to get to the next checkbox quickly. 

Fourth, why? Why did I need to get to the next checkbox? Answer: Checking the box became more important than the  actual activity. 

Fifth why?: Why was marking the squares the priority? Answer: The satisfaction of marking the square became the focus of the activity. Utilizing the 5 “whys” helped me to have a deeper understanding of the root cause. 

Now I can look back at my checklist with a different perspective. I have to be honest, giving up the checklist probably isn’t going to happen. But what I can do instead is make it a priority to sit inside my checkbox and enjoy those four walls before quickly moving on to the next thing.

As educators we have a lot of checkboxes and sometimes we can lose sight of the joys of seeing students grow and learn. Checklists serve valuable purposes in guiding, documenting, tracking, and prioritizing but we have the choice of how they guide our actions as we complete those necessary items. PATINS Project staff often talk about a few checkboxes including the Assistive Technology (AT) box and Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) boxes on the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These boxes are vital for documenting student’s accommodations and gaining equitable access to materials. Although it is important to mark these boxes, we also need to sit inside these boxes to make sure we are getting to know our students and their needs. One way to do this is to utilize the SETT model, designed by Joy Zabala, in the AT evaluation. Utilizing the SETT model results in Student centered, Environmentally useful, and Task focused system of selecting supportive Tools. 

So when faced with these checkboxes, make sure to check them and take time to incorporate the SETT model into the evaluation process. If you do need more support on AT in the IEP, register for this no-cost 5-part series on AT in the IEP:

Part 1 - Getting the Money(Register): Friday, Feb. 10, 1:00 pm EST
Discussing funding sources for devices, training, and how to utilize PATINS for support.

Part 2 - Boots on the Ground(Register): Friday, Feb 10, 1:30 pm EST
Examine working with Information Technology (IT) and creating a system/plan for daily use.

Part 3 - What Happens at the Table(Register):Friday, March 3, 12:30 pm EST
Look at case conference practices and the actual documentation of assistive technology in the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

Part 4 - Bringing Them In(Register): Friday, March 3, 1:00 pm EST
Addresses implementation of assistive technology with the student, family, and school team.

Part 5 - Making It Stick(Register): Friday, March 3, 1:30 pm EST
Addresses transitioning to the post-secondary setting with assistive technology.

Remember to sit inside the checkbox with the intention of seeing past those four lines to visualize clearly who your students are and what they need for success.

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Jan
25

Visions of Versions for 2023

This past weekend I was invited to create a vision board for 2023 with a wonderful group of friends. As a newbie to this type of goal setting or planning for the year, I was looking forward to the inspiration I would find in the giant pile of magazines that we’d collected. 

Tall stack of magazines.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to include something about books. Making my way through a stack of professional books has actually been a goal of mine since the start of the 2022-23 school year. At that time, I set a goal of reading a professional resource for at least 60 minutes a week, and while this isn’t a huge amount of time, my to-read stack is decreasing in size (as a sidebar, I found reading The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler to be thought-provoking and profound)! 

Magazine cutouts with the words let's read books.

Not only am I enjoying reading these professional resources about all things education, I’ve found myself in a new book club and reading books for my own enjoyment. Before the last six months, I had never really viewed myself as an avid reader, but now I’m actively reading two books and will start a third soon. As I record these thoughts in this blog, I’m still happily shocked by this shift in my life. This is because I grew up hating to read the books assigned in school. Instead, I flew through all of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, but at one point was told that what I was reading was essentially garbage and worthless. 

One thing that has really come into view over the last handful of months is the fact that I thoroughly enjoy reading with my eyes and with my ears; it simply depends upon the context. For example, I recently purchased the printed book, Solito; A Memoir by Javier Zamora, as this was my last book club book. However, I quickly figured out that I wanted to keep reading it even when I didn’t have access to the physical book, like when I was driving or going for a walk. That meant I needed the audio version too. So I went ahead and purchased it from the Google Play Store (I find digital books cheaper here than on Audible), since it wasn’t currently available for digital access through my local library.

Viola! The reading no longer had to wait on my access to the printed book! I could read with my eyes in bed or read with my ears in the car or on the treadmill. The ability to choose the way in which I read the text allowed me to continue my engagement in the story with less restriction. Having these options allowed me to maximize my time, which is another part of my vision for the year. 

What if we could engage our students in spending more time reading by simply offering them choices in the ways that they can access text? Recent research from the Journal of Neuroscience states that “while the representation of semantic information in the human brain is quite complex, the semantic representations evoked by listening versus reading are almost identical.” This means that when we are focused on building reading comprehension, we should feel confident in letting our students read with their eyes and their ears.

Brain

It’s in these choices that we may help our students see themselves as “avid” readers for the first time in their lives-- just like I’m experiencing for the first time in my late 30s. It’s a mixed feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that I may not have realized could be fulfilled in this way, but it’s a feeling that is shaping my self-image and confidence in my intellect.

Plus, we must recognize that we will always have students with documented print disabilities that require access to digital and printed text in various formats to aid comprehension, and the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) is ready and waiting to help you provide these accessible materials at no cost to you. Reach out if you’d like more information on getting started!

There are ways to find accessible digital versions of text for all students, too. Firstly, you can check out audiobooks from your local library through apps like Hoopla and Libby. Other sites like Unite for Literacy and Open Library also offer audiobooks. There are paid options as well such as Epic, Books on Google Play, Audible, and more. 

I look forward to the day where school libraries operate like our public libraries offering print, digital, and audiobooks for all students! Please like or comment if you too have visions of text versions for all students!

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Jan
18

That Big Guy at Purdue

Screen-Shot-2023-01-18-at-3.26.21-P_20230118-203012_1 Purdue logo with braille


Walking out of the Y the other day, a stranger held the door for me, and, commenting on my sweatshirt said, “It’s a great year to be a Purdue Boilermaker!”

“I know!” I replied, “you’ve heard about the microrobotics work they’re doing for accessibility then!” She looked at me, her enthusiasm switching to puzzlement, then she walked on in, and I walked to my car, shrugging.

She must have been talking about Dave Schleppenbach, giant in the field of STEM accessibility for the blind, and CEO of Tactile Engineering, right? Because the news coming out of his lab in the Purdue Research Park is what this PATINS specialist for blind and all of my teacher colleagues have been waiting to hear for two decades. He’s like some kind of superstar athlete getting double digits in all the categories. It’s like we’re going to finally have a shot at winning it all!

To give you some reference as to why this feels so monumental, when I started in this field teaching science at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 1996, electronic braille displays were brand new. Essentially, a student who used braille for literacy had an alternative to paper braille–a device that had plastic pins that mechanically popped up and down into the braille code under their fingers. The main limitation, though, was that due to the expense and size of the mechanisms needed for each braille letter, the student could only display 40 cells (letters or spaces) at a time. Usually less than one sentence.

Whole books worth of information (and soon after, access to the whole world through the web) awaited in their device, just like inside their sighted peers’ phones and tablets, but they could only access 40 cells at a time. For sighted folks it would be like 

only being able to read this much of this blog at a time.

Could you imagine taking a comprehension test visually where you had to navigate with a tunnel vision window 40 characters wide seeking a word or answer? Or try to interpret data in a table without being able to see trends instantly? 

Since that time 27 years ago, I’ve attended yearly assistive technology conferences and expos and toured the exhibit halls looking for the breakthrough in science and technology that would allow braille readers to have a full page display that cost less than a million dollars.

Promising players would appear–usually a PhD candidate who won an award for an innovative idea for haptics or air-based braille puffs. They would slam dunk their presentation and my hopes would rebound. I would get excited cheering the team on, but the person must have headed on to a more lucrative contract in a more lucrative industry, like some college basketball star heading to the NBA. Ugh. Their ideas never materialized into a device.

Little did I know, Dave and his colleagues at his company have been quietly plugging away at this problem for the past decade, producing lab equipment for the blind along the way.

They even dared to dream of a device that not only produced a full page of braille, but one that could instantly produce tactile graphics with animation. Animation? You mean the students I’m working with will be able to access games too? Time to buy that Dave Schleppenbach poster to hang on my office wall! 

The key was finding teammates in microrobotics engineering who could develop the tiny robots to build many tiny mechanisms for the braille cells. Does this sound like magic to me? Yes. Do I understand it with any depth? No. Did I just stand up and belt out the Purdue fight song for all the unsung Purdue engineer "heroes and their victories?" Yes, yes I did sing "all hail!". 

Not only will this be a game changer for students in Indiana, it will also create new jobs for Hoosiers who will control all the microrobots to make all the devices for blind folks throughout the world. The excitement must be contagious as I’ve seen so many Purdue hats, shirts, and social media posts in the last few months.

Most importantly, it will open up doors of access and independence for students with blindness who would like to pursue a career in STEM--or just be able to see a whole page of text at once! I’ll be celebrating this victory for a long time. 


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Jan
12

TTS: Then and Now

In the last 25 years, during which I have worked for the PATINS Project, assistive technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Today I am specifically considering one technology and how it has advanced greatly.

It is interesting and somewhat exciting to see where it was, and where it is going. My early involvement with text to speech (TTS) was with the software program Kurzweil 1000.

The software, when fitted to an appropriate computer configuration, would take scanned text and through the programs optical character recognition (OCR) would convert the text output to speech.

Kurzweil 1000 was primarily used by individuals who were blind or had low vision. Although others began using it for students who had a reading disability. From that enlightening came the Kurzweil 3000 program which addressed the other needs of not just reading but writing and study skills.

There have been many other text to speech programs developed. Some being Natural Reader, W.Y.N.N., Word Q, TextHelp Read and Write, Microsoft Narrator, Snap and Read to name a few.

These programs have had a major impact on struggling readers and those individuals who can’t access text in the traditional way.

For many users of TTS, one complaint that crossed programs were the robotic voices which were synthesized and lacked inflection and other natural nuances of human speech.

Not only was TTS used in software programs, but it was and still is a vital component in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, software and applications.

Although TTS was/is an integral part of assistive technology for individuals to communicate and interact, it was just a matter of time before it became mainstream.

Very few people would know the background of TTS or its evolution of augmentative speech when using SIRI or Alexa. They have become a fixture in everyday life from young to old. Their voice sounds realistic, and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) used makes them almost lifelike.

What got me thinking about what my early years’ experience with TTS is a program my wife, Rita, came across a few weeks ago. The program is Speechify and it is TTS program and much more. Speechify is a text to speech program for desktop or mobile devices that uses computer generated voices.

This is one of many that have incorporated OCR to translate its output to speech. What is interesting about Speechify is that it doesn’t use voice files that are part of the devices operating system but generates speech using its own file sources.

You can choose voices from fourteen different countries, including Spanish, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Hindi, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, Italian, German, Hebrew, and others. It offers male and female voices for the specific language, but it also has the voices of Gwyneth Paltrow and Snoop Dogg.

This is not an endorsement for Speechify (for which there is a cost to use). This is one view for me of where TTS started, and what is possible now. The advancement is phenomenal and Speechify is just one of many TTS programs out there.

The main reason Speechify caught my attention was Snoop Dogg’s voice, you should demo him. What a hoot!

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Jan
05

Book It! For Grown-Ups

Book It! For Grown-Ups Were you part of the generation that grew up learning the value of reading as it related to a personal pan pizza? Me too!

Were you part of the generation that grew up learning the value of reading as it related to a personal pan pizza?

Me too!

Pizza Hut’s Book It! program was a cornerstone of my childhood: read so many books a month, and get a little coupon for a free pizza. In elementary school, I devoured books almost as fast as pizza. Throughout my childhood and teens, I always had a stack of novels nearby.

It didn't change until sometime in my 20s. I couldn’t find any enjoyment in reading books and at the time I couldn't pinpoint why. My free time, interests, and access to books had certainly changed. I had a job, responsibilities, and no weekly trip to the library built into my schedule. I just didn't read books anymore, so I described myself as "not much of a reader."

In actuality I was still a reader, a voracious one even. I was just reading different things for different purposes: cooking and travel blogs, news reports, professional journals, comic strips, and the Wikipedia pages on Basque whaling in the 1700s. I spent hours reading every day but if it wasn’t a book with chapters I believed it didn’t count. That frame of mind was harmful: no one way of reading or type of reading is superior to another. When we put books and novels as superior to other types of reading, we set ourselves up to an unequal and inaccessible standard. And when I took the pressure off of being “a good reader = books = pizza” and could find enjoyment in more types of reading.

So I propose a new Book It, A Grown Up Reading Program. There are a few rules:

All reading counts

Books of any length or genre? Good. Children's books? Good. Not-a-books like blogs, comic strips, technical reports, the news, and recipes? All good. Audio, digital text, print? Good, good, good!

Get the tools to help you read

Today I almost exclusively read digital materials. Audiobooks let me multitask, conserve energy, and prevent repetitive motion injuries while the digital text gives me the learning and organization tools I need. Both of these formats are necessary for me to access reading. I also use two types of headphones for audiobooks: bone conduction and noise canceling. You can borrow these types of headphones from our lending library. If I was a student with an IEP, I would insist all this information be written in that document under assistive technology and accessible educational materials.

Did you notice up at the top right corner of the screen we have a ReachDeck accessibility toolbar? If you haven’t yet, try it out. Listen to this blog or another page with the tool. Do some stretches or pace around a bit and read. Did you like it? Would you or your students use something like that again?

Share the joy

Does every student have access to reading materials in your district at the exact same moment as everyone else? 

Do they all get to have interesting reading experiences about a variety of topics? 

Do they need some tools to be successful readers, as most adults do?

If you need support with the above questions, reach out to us, we have tools and ideas to try!

Finally, buy yourself a pizza

Also, splurge on some breadsticks, because you are a grown-up with grown-up money.

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Dec
29

Loss and Communication

Outline drawings of two adults with a squiggly bubble representing communication with a line from one person''s mouth to the bubble and a line from the bubble to the other person's ear

Audio Version (5 Minutes)

Five years. My 26-year-old son passed away unexpectedly five years ago today. It's still difficult to believe. So many things were going well for him. He was married, raising a young baby, and beginning to excel in a career. He had so much life ahead of him. I miss him and his vigor, silliness, and passion.

Although we didn't visit face to face as often as we could have, we communicated through text messages, daily snapchats of his daughter, him singing, his dog Jet and we talked every few days. I am grateful for all those modes of communication we shared. Although these modes may not be typical for your students, it's important to discover their best modes.

How do you ensure that ALL your students are connected and communicating with their most important people, friends and classmates and not losing out on communicative opportunities?

"An 18-month-old child has been exposed to 4,380 waking hours of oral language. A typical AAC user, exposed to modeling, two times a week for 30 minutes, would take 84 years to have the same level of exposure." - source AAC Community

What can you do? - Model AAC

At PATINS, I have been privileged to work with many K-12 stakeholders throughout the entire state through video consultations, webinars, or onsite trainings. Some of these relationships have continued for several years. These are important to me because most of these interactions supported students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN) and/or Orthopedic Impairments (OI). 

What else can you do? Request Free PATINS AAC Consultation

Students with CCN (go to practicalaac.org for additional information) have the right to communicate. It may be difficult to identify their methods of communication, but we must do our best to see and validate those attempts. We have several tools available to help and a great place to start is the Communication Matrix (Free).

You can think about your student as an active participant rather than a passive observer. How can you engage your student? Consider the basic purposes of communication:

  1. Refusing,
  2. Getting things,
  3. Socializing and
  4. Sharing/Gaining information.

When your student fusses, pushes something away or throws items, do you acknowledge and identify that as a refusal ("No thanks", "Don't want", or model a refusal icon) and offer an alternative? Start with a few symbols - Project-Core and Universal Core Vocabulary Selector

Engineer the environment so your student must ask for assistance (e.g., missing part to an activity, missing/dead battery, missing color, etc.). Also, have your student with CCN block the hallway path of a general education peer in order to initiate a conversation using a Step By Step communication device (101 Ideas for Step by Step).

The Step by Step is awesome for recording multiple words, phrases, and sentences to have conversations/social interactions (program the student's half of the conversation - “My name is x. What’s your name? I have two dogs and a cat. Do you have any pets? I like watching videos. What do you like to do?), counting, singing songs, giving instructions, or following directions, and much more!

Encourage all students to greet one another, new people, provide opportunities to share information, control others (e.g., activities such as cooking, art, cleaning, PE, etc.). See link for 101 Ideas above.

Encourage families to share information about home activities and events so that staff can engage the student about those. Use a written notebook, email, shared online document, recorded messages on voice output device, tablet or dedicated communication device.

Finally, you must also ensure the following to encourage robust authentic communication. When teaching/using AAC, students can easily get bored, frustrated if it's only used for academic tasks. Additionally, the AAC system must be taught keeping these ideas in mind:

  1. There must be a need to communicate
  2. There must be an opportunity to communicate
  3. There must be motivation
  4. There must be a way to communicate
  5. Give appropriate wait time and talk less!!!

Many students with CCN have already lost out on many opportunities to communicate. Please work with your team to determine the best mode of communication for your student, give them a voice and make sure everyone listens. Every student has the right to communicate (ASHA Communication Bill of Rights) and share their unique personalities.

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Dec
15

PATINS Has a YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos

PATINS Has A YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos. PATINS has a YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos with class in the background.

“Try one thing. If it works, great, keep using it, If it doesn’t, move on to something new.” 

I have said this to myself many times as a speech-language pathologist to help me avoid falling into the “sunk-cost fallacy.”

I first learned about the “sunk-cost fallacy” from my husband who enjoys listening to economics podcasts in his free time. This article from Time Magazine has examples of this concept. They define the sunk-cost fallacy as “…the general tendency for people to continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option, if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it…”

This may come up in education when a team has spent ample time and money on a certain tool. Team members may be hesitant to abandon a device or strategy, even when the data shows it is not working for a student.

We must remember to keep what works for the student at the forefront. There is a tool or strategy out there that will work for every student. However, there seems to be a never-ending supply of educational tools out there. It can be overwhelming to find a place to start digging into them all. There are many ways the PATINS Project can help you narrow down what works for your students. 

PATINS offers bi-monthly Featured Solution and Specialist Feature resource videos on the PATINS Project YouTube Channel. These videos are released August through May and typically go over a new assistive technology tool, app, extension, or accessible educational strategy. You can view over 180 resource videos on the PATINS TV Playlist. To be the first to know when a new video is released on Assistive Technology (AT), Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), join the more than 2,000 PATINS Project YouTube subscribers and hit the bell for notifications.

Subscribed button with bell.

See a tool or implementation technique that could benefit a student or your classroom in one of the resource videos? Most devices and apps are available for 6-week loans in the PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library catalog for school personnel at Indiana's Local Education Agencies (i.e. Indiana public and charter school employees) to trial with their students for no-cost.

Finding a tool is the first step, then you have to figure out how to use it with your students effectively. PATINS Project staff can help! Submit a Technical Assistance Request for training and/or a consultation to accompany any of the items available for loan. This service also comes at no-cost! 

I hope you are able to take advantage of your winter break to rest and reinvigorate yourself. When the new year begins in January 2023, the PATINS Project will be here to help you try effective tools and strategies with your students.
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Dec
08

Growing From Setbacks and Creating Our Culture



Audio Version of this Blog
 (14 minutes)

About 15 adult students in a classroom setting looking at their books with Bryce in the back row looking toward the table.
This past July, during the Friday evening portion of the weekend’s beginner motorcycle class I was teaching, a young man in the back of the room introduced himself as having gone to high school with my oldest daughter. He mentioned how smart she was and that she’d often helped him with his homework. From that point forward, I kept a very close eye on this lad! 

