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Jun
25

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020. Blog title above a group of people waving.

We often tell our students “you're more than a number”, meaning they have incredible qualities that are difficult to measure in a standardized manner. Creativity and grit are a few of these tricky to quantify metrics. Now, it’s not only Indiana students who have amazing, unmeasurable talents, our educators do too. And one there is one that was particularly evident during the 2019-2020 school year - determination. Specifically, a determination to educate their students whether the learning environment was the classroom or home.

Check out the graphic below showing the support PATINS/ICAM staff have provided this school year. While you’re looking at it, please remember, behind each number is a determined Indiana educator:

A general educator from College Park Elementary in MSD of Pike Township who attended the “Accessibility in Canvas and Beyond” webinar by Jena Fahlbush benefited from having another perspective - “Seeing examples of a screen reader helped me so much. I realized I was unknowingly doing so many things that would make learning more difficult for a student with low vision. After the session, I was able to make fast, easy fixes that will make learning more accessible. I also learned many tips and tricks to help students with hearing impairments or language needs as well.”

A special educator from Binford Elementary School in Monroe County Community School Corporation who can spend her time more efficiently after learning about new, free tools at Jessica Conrad’s “I Love Data 2” training - “I am so excited about Google Data Studio!! I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent trying to pull multiple pieces together into easy-to-read graphs/charts. Game changer!”

A cost-conscious instructional coach at an elementary in Elwood Community School Corporation who attended “DIY Fidgets & Sensory Tools to Enhance Continuous Learning” with Bev Sharritt, Jena Fahlbush, Katie Taylor, Kelli Suding, and Lisa Benfield - “I love these easy, affordable ideas that teachers can easily create at home for student use.”

Note: Indiana public/charter school employees can request any of the above trainings at no-cost.


Indiana Educator Reach by the PATINS Project 2019-2020

  • 1,000+ Tech Expo registrants: PATINS/ICAM staff, with the assistance of IN*SOURCE, swiftly pivoted to a new platform due to COVID-19 and successfully held the first ever, virtual Tech Expo 2020! Also, in November we hosted over 400 attendees at our 2-day Access to Education 2019 conference.
  • 6,044 Training participants: The passion Indiana educators have for providing all students access to the curriculum is unmatched as evidenced by the outstanding turnout at our no-cost trainings this school year.
  • 73% Indiana public and charter schools reached: The PATINS Project has served seventy-three percent of Indiana school corporations and forty-two percent of Indiana preschool through grade 12 schools this year. Our small, dedicated staff goes to great lengths to deliver high-quality technical assistance to meet the access needs of all students through Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, and Universal Design for Learning.
  • 10,600+ Material and assistance requests fulfilled: Need to trial an assistive technology device? Have a question about Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)? Looking for information on the Universal Design for Learning framework? PATINS/ICAM staff are Indiana educators' go-to resource for improving access to the curriculum which leads to increased literacy skills.

Are you an educator behind one of these numbers? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

Want to be a part of the Indiana educators making education accessible in 2020-2021? Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Apply by July 31, 2020 to be one of the Indiana school corporations in our next AEMing for Achievement grant cohort.
  • Register for the first ever virtual Access to Education 2020! ($100 for 2 days, $50 for a single day)
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Mar
19

What Does Distance Learning Look Like Anyway?

What a year this week has been.

Just look at all the massive steps forward we’ve taken as a society in the name of accessibility for all students!

It’s no doubt that every foot has been on the ground making the transition to distance learning possible and to minimize the disruption of key educational services. This week has proved that nothing can stand in the way of educators getting support to their students. From district-wide initiatives, such as continuing to provide daily meals and mobilizing buses to grant Wi-Fi access throughout the community to the administrators broadcasting read alouds (yay for reading with our eyes and our ears!) and over 60 educators spending their Tuesday night with first ever hybrid #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat and Zoom meeting (captioned recorded video to come soon). We’ve all embraced accessibility in many aspects of our lives quicker than I think some of us realize. 

Educators (and that now includes parents/adults at home) - You may feel like your kids didn’t learn anything this week. You may feel out of sorts and wondering how this is going to be sustainable until May 1, as announced by Governor Holcomb a few hours ago. You may feel like you’re recovering from a bout of whiplash because what is distance learning supposed to look like anyway? 