Bryce on a motorcycle during beginner rider class making a left curve

I quickly realized that the student I was closely watching was highly driven, positive, and eager! He was also almost constantly smiling! It turned out he was an outstanding student who wasn’t shy to ask questions and readily accepted coaching. He passed the class and then anxiously volunteered for the first-ever Adventure Bike Class in Indiana, which ended up including a three-hour drive each way for him, more than three inches of snow, and the unfortunate cancellation a couple of hours into the class! Nevertheless, his genuine positivity and smile persisted. I knew then, that I needed to know more about this young man; his past, his education, and the source of his passion for life. 

6 Adventure Type motorcycles covered in snow with a trailer in the background

More recently, I’ve heard from more than a handful of educators who’ve shared feelings that I’d associate with overwhelm, stress, and even despair. If our educators are feeling this, their students are likely feeling some of that as well. To feel things differently, we often have to do things differently, and that can take some extreme bravery. So, I reached out to this young motorcycle student of mine and asked if he’d consider sharing pieces of himself as my guest blogger this week! 

Bryce Beharry standing with his mother and father outside of his high school wearing his cap and gown, all smiling with his mother kissing his cheek

In life, perceived failures, can quickly stop us in our tracks and knock us onto the ground. Whether it’s making a poor grade in school, a bad business decision, dropping your bike, feeling judged, or disrespected by others. These sorts of negative instances in our life can easily push us to give up. I’m Bryce Beharry, and at twenty years old I own my own business and work very closely with the CEO of another business. Every day I help other people market their companies and products to the world. I’ve experienced many hurdles and successes in both my own life, and in the lives of my clients. The one thing I notice the most is that my clients who have seemingly fallen the most, have now succeeded the most! That’s exciting to me! As people, we can learn from setbacks or we can allow them to discourage us. We must stay true to ourselves and our values, instead of always conforming to what might be expected. 

School wasn’t easy for me. High school was particularly not easy for me. Nevertheless, It was 2020, my senior year of high school, and I planned to make this year the best yet. I was almost done in my hometown and headed to college, I thought! Little did I know that in just a couple of months, my life path would be flipped inside out and upside down! I often hung around with the “popular” crowd to get through high school, and at the time I thought it was a great thing! It felt good… for a while, anyway.  I seemingly had plenty of friends and activities to go to all the time. We had some great times and did some things I probably wouldn’t put on my resumé. I remember feeling like I never wanted those days to end. That was until I woke up one day and realized how much of an outcast I actually was within this group of “friends.” No one else seemed to think about things like I did, or even had similar interests or passions. I eventually got tired of going to parties and talking about the same things over and over again. What were we doing? How did I just realize that we do the exact same thing, day in and day out, and we actually do little to better ourselves or to help someone else? I decided to change my life that very day. I didn’t want to follow the path I was headed down. I couldn’t waste another four years partying away my life at college and likely getting a degree I didn’t really want or need. I started trying to find other people who thought about life in similar ways to me. This would become one of my first major hurdles and it sent me on a wild goose chase. I wouldn’t catch my goose for another two years, however. 

I started researching how one might start a business; the ins and outs of the business world. I scoured the internet for hours, read with my eyes and my ears and I auditorily processed all the podcasts I could find. I eventually found what I thought was my dream and I was going after it! I needed to get out of high school as fast as possible, so I put my head down and got to work. I talked with my teachers and counselor and we set up a plan. I was determined to graduate early, which was not going to be an easy feat. A few long, hard months later, I graduated a semester early and had a 16-week head start on the world! 

At eighteen years old, I had a high school diploma, a total of $500, and a dream to be a fashion designer.  I found out pretty quickly, however, that the market was oversaturated and I would need to rethink my path. This would become the second major hurdle between me and what I’d thought was my dream. I paused my plans to start a business and I got a job working for someone else. I saved some money and I started reading books with my eyes and my ears by successful businessmen and trying to glean their secrets. For $15 a pop, I could access the minds of some of the most successful people in the world. After two years of minimum wage factory work and reading all I could get my eyes and my ears on, I created a custom apparel company of my own and I made my first few thousand dollars. I was on top of the world at first! As my perspective widened, however, I realized the amount of time and work I was putting in, wasn’t even close to being compensated by the small profit I was making. I still wasn’t happy. In fact, I felt quite deflated again. I had worked so hard and my company was failing. I felt lost in life, again, and was planning on going back to college for something I didn’t really want to do; because that’s what people do, right? 

In my heart, I was a designer and an entrepreneur. I had been telling myself that every day, confident I could keep my eyes on the prize. Sadly, that hope dwindled, until I received a text from my now business partner. He had heard about some race shirts I designed and created before closing my custom apparel shop and he wanted to work with me! He offered me a job, and even though it would be a pay cut even from the little I had been making, and somewhat of a wild card, I had a feeling that this position represented a more solid bridge toward my passion for business and design and I accepted it. In my first year there, we tripled profits together! My dreams of being a graphic designer and Chief Operating Officer were being reinforced heavily and it was certainly something I loved and was passionate about! I still wasn’t a business owner, but I got to go to work excited most days and enjoyed thinking of ways to grow the business in creative ways! I loved everything about that! 

I think it’s important to look back and realize that the obstacles and failures in life were also experiences that helped me to grow, reshape, retool and lead me to my dream job at only 20 years old. I am still overcoming obstacles, as we all are faced with, and learning life lessons that I hope to pass along to others as they hit walls of their own. I have a daily routine at my company. I ask myself and all of my employees, “what is your dream?” I also ask them, “specifically, what are you doing today to make yourself better than yesterday?” Without fail, each one of my employees tells me confidently exactly what they want, who they are, and what they’re doing today to be better! We have created this as a culture at my company. One that encourages perceived failure as an opportunity to learn and develop! We encourage shot-in-the-dark-ideas, and frequently try to evaluate our current situation from wildly different angles!

At 20 years old, I have grown and overcome so much! In the last 1000 words, I attempted to sum up the absolute rollercoaster the last 2 years of my life have been. Without a doubt, I left out some of my triumphs and failures but I hope the general idea comes across. I made some wild decisions, but I was driven by passion. I believe my determination, drive, and passion primarily come from my father. He came from Trinidad to the United States, to be with my mom. It was a whole different world for him but he was determined to make his dreams a reality. Whether I felt he was always the best dad or not, he definitely taught me from a young age to follow my dreams. He always expected hard work from me and he always had the best advice. He taught me how to speak to people and how to never give up. Without my dad, I’d probably be a senior in college, about to get a really expensive piece of paper, that I really had no passion or plan to utilize. 

People often ask what made me go into debt over a business that didn’t see success any time soon. My answer is always consistent. We typically interact with children and we ask what they want to be. We hear things like, “astronauts,” or “princesses,” and we might chuckle a little and decide to enjoy youth for what it is! I find that a majority of the clients and people I talk to every day have set limits on their dreams because someone said they couldn’t accomplish them or they didn’t think they were capable. In other words, their perceived failures and negativity in their lives weren’t treated as opportunities for growth and instead served to crush their creativity and hopes. We don’t see that in young children at all. Most people aren’t necessarily at total fault for limiting others, as they were limited themselves. They might be giving you the best they have at the time and sadly that might come from insecurities from their own failures being projected onto your dreams. Find the kid in you and don’t let anyone or yourself say you can’t do it, because I can name so many people that did something that was “impossible.”

If I had to pick one lesson from my last couple of years, it would probably all come back to the concept of being the coffee bean, as the speaker and author Damon West states. If we think about life as a boiling hot pot of water, we might be carrots, eggs, or coffee beans! The carrot sinks to the bottom and gives in to its environment, becoming ever softer until it disintegrates. The egg starts off in boiling water going through failures and challenges over time and creates a hard emotionless depression inside but covers it up with a hard outer persona to hide the inside. The coffee bean, however, changes the water to coffee! These types of people go through life’s perceived failures and challenges with different outlook. Coffee beans change their environment! Inspect the culture of your home, your classroom, your building, and your office. What do you notice? In many of my client's companies, I see people being carrots and eggs! Be a leader by example in all aspects of your life! Being a leader isn’t a title you’re given. When you lead by example others look at you and follow your footsteps or they run out of fear because they’re not ready to be a coffee bean! Examine your core values as you’re becoming a coffee bean. What are the things that you value? What does your work team value? What do your home and your family value? Try to exemplify those values everywhere you go, every time you speak, and every time you plan your day when you wake up! 

As I try to be a coffee bean myself, I do some things that a lot of people are not super excited about. I know I am an extremely lazy person if I let myself be. I would love to lay in bed most days, but I don’t. I often start my day at 4am and end it at 10pm. I make myself stick to this schedule as it is the most productive way of life for my path right now. Whether it’s working in the gym, the office, or in my own relationships, it is important that I stay working. I know this about myself. This lesson is one of the primary reasons I am doing what I love doing right now, at 20 years old. Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs aren’t the only people that need to know how to be a coffee bean, however. Your students, your kids, and your staff deserve the best example possible! Don’t become the softened carrot or the hardened egg by your perceived failures or by the negativity around you. Exemplify for your learners, that those failures are stepping stones and that we grow the most by embracing them as such! 

PATINS logo and hyperlink to the PATINS website homepage

We can embrace failure in education in hundreds of ways every single day! Realizations that one size usually doesn’t fit all learners in our classrooms, potentially trialing many different Assistive Technologies from the PATINS Lending Library,  acquiring Accessible Formats of instructional materials from the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM), and requesting technical assistance, training, consultations meeting, and professional development from the PATINS Specialists are all productive, no-cost ways to learn, grow, and change the culture around you! PATINS is eager to provide Indiana schools with Technical Assistance (TA). If you are seeking TA with/from PATINS, please fill out the IDOE TA Request Form to get your TA Request fulfilled.

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Nov
16

To app or not to app!

Many of you who know me or have heard me present know that I am a very proud mother. I have been trying out Assistive Technology (AT) tools and devices on my daughter since she was in Kindergarten when I first started working for PATINS in 2001. I used her as a test student for Co:Writer, IntelliTools, and many others. After she was old enough to join me for trainings after school she would tag along. It wasn’t too long before she was assisting the participants. Soon after she was up in front and presenting. So, it is not hard to believe that she is now a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for our local school corporation. She recently attended the Access to Education (A2E) 2022 Conference. Afterwards on the ride home she was telling me about her favorite parts of the conference and was throwing out suggestions for my blog. So I suggested why don’t you do it and she did. Enjoy!

Staff

Hello, my name is Courtney LeBarron and I am Sandy Stabenfeldt’s daughter. She is the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) Digital Services Specialist. Recently, I attended the Access to Education (A2E) 2022 Conference hosted by the PATINS Project. Although there were MANY great sessions over the course of the two days, my mind kept going back to one particular session:  “Teaching the Swipe Generation: Carefully Curating Apps for Young Children with Disabilities” presented by Beth Poss. Many, many times throughout my short career, I have been asked, “What is the best app? What app can I use?” Well, that question is way more complicated than it may seem. How old is the student? What are their fine motor skills like? What are your goals for them?

During her session, Beth Poss broke it down in a clear and simple way. She listed the 7 steps of what makes an effective learning app. There were two that really stood out to me. The first one was “Does it meet a developmental need?” and the second was “Does it enhance and encourage interactions with adults or peers?” As a SLP these are the two questions I most frequently ask myself: Can it promote literacy or vocabulary development? And will interacting with this app promote interactions between the communication partner and my student? 

Courtney, Chris Bugaj, and Rachel Maddel

So, the next time you find yourself thinking,"Is this app really effective?" Or you are asked, "What is the best app?", think about these criteria. If you find one that meets the criteria of an effective learning app you can borrow it to try with your student. PATINS lends iPads with apps or they can send apps to iPads that are not managed by the school corporation. If you need help in determining an app to try, please talk to a PATINS specialist. Information about the PATINS lending library is available on their website. Not all technology is bad, and not all is good. It is our job, as educators, to help our students figure it out. 

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Nov
10

A Guide to the Guide

Let's pretend Parents have already been notified that you are preparing to screen your 2nd-grade classroom with a universal dyslexia screener approved and provided by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), see Appendix C, pp. 11-13. You know to do this because you have consulted the 2022-2023 IDOE Dyslexia Programming Guidance for Schools. You know that Indiana schools are required to screen for characteristics of dyslexia in grades K, 1 & 2 because you've had meetings with your corporation's reading specialist, who has been trained in dyslexia, see Appendix A, pp. 8-9. Not only are you required to screen your students, but you are also looking forward to the process because you understand that the results of the screening will yield important information about each of your students.

Perhaps you have noticed one student who mispronounces multisyllabic words, and you know which student struggles to identify words that rhyme. And because you are very attentive you have seen the student who asks a friend to tie their shoes a couple of times every day and you've observed the one who bumps clumsily into desks as he approaches his seat. You've also seen that he still, at age 8 cannot remember if he goes left or right down the hall to get to the cafeteria. So before you administer the universal screening, you know which of your students have traits and classroom performance that already have alerted you and others who work with them. There is data from previously administered universal screenings. You have written, kept and filed anecdotal notes. You discuss concerns with other educators and special services providers, and the reading specialist. All data is part of each child's story. You are ready to screen.

Post-screening, the parents of the students who were not flagged by the screener will be notified, and regular educational programming will resume for them*. The screener flagged six students in 2nd grade as "at risk" or "at some risk" for characteristics of dyslexia. One of the flags surprises you, the others, you expected. Immediately you notify the parents of the six who were flagged on the screening results, with information on your school's plan for Response to Instruction with a program of Multi-Tiered System of Support (RTI/MTSS) and again, a request for permission. You are prepared to begin the interventions as soon as you have the parent's signature. (So today, as you read this, check to be sure of your school's plan for RTI/MTSS. If you are unsure of who to speak with and what questions to ask, prepare yourself with some talking points. Included with parent notification is a consent request form for a Level 1 diagnostic assessment to test for characteristics of dyslexia. As soon as you receive consent, you will administer the Level 1 diagnostic assessment for characteristics of dyslexia. 

As per the requirement in the IDOE Dyslexia Guidance, the school is approaching the 90th day of instruction this year, so you are right on schedule. Buy yourself some flowers, and keep going. You should be regularly collaborating on behalf of your students with the reading specialist for your school corporation. The data you are collecting, as part of the state's Reading Plan, must be reported to the IDOE every year, and the guide tells you exactly which data to include in your report to the reading specialist, who will compile and submit data for your school corporation to the state.

If any of these 6 flagged students, or any others in your class has a current IEP for a specific learning disability (SLD), there are systems in place to help them. Work through the ICAM/IERC NIMAS CCC Forms to evidence a print disability, in this case, a reading disability. The Case Conference may need to reconvene to fill in forms 1, 2, 3a. Form 4 must be signed by the teacher, reading specialist, school psychologist or any one of the professionals named in this list. Then, determine which books the student needs in an accessible format, fill in form 3b, give the forms to the digital rights manager (DRM) and the student can begin using accessible materials from the ICAM. Very soon. 

If a student currently has an IEP indicating the presence of SLDs, they may not be required to participate in the universal screenings, although it would be helpful to create a full snapshot of the child with their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, you have attended some of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) trainings presented by PATINS staff, and have explored the Virtual UDL Classroom--this will help you plan whole-group instruction as you meet the learning goals of your students with specific needs related to dyslexia, as well as those of your students who were not flagged, the ones who have resumed regular educational programming. Typical students do not require extra support but it may enhance and reinforce their learning.*

It is SO important that we support our dyslexic learners in every way we can. If you are not yet familiar with the IDOE's Guide get in there. SB 217 is a state law now, and lost time never comes back. We just have to keep moving forward. Contact PATINS/ICAM staff on how to get started, or how to keep going. If we cannot answer a question, we will find out who can. Any of the PATINS Specialists can help you with technology, devices and software. Borrow from the PATINS Lending Library. You entered teaching for specific reasons and then realized that teaching is not a destination, it's a journey. Let us support you as you travel. 

My high school English teacher would scold me for using that cliché. Please forgive me.

Thanks so much!

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Nov
01

"A Volcano of Human Potential"

Dormant volcano with the words "A Volcano of Human Emotion"

Early in September, I listened to an episode of the podcast, Hidden Brain, titled, “Why You’re Smarter Than You Think,” and it really stuck with me. In this episode, a man named Scott Barey Kaufman, tells the story of his classroom experience from his youth. As a young student, he felt that he had so much more to offer in class but was being shut out by his teachers who overlooked and dismissed him as a student with a learning disability. In third grade he was made fun of by his peers for being held back. This led Scott to feeling like an outsider or a “freak” as he called himself in the interview.

As an 11-year-old, he was given an IQ test and put into a school for students with special needs. He later returned to public school in 6th grade as a student with an IEP who attended both general and special education classes. At twelve, he learned of the gifted and talented program. Feeling like this could actually be a place for him, he finally inquired into the program in high school. As a 17-year-old, he was told that his IQ (results from a former test as a 8-year-old) was below average, which did not make him eligible for any gifted and talented classes.

Feeling invisible though he knew he had potential, he continued to sit in his special education resource room as he neared the end of high school until one teacher changed the game. This teacher noticed that Kaufman was sitting in this room looking bored, and she decided to directly question him as to why he was there. 

It was at this moment that Kaufman felt seen and validated for the first time. He finally found someone that saw in him what he saw in himself all these years, and this is my reason for writing this blog. 

All it took in his case was for one teacher to see Kaufman for more than the student sitting in front of her; someone to question the norm. The result? A student that moved into more general ed classes, raised his grades from C’s and D’s to all A’s seemingly overnight, joined clubs and groups, and blossomed as a student who loved learning.

I got chills during this section of the podcast when the host, Shankar Vedantam, noted, “And it's almost like this one teacher, in this one moment, it was almost like a light bulb going off in your head, it sounds like.” 

Volcano erupting.

To which Kaufman replied, “It wasn't like a light bulb, it was like a volcano erupting, a volcano of human potential that had been dormant.”

This is a reminder that you can be the force that helps ignite human potential. By presuming competence and believing in a student’s ability to reach and/or exceed your expectations. By looking at students as more than their test scores. By getting to know your students, their interests, and passions. You may not get the acknowledgement for changing the game for a student in the moment, but how great would it feel to learn in five, ten, or fifteen years that you were the person that changed someone’s trajectory for the better; that it was you that made the difference.

If you know someone that has made a significant impact in the life of a student, nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award

Reference:

Vedantam, S. (Host). (2022, June 13). Why You’re Smarter Than You Think [Audio podcast episode]. In Hidden Brain. Hidden Brain Media. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/why-youre-smarter-than-you-think/ 

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Oct
20

Ode to Mrs. Bales

IMG_43822 Letter on notebook paper

One of my most influential teachers died this past summer. Mrs. Bales (Jane Bales Starner) taught English at Manchester high school when I attended in the early 80s. She also chaired the English Department and sponsored the school newspaper and yearbook. 

Mrs. Bales was ahead of her time with practices for universal design for learning (UDL). When I walked in for the first day of creative writing, and saw the chairs arranged in a circle, I knew I was not going to be bored in this class. Her level of engagement was high every single day, and she represented the content in a variety of ways to reach more students. One morning, she arranged for a student in a culinary class to fry an egg in our classroom so that we could use all of our senses to describe it. I connected it to what I was learning in biology class by comparing the egg to a spineless sea creature.

Writing on notebook paper.
I remember her having us bring in photos of ourselves as children and writing about that. We read each other’s work and tried to guess who authored the piece. I felt seen and valued, and hearing others’ stories made me feel connected to my classmates. I remember she had us do peer editing before that was widely practiced. I was a strong writer and she affirmed that. But she also paid enough attention to see that I was also a good teacher and told me so. She paired me with students who were struggling. Looking back, I think it was a big factor in my choice to enter education as a profession. 

I remember a project I did for English Literature class where I wrote a ballad, as a way to express what I had learned about this oral poetic tradition. It was about my sister’s recent breakup with her boyfriend. I brought in my guitar to sing it for the class. I was nervous, but my chorus was very simple so she joined in singing which led to everyone else joining in.  

She encouraged us to send entries to writing contests at the state and national levels. I won the Purdue poetry writing contest for high schoolers my senior year, and she drove me to Lafayette for the banquet where I got to hear John Irving read the novel he was writing at the time, A Prayer for Owen Meany. As an Indiana farm girl and first-generation-headed-to-college student, I shook the hand of the Purdue president and felt like I might belong there. 

Jane was on the eccentric side in the best way. Sometimes her lectures would lapse into a stream of consciousness. It kept our 17-year-old collective attention, though, even if we made fun of her in the hallway. She did not lecture often, though, using more active practices to keep us involved.

Challenging vague, boring writing, she kept high expectations for our work. One time she wrote the comment “good” after one of my journal entries, and I challenged her back calling her out on her vagueness. She was amused and took it to heart, and then wrote me back a couple of pages with very specific praise and criticism of my work. I imagine she went to bed late that night after going through a large stack of journals. 

Mrs. Bales did the hard, effective, gratifying work of well-designed instruction. Many teachers do this perhaps without ever labeling it “universal design for learning”. I know that she was active in state teaching organizations, so much of her skill was likely gained by attending professional development, and applying new ideas to her craft. Whatever it was called in 1982, I knew that she cared deeply for her students as individuals, and made the classroom a place for all to thrive.

PATINS is here to help you discover how you’ve been doing universal design all along! We’ll also help you network with other great teachers and find your next best teaching ideas. Check out our training calendar for opportunities to garner new ways to inspire your students. Mrs. Bales continues to inspire me. She showed up in my dreams a couple of nights ago vacuuming under my furniture. Here is a poem in her honor:

My High School English Teacher, Showing Up at 2 a.m.

Why are you here, 
in a dream
after 40 years,
lifting the end of my couch
with superhuman strength?

Vacuum whirring, 
Words stirring.

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Nov
01

The Voice in the Drawer

Red brick background with
Raise your hand if this has happened you.

Actually, don't, because you're probably reading this silently and you'll look silly if you do.

You walk into a classroom or community visit and find your student who uses an Alternative or Augmentative Communication (AAC) system or device doesn’t have it with them. It’s in a cubbie or backpack or drawer. Waiting. Uncharged. In pristine condition. The cellophane might still be on it.

I think if that piece AAC could talk, it would take you by the hand, give you great big puppy eyes and say mornfully, “I was designed to give your student a voice but I’m treated like an expensive paperweight.”

Did anyone care?

My greatest joy of working in education is that we work with people with hearts seven times bigger than the average person. We all care about students, well past our obligated 180 days of contractual caring. We care about their feelings, wants, and needs. We care about them being able to talk.

The issue in this particular situation isn’t usually lack of caring or empathy, it’s a perceived lack of resources. AKA, “It’s just one more thing to remember.” We can empathize with feeling overwhelmed, but not accept that voices are left in drawers.

Here are 5 of my favorite tried-and-true ways to ensure the voice is out of the drawer and in the hands of the students who need it:

1. Do a task analysis of the student’s schedule. Take a look at each period or station of the day and find examples of when teachers and students would use communication. Communication should happen in the bathroom, at math, and in the pool, just like for non-AAC users. Find ways to make those opportunities to communicate accessible through modeling, rich and thoughtful intervention, and access to evidence-based language representation. In other words: there’s no reason why words aren’t available and modeled all day, every day!

2. Provide some supports. Outline in painters tape where the device is supposed to go on a desk to remind staff if that square is empty. Set placemats and inexpensive device holders in key places around the room. Get the student strap or hands-free harness. Get a portable battery pack. Human-made problems (voice in a drawer) have human-made solutions, you just need to find it (or find someone to help you find it).

3. Low Tech with High Utility. Light tech is an easy and cheap way to make sure everyone has access to language. Tape light tech core word boards to key areas like centers, play area, vocational stations, and the bathroom. Give staff miniature core boards on their lanyards or communication supports on their key rings. Wear aprons or core word shirts. Temporary tattoos. Bonus: Hardcore permanent tattoos. Don’t believe your mom, an AAC tattoo is timeless and will look fantastic in your 80s!

4. Come to an understanding: sometimes we need to pause as a staff and deepen our knowledge about AAC best practices. We offer some great services and professional development. Perhaps you didn’t even know what PATINS offers for AAC. Send us an email, we’d love to chat about you’re wanting to do at your school.

5. Last but not least: Does your staff understand WHY we want to design 500+ opportunities to communicate a day? This is my favorite video that captures my why: that our students need words, many words, and words all the time. What is your why? Does your staff know their why?

AAC isn’t another thing to do. It’s the thing we do. We are all responsible for developing communication skills in our students, it’s the bedrock of learning, connection and being human. It is the best work we will ever do, and it does not belong in a drawer.

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Sep
07

Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies

Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies
Do you remember your first year in education? I think on it often lately because I just started with PATINS, my rookie year*. Looking back, my letter to myself on that first day after college would be something like this:

Dear Jessica,
You can still cry every day during the first two weeks of school and it won’t be a reflection of your skill, value, or how much you will love your job. Be gentle on yourself, everyone starts here.
p.s. Stop buying everything in the Target dollar section.

My first year I introduced iPads to my students. One little girl wanted to know how to share her beautiful “I Love Mommy” themed cookie she made on an app and send it to mom. I told her I didn’t know, so she told me I wasn’t good at my job and her mother enrolled her in another school. I never touched another iPad again.

Haha, just kidding! Kids don’t care if we are rookies (being rookies themselves) and I learned to embrace my rookie-ness. We played on the app a little and decided to snap a picture of it on my phone and email it. Later I learned I could have done a screenshot, but I didn’t know that yet, this was all brand new to me. Multiply that moment by hundreds or thousands and you’ll see a typical educator’s year. Not a semester will go by that we aren’t handed something new: new policy, new responsibilities, new kids, and new chances to be true rookies in something we have never tried. Which new challenges makes us decide to suit up? Which ones do we avoid and sit on the bench, and how will that impact our students?

Andi Stevenson talks about how important it is we embrace being terrible at something new, from her own experience as executive director and rookie ballroom dancer. Rookies, she explains, turn off internal criticism and don’t fall prey to perfectionism. They are supremely empathetic towards others on their own learning curves. Being a rookie stretches mental muscles, making us approach the new and the difficult in different ways.

Sounds like an awesome educator or administrator, doesn’t it? We call those people expert learners, and these are the skills that make successful students.

Andi also speaks to something that has probably haunted all of us at one point: burn out. Being a rookie gives you the opportunity to discover what makes you happy, and that the happiness can’t come from just one source. Staff who pigeonhole themselves into one area, personally or professionally, are staff who don’t stay long in the field. I struggled with major burnout my third year, so I started some rookie tasks in my personal life. I had a milestone birthday this summer, and leading up to that day I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, a bucket list of sorts. There were about 25 things, including:

Bake bread from scratch
Vacation somewhere new in each cardinal direction
Learn how to repair my car
Go back to school
Host Thanksgiving dinner

Some of these things I still do, some not, and some activities I eventually purchased technology to assist me.

You can watch me complete the very last thing on my list, the day before my birthday: basic carpentry. This is the beginning of my budding role as a carpenter. I'm not bad carpenter, or just a woman just playing around with some power tools, but a real carpenter. Just like our students are readers, writers, artists, and citizens. We're all just rookies right now, and given the right tools and instructions, we'll blossom.



My favorite part about education (and PATINS in particular) is that we are big fans of rookies. We have to be rookies every school year in something. Welcome to the team!  PATINS and ICAM have the coaches, the training, and the equipment to help you and ALL your students be rookies of the year. You might say we’re your number one fans.

What rookie adventure are you starting this year? How will you model your rookie mentality to your staff or students?

*warning: overuse of sports cliches
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Dec
15

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

It’s one of most universal pieces of employment advice:
don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.


So, of course, I occasionally dress up as superheros. I own several superhero costumes: Superman, Batman, Pajama Day Girl (I made her up, she’s awesome on weekends). I have a super hero costume in the trunk of my car, nestled alongside my first aid kit, in case of emergencies. Maybe you won’t be surprised to know I’ve used my Batman mask more than those bandaids.Jessica dressed and posing as superman with a red tutu

Sometimes I dress up as my favorite superhero in broad daylight, at case conferences and staff meetings: the field-trip taking, magic bus driving teacher who introduced generations to physics, anthropology, ecology, and more. That redheaded wonder woman took eight students and the class chameleon to places near and far in search of knowledge. She also has the best motto:

“Take chances! Make mistakes! Get MESSY!”

What is not to love about Ms. Frizzle? I adored the books and TV show. She was amazing, I wanted to be in her class AND be her.
Jessica holding her cellphone taking a selfie in a mirror wearing a blue dress with cartoon rocketships
It begs the question: why not aspire to be Ms. Frizzle? We have the career in education, we have the vision for fantastic learning. I have several science themed dresses for any occasion, and the lizard, at least the only lizard I could be expected to keep alive. What are we missing?

The magical bus.

The magical bus of my dreams would fly around the state and help teachers in their classrooms. Any teacher, therapist, or administrator could board-- for free-- and try tools so all their students have access to an education. They pose questions like “do you have something that lets my student access her iPad if she can’t touch it?” or “can I turn my paper worksheet into text and then have that text read aloud?” and we would say “Yes we do, and we will show you how to use it too!”

Our magical bus would always be accessible. Not just physically, but digitally. We could instantly connect to administrators and therapists and teachers for training and exploration wherever they are. Or in their PJs, maybe on Tuesday nights at 8:30 EST.

We design to remove the barriers for all our students so they can take authentic chances and learn from their mistakes and get messy. We share tricks and tips from educators who have been there. We would celebrate them, cheer their successes and research and problem solve the roadblocks.

We would bring our volcano drawings to life and explore and explode brains. We would help teams create opportunities for communication where none may have existed. We would go where no educators had gone before. Students who never thought they were "smart" would find tools that would change their minds. We would change lives.

I would submit my request for a magical bus, but I know what the answer will be:

Jessica, thank you (again) for your request for a magical bus. We wanted to remind you that not only do we not have any magical buses, everything that you are asking to do with said bus, we already do at PATINS. Please stop asking.

So while we are not Ms. Frizzle (although we can try!), we do have quite a bit of friendly magic at our fingertips whenever we need it.


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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

Death By Paperwork
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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May
18

Nerd

Nerd
My father once lightheartedly referred to me as a “geek” when I was eleven. I burst out crying in shame. Through my tears, I was able to defend myself:

“I’m not a geek. I’m an imaginative nerd!”

And I am.

The Merriam-Webster still defines nerds as "an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits."

Ouch. I'd challenge anyone to see the positive and powerful side of that definition.


I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek that’s ever aired. Even the cartoon series. I attempted for a week to live and cook as if in the 1880’s (not any other decade, I researched). I love computer games, paper crafts, tabletop gaming, and the construction and design of roller coasters. I tried to code my own breed of digital dog to live on my computer before my parents relented and got us a real dog. My dad will list this as one of his proudest moments as a parent, although my digital frankendog only had a body and a strange floppy nose. There was not a single person in most of my childhood that liked anything that I liked, so I learned the life lesson of needing to a) expand my interests if I wanted to keep friends or b) be an ambassador of my favorite things. Thanks to my nerdiness, I have made a career out of it: have you and I talked about how AAC can change a child's life? Many of you have nerded with me about language and access!


I haven’t always wanted to be a nerd. Teenage years were rough, and there were some awkward moments, even as a self-assured adult, when colleagues would voice grievances such as:

“He’s fourteen years old, he needs to gain interests in age-appropriate things. No one’s going to want to talk about Disney princesses when he’s an adult!”

I was silent and embarrassed, because, well…

collage of Jessica with Sleeping Beauty, Jessica and Adam dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Jessica in Minnie Mouse costume with the Beast, Cinderella's Castle with fireworks, Jessica and Adam with Tinkerbelle





If this student lived at my house, that’s all we would talk about! My husband and I make annual pilgrimages to the Cinderella’s castle. We make costumes. We watch Disney movies at least once a week. We’ve rated our favorite princesses and villains and dare you to try to beat us at Disney Scene-It.


Why? Because we’re nerds! We love it; it’s fun. It’s also powerful.

Whenever I felt a little burnt out in my job, I just infused a little of my nerdiness into it and I felt renewed. Dressing like Batman or decorating with Star Wars or making a Pokemon literacy activity: they were talismans in my work and the source of my power to get through a tough day. If I could find the source of my student’s superpower, it was like striking oil. I still have tubs of Thomas the Tank Engine and Indianapolis Colts and country music star, Travis Tritt (that one was hard), materials. They were my magic wands of engagement.

In my old school internship journal, I have about 50 pages of me angsting over one student, “Mike.” To sum up those 50 pages: Mike hates coming to speech therapy and ignores me, head on the table. He doesn’t make any progress. I think he hates me.

One day his teacher mentioned he was making imaginary phone calls to someone named Gary, and the puzzle pieces clicked in my mind. I had found his talisman, the kryptonite to my engagement problem: SpongeBob.

Therapy took a detour to the pineapple under the sea and we were in business. Armed with his nerd power and friends, SpongeBob and Gary the Snail, we were conquering phrases with multiple words! Adjectives! Appropriate turn taking! The entire day (and my opinion about staying in the schools after graduation) had turned around.

Our superpowers come from places unseen: the love of our family, our memories of exceptional experiences or talents, a cartoon that makes us feel happy. In these last few days of school, I hope you don’t lose sight of where your superpower comes from and how you’ve used them for good for so many around you. Wave that nerd flag high.

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  3339 Hits
Jul
09

Is Your Assistive Tech Biased?

Is my assistive technology biased? screenshot of text from phone, sender to PATINS:

Five years ago I was excited to sit at a table with a young Black student and her mother to show her all the things her child using a new robust augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device could do.

She could tell us what she wanted to play with.

She could tell us her favorite color.

When one of her classmates was bothering her, she could tell them “stop.”

She loved it. The school loved it. Mom wasn’t sold.

“It doesn’t sound like her,” she objected.

Both of us knew this student’s mouth sounds were mostly squeals and cries. I opened the settings and showed her the choices: “Ella,” “Heather,” and “Tracy.” We listened to little clips of the computerized voices.

“They don’t sound like her.”

And she was right. There wasn’t a voice that sounded like someone that came from her family or community. Not a single voice that sounded like a young Black person, not on any system I could find. I could program a voice for her talker that sounded just like Yoda from Star Wars right then and there, but a Black American was too far fetched for assistive technology.

Because technology is programmed by people, who all have biases, our assistive technology has biases. And those biases are a danger to the UDL framework we use and in some cases, life threatening.

The speech-to-text software doesn’t work equally across all voices and varieties of English, especially Black voices.

The grammar checker flags non-white varieties of English.

The AAC lacks language from other dialects, cultures, and communities, and if it is there it is labeled as fringe. You want another language? It's available, but no one downloaded the file or attempted a translation.

The visual support makers are absent of vocabulary that is developmentally appropriate for all school aged children, such as words for sexual health, identity, and justice or they are locked behind a wall of “adult only.”

Indiana’s Article 7 Special Education law is explicit on how to figure out if a student can take home their AT:  “On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a student's home or in other settings is required if the student's CCC determines that the student needs access to those devices in order to receive a free appropriate public education” (my emphasis added). 

If your staff refer to a “school policy” or a hoop for families to jump through, such as an after-school training, you’re inviting bias into determining which kids get to talk, read and learn when the school bell rings at the end of the day.

Your word prediction program guesses the words that could follow “He is ___” are: good, smart, and mean, but “She is ___”: crazy, married, and pretty.

As we scrutinize our own biases, inherent tools and instruction we are welcoming into our classrooms and families:

  1. Listen to the people using the technology.
  2. Question your own biases.
  3. Take action. Engage your colleagues in what you’ve learned. Dialogue with the people creating the technology. Good developers are open to constructive criticism from consumers. My word prediction example was immediately discussed and corrected by the company. If they aren’t responsive to your concern about bias within their product, why would you want that in your room?

Our assistive technology has some problems created by humans. Humans can fix it.

Resources and Further Reading

PATINS Lending Library and no-cost training for supporting all students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education for K-12 Educators, Teaching Tolerance

Vocabulary for Socially Valued Adult Roles, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Ableism, National Conference for Community and Justice

AI is coming to schools, and if we’re not careful, so will its biases, Brookings

Don’t Get It Twisted- Hear My Voice, ASHA Leader

8 Influential Black Women with Disabilities To Follow, Disability Horizons


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Oct
08

Throw Out Your "Low Tech" Stuff

graph of a positive correlation between AA batteries and potatoes with the title What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

My husband and I have an inside joke for measuring things that can’t quite be measured: the potato.

How much do I love you? 12 potato.

How cute is our dog? 9.5 potato.

How much do we hate fireworks after midnight? 14,000 potato.

It’s silly nonsense but easy to use.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a team about a young student who had complex communication needs. They had tried the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) but the student wasn’t making much progress. I asked why they had started with PECS.

“We use best practice. First, we start with low tech.”

Exactly zero potato of that is best practice.

How does one progress on this imaginary spectrum of technology? Is it when you perform really well or really badly? Did the number of batteries used in the tool correlate with her skills or her needs?

No one could say, but there was an unwritten rule: something had to be proven before you got something “fancy.”

a graph showing a strong positive correlation between

It’s a hard paradigm to change for all us folks born in the late 1900s (ouch): it’s 2020, there is no such thing as a low-high assistive technology spectrum.

Consider this model I adapted from my old notes on aided AAC and other AT:

Low tech:
Cheap, easy to learn, no batteries, minimal vocabulary

Mid tech:
Moderately expensive, needs some training, more vocabulary

High tech:
Expensive, extensive training needed, relies on touch screens technology or other newer technology, lots of vocabulary

The more you learn, the more the above is proven wrong. A PODD book comes in paper with tons of vocabulary and in my experience requires lots of training, a minimum investment of several hundred dollars. We have a library of very limited and inexpensive communication apps we could teach you to use in 10 minutes or less.

We have apps and extensions that are free or built into any cheap smartphone that can read text aloud, is this “high tech” AT better or worse than the "mid-tech" text scanning pen or the "low tech" sheet overlay? The number of batteries it has will inform you about as well as my potatoes.

What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

PATINS Specialists can help you discover several frameworks and assessment tools that help teams keep the focus on what is important: your student receiving an equitable and accessible education. Our no-cost consultation services are always available for our Indiana public PreK-12 schools with a focus on best practice, sound evidence base, and effective ideas. We'll even loan you tools to try from our no-cost Lending Library and be available every step of your student's trial.

When we focus on our student’s needs and the features of the tools, our IEPs and supports become better. We are able to figure out which things our students have outgrown, we are quicker to identify what isn’t working and why. When we use a common language of tool features, our students learn to advocate for themselves more effectively and our conversations with other team members become more productive.