The good news is I can tell you what distance learning looks like - it looks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL)! And you’re probably already doing it...

Multiple means of engagement - “Which book are you choosing today?”

Multiple means of representation - “You’d rather listen to that as an audiobook. Okay, I know that helps you recall the information better.”

Multiple means of action & expression - “I can see sitting and writing a paragraph on what happened in the book is difficult for your right now. How about you choose from drawing a picture, creating a video, or another way you had in mind to retell the story.”

Now, the flexibility UDL allows can help eliminate barriers for many of our students but our efforts still need to be flexible, specialized, and with a keen eye on accessibility. A paper packet of work sent home with a student with dyslexia is inaccessible. A student with limited communication still needs a way to express themselves at home (and they probably need some additional fringe words to describe what they’re feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic). A parent with hearing loss may not be able to hear the instructions for e-learning if their are no captions.

So what can you do?

Continue to think about potential barriers. Check-in with the students and their families to see how it’s going. The PATINS Project has compiled a webpage with resources for continuous learning which will help ensure the presentation of your content is accessible and allows all your families to feel successful.


Visit PATINS/ICAM specialists open office hours. These are now held twice a day at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM EST each weekday to address questions, concerns, brainstorm, anything you need to figure out. We believe all students can continue to make progress during distance learning.


Learn about educational technology and services at the first-ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE 2020. Registration is open until April 6, 2020, and is no-cost for you.
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Dec
19

A Lesson Learned from My Winter Break Disaster

I lack, what my husband calls, “mechanical empathy”. Basically, I can’t tell how durable an item is and push it far beyond its limits.

Case in point - I was home from college for the winter holidays and went to take a shower. The hot water knob was stuck so I gave it a good yank and I, a person who can’t do a push-up, ripped the knob clean off the wall. 

(If you’ve ever wondered what why Chip & Joanna always turn off the waterline before replacing anything in the bathroom, you’ll soon find out why.)

WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH.

A constant flow of water was aggressively hitting the opposite wall of the shower...5 feet away. To steal a line from my students, “I was shook.” First, that I was actually holding something that had been welded directly to the wall. Second, that the bathroom was quickly turning into Niagara Falls. Detached knob in hand, I screamed for anyone in the house to turn off the water. Quickly, my brother cut the waterline and a few hours later my uncle stopped by to survey and fix my destruction. I felt very fortunate to have my family clean up my mess, literally.

You’re probably thinking, “How did she get hired by PATINS?” Luckily, the Assistive Tech Lending Library, filled with devices, are far from my reach. Your loan items are safe, Indiana.

I tell you this story to remind you that educational tools and devices are objects that can be fixed or replaced. Plus, there is always someone close by to help you. While we ask that you treat borrowed items carefully and return them in clean, working order so our two Lending Library Managers, Carrie and Sheri, can speedily pack them up for the next eager borrower, we understand that life happens. If you’re anything like me, you breathe easier knowing that PATINS/ICAM specialists can be your emergency “Help-it’s-broke!” lifeline when a borrowed app stops working, the device won’t turn on, or you’re missing an important cord/connector.


You can trust the PATINS family will be there for you from start to finish all year long no matter the size of the problem.




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Dec
12

The One Question I Ask All Students

What is the most interesting thing you learned?

Why is this the one question I ask all students? It seems simple at first, but this question alone has given me vivid insight into who my students are at their core while sneakily working on enhancing language skills. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Build rapport. Instead of relying on the "About Me" worksheets students fill out once in July or August, you can keep the lines of communication open between you and your students all year long. We all know what's cool one minute, is out the next anyways.

2. Work on skill deficits. With this one question alone, SLPs (and anyone working in the school) can help foster social skills, correct use of conjunctions, and expanding verbal/written sentence length. For social skills, students can work on turn taking, topic maintenance, asking follow up questions, perspective taking and reading nonverbal cues. For example, "What do you think X found interesting? How do you know?" If students answer with a simple sentence, you can use a visual of conjunctions to prompt them for more information. FANBOYS is always a favorite.

3. Find out what they've truly learned. Wait 10-15 minutes, a class period, or even a day and then ask what they found interesting from an earlier lesson. It may be a small detail you've glanced over that actually piqued their interest while they may have forgotten about information needed for the test. Now, you know what needs re-teaching.

4. Learn more about what engages them and use that information for future lessons. Students may reveal surprising interests such as loving opera music or a passion for tornado chasing. These are two real life interests brought up by my former students and you bet these were incorporated in more than one speech session.

5. There is no "wrong" answer. It's a low stress way for students to participate who may not otherwise felt confident enough to speak up with their ideas. Even if they say nothing was interesting, they can explain why and what can be different next time.  

As you can see, "What is the most interesting thing you learned?" packs a lot of educational "punch" with virtually no material preparation (unless you choose to - this could easily be done on a Padlet, white board, or other discussion format should you like a record of it).

Weave this question into your school day and comment below your thoughts on my all-time favorite question. 




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Sep
12

Would You Rather? - Educator Edition

Let’s have a little fun and play the age-old classic, “Would You Rather”. The rules are simple. Pick either the first option or the second option. Then, explain the reason for your choice. You cannot change or combine the options. This is always a popular game with students. You can easily target turn taking, perspective taking, reasoning, and listening skills during the game. There are tons of pre-generated “Would You Rather” questions online for students. I made this Educator Edition just for you. Play this by yourself, with colleagues at lunch, or as an icebreaker at a staff meeting.


So, would you rather:
  1. Use brand new colored pens or a smart pen (like the LiveScribe 3) to take notes?
  2. Have a former student send you a heartfelt email or have a current student grasp a tricky concept?
  3. Start the school day at 5 AM and end early or start at 10 AM and end later in the evening?
  4. Get educational tips from PATINS TV Youtube Channel or PATINS Pages eNewsletter?
  5. Connect with other Indiana educators on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram?
  6. Participate in a webinar or an in-person session?
  7. Wear jeans every day of the year or… (Actually, nothing compares to that luxury, am I right?).
  8. Attend Access to Education or the Tech Expo?

Speaking of Access to Education, the 2019 conference is right around the corner! The session grid is posted and wow! I am excited for all the innovative, amazing speakers coming this year. What I love most about the conference is that we all have the chance to speak one-on-one with leaders in the educational field. It’s an opportunity unlike any other to pick their brains for even more ideas for specific students. Please take a moment to register yourself and a co-worker or two. 

I hope you enjoyed this quick game. I'd love to know what your top picks are in the comments below!
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Sep
05

Middle Schoolers Need the Most Support

Is it just me or do other middle-level educators feel left out? The search for age-appropriate, engaging materials for teens on Teachers Pay Teachers or Pinterest is like a scene from Indiana Jones.

I think the dearth of resources stems from a perception that middle school is a short layover standing in the way of the exciting trip that is high school. I’m here to dispel this myth and shout from the rooftops: Don’t forget about middle school!

Middle schoolers look older physically, have grown emotionally, and/or have overcome some deficits in elementary school, but that doesn’t mean they need less support or less engaging work. As the complexity of curriculum content increases, our students’ weaknesses become more apparent to both themselves and to their peers. In an attempt to cover their struggles, they may not directly ask for support. Not knowing how/when to ask for help, peer pressure, or a combination of both may cause this. They may show they need support only through their behaviors (i.e. long bathroom breaks, acting poorly to be sent out of class, attempts to cheat, etc). Don’t dismiss these signs as merely “bad” behavior. Middle school is the last push to gain skills before classes begin to count as credits toward graduation. The students know it and need you to help them now. 

Where other resources have let you down, I’m here for your 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers! These are my favorite no-cost and low cost tools for working on reading and writing skills with this age level:
  • Expanding Expression Tool (EET) - This is very popular with elementary students since the main teaching tool is a cute caterpillar named EETCHY. For your mature middle schoolers, leave EETCHY in the box and dig up the note card sized outlines for writing pieces such as biographies and summaries. Indiana public school educators can borrow the whole EET set from the Assistive Technology Lending Library.
  • SMMRY - An online summarizing tool that can be used to scaffold the skill of pulling out important information or to save your time while conducting research. Great for students learning a second language or students overwhelmed when a ton of information is presented at once.
  • TweenTribune - Fascinating articles on current popular topics that get students talking! Each one is about a page or two long. These are a total win for middle school teachers since they are sorted by grade and lexile level.
  • UDL Lesson Plan Creator - We all know tweens and teens crave freedom. While designing with UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in mind has a host of benefits, this tool is particularly helpful in developing lesson plans which give students the ability to direct and control their own learning.
We appreciate you middle school teachers and the ingenious ways you keep learning fun! I hope you find these resources helpful. I’d love to hear what your favorite resources or lessons are. Drop a line in the comments below.