Do not throw out your "low tech" stuff. Throw out the low/high technology spectrum labels and embrace tool features so your students can address the barriers in their world. You’ll be a better professional for it.

I’m 400 potato certain.

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  3279 Hits
Apr
08

Employee of the Year

Employee of the Year Cheesy 1990s school photo featuring a cream colored chihuahua looking off in the distance as the misty backdrop set against a neon laser background, with another picture of the same chihuahua in the foreground looking at the camera with

I had a student we’ll call Todd. Todd’s favorite things were the zoo, reading animal books, and quizzing people on their animal knowledge. One of my favorite days working with him started with a very rough morning with a writing assignment.

“It’s a letter to anyone,” his teacher explained. “We’ve been at this all morning and he only has one word written.”

Todd looked crestfallen. After animals, pleasing adults was one of his favorite things. His teacher knew that if Todd hadn’t started something, it wasn’t because he was “stubborn” but he struggled to get started with new tasks and needed another way to approach it.

We went back to my "speech room" and looked at the blank paper. I had lots of tools at my disposal: adapted pencils, keyboards, voice dictation software, wiggle seats, kits and binders of visual supports for writing, and of course I had free access as an Indiana public school employee to the PATINS Lending Library to borrow whatever I thought might help Todd. I thought of my tools, I thought of Todd and what he needed and remembered his special nerd power.

“Do you want to write a letter to a dog?”

Todd nodded, still a little hesitant after an hour of trying to write and nothing coming out.

“You could write to my dog, if you wanted. She would write you back.”

“You have a dog?!”

So I told him about my chihuahua, Winnipeg. Winnie was abandoned on the street in Indianapolis and we adopted her. She loves blankets, snuggles, and sandwiches. I had a hunch she loved reading and writing letters.

Todd immediately scribed five sentences (one of his accommodations, since tools like speech-to-text software were not accessible for him), and put the periods and capitalization in himself:

Dear Winnie,

Don’t eat all the treats. Why are you a little dog? You are a good loving dog. Play tug of war with Mrs. Conrad. Don’t wake your dad Winnie.

Love,

Todd

It may never make it into a library or be critically acclaimed, but it is one of my favorite written works a student has ever produced. I felt like Winnie earned Employee of the Year that day. Relationships paired with the best ways for access wins every time.

Some of our pets have put in more hours and done more service to humanity in general and Indiana students specifically than they’ll ever understand. They’ve been especially treasured and faithful companions this past year, while we spent way more time on “their” home. They are therapeutic little creatures who remind us to enjoy simple pleasures, take care of ourselves, maybe take a nap in the sun sometimes.

If you’d like to see some of our PATINS pets, I created a short quiz. See if you can guess what pet belongs to which staff member!

Todd got his letter from Winnie the next week, and he was rightly suspicious:

“Did she write this by herself?”

“Good question, what do you think?”

“She can’t use a pencil.”

“No, she can’t.”

“But maybe you can scribe, like how you do with me.”

“I think that’s a great idea.”

I'd love to hear about your pet and the little acts of service they do for you, your family, or students!

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  1053 Hits
Apr
07

Who's Afraid of AAC?

Who's Afraid of AAC? When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

Somehow being an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) specialist with PATINS has put me in the position of listening to the confessions of school staff:

“I’m not good with technology.”

“They didn’t teach any of this when I was in school.”

“AAC is not my thing.”

It’s usually said in a hushed tone when they think no one else is listening.

“I have nothing but good news,” I’ll often say. “90% of what we’re talking about is just good instruction for all students that you already know, we’re just framing it in a new way to support non-speaking students. The rest I’ll put on a cheat sheet, and I find cheat sheets helpful too.”

But what I want to say is “AAC wasn’t my thing either and look at me now!” At one time, out of the things that SLPs had to learn, I would have ranked AAC dead last. Even below the paperwork.

I had “The AAC Class.” In one semester I was to learn everything I needed to know about AAC and I would be set for the rest of my career (haha!). However, there was one little snag: the professor who taught the AAC class took a sabbatical and another staff member was wrangled into covering it so we could graduate on time. This is what I learned that semester:

Nothing.

At least, nothing which was practical or helpful in the real world. I was given my first “real job” caseload with several non-speaking students, a binder for PECS, a Boardmaker CD, and released into the wilderness. My class notes were worthless.

I was in trouble and these students needed something I didn’t have: the knowledge of how to “do the AAC.”

Of course, AAC was definitely not my thing. But it had to be because there was no one else. I adopted a simple plan that has kept me afloat to this day: just keep saying “yes” to every opportunity. Every training and app I could find to practice with, every opportunity to attend or present at conferences and network. None of this came naturally or from a book or college course. Yes, I will pilot it. Yes, I will learn it. Yes, I can teach it. It was just years of chasing ideas and tools for students that made them light up inside when they found their voice. I made mistakes, forgave myself, and tried to learn and do better. Yes, yes, yes.

Exactly none of us started life as “technologically gifted” or imbued with the knowledge of AAC or any technique or educational principles. We all had to start at zero and learn.

When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” I think what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

They are scared of failing. They are embarrassed by the idea of not being enough for the task. They are traumatized and work-worn from so many evaluations and tasks, and worried that their work won’t be enough. 

And you know what every scared person wants?

A friend, a light in the darkness, and some tools.

At PATINS we have lots of those. Did you know that if you are an Indiana public PreK-12 staff member and one of our events on our training calendar isn’t at a time that works for you or your team, you can request it at another time? If you were hoping to talk about that topic but wanted 1:1 personalization or a deep dive into a special topic, we can set up that consultation at no cost to you or your district.

In particular, for those who are ready to say “yes” to trying out AAC tools and techniques, we have a process just for that. For a no-cost PATINS AAC Consultation, please fill out this referral for each student. This 2 minute video is a brief overview of our process.

The scariest thing that could happen is doing nothing.

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  642 Hits
Sep
21

Evaluate the Show or Be The Show?


Audio Version of this Blog (10 minutes, 38 seconds)

Lately, several happenings in my life have seemed to converge on this one particular topic that I find fascinating; one cannot actively evaluate the show and be the show at the same time! 

Daniel with a microphone, dressed up, dancing, smiling, singing with his daughter who also has a microphone and is dancing/spinning
When my oldest daughter was about 11 or 12 years old, she and I began taking voice lessons together. Our voice-coach felt it very important that her students perform for real live audiences periodically, and I recall the very first performance she required us to do. She had rented out the entire theatre on Main St., and the place was pretty full! It was a duet that we'd be performing and as it got closer, I was scared out of my mind and body sitting backstage with her! I spoke to crowds regularly for a living, for many years, I did not expect this sort of anxiety! I remember turning to my daughter and telling her, "I think I'm going to puke!" To which she responded, “Well, go out in the back alley and do it, but hurry up!” So, I tried. I was not successful and I came back in and sat next to her again. She said, "Take three slow deep breaths, you won’t be able to see anything except bright lights, you won’t see the people." "Think about the first 3 lines of the song only and then everything will be fine.” The very message she was actually conveying to me, at such a young age, was that focusing on the perception of the performance instead of the performance itself, was counter-productive! 

Lead singer of a blues band in a red dress with Daniel sitting on the drumset in the background      Daniel sitting at a red drumset with his right hand about to hit the ride cymbal and his right hand hitting the snare drum, looking off into the crowd 

Several years later, for my birthday, the amazing PATINS staff arranged to have dinner for me at a historic and awe-inspiring blues music location in Indianapolis, where I was not only treated to great tunes, I was eventually invited onto the stage by the powerful and amazing singer; yes, the PATINS staff repeatedly yelled that I was a drummer and that it was my birthday. Even though I hadn't sat at a drumset in years, I thought, "this will be fun and I'll just have a good time for a few seconds while they sing the birthday song to me." Well, they actually kicked right into one of their set-list songs and I had a decision to make immediately; give this smooth band a beat or don't! I did! I had a blast and was playing my heart out for about 3/4s of the song, when the lead singer turned away from the crowd, faced me, and gave me a nod of approval that went straight to my soul! Yes! ...then, in slow motion, I saw the drumstick in my right hand flying away...away... away...nooooooo! Indeed, a split moment after I received her approval, I started thinking about all the things she might have liked and what I could do next to really make the rest of the song rock, and those thoughts, while in the midst of performing, proved detrimental to my even finishing the song with any amount of dignity at all! This amazing singer stopped the show, turned around, and said, "that's why we hire professionals." We all had a good laugh, but she was right. A true professional separates evaluating from performing. Those two things cannot usually happen simultaneously while upholding optimal versions of either! 

A class of 6 people sitting on motorcycles all facing the same direction and in two lines,  in a parking lot, with all students practicing looking to the left.
Since that embarrassing accidental drumstick toss into the audience, I find myself spending a few weekends a month during the warmer seasons of Indiana coaching new riders to learn and apply the skills necessary to obtaining their Indiana motorcycle endorsement! During these classes, student ability and experience varies significantly, but the one thing that I've found holds absolutely true for all of them is that performance decreases the very moment they start to evaluate themselves and/or worry about my perception of them WHILE they are performing the exercise! This has been true for the brand new rider and for the rider who comes to me with 35 years of experience on motorcycles! I've started to make this a part of the class as well, as it most certainly applies to the pressures felt when out riding on the public roads. 

A concrete cinderblock welding booth with a stool, steel table, foot pedal, TIG welding torch and motorcycle helmet hanging on the wall. close up image of Daniel TIG welding with torch in his right hand and filler metal in his left hand with welding hood and gloves on
Image of one of Daniel's early TIG welds on stainless steel that is rainbow in color that looks like stacked dimes 
More recently yet, I've found myself on Wednesday and Friday nights from 6-11pm, inside a 4' x 8' cinderblock welding booth, trying my hardest to make beautiful welds using an electrode with 100amps in my right hand, feeding a 1/8" metal filler rod with my left hand, and my right foot on a variable control pedal constantly adjusting the strength of the electrical arc that is creating a flowing puddle of molten steel! It's a lot to type and a lot to think about! I find myself making worse and worse welds, the more I try to focus on the things like, "are my hands in the right place for the end of this stringer?" "Did my foot just let off unintentionally?" "Is that my left pinky that's starting to go numb?" "shoot, my teacher is going to point out that underfill for sure." In my mind, the more I tried to notice things like that as I went, the better I would become at improving them. The reality is that the more attention I paid to those sorts of things as I was welding, the worse my welds became! Attempting to critically evaluate, while performing the act, is not productive! 

a right hand on the home row of a mac computer keyboard in black and white
Finally, and most recently, I was having dinner with a couple of professors at Purdue this week, and this very topic came up, coincidentally! It was specific to finger tapping though, and the notion that one can typically tap at a much faster rate when they are not consciously aware of their tapping rate! If you are any sort of a typist using a traditional type of keyboard with your fingers starting on the home-row, etc., you may have noticed that you are able to type much more quickly when you are focused on the content, on the next idea, or on the composition as a whole, than you are when you are actively thinking about trying to type fast! This is the very same principle! One cannot usually type their fastest while they are actively focused on typing fast! Go ahead, give it a try right now! Try focusing entirely on typing quickly and then try typing and focusing on the content and compare!    

Right about now, in the school year, is when things always tended to start to become tiring for me as a teacher. And right about now, as we head into October, is often when things start to feel more burdensome as an administrator as well. I'm not entirely sure of all the reasons for that, but I know that as a state, we are in the midst of many changes, and thus as organizations, school corporations, and cooperatives, we find ourselves in the midst of change as well. Change can be difficult and scary, and sometimes very rightfully so! Regardless, the conclusion I've come to after having done this and gone through many changes for going on 17 years with the PATINS Project, and in consideration of the many other examples in my life ranging from drumming to welding, motorcycling, and singing, is that spending your time, energy, and cognitive power on trying to evaluate and/or guess at the perception of others WHILE trying to perform my best, isn't the most productive.

I can either evaluate the show or I can be the show, but I cannot do both optimally at the same time. 


old photo of Daniel as a 2 or 3 year old, walking in denim overalls with one strap falling off, a tricycle front wheel and a 1980's pickup truck in the background.
So, now, regardless of what it is that I'm tackling, I try to be this much younger version of myself... head down, entirely focused on the task at hand, and trusting that any necessary feedback or evaluation will come from someone else afterward! I try hard to: 
  1. Be prepared. I try to make sure that I ask as many clarifying questions as I can to help myself feel ready. 
  2. Not spend so much time preparing that I'm no longer taking care of my sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nutritional needs. 
  3. Conscientiously pause before beginning.
  4. Take a couple of very slow and deep breaths.
  5. I tell myself that it's OK to feel nervous or anxious and I welcome those feeling and I embrace the energy they can give me.  
  6. Instead of dwelling on everything that MIGHT go wrong, I try to drum up positive energy and remember that my performance will almost always be a diminished version of my best if I am evaluating WHILE I'm doing! 
  7. I trust that people around me will provide the necessary evaluation and then I can start all over, but I know that keeping the evaluative part and the performance part separate will ultimately be the most beneficial! 
  8. I also try to expect this sort of performance from those I'm interacting with! “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39)
In your work with Indiana students and educators; try focusing on the above 7 steps. Try this concept out with just one small task this next week or over the weekend and see what happens. When it comes to trying to problem solve for a particular student who might be struggling, for example, allow the PATINS staff to be the observers while you dedicate all of your focus on the performance, and trust that we'll provide the follow-up input! Then, you can begin the process of asking more clarifying questions, preparing, embracing anxiety, letting go of trying to evaluate while performing, and just giving it another shot, entirely focused on the performance itself! We can help, but none of us can simultaneously be the show while we're trying to evaluate the show! Make us part of your team for optimal performance! 

Read all of Daniel's Blogs
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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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Oct
31

Just Leave The Light on 10 Minutes Longer and Watch the Door!

Image of porch with spider webs, dragon, and big spider
This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk.  The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp.  The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work! 

With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the 
PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on!  Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting.  She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat.  Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm.  Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back.  Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy.  At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me!  I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle!  Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story!  In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening. 

She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”  

Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch.  Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.  

Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important.  However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different.  Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face.  One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word
-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class.  ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.  

Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important.  …and I will agree to a very large extent.  However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier.  Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes.  …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment. 

As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference.  While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course.  For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working.  We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving.  We stay still.  We turn the light off early.  

The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort.  I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy!  After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings.  If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support. 

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
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Aug
09

How PATINS Project Saves My Roman Holiday

Two females and one male posing for a picture in a cobblestone piazza in Rome, Italy. In the background, a white marble obelisk with two statues of males in traditional Roman attire.

“Come si dice…?” (How do you say…?”) My most used Italian phrase, right after “No, non grazie” because a local is offering me a third serving of salty prosciutto and I can feel my arteries clogging just by looking at it.


We had prepared for months to immerse ourselves in the Italian culture. We would be spending two weeks with my husband’s relatives in Rome and Abruzzo. Duolingo was mastered, podcasts were listened to, bowls of Barilla pasta and our sorry excuse for homemade sauce were eaten; but all this preparation was no match for the speed and nuances of the language. Since having graduate courses in accent reduction and language development, I knew this would be true to a certain degree. However, I wasn’t prepared for the native Italian speaker, or more accurately speakers, allowing you .3 seconds to listen, translate into English, translate back into Italian, and speak before they assumed "tu non capisci" (you don't understand). I found myself demonstrating all the behaviors I had witnessed in my students learning a second language.
  • I am the student who smiles and says “yes” anytime I am spoken to.
  • I am the student who avoids situations and modifies my actions. 
  • I am the student who is self conscious about my pronunciation and therefore speaks quietly.
  • I am the student who has poor eye contact because I'm scanning the environment for clues.
  • I am the student who hopes no one notices or speaks to me.
  • I am the student who zones out by the time it’s 7th bell (or in my case, by the time tiramisu hits the table).
One day, while my family chatted over porchetta sandwiches,I clung to a translated pamphlet about another intimidatingly beautiful building. You would have thought I was immersed in its history, but in reality, I was satisfying a craving for connection to anything in my native language. That’s when I began to reflect on my previous students who were also learning a second language. 
  • Was everyday this difficult for them?
  • How did they strategize around their challenges?
  • How could I have provided more supports in both languages? 
A lot of regret with that last thought. To overcome this feeling, I did what I call “re-lesson planning”. In my new sessions, I paired texts in different languages, introduced Google translate, encouraged Snap&Read, slowed down my speech, repeated information, and added visuals. Ah, perfect! Now, I could enjoy the rest of my vacation guilt free, right? Wrong. That feeling stayed with me, the one that said “What else can I do?”  

Fortunately, I would be returning to my new position as Data & Outreach Specialist at PATINS Project to work alongside a team of experts in access to the curriculum. Their year round trainings, no cost consultation, lending library, and ICAM resources can turn that defeated feeling of "What else can I do?" to "This student has what they need to achieve!"  

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Jun
07

Hammers and Screwdrivers: One Approach to Accommodations and Design

Photograph of Daniel as a child in first grade
"He's so quiet."

"I think he knows the answers, I wish he would just talk more in class."

"He never raises his hand in class." 

"He never volunteers to work at the board." 

"His handwriting needs work."

"He's got a lot of cursive work to improve, does he practice at home?"

"I can't always read what he writes, so he loses points if I can't read it." 

"He's so shy."  

...the comments on nearly every report card I can remember and/or every parent-teacher conference as a young student in school.

I was reminded of these teachers' comments recently during an interaction in a presentation I was facilitating on UDL and then again in a subsequent meeting, during which I was speaking about accommodations. A few notions immediately came to mind: relevancy, universal design, and accommodations.  

Relevancy: When I think about what I've done to earn a living for the past 18 years, I snicker a bit, regarding those teacher's comments.  For nearly two decades I've been speaking to both live and virtual audiences out of my passion for education and to put food on the table. During that same time in my career, I can't recall more than one handful of times I've ever had to handwrite anything for professional purposes, besides my signature of course. The relevancy of what was important to those teachers at the time, and the fact that I lost points for my handwriting, turned out to have very little to no relevancy to my professional life, yet they were items I was being measured against year after year.

The rhetorical question I propose is, "Were those teachers assessing things that were relevant to my becoming an independently successful adult?" Something I talk about nearly every time the topic of education is at hand, is the idea that we frequently measure or assess one component of a task that is impeding the subsequent component, when what's truly relevant is that subsequent component. One of my favorite quotes from David Rose; "Every single test is first a test of engagement, secondly a test of reading, and then perhaps a test on the content itself." 

Universal Design: 
I wasn't shy. I've never thought of myself as shy anyway. I did prefer to speak when I had something to say, not just to demonstrate that I knew the answer. I also preferred to work on my own and in a way, perhaps, different than the way I was "supposed" to work in order to show my understanding. I knew that I despised the sound and feel of pencil lead on paper, and I knew that I could/would have shown a lot more of what I understood had there been a couple other options for responding available to me.


While it's not always easy, we might find out things about some of our students that we didn't know existed by reflecting on our instruction and honestly asking ourselves whether we offer options for students to show us what they really understand.  


A picture of 3 hammers and multiple screwdrivers in a tool drawer
Accommodations
: There are many kinds of hammers and there are, of course, equally varying types of screwdrivers. There are rubber mallets, ball-pein hammers, multi-pound sledge hammers, etc. There are phillips head, flat head, torx, star head, and a multitude of other screwdrivers. I might be really familiar and comfortable with a hammer, or even three different types of hammers, but that doesn't mean that I can use any of those three to drive in a torx head screw. Instead, I might just have to figure out what a torx head screwdriver is, borrow one and then learn to use it.  