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May
29

Gas Up the RV. It's Time for Speech Therapy!

My classmate burst through the teal trimmed door smiling from ear to ear. All of us were instantly distracted from our silent reading to a simple object in his hand. A blob of bright red, sticky slime. Another classmate whispered to him “Where did you get it?” To which the beaming student replied, “I got it at the band!”

“What?!” I thought. “ Why didn’t I know about this band? And they give prizes?! Sign me up!”

I stomped all the way home fuming that my mom didn’t tell me about the school band. My mom, genuinely confused, said she hadn’t heard about it either. A few days went by and my mom mentioned it to my teacher who laughed and said there was, in fact, no band. However, the student was most likely referring to “the van”, which was actually a gigantic RV stationed in our school parking lot where the speech-language pathologist had an office. One master’s degree later, I can confidently say the band/van mystery is solved and that student was appropriately identified for services.

To close out Better Speech and Hearing month this May, let's give a shout out to all those SLPs who’ve had offices in janitors closets and mobile homes, shared offices, moved offices (with or without notice), or had no office. You know it’s not the space that’s important, it’s the quality of the therapy provided. You can serve students anywhere because communication is everywhere!

What’s unique about PATINS specialists is that they also work in all types of "offices" as they train in classrooms, schools, and districts. They’ve seen it all and have helped you UDL-ify your space. In the next couple of days, our specialists will be traveling to Summer of eLearning conferences near you, Indiana educators. If you can’t make it to any of those, check out our new Professional Development Guide to request a no-cost training or have us design one for you. PATINS will provide virtual or in-person training no matter the size of your space.

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve taught students?  


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Feb
21

#ThrowbackThursday - Look at the Past & Future

#WayBackWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and the #10YearChallenge are opportunities for us to peek back into history. I love seeing these types of posts because it reminds me how small changes in the past lead to impressive results in the future.

Have you read the PATINS Project’s fascinating origin story yet? I recently did. It's amazing that as I was learning my ABCs & 123s in a small, Cincinnati school, many dedicated educators were setting the foundation for the PATINS Project to bring access to all students one state away. Have a #ThrowbackThursday party of your own and take a look at Glenda’s 2016 post about the history of the PATINS Project.

After reading it, I realized that PATINS/Staff as a whole, both past & present, are forward thinkers. No idea is too simple or too outlandish. Never have I heard, “We do it that way because that’s how it’s always been done.” New ideas are met with “Tell me more!” This is a rare quality to find organization-wide and it has led to successful initiatives like the AEMing for Achievement grant.

Forward thinkers don’t rest on their laurels, so what does PATINS have in store for you in the future?

In early April, we’ll be hosting the PATINS Tech Expo 2019 in partnership with IN*SOURCE with vendors and non-profits from around the nation sharing the latest educational tools and support services. Before you talk yourself out of it due to cost or time commitment, there is no cost... and it is only one day off your calendar. Trust me, the resources you gain will help your students ten-fold.

Furthermore, we’ll be releasing videos like Success Stories featuring students and surprising dedicated educators with Starfish Awards. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these fellow Hoosiers!

Did you see we added a new Extended Chat option for #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat? If you can’t meet us at 8:30 PM EST on Tuesdays, now you have the rest of the week to join the conversation.

As always our Specialists & ICAM staff members are updating their trainings to include topics important to stakeholders and our Lending Library is consistently updated with the latest and greatest tools for you to borrow.

Signing up for our monthly eNewsletter is the easiest way to stay up to date with everything new at PATINS.

Now, I ask you to reflect. How have our services shaped your district, school, students, or even you over the years? What do you hope to see from PATINS in the future? Comment to let us know. :)

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Nov
15

Everyday UDL

When I heard we could invite a guest blogger, I knew who mine would be from the get-go. Introducing my former college study buddy, roommate for many years, and always my professional/life guide, Sammi Bowyer.

Currently, there are two preschools in Indiana lucky to have her as their Speech-Language Pathologist. Her incredible optimism and #AvidReader* status lend well to providing the highest quality services for our students.

Sammi & Jen standing next to the

*
#AvidReader is someone who loves reading, reads a lot, and isn’t ashamed to flaunt it.  

Now, when you hear Universal design for learning (UDL), do you think, “Great, one more thing I have to do...?” It’s okay if you do. But, before you click out of the page, keep reading. I think you’ll find Sammi’s take a common-sense way to look at the importance of incorporating UDL in the classroom as we empower and show care for all our students.

--

When I think about UDL, I think about the unique interests of my students, how I can teach a concept in multiple formats, and the many ways in which my students share with me what they know. By utilizing UDL, I work to remove barriers so all my students are able to use their unique skill sets as learners and people. My targets for what I need to teach them doesn’t shift, but rather the ways in which they can go about learning and demonstrating their knowledge can.

We use the three principles of UDL, representation, expression, and engagement, all the time in our everyday lives. For example, think about the expression principle the next time you are completing a task at work, researching something new, or offering help to a friend in need. Then, think about all the different ways you might be able to reach your end goal. Chances are that one of those ways will stick out as making the most sense for you, but it might not be the same way that your spouse, your child, your co-worker, or your friend would approach the same task.

When we utilize UDL in the classroom, we are modeling for our students that their ideas are valued.

--

If you want to learn more about how to put UDL into practice in your classroom, I highly recommend registering for Access to Education 2018 by Nov. 21st. Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana Director of Special Education, and Dr. Kelly J. Grillo, 2018 Florida Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Marjorie Crick Teacher of the Year, lead the way with inspiring keynotes followed by great breakout sessions!

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Sep
29

Just skip to the butterflies

 

Have you seen the photo of the fastest man in the world guiding a Paralympian with blindness while training for her own Olympic quest? Usain Bolt showed up for this event not knowing exactly how to guide (he worried he might run too fast--seems legitimate!) But he showed up, nonetheless, to guide Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter competing in the 200 meter run.

This recent image in the news encapsulates the vision for educational teams working with students who have blindness and low vision in Indiana schools. We want students to achieve to their highest potential whether their race for the year is to complete AP World History, or learn how to cook some great Indian food like their mom. Many who might guide and teach them have similar worries as Usain, wondering,

“will I go too fast?”

“How do I share visual cues with someone who does not have sight?”

“How the heck does a student with blindness use an iPad?”

Because the particular disability of blindness occurs in such low incidence, many teachers may never have a child with this need in their classroom. Those that do, may never repeat the process. In my experience as a teacher for the blind and low vision, I witnessed a predictable emotional timeline for each school year for staff dealing with this particular new need in their classroom:

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Starting with the initial fear phase, and gradually coming to a settling-in phase, and ending with the this-kid-with-blindness-is-just-a-kid-after-all phase. My career quest has become to find ways to pole vault over those first 6 weeks of freaking out--not an easy task, as folks have deep seated fears regarding blindness. So as fearless as Usain Bolt may seem, his hesitance to guide comes naturally.

The guidelines for being an effective running partner from the AFB (American Federation for the Blind) organization United in Stride apply in many ways to the races we are running with our students toward their educational, social, and expanded core curriculum goals.

Highlighting a few from their website:

  1. Let the runner set the pace.

  2. Communicate often.

  3. Be patient.

  4. Accept correction as a way to improve your guiding skills.

If you read these, and let them sink in for a moment, you’ll realize that they can be further boiled down to: let the runner/student maintain most of the control for the process, and listen to them. Like many other challenges we face with fearing those who have differences from us, the remedy to fear is spending some time with, and getting to know the person. Ask them about their blindness, and the challenges they face, but also ask them about what kind of running shoes they prefer, and what movies they saw this summer.