As teachers, we frequently instruct utilizing the methods and materials for engagement, presentation, and response that we tend to, ourselves prefer. That's a really difficult habit to break, even for some of the very best teachers. What this can ultimately mean is that we tend to be slightly better than chance at choosing the appropriate accommodations for our students, unless we utilize objective forms of determination.

Finding the right accommodation usually necessitates the systematic and trialing of several different things with fidelity before deciding upon the most appropriate accommodation for that student. This, of course, is dependent on the particular time and setting, for that task at hand. That can seem daunting, to say the least. The PATINS Lending Library is where you can borrow items to trial and the PATINS Specialists who can help you implement those trials.

The next time you might be writing an IEP, struggling with a student, or sitting in a case conference and you want to recommend an accommodation, spend just a few moments considering why you're recommending it. Is it because it's the accommodation that you're most familiar with or that you have at your fingertips, or is it truly the correct accommodation for that student in that environment for that task? Let us help you get your hands on a torx-head screwdriver and perhaps show you some ways it can be used. 



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Apr
05

The 5 Things That Went Right Today: Perspective and Levers

Terrifically passionate people make wonderfully significant and impactful decisions, all the time, every single day. These people are usually deeply emotionally invested in all that they choose to do. Some might consider them “all or nothing” kinds of people. This is exhausting, but it's essential to the learning process! These people are probably the greatest educators you’ve known throughout your life, whether they are “teachers” or not. Ponder upon those particular reverberations in your past for a moment before reading further. Make note of a few of those people. Write them down or sketch their presence on a mental note card. Perhaps, consider sending them a real note of gratitude. Maintaining this level of passion for the learning of others isn’t easy and requires exceptionally purposeful labor.    

Great things…amazing accomplishments, etc., most often happen when phenomena are not typical. Have you ever given someone a compliment in the form of, “Wow, you were so very normal today?”  …probably not. 

I struggle with the K-12 education world at times when it seems to be seeking to normalize students and teachers. Placing educators and students into nicely packaged, designated, little boxes with a label on top, and a set of strict policies, can make some things easier at times, for sure. However, it also asphyxiates creativity and disregards the potential impact of outliers. This leads to frustration and burnout of passionate people.  

In the United States, 8% of teachers leave every single year and less than a third of those are retiring. That works out to about 200,000 teachers leaving the field. The greatest areas of shortage include math, science, bilingual education and special education. The percentage of special educators leaving the field is over 50% within the first 3-5 years of teaching. Additionally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down about 35% over the past 5-6 years. If we could reduce that overall attrition percentage of 8 to 4%, our problem of teacher shortage could be nearly eliminated. 

Teaching is hard! Teaching students who learn differently than we do is even harder! If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve likely heard me talk at some length about “creativity, skill, and determination” all being fluid notions of great importance to successful facilitation of the learning brain. It is my experience that when learning isn’t happening or isn’t occurring at the desired rate, one or more of those three concepts requires some adjusting. I realize this is somewhat of an over-simplification. However, by simplifying a complex equation, we begin to make it understandable and approachable. When we couple this simplified equation of “creativity, skill, and determination” with our belief that all students are capable of learning, we can begin to feel empowered to design a plan of action. We avoid stagnating, which leads to abandonment.  

Creativity, skill and determination are very much interrelated and dependent on one another. In other words, all three usually have to simultaneously exist within a reasonable median on its respective spectrum of potential. Stifled creativity can quickly degrade determination, for example. Lack of skill can make creativity feel impossible. Fading determination can render both lofty creativity and prominent skill ineffective. 

So, how can we begin to be of service to the educators who are working with the learners who often need them the most in order to maintain creativity, skill, and determination? Further, what can we learn from the highly passionate educators who do not become part of the 8% attrition rate in the US? 

How can a student pass an end of course assessment or state assessment, but fail class after class? Is it possible that a teacher can fail a student in a class while that same student actually knows the content material well enough to pass the high stakes assessment? It happens! It’s likely that this same teacher has had a plethora of difficulties to absorb in any given day. Focusing on the perceived misfortunes of the day is easy to do and most certainly punches determination right in the guts, but deliberately turning one’s attention to five specific things that went right that day can happen quickly and most certainly can fortify determination! 

Celebrate the outliers. Administrators can encourage and prop-up educators who substantiate creativity! Administrators have incredible power to do this right in their hands every day! Calculated risks could be weighted with value on teacher observations and evaluations. Teachers can try to avoid making assumptions about expectations for their students until they've tried at least five ways to present the materials to them, to allow them to interact and respond and to engage them. The PATINS UDL Lesson Plan Creator could be a notable place to start!  

Sleeping Cat on a computer keyboard
Research has shown that something as simple as watching kitten videos can cause a rush of dopamine to the brain! Peek-A-Boo Cat is another quick place to start!

 

Similarly, deep interest or passion in other areas can bring about similar reactions in humans. Personally, it’s art, music and motorcycles, in addition to kitties, of course! This biological reaction motivates creativity and can allow the body and mind to refocus on the five things that went right that day, and fuels passion! 

diagram of wheels on a beam mounted with a fulcrum, but at tilt
I used to believe that this allowed me to maintain balance. However, a highly respected colleague of mine has recently lead me to believe something a bit different. When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant. Distinctly passionate and effective people exemplify this sort of continual movement on their levers! 

Gaining skill can promptly fuel both creativity and determination! Did you know that the remarkable PATINS staff are recurrently hosting trainings that cost you nothing? Check out our training calendar and if you don't see exactly what you're looking for with regard to content, date, or time, simply lets us know! We'll get it scheduled for you! The PATINS Lending Library also offers educators a means of implementing creative ideas when funding may not allow it locally. Borrowing from us costs you nothing. We even cover shipping in both directions! 

Determination can wane quickly when an educator feels isolated. I believe strongly in the power of personal learning networks. These can be local or global or ideally, both! Consider joining the PATINS staff along with educators from around the globe on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm EST for our weekly Twitter Chat! Just search Twitter for the hashtag #PatinsIcam! Your own network could build quickly by simply committing to 30 minutes once a week on Tuesday evenings! Correspondingly, the PATINS Specialists are always eager to support determination by joining you right within your classrooms and school buildings! Let us fuel one another's determination! 

Don't allow yourself to be alone if you sense your determination or creativity diminishing! Likewise, if you are feeling creative and determined, but not sure of the skills, resources, strategies, or tools needed to make it happen, remember that the PATINS staff is just a click away! At the very least, make precise note of the five things that went right in your day, every day!  


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Sep
23

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either) I Never Learned About UDL in College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

“You do UDL so well!” said the Director of Special Education.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully responded. It’s always nice to know your administrator values your work, especially as a brand new employee.

But, as I walked away, I thought “What am I doing well? What does UDL mean?”

To this day, I am not sure how I was implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) well. Did he hear I allowed students to choose topics for writing based on their interests? Did he know I start each language therapy session with ample background knowledge? Or did he see I was encouraging students to use both low and high tech assistive technology options that fit them best? I can only guess. At the time, I assumed UDL was a term everyone else knew and I had somehow missed this after six years of college.

In reality, I did not sleep through the lesson on UDL. My former classmates confirmed we had never learned the term. While not explicitly taught, the UDL Guidelines were interwoven throughout my graduate coursework. This may have been the case for you.

I have refined my understanding of UDL and its' implementation through attending conferences, trainings, and trialing what works best. It has made me a better educator for my students. By removing barriers to accessing school work, they saw real, impactful academic success. We even had conversations about moving students back to the diploma track. This created life-changing opportunities for my students and their families.

Are you ready to do UDL well too? Here are a few opportunities provided for no-cost by the PATINS Project.

  • The Access to Education (A2E) 2021 virtual conference is a great opportunity to learn more. There is an outstanding line up of local and national presenters who are eager to teach you the why and how of UDL. Our presenters have created preview videos to give you a snapshot of what you can expect to learn at A2E 2021.

  • Try out the PATINS Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Creator or interact with the Virtual UDL Classroom.

  • Contact Us for in-depth, individualized support and trainings.

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Jul
19

Developing Professionally is a BIG Deal, Especially with PATINS: BETTER TOGETHER!

The PATINS staff have been BUSY this summer with professional development; providing, receiving, and planning for! The PATINS Specialists have been all over the state of Indiana presenting at and attending the Indiana Dept. of Education’s eLearning conferences all summer! Perhaps you saw our Specialists out there during this wonderful Indiana heat and if you did, I hope you felt welcomed to interact with them! We’ve also been working through a couple of book studies as a PATINS staff that include reflective case studies, Lending Library recommendations, preparation for strategic planning and a slight revamp of this PATINS Ponders Blog as well as our weekly Tuesday night Twitter Chat! Extensive preparation has also been underway for the 2018-19 AEMing for Achievement Grants and the 2018 Access to Education (#A2E) Conference!

SO MUCH to tell you about! While some of this work has certainly been done individually, NONE of it could be accomplished without ALL of us. We truly are far better together! 
photograph of a runny poached egg atop cooked whole asparagus with a fork and knife in the background.

Do you like eggs?” …a line from “Fish In A Tree,” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. A main character, Ally, is brilliant in so many ways and struggles with some things as well. She’s frequently misunderstood and isn’t always able to show her brilliance and compassion in ways she intends.  One day, she asks her new seat-partner about eggs as a way to let her know that she’d like to be her friend and, again, isn’t able to convey her message the way she wanted to. This book is full of Ally’s stories and is a wonderful read! As a K-12 student myself, I could read pretty well. My language arts grades were usually A’s, and I didn’t have to work too terribly hard. However, reading for pleasure…truly enjoying reading for myself and not for a grade, didn’t prevail at all until much, much later in my life. Some person, a specific book, a specific interest being fed, some specific support or encouragement, some unconditional love, might be a big piece of what it takes to offer a student the reason to begin truly enjoying reading for themselves!

photo of 1 cat standing on photo of 2 cat laying on a table with flowers in the background with
Even my kitties are loving the book study! They get a little demanding at times and remind me when it’s time to read! This is one of the two books that the PATINS staff is reading this summer/fall. Part of this book study of ours includes creating education plans for characters in the book, determining potentially appropriate assistive technology for them from our Lending Library, and the creation of informational/persuasive letters with regard to the importance of accessible materials within the classrooms in the book! 

This process benefits our own professional development and practice, but it can also be beneficial to you as practitioners with these “book characters” in your schools every day! We would be so glad to share our collective knowledge, materials, and resources with you! Further, I’d like to encourage you to participate in book studies of your own. This could be with your colleagues, with your staff, or with your friends and families. I’d further like to offer to you book studies in conjunction with PATINS! We would love to assist, guide, moderate, or otherwise help with your own book study! I feel strongly that multiple modes of professional development are essential to the professionals we support, just as multiple modes are important to the students you support. 

As Indiana educators, I’d like for you to consider having PATINS guide a book study for you just as you would ask us to provide an in-person training for you and your team! Just reach out to us and toss out ideas or request suggestions from us! In the same vein, we’re also working on the production of a new and improved brief “menu” of a selection of GO-TO-PD that’s the hottest, latest, and best that we have to offer! Look for this in the early Fall! Of course, we’re also always happy to customize ANY professional development to your specific needs and in the meantime, check out our current offerings on our Training Calendar


I also want to welcome and introduce you to two new PATINS Staff this year! Following the retirement of Jim Lambert, who was dedicated to the PATINS Project for 19 years, I’m pleased to announce that Jena Fahlbush has been selected to fulfill that role! Jena has served us extremely well as our Data & Outreach Specialist previously, and I’m super excited to watch her grow within her new position! Taking over our Data & Outreach responsibilities will be a new person to the PATINS team! I’m also very proud to welcome and introduce Jennifer Conti! Jen comes to us with experience as an SLP and has already put in tons of creative and important work in just her first week on the job! 
PATINS Access To Education Conference Logo
Another part of our hard work over this summer to provide effective professional development includes our world renowned Access to Education Conference happening at the end of November! Having attended many, MANY, professional education conferences across the country over the past 12 years, I say with confidence that our line-up is world-class with a back yard cost and a family barbeque feel! For $100/day, we bring you the best of the best for 2 days of awesome professional development on November 28 and 29! 

I’m proud to announce that our new State Director of Special Education, Dr. Nancy Holsapple (@NancyHolsapple) will be joining us, along with highly sought-after minds of brilliance and compassion like Joy Zabala (@joyzabala), Kelly Fonner (@KellyFonner), Mike Marotta (@mmatp), Beth Poss (@possbeth), Mystie Rail (@atlaak), Cynthia Curry (@clcurry), Luis Perez (@eyeonaxs), Mo Buti (@themobuti), Brian Goemer and many more!  Plus, to jazz us all up and build on our belief that ANYTHING is possible, Dr. Kelly J. Grillo (@kellygrillo) will join us to share her amazing story and it’s one you won’t want to miss!
Pie Chart showing attendees from past 4 years of PATINS Conference: 22% Admin, 21% Teachers, 14% Other, 11% AT Professionals, 32% Related Service

From Indiana’s AEM collaboration with CAST’s National AEM Center to our own AEMing for Achievement Grant districts, to presenting at the OSEP Director’s Conference next week (which I will be Tweeting from), to overcoming some major turns in my personal life, I’ve fully realized that working in passion in all that we do and closing the circle gets us further. I try hard to be an On-Purpose Person and within that philosophy, I ask you all to ask yourselves if you’re feeling energized by the power of others in your life or drained? Are you being pushed in our work to make a difference for families, teachers, and students? I am! Sometimes I’m only firing with one cylinder but, like my 2-stroke motorcycle, a finely tuned and maintained single cylinder 2-stroke can easily make more power than a bike with 2, 3, or 4 cylinders! However, it takes a partner and, often-times, teams to keep that single-cylinder 2-stroke running in a way that really performs. It takes a lot more frequent maintenance than a 4 stroke! I take pride in choosing the path that more is more powerful, and surround myself with the necessary people to keep it running! 
Photo of Daniel racing on a 2-stroke dirtbike

PATINS is pushing boundaries in seeking equity and access for ALL students, and we’re looking for partners in our work to co-create, guest blog with us, co-moderate our Twitter Chats and more, because one thing I know for certain in this work is that we’re better together! Please reach out to us if you are interested in co-blogging and/or co-tweeting with PATINS this year!

So, I ask you to ask yourself; have you pushed your own limits to impact our deeply important field? Have you chosen the 2-stroke motor that you know is going to take more maintenance to keep running and then surrounded yourself with a pit crew? I recently asked Dr. Kelly Grillo this same question. Here’s what this year’s PATINS Access to Education Conference day 1 keynote has done just this summer to sharpen her skills and impact our field:

“I was recently appointed to the CEC Leadership Development Committee, I spent two weeks at the University of Florida retooling my research skills in the hard sciences as a teaching fellow at CPET (@UFCPET), I’ve completely redesigned and built a graduate course at the University of Central Florida in secondary methods using Universal Design, I renewed my Google Educators certification, and completed two article submissions on practical ways to implement UDL in K-12 modern classrooms with high-stakes testing. Though modest in most things, I’m bold about student learning and my passion for investment into persons with disabilities is clear.”

We’re lucky to share a colleague like Dr. Grillo at this year’s conference, who is bold and dedicated to all children and to learning. She’s active on Twitter, which is actually where I came across her! Are you connected to a great something, someone, team, or network in this work of ours yet? Join us at this November’s Access to Education Conference and get connected to get pushed!  It’s a Big Deal!


Speaking of Twitter, the PATINS Tuesday night Twitter Chat starts up again September 4 at 8:30pm EST! Join us! AND…something new; the third Tuesday night of each month this year will be a chat dedicated to both the past and the current AEMing for Achievement grant teams! This will be a chat to discuss the general concepts essential to providing an accessible learning environment, but also to discuss the grant itself and to brainstorm with other district teams from around the state who have been through the process! So, Tuesday September 18 will be the first AEMing Grant chat! Mark your calendars! PLUS, if you haven’t been a past AEMing team and haven’t applied yet to be one of this year’s teams, you have 1 WEEK LEFT!  Application is OPEN and closes on July 27!

Professional development is a BIG DEAL and PATINS is here for you! WE are better together!
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Aug
15

Fancy Font Over Function; Preparing Your Classroom for All Students!

Whilst engaged in a recent discussion with a dear educational colleague and friend, we unraveled the first days of school. Social media often tends to focus on surface level things that are able to be captured in a photograph or video. Being a photographer and artist, I very much appreciate these things. However, also being a professional educator, I also give caution to other educators concerning the intentionality of deep and thoughtful preparation for meaningful instruction for all students. As Beth Poss, assistant principal and private educational consultant, and I discussed the seemingly alarming rate of this focus on the superficial decorating of learning environments without consideration of students and universal design, Beth requested the opportunity to tackle this important topic through the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

It’s Back to School time! Teachers are busy getting their classrooms ready and school has even started in many districts. And based on the multitude of social media posts I am seeing, teachers are all about having the most beautiful classroom decor, the cutest bulletin boards, and jazzy curriculum resources from the Teachers Pay Teachers. It is easy for new or even veteran teachers to believe that if their classroom decor and resources aren’t Instagram worthy they must be doing something wrong.
The truth is, however, that pedagogy should still be the top priority and that just because it looks attractive doesn’t mean that it is effective. 


My fear that a focus on font over function was taking over Twitter and Instagram moved me to write this guest post for PATINS. So as you gear up for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to help you ensure that you don’t get caught up in the “my classroom must be gorgeous” trend and instead focus on what is best for students.

1. Many students identified with various sensory processing challenges, in addition to many students without, can be easily overstimulated by an over-decorated classroom. Researchers found that increased visual stimulation in classrooms correlated with decreased cognitive performance (Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman, 2014; Rodrigues and Pandierada, 2018). So, keep it simple! Personally, I love this classroom from @thegirldoodles, especially how she sticks to just one set of monochromatic color selections, rather than her room looking like a bag of skittles exploded all over it. It is definitely attractive, projects a positive student message, and there is plenty of blank space. 

photo of a classroom dry erase board, 2 chairs, motivational posters, and cabinet all in monochromatic blue-gray color scheme
2. Classrooms should be student-centered! Leave wall and bulletin board space for student work. When students see their work displayed and their peers as their audience, we promote ownership and greater participation and involvement in their own learning process.  (Barrett, et al., 2015)

3. Anchor charts are most effective when they are generated with students, during the learning experience. So don’t worry about having beautifully hand-lettered anchor charts up and ready for the first day of school. Create these with your students so that they connect personally to the information. They are more likely to refer back to the charts while working if they helped to generate the information on the chart.

4. Consider carefully, your font choices on both classroom displays and printed or digital materials that you design. Are the fonts readable to all the students in your classroom, including those with low vision or dyslexia? If your students are learning to form and write letters, do the fonts you use provide a model for the proper formation? I see many cutesy fonts where letters are a random mix of lower and uppercase or where the”tails” of the  p and g are not below the bottom of the other letters. Cute however, doesn’t really help our students learn how to form letters correctly, and if we are teaching students that lowercase g, j, p, q, y, and are “basement” letters, be sure that they see this in what is given to them or displayed around the room. Additionally, research shows that sans serif fonts are generally more readable than serif fonts. (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2013). What is the difference? Serif fonts have those decorative tails or feet, while sans serif fonts don't and instead are made up of simple, clean lines. You might even check out Dyslexie font or Open Dyslexic, which were both created specifically to promote readability for individuals with dyslexia. Additionally, you might check out the following video and/or this research article, "Good Fonts for Dyslexia.