After making a connection, seek the resources available for answering the questions about visual cues, access, and iPads. In addition to your local teacher for the blind and low vision who will be your point person for accommodating your student’s needs, PATINS has added my position as specialist to help teams sort through, and implement the amazing advancements in technology available for students with visual needs. I’m excited to be your coach for pole vaulting over the fear,  sprinting past the fear,  wrestling fear to the ground (insert your favorite sports analogy here).

We’ve got some exhilarating races ahead of us!


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Jan
20

Exploding Kittens Bringing Folks Together


We had a delightful few days at the Sharritt’s over Christmas vacation when my daughter, her husband, my son, and his fiancée were all at the farm with us. We ate rich foods, fought over choice spots on the couch, and spent some time playing games.


My son introduced us to a new card game, Exploding Kittens, which is a cross between Uno, Old Maid, and the Broadway show Cats. The illustrations of the kitties that can be matched in order to earn a free draw from another player are funny--my favorite is Tacocat (a palindrome). The goal of the game is to be the final player who has avoided drawing an exploding kitten card. The key is to be holding “defuse” cards (belly rub, laser pointer, etc.), and strategies involve knowing how many volatile kittens are where, and knowing when to play directional cards including “shuffle”, “attack”, “skip”, “favor” and “nope.”

The card, and word “defuse” worked its way into my brain, and I woke up in the middle of the night a few days later thinking about the game, and at the same time, special education. I could try to figure out the thought cocktails produced in my brain blender at 3 am, or just run with them. . . here goes.

I was thinking about a Twitter chat session that PATINS had hosted as a discussion about special education teachers working with their general education peers. Twitter chat may sound as strange to you as Exploding Kittens so I’ll explain.

Twitter chat is where people with the same interests get on Twitter at the same agreed upon time and tweet about a topic together. They “see” the conversation by adding a hashtag to their tweets--as everyone uses the hashtag, new comments and answers appear. There is an assigned moderator for the sessions who posts questions. The pace is rapid, and lively; think dinner conversation for a big table. You may be listening to one end of the table, and then drawn into a comment from your other side. You will miss some things, but might engage more deeply with others nearby, and I suppose you may just be shouting out to no one in some instances.


I did not use Twitter much before becoming a specialist at PATINS. I had an account, but gravitated more towards Facebook and Instagram. My tendency towards reserved listening makes me a little anxious in this media, and I struggle to hit the “tweet” button sometimes, fearing that I’m blurting something weird, incomprehensible, or offensive #tri-(ump)-fecta. Poet Bev, though, really relishes the challenge of distilling my thoughts into a precise 140 characters or less, so it’s slowly growing on me #wordwhittle.

So, the game, and education. I’ve heard teaching kindergarten (mostly lovingly) described as herding cats so let’s start there. In today’s classrooms of all levels, we are faced with the challenge of reaching students of many varied backgrounds, abilities, and needs. Designing instruction for all to have access is as complex as herding felines. You want success for all, and no exploding of any kittens. In the work of both special education and general education, you are faced with opportunities to undermine the other, and hold your cards closely, or form alliances to the success of Beardcat and Hairy Potatocat alike.

In the game played at our house, parents and in-laws were eliminated, leaving my son and daughter in a one to one marathon of Exploding Kitten twists and turns. Ben and Grace went back and forth, alternately yelling, pleading, but, most often, laughing. Someone won, someone ran out of defuse cards and exploded, but the process itself was most delightful to witness.

The process of general educators and special educators coming together may also look like sibling rivalry sometimes.

“The principal likes you best!”

“I always have to do all the things!”

“You got a better room than me!”

But in my experience, taking the time to do the beautiful and hard work of universal design benefits everyone in the end. The recent research and emphasis on universal design in the classroom, and how it can overcome student learning barriers is something we are tweeting about every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m at PATINS. Follow the hashtag #PatinsIcam to sit with us at the table. We’re nice, and sometimes downright poetic. Just listen (also known as lurking), or chime in.  For some helpful hints on how to participate you can go here.

My favorite card in the Exploding Kittens game is “See the Future” which allows you to pick up the next three cards in the draw pile to see what goodies or perils await. For teachers, let’s share this future with each other--if explosions await, let's use them together to detonate any obstacles we see for our students.