5.
When downloading teaching resources, check that the strategies and pedagogy behind the resources is best practice. Does it align with your curriculum guide? Is it standards based?  Does it promote the principles of Universal Design for Learning and accessibility? Is it culturally responsive, promote diversity, and free of stereotypes?


One last piece of advice. When you see an idea from a post on a blog (like this one!) be sure to check the blogger’s credentials. Google them, take a look at what they post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram and make sure they truly are someone you would want to take advice and inspiration from! I hope you check me out--find me on Pinterest and Twitter as @possbeth,or on Instagram as @bethposs.
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Oct
13

Time Passages

I am starting my 25th year with the PATINS Project. My current role is the ICAM Technology Specialist. I provide support for students with a print disability that require digital content. However, that wasn’t always my role.

Prior to that I was the PATINS Central Site Coordinator when PATINS managed the state with 5 site staff members scattered around Indiana.

As a site coordinator, our roles were one of, to coin the phrase “A jack of all trades and master of none.” Our responsibilities were to be proficient in just about every aspect of assistive technology. Knowing device and software ins and outs so we could provide training just about as well as the vendors that distributed them.

Knowing the workings of hardware like switches, soldering battery interrupters, troubleshooting why the software wouldn’t load on a Windows 95 machine, and would it work after Y2K.

I didn’t and still don’t know Braille, but I printed off lots of Braille pages on an embosser hoping it came out right. Programming an AAC device and making sure the user file was saved correctly, had its pressures.

Setting up live satellite downlinks for an audience a couple times a month even though I was not into media broadcasting. However, later in my career I was the host of PATINS TV even though my teleprompting skills left much to be desired.

Managing my own Lending Library, ordering, and cataloging, nagging borrowers now and then that hadn’t returned items. Countless time repairing things that came back with a note stating, “I don’t know why this no longer works.”

Conducting or hosting trainings on just about every aspect of technology that aided students to strive for their potential.

I could go on and on because there is no end to a “Jack of all trades” as the means to the goal are constantly changing. It is now, and always will be, the challenge to meet the needs of those that benefit the most from it.


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Apr
11

ISO: Someone Like Me

We all want a sense of belonging to a community, a family, a social group that we can feel a sense of identity. These social groups are where we base our identity. 

One aspect that educational practices may be overlooking is our students who may identify with being Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. As a Teacher of students who are deaf/hard of hearing, it is part of our Expanded Core Curriculum to ensure our students meet and socialize with other students who are Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. 


Students who are deaf and hard of hearing need to be around peers with hearing loss. They need to have positive deaf/hard of hearing role models who share the same and different modes of communication than themselves. If they do not have these positive experiences while growing up it may be hard of them to not have a sense of where they belong in the world, which social group they identify with and/or perhaps have a sense of social isolation at some point in their educational career.

In fact, did you know that some students growing up with hearing loss that has never met an adult with hearing loss think there is no future for them? How will they know that they can achieve anything that their minds allow them to dream up if we don’t show them how great others are. We have to provide an “end result” picture so they know they are fully capable to do the same or better.


My mother, Beth Fritter, grew up experiencing hearing loss as a hard of hearing student in the 1960s. She attended a private Catholic school in northern Indiana until 6th grade and then attended the public school 6th grade through 12th grade. I was fortunate enough to visit with her for a few days in her northern Indiana home during this year’s spring break. As I was asking her what it was like to grow up in the 60s in the private and public schools with hearing loss, she described what the learning environment was like for her. She talked about large class sizes of about 50 students in one room per grade, desks in rows, and strict rules regarding no speaking, eyes forward, and material will be taught one time with little to no interventions to help students keep up or catch up. She also never received services for specialized instruction or technology for her hearing loss. She recalled having a few good friends that would repeat conversations for her or try to include her. She still hasn’t met anyone else that grew up like her with hearing loss and she just turned 60 this year.


Katie and her mother, Beth Fritter


Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing?" My mom just recently received her first set of hearing aids a few years ago. She recalled after getting her hearing aids fitted and taking them home that one morning she woke up and looked out the window she said she SAW that it was raining outside. She then put her hearing aids in and she could HEAR that it was raining. Without her hearing aids, she would have missed that everyone else could hear that was raining without looking out the window. Can you imagine what else she could be missing out on just simply because she wasn’t aware without her hearing aids? Think about our students in the classroom. When we simply ask if they heard us and they say, “yes.” They may not know that they, in fact, did miss something because we really “don’t know what we are missing.” It is best to instead ask, “What did you hear?” or “What will you do next?” to see if our students missed something and need something restated or clarified.


Can you imagine the impact on my mother’s life if she would have gone to a program with other students experiencing the same thing as her or even just got to meet one other student like her? The picture below is from a new popular book, El Deafo by CeCe Bell. The book is a personal account of what her childhood was like with her hearing loss. The picture below is a representation of what a class looked like for the author, CeCe. You may also notice what the hearing devices looked like back in the day! What a difference compared to today, huh? 


picture of six classmates with hearing aids sitting in a circle on the floor. text on picture:                                                                                                     
It should also be noted that it is best practice to be around typically developing peers in a language-rich environment for the best possible outcomes in language development regardless of the mode of communication.

pictures of classmates taped to the wall with names written by them. text on picture,                                                                                               

Give our students who are deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired a sense of belonging with providing times to interact and engage with peers just like them.

What can we do as parents and educators if our student is the only student with hearing loss in the area?  

Here are a few ideas:
Camps in Indiana for students who are deaf/hard of hearing:
Other ways to connect:
  • Zoom DHH Buddies program connecting students with hearing loss across the state through technology
  • Indiana Hands & Voices Parent Guides Events around the state
  • DHH Students Facebook group
  • Introduce books with Characters/Authors who are D/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired - Check out my list and add your favorites!
Please comment below if you have more resources and/or suggestions to connect our students who are deaf/hard of hearing in Indiana. We would love to hear from you! Make sure to “like” and share this blog with your educational teams!
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Jan
30

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools

Closed Captioning is Cool! Closed Captioning is Cool!

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools


Captions… It's all the buzz currently in schools, including higher education institutions like Harvard University. If you aren’t currently using captions in your daily life or in your classroom you might be unfamiliar with why we need to provide them. They may even seem annoying to you when you see them on. However, I assure you they are coming to a workplace near you soon and here are 5 reasons why you should turn them on today:

1. Attention and Focus

Students who need support when it comes to attention & focus can benefit from the visual representation of the spoken words on the screen during class and videos. In a study conducted by the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit of the 1,532 students, 69% reported that closed captioning aided in keeping their attention as a learning aid in class (Linder, 2016).

2. Universal Design for Learning

Setting up your classroom with every type of learner from the beginning means that you plan to include captions (Morris et. al, 2016). For school districts needing to put a policy in place for providing captions and transcripts as part of providing accessible education materials, PATINS has you covered with a sample policy. 


Text reads

3. Reading 

Students building early literacy skills can benefit from captions since captions explicitly illustrate the mapping among sound, meaning, and text (Gernsbacher, 2015). Since one predictor of reading achievement is time spent reading, the use of captioned content has the ability to benefit each & every student in your classroom.

4. Language Acquisition

Students learning a new language can benefit from English subtitles of classroom audio media. Students are taught how to recall and build their auditory listening skills in the second language after viewing videos with closed captions/subtitles in the new language rather than just receiving the content via auditory alone (Gernsbacher, 2015). 

5. The Right to Effective Communication

When we have a student who is deaf/hard of hearing in our classrooms, we need to provide accurate, timely and effective communication. One way to achieve this is by providing closed captions on all. This is explained in ADA, IDEA and Article 7.  You can read more about the recent Harvard’s lawsuit resulting in all media including open online courses to include closed captioning.

Do you need help with the tools and implementation of captions? The PATINS Project has you covered with no-cost in-person training and webinars. PATINS’ Specialists, Jena Fahlbush and Katie Taylor have a live webinar, Captions for All: The Writing’s on the Wall! This will help get you acclimated to using captions in your classroom the very next day. 


Captions for All: The Writing’s on the Wall! Live Webinar 
Register for the next live webinar! 

As you build experience with captions, you will see the need for captioning to the public and in your classroom! Speak up! Request captioning in the gym, restaurants, and doctor's offices to help make every place an accessible place for all. 



References


Gernsbacher M. A. (2015). Video Captions Benefit Everyone. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences, 2(1), 195–202. doi:10.1177/2372732215602130

Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national study. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit

Morris, K.K., Frechette, C., Dukes, L., Stowell, N., Topping, N.E., & Brodosi, D. (2016). Closed captioning matters: Examining the value of closed captions for all students. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(3), 231-238.
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Aug
07

The Greatest Show

The Greatest Show The Greatest Show

Nothing quite gets me hyped up like a good theme song. The one that I started listening to this morning to start off my live webinar was, “This Is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman. I was looking for American Sign Language (ASL) songs on YouTube to start off my webinar on a great note. When I stumbled upon this one: "This Is Me" The Greatest Showman - ASL by Sarah Tubert, I knew I had hit paydirt. 

After watching this video, I realized the connection to this song for our students and educators. Educators are equipping students for their greatest show, that is, their adult life. In many ways, this school year (2020-2021) will be most educators’ greatest show yet. This will be the year for educators to really show what they’re made of. I already know - they’re made out of a great deal of awesomeness. This year, countless districts are stepping up to support students and families in order to improve their delivery of distance and in-person learning. Students and families are also demonstrating great compassion through understanding and giving it their all to help make this year a great year.

We have heard many times that we need to take care of ourselves (e.g., eat better, get more sleep, exercise, read, connect with nature, etc.). We do need to be healthy before we can help others, and we need to nurture our own mental health. Similar to the flight attendant’s instruction “to put on your oxygen mask first” so that you can help others. If we aren’t prepared, we won’t be able to help others. We must take care of ourselves. I hear this so often yet I’m not quite sure what it means for me. Much like student rewards/motivational charts/options change over time, our own self-care choices may need to change to meet our current needs. What worked before the pandemic doesn’t seem to be working for my own self-care. I’m trying though. I am always looking and willing to try something interesting and different to try to keep things novel and fun. However, lately, I’m hanging out more and more in bed when I’m not at work watching Netflix and the series, Good Bones on Hulu. If I wasn’t careful, this social isolation could easily sabotage my mental health. So, I made a change. I’m on to seeking new things that spark joy in this new time in our lives. I found sunflowers bigger than my head at the local farmer’s market and I’ve been getting back into a safe routine at my gym.

image of a gym with pull up racks and black mat floor

G
ym time has been a refreshing self-care choice and is something that I am clinging to lately. Oddly, that had never really been the case for me. I realized why I love this gym so much, it demonstrates universal design like the
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) we advocate for in our classrooms. I’ll give you a little rundown of the similarities (Engagement, Representation, Action & Expression); 
  • one main coach, 
  • objectives and activities are written on the board, 
  • sometimes we work with partners but we all need to do our own work, 
  • we can learn from my peers by watching how they do different lifting exercises, 
  • everyone is at a different place in their fitness journey, 
  • no one is compared to each other, 
  • each activity can be scaffold to meet each person where they are, 
  • all the tools and activity access options in the gym are available to everyone at all times,
  • those who are ready to be above the prescribed work out can do that and it’s not displayed in a way that everyone else can’t achieve that as well, and 
  • there is a timer for the workout but you can take longer if you need extra time. 

My favorite part is that we use a smartphone app to track our individual progress, but each week we celebrate our growth together! Although we all work separately, we root for each other together.  Each visit improves my mental and physical well being, I am excited too by seeing my progress from my last session. 

Katie and her husband, Cam, after working out at the gym.

Everyone’s self-care will be different and can change with the seasons of life. Make time and do something for yourself even if it’s a small change. Let’s all put on our oxygen masks first and ready ourselves to support our students, families and fellow educators. If we are healthy and ready, we can help change the lives of our students in an even bigger way than we have ever thought possible.  This is the year that we show everyone that each educator is The Greatest Showman/Showwoman and the amazing impact we have in every student’s lives that walks in the doors or logs into their device. Let’s give them the greatest show!

                                                                            image from the movie The Greatest Showman, the main character with his arms open wide at the end of the show with characters around him.













If you are feeling even a little overwhelmed by all the cute Bitmoji classrooms, digital files, or unique access materials questions, please come visit with a PATINS staff member during our new Monday - Wednesday - Friday open office hours. These are drop-in, no appointment needed support for any educator, we are available to brainstorm ideas and offer technical support at no-cost by a PATINS Specialist. Links for the office hours can be found on the
PATINS training calendar. 

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Aug
24

The Vision of the Project

Recently I helped my husband work a concrete pour. This wasn’t our first pour together, and like all the times before, we were nervous. He had already prepared the environment: cleared the building site, built the forms, bent and placed the rebar and supported the forms with clamps and stakes. We were pouring a 4-foot wall, about 100 feet long, to support the hillside and allow Tom to begin his newest building venture.

Pouring concrete is very hard physical and mental work, fast-paced, even frantic, especially if there are not enough people. One of the workers we had hired cancelled at 11:30 p.m. on the Friday night before; no time to find a replacement. So, there was the man who drove and operated the concrete truck, my husband Tom, our friend Ed, and me. This could put us in the category of “not enough people.” We talked about the stress this would put on all of us, and decided to go ahead.

For a job such as this, everyone works together as a team, yet someone has to be in charge: that person assigns the specific jobs, provides the tools needed for each job, and goes over the instructions, answers questions and invites input, then goes over the details one more time. The mental challenge is to manage what is happening in real time, to anticipate what is about to happen, and to know when to step in and help your co-workers without neglecting your own tasks.

My job was to guide the “elephant trunk”, the canvas sleeve attached to the chute which puts the concrete where it needs to go, to re-direct any spillage, and to communicate to the driver: “Hold up” or “Bring it on.”  Ed stood above the forms with a long pole which he used to tamp and shake and settle the cement as it filled the forms, and he shoveled overfill to underfilled areas. Tom followed up with the “finish work”: the screeding and floating, which levels and smooths the surface, and helped Ed and I as needed. This was roughly a 2-hour job, it seemed like 30 minutes, and we never stopped moving, from start to finish.

As it is with working concrete, so it is with the SETT Framework. Developed by Joy Zabala, the Director of Technical Assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technology, this is a valuable tool that collaborative teams may use to create the best learning environment for each student. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Task and Tools, and provides an outline for the gathering of student information. This is a great starting point for designing instruction for each of your students. A friend and previous co-teacher of mine uses the SETT outline this way:  She fills in the info for each student during the first couple of weeks of school, as she is getting to know and understand each child. Then she sorts the outlines by their similarities, and this helps her determine who goes where for small group instruction. Brilliant!

The PATINS Specialists can help you determine the best tool-a.k.a. assistive technology- which will effectually fit the needs of a particular student. They can suggest software, show you hardware, and demonstrate how it is used. Maybe there is an item in the Lending Library that you would like for a student to try. And of course, the ICAM should be your first stop for specialized formats when you see a student struggling to access the curriculum. We can explain the federal mandate to provide specialized formats, describe each of those, and advise you on the requirements for obtaining specialized formats of print instructional materials and related content.

Last Saturday, Tom referred several times to the “vision of the project.” It was not just about this 4-foot wall we were pouring, it was about the tiny home that will eventually be, which will provide needed shelter for someone in a peaceful setting.

Remember the vision of your project will be realized when your students move forward on productive paths because you have created the best learning environment, have given them meaningful tasks and the tools to complete the job. This is our vision too. We are here to assist you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
 
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Aug
11

Are You Prepared to Provide AEM (Accessible Educational Materials)? Ready! Set! GO!

By now most of us know that the 3 categories of a print disability specified by the IDEA are 1.) Vision Impaired, 2.) Physical Disability and 3.) Reading Disability, such as dyslexia. Since technology, teaching strategies, and universally designed classrooms make these disabilities navigable, I prefer to call them differences when possible. The first 2 typically are evident at birth, so the child will enter school with a good deal of documentation of their learning needs concerning the condition. 

The most frequently identified reading difference, dyslexia, is one of the most researched and documented conditions, affecting 20 percent of the population (1 in 5)  and represents 80-90 percent of all learning disabilities. 

Here in Indiana, Senate Enrolled Act No. 217 was signed into law in 2018, which requires Indiana schools to develop and implement specific measures regarding dyslexia. In response to that, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has written and posted several guiding documents to help schools and parents understand and meet the tenets of this law. 

As indicated in the guide entitled Dyslexia Programming Guidance for Schools a parent may request that the student receive a formal educational evaluation from the school. After the evaluation, if it is determined that the student requires special education services to successfully meet their educational needs, then the case conference committee (CCC) will assemble to determine if the student has a print disability, in this case, a reading disability. If the answer is yes, then the student requires accessible formats to access the curriculum. In the Individual Education Plan (IEP) a reading disability is indicated as an SLD (Specific Learning Disability) in the Area of Reading.

The following tips will guide you in serving students who have a documented print disability. Also, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) staff has posted a guide to clarify the AEM  process for the CCC that explains DRM (Digital Rights Manager) and teacher tasks in detail.

  • With the new partnership between the ICAM and Bookshare, ICAM staff can search the Bookshare library and place those requests for you, if a needed title is not in the ICAM repository.
  • For the ICAM to fully support Indiana schools as they meet the AEM needs of their students, all students identified with a print disability must be registered in the ICAM.
  • The PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ICAM services are free to schools and grant-funded by the state. Therefore, by using the ICAM, schools are facilitating the provision of services to Indiana schools by adding to the data that PATINS presents to the state.
  • If you are a DRM, please copy/paste this DRM Badge into your electronic signature to identify yourself as a DRM. Also, enlarge the badge, print and hang it outside your door, then take every opportunity to explain to others about AEM, the PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ ICAM, and the IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center). Becoming a DRM requires an appointment by a school's superintendent, or their designee, and training.
PATINS Project/ICAM Digital Rights Manager Badge
  • The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 2004 states that accessible materials must be available to qualified students in a "timely manner" which means at the same time their peers receive their learning materials.                                                                                                                                    
  • When to place orders: 
    • For VI orders of hard copy Braille and Large Print, orders should have been placed in April of this year. If you have received orders since then and for any future orders, enter those as soon as you get them. The IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center) and the ICAM work very hard to help you meet "timely manner",  including for orders placed throughout the school year.
    • For orders of ePub and PDF from the ICAM repository, enter those as soon as possible so we can address unforeseen snags.
    • If you need a title from Bookshare and/or audiobooks from Mackin, you will order those through ICAM Web Ordering, as follows:
      • 1. As a DRM or teacher registered by a DRM, log into ICAM Web Ordering.
      • 2. Choose Make Special Request.
      • 3. Fill in all fields that have an asterisk*, indicate Bookshare or Mackin in the note field, and submit.
If you need assistance at any time, please contact the ICAM Staff. If you would like to become a DRM, we will support you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
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Apr
04

Finding Your Flock

Finding Your Flock with birds on power lines. Finding your flock with birds on power lines.

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, authored a 
blog focused on the burnout that we, too often, feel as educators. So much of what she said rang true for me personally, and it really got me thinking about the reasons behind the burnout I felt at different stages in my teaching career. 


Out of college, I hit the ground running looking for my first teaching job. Mailing or handing out resume after resume, filling out online application after online application was quite a time-consuming and daunting task, but I held onto my optimism. Trying to land my first job in a college town during a time in which the teacher market was saturated equaled taking a job as a Title I aide in an elementary school. 