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May
03

May Marvels

It’s May, and some of my favorite days are in May. I know the voyage of summer is near when the light green mist in the woods becomes the solid green flag of all the maple leaves unfurling at once. This happens in the course of just a few May days. Did you see it?

We have a few dozen peony bushes in our yard left over from our flower farming days. I love the heavy fuchsia blooms that usually open around Memorial Day, but over the years I’ve learned to watch for the gorgeous dark red shoots that emerge through the spring grass, and I love their form and fortitude even mdark red peony shoots emerging from the groundore than the show-off flowers. I wonder at how all that silky color is packed into those shoots.

My husband and I have the same discussion on May 3 or so, give or take an unusually warm day or Indiana monsoon weekend. He, of the glass-half-empty part of our relationship, starts the conversation with, “The peonies look like they’re coming on early this year.”

Glass-half-full wife replies, “That’s unusually optimistic of you, but you say that every year. And then they bloom around Memorial Day.”

“We’ll see,” he says, and my heart surges to know that his glass can be full! It happens on a May day, and this year, I think he’s right and I’m glad to be wrong. I’ll be watching as the hard, marble-sized buds expand and soften into pink marshmallows. That’s the day in May before they open.
fuchsia peonies in full bloom at the Sharritt farm
On yet another spectacular day in May, my husband makes the announcement that it is time to switch from the flannel sheets to the summer ones. (insert birdsong and trumpet fanfare!) If you’re familiar with
his blog, then you know what an epic event this is.


May, in the world of education, can tempt us to hurry to the June finish. We’re missing a lot of great May days if we don’t keep our expectations high for ourselves and our students. I happened upon another blog by Aaron Hogan that encourages us to consider the end to be as important as the beginning and to wrap up the year with a flourish. It includes great ideas in the comments section from colleagues on how they energize their May classroom.

My May days have been filled with preparing for trainings at the Indiana Summer of e-Learning events (hope to see many of you there!) and organizing regional professional learning communities for the Teachers for the Blind/Low Vision in Indiana. Reflecting on your year’s failures and successes is another way for teachers to make May a blooming finale, rather than a fizzle. If you are a BLV teacher and haven’t signed up for one of these groups yet, please email me.

In the blog mentioned above, Aaron writes, “We cannot afford to do anything other than continue to pursue our students.” The students have been equipped from August through the year to learn in your classroom. They are ready to dart ahead of you. May days are great days to hand over the dry erase markers, and let those capable students lead. Great growth, in fact, blossoming happens here, too. Do you see it?


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Feb
28

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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Mar
29

Behind the Scenes of April Testing

Behind the Scenes of April Testing Chalkboard with math equations.
I’ve spent a lot of my time in the past month or so interacting with teachers for the blind and low vision who are preparing for the new ILEARN test that will be given starting in April. I love being called to drive to Valparaiso or Connersville for these visits. Connecting with these teachers is the musical equivalent to attending an amazing jazz performance with masterful improvisations.

The new test is built to test students online so that we can level or adapt the test to the user, giving us a more accurate picture of proficiency. Leveling also lowers the stress on students as they are quickly sent to questions at their level or ones that are slightly harder or easier.


The state has provided an item repository for all subjects and grades to try out in advance, so that students and teachers can know how to tweak the many accommodations offered to match the features they use in their daily work. Accommodations include things like using a Braille display, enlarged display, different types of contrast, or text to speech for students with BLV. Many other accommodations are available to students with other disabilities, such as closed captions for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Technology moves quickly and teachers for the blind have to keep up with both Braille and low vision devices while often working in multiple districts with multiple platforms for students of multiple ages. If this were the subject of an ILEARN test question, the answer would look like:

complex learner X many devices X all the subjects
= explosion of detail management!

The folks I’ve visited with are courageously forging ahead into new territory with technology, and working overtime (read on their spring break), to figure out what will be best for each of their students. They are choosing to engage with technology outside of their comfort zone, becoming vulnerable to ask for help from a team member or from PATINS. At each visit, they are teaching me new things and engaging me in new questions about giving students the right setting, environment, and device.