After the fall semester as an aide, I got my chance to teach my first class as a long-term substitute in a Kindergarten classroom. Yet, as the spring semester concluded so did my first job; there was no going back to my aide position because it had been filled. 

Spring forward a handful of years, through new positions and new schools almost every year, to my first full-time classroom teaching position in third grade. Four school years post-graduation, I had finally achieved my goal. With a variety of teaching experiences under my belt, I was ready to teach my students all they needed to know as third graders. 

It didn’t take long for the honeymoon phase to end and reality to set in. Teaching is hard. I knew it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t truly know how much it would take out of me physically, emotionally, and mentally from year to year. Neither did I understand how disconnected I could feel in a building full of other passionate educators and energetic students. 

Looking back, I can now see that what I needed to avoid the burnout and the tunnel vision was a flock. Sure I had friends in my building and colleagues that cared, but we all had our own set of responsibilities, goals, and classroom and personal challenges. It really didn’t dawn upon me until leaving the classroom that not only could my students and I have immensely benefited from intentional collaboration with the speech and language pathologist, special educators, occupational therapist, etc in my building, but that there are ways to connect with educators just like me or to those who support educators just like me beyond the walls of the school.

Did you know that there are multiple projects supporting educators, schools, and parents that are part of the Indiana Resource Network? I didn’t until I left the classroom. Many of them provide their services at no cost to you.

Did you know that you can connect with all of us at PATINS in a variety of ways without much more than signing into your computer? I didn’t even know what a PATINS was, let alone that our mission is to support all educators, including those in general education, when it comes to making sure that every student has access to your curriculum. So, please spread the word and let us be part of your flock. No one; I repeat no one should go it alone. Plus, we can come to you in more ways than you may be imagining!
  • Join our crew of 3,975 PATINS Pages eNewsletter subscribers to hear real-life stories from the classroom, learn about the newest assistive tech in our Assistive Technology Lending Library (it's open to all public educators), find the latest in education news, sign up or request training, and so much more.
  • Subscribe to our weekly blog, PATINS Ponders, which has a total: 5,900+ total views to get PATINS/ICAM reflections and info on current education topics sent right to your inbox. You never know when the right blog will show up on the day you need it the most.
  • Like us on Facebook and join a flock of 1200+ followers! We love supporting our followers by highlighting innovative educators and sharing relevant news and information.
  • Grab a snack & your computer to hang out with us on Twitter on Tuesdays at 8:30pm EST. You’ll find us chatting about all kinds of topics at #PatinsIcam. This year alone you could have picked up 26 hours of professional growth points (PGPs) for participating or even lurking in a chat!
  • Check out PATINS on YouTubeA total of 17 new videos have been released so far this school year! The quick clips on tech, tools, & resources from vendors and PATINS Specialists, student success stories, & starfish award winners will leave you excited to try something new with your students.
  • Register and attend one of our no-cost webinars or request a repeat of a webinar you missed! A fellow PATINS flock member, Drew Slentz, commented that a great benefit to attending is the ability to download and explore apps that are shared during the presentation. We’ve hosted 77 webinars on ways to increase access to the curriculum since August with more to come. PGPs are available to all attendees.
It’s weird how lonely it can get in a classroom of 20 or 30+ students, so find your flock in your building, district, or beyond. And don’t be afraid to add PATINS or any other resource networks to your flock, knowing that it is no one’s job to judge you or the work you do with your students. We’re here to offer you a fresh set of eyes and perspectives while wrapping you in support as you chart the path to equitable access for each and every one of your students. Please remember, we’re truly just a phone call or email away

PATINS Project.org logo Virtual Educator Support July 2018 to February 2019

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Jul
30

Have I Been Doing It Wrong?

Have I Been Doing It Wrong? Clipart of racially diverse students

Recently, a colleague shared an article with me that threw me for a loop and spurred my thinking. Could what I’ve been so passionately sharing with educators all along be wrong? Yikes! 

Well, of course it could be. Because if what we love about teaching most is learning (and I do), then we always seek to expand our knowledge. We also keep open minds and regularly reflect on our practice and understanding. And when we know better, we have the opportunity to do better!

So, here’s what I’m wondering and questioning… “Have I as a white, middle-class American citizen been touting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a solution that may only be designed in ways to support other white individuals?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. That now put in writing, let me reflect upon why I feel this way. 

Simply based upon my race, gender, and lack of diagnosed disability, I have experienced privilege in ways that I both understand and still have yet to comprehend. Take, for example, my gender and personal experience, as an educator I have always worked with far more educators who identify as she/her than those that may identify as he/his, or they/their. Since I also consider myself to be neurotypical and able-bodied, I find myself pondering what proactive steps I must take in order to appropriately advocate for UDL when my experiences and thus my true empathy are first and foremost limited by traits I did not choose.

My new knowledge on intersectionality from Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk about Race is also making me question the ways in which I’ve been promoting UDL. For example, I know that I’ve shared how implementing the UDL framework can change the game for a student with an intellectual and/or physical disability, but I have neglected to challenge myself and others to think about more than one demographic of students at a time as the philosophy and culture of UDL represents. 

This neglect has me now reflecting upon how a person of color with a disability may be experiencing their education; or, how a person who is transgender, Black, and has a physical disability may be experiencing their education. Have I been promoting UDL to specifically level the playing field for these individuals? The answer is again sadly no, which tells me that I haven’t been serving all students and that I’ve missed the mark on explicitly sharing the true definition of UDL, which does include a framework for all demographics and their intersections, with educators.  

With equitable access to education for every single student and the gaps in opportunities that have been created through well-intentioned educators like myself, I’ve begun to explore new (to me) research and changes I can make to best serve each and every student. One element I have found and believe is worth sharing is that while there is much research in support of UDL for a variety of students, it is worth noting that Indar (2018) and Azawei, Serenelli & Lundqvist (2016) point out that many studies conducted on UDL leave out specific student demographic information. 

These studies leave me questioning the general population’s comprehension of or attention to who is actually a part of our student body. Thus, I believe the time has come to put our UDL practices under a microscope in search of their demographic weaknesses and to boost true equity in our classrooms both in-person and virtually.

Some ways we can get started are to:

  1. Find and explore research studies with a critical eye for participant demographics and the potential for researcher bias - are a variety of student populations being studied or is it unknown?
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit that some changes may need to be made in your classroom.
  3. Like my colleagues, Jessica Conrad and Bev Sharritt, have mentioned over the past few weeks, explore your own implicit bias using these tests and this study on implicit bias in the early childhood setting. Finding yourself feeling uncomfortable is normal, or at least I hope so, because I certainly had my eyes opened to some of my biases and subsequent actions in and out of the classroom.
  4. Don’t forget that bias isn’t always assigned by a different demographic onto another. Many, if not all, of our students have been socialized to hold both positive and negative beliefs about themselves based upon their cultures, race, gender, etc. Check out the Doll Test to gain more perspective on this idea.
  5. Promote more racially diverse workplaces or push yourself to find more diverse educators and professionals to converse with (as a white person, I consider these tips in more difficult conversations about racism). Social media can be a great place to connect with others from more diverse backgrounds on student, classroom, and school issues.
  6. Ask your students and their families for feedback. How can you make them feel more included?
  7. Consider your shared resources and teaching?
    1. Are you including diversity in your shared images and graphics?
    2. Are you including diverse titles for reading and research?
    3. Are you using inclusive language?
    4. Are you open to constructive criticism when it comes to diversity and genuine inclusion of everyone; not just those students that look and sound like you.
  8. Consider crafting a statement on diversity and/or anti-racism for yourself as an educator or as a school/district to follow. We have dedicated ourselves at PATINS to our statement on anti-racism.
  9. Reach out for support. We are here to explore these issues together!

References:

Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F. & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), p. 39-56. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295

CAST. (2020). About universal design for learning. Retrieved July 29, 2020 fromhttps://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl.

Indar, G.K. (2018). An equity-based evolution of universal design for learning: Participatory design for intentional inclusivity. Retrieved June 25, 2020 fromhttps://www.learningdesigned.org/sites/default/files/Done_INDAR.EDIT_.DH_.JEG%20copy.pdf.

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Oct
28

Finding the Bright Spot

Finding the Bright Spot

Last week my colleague and friend, Bev Sharritt, reminded me how much I currently miss all of you and my fellow teammates. I think many of us can agree that virtual meetings simply aren’t the same no matter how much we may want them to be. Including this new way to work, this year has made me feel all the feelings and changed so many aspects of my daily life. It has changed the way I work, the way I socialize, the way I eat, the way I dress, the way I exercise, the list goes on. 

Nonetheless, I can’t help but try and find the silver lining in all of this change and unfamiliar territory. I suppose it’s the forever optimist in me, but when I encounter fear, I try to cling to the bright side. Here’s to hoping that some of what we’re learning and the adaptations we’re making in and out of the classroom are here to stay!

For example, this year has introduced me to more educators wanting to know how to make their materials accessible than ever before! As an accessibility advocate, this is incredibly exciting! Accessible materials level the playing field for all students and decrease the opportunity gap that too many of our students experience each and every year. I love hearing about educators working diligently and asking questions about how to make their Canvas and other learning management system courses accessible and their Bitmoji classrooms accessible on top of their digital and printed documents. 

To help support your efforts, a few of my teammates and I have put together a series of three 30-minute webinars that you can request via email for your school district as an Indiana public educator. This series includes how to create accessible materials from scratch, how to upload and publish accessible materials, and how to make inaccessible materials accessible from the student’s perspective.

Furthermore, this year has pushed us to not only think about our students’ access to our materials (representing our content), but the ways in which we engage our students and allow our students to show us what they know; this is the heart and soul of universal design for learning (UDL). We are stretching our creativity, figuring out how to use new tools for access, using virtual platforms for teaching and teletherapy successfully, and reaching students in ways we may have never thought possible. 

I also believe that 2020 has made us take a closer look at our work/life balance and how we care for our mental health. Not to say this didn’t happen because we overworked and pushed ourselves to the limit in some cases, but I’m hoping that it’s been a lesson learned to take with us into the future. Finding our boundaries and learning to say no is healthy! It’s a common phrase because it's true; we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. 

Lastly, I think or hope many of us have begun to re-evaluate how and with whom we spend our invaluable free time outside of the classroom. This year has brought me closer to the ones I love through phone calls, texts, Zoom get togethers, and sometimes in person. My quaran-team has helped me get through this year and will be there for me as we end this year and venture into what’s to come in 2021. I hope you’ve found your team and that you, too, are finding the bright spots in your experiences. 

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Oct
06

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a tangible bit of your student’s soul.

I love working for PATINS. Going into work knowing there’s something I can do to help Indiana’s public PreK-12 staff and the students they serve at no cost to them? Amazing. A true dream job. However, there is one part of this job I really, really hate because it's so preventable.

At the time of this blog publishing, it has been 19 days since the last Least Favorite Thing happened. It hurts my heart, a feeling of mad-sad unlike any other, and it makes the list as my Least Favorite Thing because it’s so easily preventable:

Back up the AAC tools.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a precious tangible bit of your student’s soul. These tools have words for family, friends, and favorite things. It’s organized and situated just right, like a perfectly organized office, where things are just the right style and everything is in its right place and no two are exactly the same. Just like the perfect office where all the most important things happen, it might burn to the ground and your student might be left with nothing. It is always heartbreaking when the tool is lost forever, sometimes life-threatening, and always preventable.

Reasons I've heard staff share while fighting back tears and screams of frustration:

  1. An art project resulting in q-tips and jello shoved into the charging port
  2. Dropped device in toilet
  3. “I don’t know, I just looked away for a minute and then suddenly all the buttons are gone!”
  4. Frisbee’d device across the room
  5. Well-meaning IT staff “updating” the device
  6. His sibling used it like a step stool to get to the kitchen counter
  7. App updates corrupted original file
  8. Left on the playground during a rainstorm
  9. “She got mad and deleted the app so she didn’t have to talk to us, but now she’d like it back.”
  10. He ate it

When backing up files, three really simple rules:

1. If it's not set up to be automatic, backup at least 4 times a year if not monthly, especially if you've done a big "vocabulary dump" or settings change.

2. Backups should be shared and shared confidentially with at least 3 people in a way that it could be retrieved in the dead of night in the middle of winter break on the way to the hospital. Google Drive, One Drive, or Drop Box are very popular options, others offer options owned by the software company.

3. Involve your student in the backup process. Talk about who sees the backups and why they're important and how to get to them. Backups, like checking the batteries in your fire alarm, aren't magical mysterious events. Involve your young students early and often and give them the opportunity to learn to advocate and direct how they want their tools, an important part of AAC competency.

Backing Up AAC Files:

These are a sampling of AAC products and directions on how to back up the files. Are you supporting software not on this list or have a tool that’s not software and need some help with backing up and using it? Please reach out to one of our AAC Specialists and we will help!

TouchChat iOS App

Proloquo2Go iOS App

LAMP Words for Life iOS App

Avaz Android and iOS App

TD Snap iOS App 

TD Snap on Windows

Empower (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NuVoice (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NovaChat devices

Speak For Yourself iOS App

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Sep
29

AAC Awareness Month

Audio Version of the AAC Awareness Blog  (4 mins)


Road barrier with red and yellow stripes and two round yellow lights with small sign “road closed”

I have heard comments like these. 

"She's stubborn or won't use the system."

"He thinks the iPad (with AAC app) is a toy." 

"He might break the device."

When I hear these, I immediately consider alternative interpretations:

She is not interested in what you are saying, doing, or requiring her to do.

You need to teach him or her how to use the device and provide engaging opportunities to communicate.

Install a secure case with a screen protector, consider mounting the device, or installing and utilizing a should strap or tether.

Observe, collect data, perform a task analysis and teach the necassary pieces that demonstrate the power of communication for each unique student!

What can you do?  Connect with the student!

Begin with determining what motivates the student. Connect with the student and family by using a Preference assessment for the family to expand. You may need to abbreviate and/or provide a visual vision (parents/caregivers can circle or check items rather than write out). Another idea would be for parents and caregivers to send a picture of favorite foods, items, activities, family members, places, etc.).

Learn how to model core vocabulary and then teach others!  Project-Core Professional Development has 12 free modules - Teaching Communication During Daily Routines and Activities Module (9 min video).

Give your students a reason to communicate instead of requiring the student to simply locate and identify icons/symbols (Yes, you will need to teach individual icons but make it fun). From the Communication Matrix (free online resource) - consider these four areas of communication:

Refuse - Teach students meaningful and more socially appropriate ways to say "no", "stop" or "I don't like this." Recognize/honor all of these messages from students and ensure access in each part of their communication system (their body, paper based, device).

Request - Provide opportunities for students to ask for things, people, repetition, more of something, commanding others, etc. Give them lots of practice!

Social - This one is essential. Most kids want to interact with peers yet complex communicators are often left out. There are numerous ways to get AAC users communicating with peers and others. Use the preference assessment information to incorporate into your student's communication system and then offer numerous opportunities for your student to share. Check out this resource for over 101 ideas for using voice output devices Single Message 101 Ideas  and Sequential Messages 101 Ideas.

Information - How can your students share and gain information? Make activities fun. Instead of focusing on simple rote tasks with the communication system, teach your student the power of sharing information (personal information, preferred activities, and asking questions).

AAC Awareness Month - many developers and companies with apps/software offer discounts in October.  

LAMP Words for Life®, TouchChat®, and Dialogue® AAC (50% off) - Oct 10-16

Assistiveware AAC Apps (extra month trial and 50% off) - Oct 11-17

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a FREE consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with one or more Specialists to review, brainstorm ideas, and generate a plan of action.

Continued professional development is vital for staying up with AT and AAC: Learn from presenters who use AAC at the free Connect With Me Conference sharing various topics. October 24-28 8-9pm ET.

Join us at the PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 2-3 at the Crowne Plaza Downtown - Union Station. Registration is open now!

Do you want to learn more? Check out the PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

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Sep
15

Synonymous

Synonymous [Definition] 


Artist Name - Recording-of-blog-15-Sep-2022-Crecelius.mp3

Every year I have the pleasure of writing my blog the week of Mexican Independence Day on September 16. And no, I am not confusing it with our beloved Cinco de Mayo, a holiday to celebrate the removal of France’s support of the Confederates via Mexico during the Civil War. This year our family has a bilateral celebration as my husband got his U.S. citizenship. We have proudly been flying our U.S. flag since the day he got his naturalization papers and on September 16th we will proudly fly our Mexican flag in its place.man wearing USA jersey smiling with U.S. flag in background

As we navigate the life of a bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural family, one of the most important things for us is to honor and celebrate both U.S. and Mexican traditions, language, and culture. Oftentimes we have to choose between the two instead of simultaneously representing both. When this happens we have to be cognizant of how to bring both back to the forefront of our lives or balance spotlighted time for each. 


 [Image: Hugo, Amanda's husband,wear USA jersey, smiling with U.S. flag in background]

When we travel to and from Mexico different documentation is required. Passports, resident cards, visas, and tourist documentation; we’ve had them all, folks! These powerful papers indicate our status and our qualifications for privileges, responsibilities, and regulations. Without this documentation we would not be able to enter into either country and there would be no defined representation of our mutual commitment to individual and/or nation.

Although students are not defined by paperwork that they carry in school systems, the Individual Education Plan (IEP)/Section 504 Plan/Individual Learning Plan (ILP) often referred to as English Learner Plan, represent a similar promise from the school to make sure that the student is provided resources, accommodations, supports, services, and opportunities to succeed. The IEP/504/ILP are all legally binding documents of which school staff are responsible for identification, creation, and most importantly, implementation. 

This documentation follows a student through grade transitions, school transfers, and ultimately to independent living/employment/higher education, making it similar to the documentation required when traveling from one country to the next. Each of these documentation forms have different core purposes. All of them are living documents in need of regular updates, as students’ skills and abilities change, placement changes, technology changes, etc. Just like our balancing of bicultural life-- when one culture will falls back to bring the other to the forefront, these documents and their purposes might not always shine simultaneously, but they concurrently exist. 

This can often happen when schools move towards Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is something to celebrate. Many schools in Indiana are leading the way in UDL by creating their own Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for students and providing school-wide accommodations, including Assistive Technology, (AT), such as text-to-speech and dictation. 

While these are impactful and noteworthy actions, the spotlight has to re-adjust for students who formally only had access to these supports through IEP/504/ILP. Meaning that through the implementation of UDL, these students will benefit from an inclusive classroom in conjunction with continued documentation of their required services, accommodations, and specialized instruction. When these occurrences happen simultaneously, balancing the spotlight honors both inclusion and specialized needs. 

As we move toward a more inclusive school environment through UDL, remember that documentation with necessary AT and AEM is still part of equitable access for all. They can exist synonomously. 

Related Webinar: 

5 part series: AT in the IEP

Part 1 and Part 2 on September 29, 2022 

Register:

AT in the IEP: Getting the Money

AT in the IEP: Boots on the Ground

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Aug
21

Grateful!

Grateful! Sandy smiling with her family.

With all the craziness going on in the world today, I wanted to take a moment to pause and to be Grateful! I consider myself to be very lucky and I am going to take this opportunity to express my gratitude. I have so many people in my life that make my life better in so many ways.

My family is a big part of my life and through this pandemic, I have been able to spend time with my parents, my daughter, her wonderful boyfriend, and my husband. We have shared so many wonderful meals, played cards and games, and worked on countless puzzles.

My daughter has also chosen this crazy period in time to join a school corporation as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I am grateful that she has a job and is able to meet the needs of her students who need her so much. I am also so grateful that PATINS and ICAM have another great advocate out in the schools and she is already raising awareness in her school. 

I also have a fantastic extended family and we have been able to play tennis and to get out and take walks. I am also so grateful that while one member of my family has contracted COVID-19 that they had very minimal symptoms and they have recovered. We also survived a COVID-19 scare with my daughter, she had Bronchitis and we were grateful for that!

I am blessed to have a magnificent group of friends that I am very grateful for. I have so many women in my life that I can reach out to. I have my tennis friends who are always there to not only hit a ball around but to listen to me and take my mind off the world for a while. I also meet every Thursday for dinner with three friends. I look forward to our night out every week. I am grateful that I can call any of these women and know that they are there for me. 

Finally, I am so grateful for my current position as the ICAM Digital Services Specialist. I have been employed by the PATINS Project since 2001, so this will be my 19th year. I have the privilege of being able to work from home for an organization that I believe has made an enormous difference in the lives of so many students, teachers, and other school personnel. Just last year, the ICAM served staff and students in over 180 school corporations! I am grateful that the work that I do is so rewarding! I hope that you will take a pause and think about everything you are grateful for, I know it made me feel better.

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Sep
14

Study Skills

My daughter and I.jpg


As I sat and pondered another topic for my blog, my mind drifted again to my daughter. So I apologize in advance, but I can’t help myself. My daughter is now at Murray State University in Grad School pursuing her dream of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist. Sorry again to those who have heard this a time or two. She Skyped me recently from her office, in her professional dress clothes, beaming with excitement as she spoke about working with her clients and using terms such as “articulation.” As many of you know the road to this accomplishment was not an easy one. She struggled along the way, but she never gave up.

We spent countless hours on spelling words. We used magnets on the refrigerator, we taped spelling words to our walls all over the house, we used flash cards, and somehow we survived spelling although I must tell you that she is still not a good speller. Luckily because of the technology available, she doesn’t have to be. She uses the tools that I taught her, she asks Siri, she uses spell check, and she loves auto-correct (most of the time)!  Looking back at the many, many hours we spent on those spelling words makes me wonder if this was an efficient use of her time.

My parents and daughter.jpg


She also was not a good test taker. To this day, I’m not sure she has figured out exactly why she struggled taking tests, but she has overcome this obstacle as well. One of the best tools I found to help her with test taking was Quizlet. It allows you to put in the information you need to study and then it has a test generating feature. You can make a multiple choice, true or false, or short answer test and practice! It will even grade it. She also used plain old paper index cards and still does. I would have bought stock in index cards if I would have known how many she would go through in her school days. What I learned along the way was that she preferred using the index cards over the electronic cards most of the time for repetitive learning which, to be perfectly honest, surprised even me.

Another realization for me was that the study skills she needed to succeed were not taught to her in school. This is such an important skill and it is often overlooked. If you need help or want to explore tools to assist in your student’s success, please contact us. You can make a big difference and some day a mom like me will thank you!


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Sep
06

Never Too Old

I have a neighbor that lives 2 doors down from me. Nancy is 90+. I respect not asking her real age, because I know several people at 29 and holding. She is sharp as a tack. She was a U.S. Ambassador for Suriname during her career and has traveled the world. Her stories and memories about our neighborhood are exciting to hear.

Unfortunately, she is far less mobile and her sight is failing. She struggles with seeing anything in a print format, for it is too small, and uses a pair of binoculars to watch TV.

I walk our Golden Retriever, Cooper, by her house and stop when she is sitting inside her screened-in porch. She enjoys petting Cooper, and he shows her a lot of attention and affection. It also gives her the opportunity to “pick my brain” about technology.

I have spent time with Nancy making sure that her technology was accessible with minimal effort and knowledge on her part. She is very interested in current verbiage she hears from her radio or television.

Last week it was, “What is streaming about?” I explained it was a way of getting content, video and audio over the Internet. Some of it is free and some has to be purchased through subscriptions like HULU, Netflix, Sling and others.

I was asked to explain those as well, because she has an endless curiosity of how technology has evolved from just a radio or a television with a pair of rabbit ears*.

Just this week she greeted Cooper and me with much excitement. “Let me show you my new best friend,” she said. She pulled out a handheld digital magnifier. She was so thrilled.

We had talked about devices in the past, but she was reluctant. At a recent eye doctor’s appointment, it was suggested she visit a specialty store on the southside of Indianapolis. Nancy decided to give it a try and visited a vendor that has been serving PATINS Stakeholders for years.

Long story short, she can now read the newspaper and her mail and does crosswords puzzles. She’s like a kid at Christmas.

*Rabbit ears were an adjustable television antenna that could be re-positioned to get the best picture reception. Sometimes placing aluminum foil on them would “amplify” the reception.

TV with Rabbit Ears on top in the shape of a V

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  1880 Hits
Jan
03

Happy New Year!

You maybe haven’t thought about it but we are 8 months away from the implementation of IN SB 217, the dyslexia law. I think of it often. I have this fear that the 2019-2020 school year will arrive and there will be those who have not prepared and are not sure where to begin. Don’t let that happen to your school. If you haven’t already, begin working toward success now as we inch towards implementation. It is not too soon, even if students with dyslexia have not been screened yet, to consider accommodations. I know, all students are different, yet there will be certain strategies you will go back to again and again.

During the PATINS Access to Education Conference 2018 in November, I entered a session where the topic of accommodations was being discussed for students with learning differences such as dyslexia. The presenters were speaking on the importance of providing text to speech software, audiobooks, and other tools that “level the playing field” for certain students.  

Someone commented that in her classroom, she was reluctant to allow the use of tools that others do not have, because “it’s not fair.” The presenter quickly pointed out that what is unfair is to deny accommodations for a student who needs them, because they are not available to the whole class. Rick Lavoie has said, fairness means that everyone gets what they need, not that everyone gets the same thing. Or, as the presenter said, “Would you take away a student’s eyeglasses because others have perfect vision?”

Making accommodations so that all students have access to content and opportunities for growth is, in effect, changing individual learning environments. So, if you create each student’s work environment according to how each student learns, you are providing appropriate accommodations. Also, you are building universally designed instruction. This is a natural flow. To keep yourself from getting swamped, think of some accommodations you can beneficially provide to everyone.


For example, when you give an assignment, make it very explicit. Tell how many pages are required. Demonstrate how to extract the pros and cons of a viewpoint. If using specific vocabulary words is required, hand out a separate list of the words to everyone, so all students can check them off as they go. Show examples and visual aids of what you expect. Allow students to ask questions and clarify until everyone understands gets it. If a student returns to you to revisit the instructions, this is no time to say “I told you once.” Everyone should understand the assignment before they begin and as they move forward.

Which leads to the matter of drafts, or revisions of writing assignments. Thinking back to my school days, turning in a couple of drafts for teacher suggestions and re-writes was offered for “term papers” in high school. This would also be helpful on everyday assignments because it will help improve grades for strugglers, and it will help students get in a habit of checking over their own work. This is a learned skill, best taught early.

Allow extra time for in-class assignments. For everyone. Once you know your students, and know which ones do not need extra time, it might be appropriate to pair that student with one who needs more support. Even if your school does not implement a Peer-Buddy System, teachers can improvise one informally during specific classes. Until the teacher and students get the hang of this, the teacher will need to closely monitor the process. Expect such pairings to be advantageous for both students, for it can increase awareness of difference and sameness, tolerance and helpfulness, confidence and trust. Win/Win!

Everything suggested here will take time. Sometimes, if a task is not a standard, or not required, the time factor may seem unjustifiable. However, we are changing learning environments to accommodate students with dyslexia and we are long overdue.

Any of the PATINS Specialists can help you build a learning environment using Universal Design. Also, we post relevant information on the PATINS/ICAM Dyslexia Resources Page, and the IDOE continues to share guidance on their own Dyslexia Resources Page. Joe Risch, who is the new Reading Specialist with Training in Dyslexia for the state, gives some great answers to need-to-know questions. You are covered in a blanket of support. Happy New Year!




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  1667 Hits
Aug
14

Whatever Happened to Civics?

My sister Linda is fourteen years older than me. So the year I was born, she began high school. She taught me how to count and sing and write my name and read and spell. There were three more children between us who may have encouraged these tasks, as did our parents, but she took seriously her role as the “older sister”, which was of great benefit to me in many ways, over many many years. And counting.

I loved looking at Sister’s textbooks; they fascinated me. I had only children’s storybooks, with gold painted on their little spines. I loved my books, but her books were great objects of mystery. One of her favorite classes was called Civics*. The cover of the book was dark blue and plain, but inside were amazing, unsettling photographs--a building burning, men arguing in a courtroom, people carrying picket signs in front of a school, soldiers standing at salute, a hand on a Bible, a circle of women raising their fists. I didn’t know what Civics was, but I loved the pictures.

When I began 1st grade, Linda was off to college.
By the time I got to high school, there no longer was a class called Civics. Now we had Social Studies. That class had a nice textbook, with color photographs of people in daily life in cultures far away. Dark-skinned men trudging through jungles wearing loincloths made from animal hides, bare-breasted women in bright woven skirts, carrying babies and baskets of grain. I wasn’t nearly as serious and percipient about that as I’d like to remember. So much giggling. 

We also had U.S. History*. That was largely about our presidents and their backstories, American inventors, the Industrial Revolution. Important to know, very interesting, but I do not recall discussions about why laws were written and passed, or which laws were left up to the states. We didn’t discuss the appropriate actions to take if we saw a Policeman act in a way we felt was wrong. Or the results on future employment and other endeavors after one has been incarcerated.

Linda and I recently spoke of our different school memories, and she said something stunning:

“By the time your generation needed Civics class, they had quit teaching it. Schools stopped teaching teenagers how to be good citizens; how to thrive in and support their communities, their state, our country. The United States was at several crucial crossroads, and while there were strong voices shouting their views and there were few good maps.” *

Hmmm. Perhaps that depended on where one lived? Or if one grew up in a family that discussed current events from an historical perspective

We talked about the political/social icons of my generation, as she was raising young children: the Ban the Bomb emblem (aka ‘Peace Sign’). The red, white and blue VOTE patches we sewed on our bell-bottoms. The Uncle Sam Wants You! posters. The POW bracelets we wore to honor soldiers in Viet Nam who went missing in action. We participated with enthusiasm even though we didn’t fully understand. 

Many of us were not natural-born activists, and our interests ran to football games and dances more than Poli/Sci. Civics class would surely have helped mold our thinking and would have better prepared us for the world. 

The real puzzle is, why was it decided that Civics would no longer be taught in American public schools? Did a committee decide that instruction in our duties as citizens would somehow impede our process of becoming free thinkers?

Five decades later and still America is muddling through the same entangling and destructive social ills as it always has: racism, sexism, classism. Problems that result from illegal immigration, like detainment, family separation, and disease spread due to overcrowded conditions. Climate change, unemployment, income inequality. Disability law, freedom of speech, international travel laws.

These are important issues that depend upon our democracy. We should be teaching students to be informed about the civil rights of themselves and others. Kids should leave high school with a base understanding of how our federal government works, and how their local government works within it. I’m probably not the only adult in the room who has a rudimentary understanding of many such topics. Of course, we tend to become more informed when an issue touches us specifically in some profound way.

So maybe teachers and parents just start talking about it. This is a win-win, as we’ve seen the best way to learn something is to teach it. Discuss scenarios between someone who comes from a place of privilege and an obvious underdog. What unites and divides such individuals? Can this be fixed? Open conversations about racial tension kids may experience or see on the news and discuss ways we can become a solution, not another problem. What values are we purporting, in the ways we interact with certain students, or teachers or parents? We all know we lead by example, so are we setting good ones?

Sister is right. Kids need a map. We can help our kids learn how to help others. How to ponder and talk about hard subjects, and how to navigate the maze of social turmoil by thinking and engaging their friends, schools and society at large. The pandemic is forcing students and teachers to find new approaches to teaching and learning. So maybe this is the perfect time to work a renewed Civic awareness into our lessons, no matter what subject we teach.

Check here for suggestions on engaging children in civic matters, and learn how each of the United States is working toward greater Civic understanding. There is much work to be done.

Thanks so much!

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  1489 Hits
Jul
25

No Shelf Life On Learning

On the first day of school, thousands of students will arrive at schools, carrying their newly stocked backpacks, some may be wearing new clothes, and all of them will be hearing an internal dialogue that will be positive or negative, depending. Depending on many things. We all know how that works.

Of these students, approximately 1 in 5 will also show up with  a reading disability that requires expedient and effective interventions. At risk of sounding like a 1-string banjo, my reference is to dyslexia. Indiana Senate Law 217, a.k.a. “the new dyslexia law” is now officially implemented. In case you did not spend part of your summer reading Overcoming Dyslexia (Dr. Sally Shaywitz) or becoming an Orton-Gillingham-based scholar by other methods, do not feel discouraged. There is no shelf life to learning. And if you did spend time preparing for the requirements of this bill, kudos to you. As you know, there is an endless supply of knowledge on dyslexia to be gained.

Take every possible opportunity to learn something about dyslexia. Open the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, leave the website open and during the day whenever you have a moment of peace, read something. Share what you learn with your colleagues, ask questions, trade tricks and tips. As your understanding of dyslexia builds, so will your confidence and competence for guiding students’ paths to meaningful learning. 

Become familiar with the information and resources that are posted on the IDOE: Dyslexia web page. Joseph Risch is the Reading Specialist trained in Dyslexia for the state and will make sure that guidance posted there is relevant and current.

Dyslexia is a reading disability from organic dysfunction but not all students in this category will qualify for ICAM services, which requires an IEP.

If a student has already been identified to receive special education services and has a current IEP, or if this identification is made in the future, then that student may receive specialized formats of learning materials through the ICAM. Please contact the ICAM team for details and support.


This will include a free subscription to Learning Ally audiobooks. Digital formats, particularly audio formats prove over and again to be a leveling tool for struggling readers. Before changing the company name to Learning Ally, it was known by RFB&D, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Learning Ally by any name has always understood it's target, and the staff works to develop pertinent products that help students experience success. 

Create more than one way to teach what you teach. Design lessons that work through multiple pathways to the brain. Teaching students with dyslexia fits perfectly in the UDL-Universal Design for Learning-- framework. Contact a PATINS Specialist for help in presenting your content through the lens of UDL.

Plan to use as much technology as is appropriate and possible—iPads, audiobooks, spell-check, text-leveling, text-to-speech, speech-to-text. Let AT and AEM help you help your students. Again, the PATINS team can offer suggestions and answer questions. All PATINS Specialist love technology and love talking about it-Just ask! Invite them to your school! 

Know that if an approach or strategy is good for teaching students with dyslexia, it is useful and appropriate for all students. They may not need that extra support but it will not impede their own learning process in any way. For them it will be another layer to learning. 

Know that there will be class periods or even days that you feel overwhelmed and impatient. Step back, take a break, use self-calming techniques. Look at the big picture, then move forward. The steps to implementation and understanding the nuances to IN SB 217 will not be easy. However this process will be rewarding to you, and life-changing for your students.

In your classroom, model acceptance, kindness and respect; require the same of everyone who enters. When students feel safe and know their input is valued, essential learning will happen. 

Thanks so much!


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  2155 Hits
Feb
02

Social Stories in the Classroom

Recently a friend, an educator, asked me for advice on a student with autism who was sweet natured, but lacked friends because he was a grabber: of food, milk, books, toys, whatever he wanted, he grabbed, and his classmates disliked him. I suggested using a social story. She was unfamiliar.

When I first learned about Social Stories, it was as though I had discovered pencils; here was a simple tool that could have profound effects in my classroom that included 4 students identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 as a tool to help individuals with ASDs respond to others and to situations more appropriately. More complex stories may be used with higher functioning students, however my students were younger and still learning basic skills, in many cases, with limited support from home. I had participated in a full-day workshop of strategies for reaching students with ASDs, and social stories were my light-bulb take-away. Implementation was immediate.

One afternoon I met with my classroom assistants for several hours of brainstorming. We discussed frequent stressful situations and wrote social stories for those. High stress times were: upon arrival at school, before lunch, before bus-boarding, intercom announcements, and any occurrence that was out of the ordinary, such as a whole-school assembly, or a fire or tornado drill. Other situations included another student having a meltdown, being asked to end a preferred activity, or being presented with food that was not a favorite, at breakfast or lunch.

We used positive words to guide the students to appropriate behavior; for instance, instead of saying “When the bell rings I will not throw a fit” say “When the bell rings, it is time to go home.” Writing the stories for the students was fun, and we shared a few good belly-laughs as we
wrote stories for each other! Following is a story for a 4th grader.


When the Bell Rings

When the bell rings, it is time to go home.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home, I can play with my dog.

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

I will get in line behind Teacher. I will walk to the bus.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home I will see Mama and play with my dog.

Stories can of course be personalized: My name is Charlie. When I go home I can play with (my dog) Hank. More generic ones may be used with several students, for our class we decided that was best in many cases. We typed, printed, and laminated the stories we created, and filed them in a basket on my desk. Once we began using them, we’d find them everywhere at the end of a day. A story would be grabbed in a hurry, read with a student, and left behind. I found them with the corners chewed, damp, sometimes stuffed in a desk. It did not matter—the stories worked, by preparing students for changes ahead, limiting outbursts, and giving them some power over their behavior. We were fairly consistent in recording behaviors, which should be done to measure progress. In addition to the stories for recurrent issues, my assistants and I became quite proficient at writing stories off-the-cuff, as needed. If you have card-stock paper and a Sharpie pen, you can write a story in a minute. Later you can add pictures and make it look nice.

I talked to the General Education teachers about the stories, and we designed stories for behaviors they saw when my students were with them. One of the teachers had a cd and license for Boardmaker, this was another life-changer, since my students preferred stories with pictures. I had also used free resources from Do2Learn and am happy to see they’ve expanded services and added color to their web site. When you click a heading, look for the green tabs: Free Area. There are printable symbol cards, teaching resources and more.

Of course this sounds like old-school. Now there are on-line resources, and many of you may be using these. And some of you may be like me, and will have a head smacking moment.

There are myriad social stories on YouTube --just search on the social or academic skill you need to address. You will want to preview the stories before presenting to your students; some are just too long; some characters may have an annoying voice for a particular student. Social stories are great for teaching skills such as sharing and taking turns, as well as more complex issues such as expecting a new baby in the home. Check out One Place for Special Needs and Small Steps, Big Skills from Sandbox Learning; the latter provides options for designing individualized stories by creating student profiles so the child in the story physically resembles the student.  

The use of digital social stories requires planning, preparation and time. For example, after you preview and choose an appropriate story, you will need to upload it to the student’s device. If you personalize it, there is another step. Some may find it is effective to use a combination of digital and hand-designed social stories. You may want to review a few guidelines before you begin, and soon you will be able to execute a story quickly for nearly any situation. Parents will also find social stories helpful for home-life skills, so please share your resources.  

On a lighter note, once I began writing social stories for my students, I would sometimes find myself in circumstances where I felt that adults could use a social story: Can you imagine when you encounter a grouchy or inattentive server while eating out?

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

When I have a customer, I will be helpful, patient, and kind.

This is my job.

When I do my job nicely, we all feel better.

Social Stories could lead to a kinder, gentler world. Which could start in your classroom!

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  4034 Hits

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