More than focusing on technology for the test, they want materials and devices that support real learning. They don’t need the fanciest tool, but the one that really works for their students. They want to set each student up to become the best versions of who they are and engage with the world independently. Most folks who interact with students with blindness first instinct is to assume dependence, so these BLV teachers are constantly whispering (or shouting), “let them do it!” They wear the “mean teacher for the blind” badge with pride.

They are learning subject content with their students like AP chemistry or braille music notation, even if they don’t read music in the first place, because some of their students dream of becoming scientists and Broadway stars.

These teachers wouldn’t ask for it, but I’m shining the spotlight on their hard, unglamorous, day to day work. I see you, and I’m grateful that you keep showing up for your students.



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Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.


We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Jan
16

Blue Crayons


January is when I go for my annual eye exam, and as a specialist for issues regarding vision, I suppose my optometrist braces himself for that lady who has all the questions about eyes. My eyes are worsening each year, in no small part, due to screen use for work and I admit, due to viewing flowers, babies and political nonsense on social media. I’m working on reducing my screen time, and literally, taking a longer view, by scheduling time to look out the window.


My traveling views over the dashboard this winter are taking me frequently to my hometown of North Manchester. Manchester Community Schools is one of the several districts receiving our PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant this year, and I have been assigned to help them with guidance and training. I’ve enjoyed visiting, and being reminded of my childhood in this small college town. The sledding hill at 5th and East Streets looks impossibly smaller than when I was 11. The injuries I sustained couldn’t possibly have happened there. The playground next to the little league field at the old Thomas Marshall School no longer has maypoles or tether balls. If you don’t know what either of these are google “playground hazards from the 1970’s”. Mr. Dave’s restaurant remains the same as does their tenderloin recipe. 

Part of the grant for Manchester’s schools provides specialized assistance with finding the right communication device or system for a student with more intensive needs. Jessica Conrad, PATINS specialist for AAC and I consulted with a teacher and speech therapist about a student who had puzzled them for a while. 

The student had a few words and some gestures to communicate but they felt like he had much more to say. Using picture communication had been inconsistent for him. As they described the student I started to hear some behaviors consistent with a cortical visual impairment. Cortical visual impairment, or CVI is where the eye itself is healthy but the visual pathways in the brain struggle to process an image. When the teacher mentioned that the student always chose a blue crayon or marker for a task, I was pretty sure that CVI was a possibility. Students with CVI often have a strong color preference (although it is usually red or yellow). 

The teacher contacted his parent to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The student’s team also immediately began to offer the student assignments copied onto blue paper. They changed the settings on his iPad so that a blue overlay would cover the display. They used communication symbols highlighted in blue. 

The team was excited to report after only a couple of weeks that they were seeing dramatic improvement in the student’s attention, engagement, and accuracy in pointing at communication symbols. 

view looking over a boy's shoulder at his iPad and school assignment printed on blue paper.

The brain never ceases to amaze me. As educators and humans, we need reminders of how perception can vary so widely from individual to individual. Whether it is the filter of perception through color or through the lens of long-term childhood memories, our view is highly individualized. Keeping this in our awareness as educators can only lead to better results in our work. The staff at MCS are also benefiting from an initiative in Indiana called Project Success that supports higher academic achievement for students with disabilities. I’m grateful for this initiative and the educators at Manchester Elementary who hadn’t given up on finding out what could give this student a voice, and a means for academic success.

How are your eyes?
Where are you looking?
How are your perceptions expanding?
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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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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces


I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Tags:
Oct
21

A Letter from 2020


Dear PATINS stakeholders,

I hope this letter finds you well. I want to tell you how much I miss you, and a letter seemed appropriate. There are many reasons for angst at this particular point in time, and honestly, most days in the past 7 months I haven’t been able to pinpoint a specific reason for why I’m feeling sad or anxious. I just remind myself that this is normal in a pandemic, and keep putting one foot in front of the other from my home office to the kitchen and back. Today, though, I am missing driving down a scenic Indiana State Highway, enjoying the fall splendor, and ending up in a school parking lot.

I miss walking in and being greeted by the friendly office staff, and then meeting you in a class or conference room to train you in person on a Braille display, or magnification solution. I miss meeting your delightful, thoughtful, eager students who often take off with an AT solution before I’ve left the building. I miss the banter and the physical connection of hand under hand instruction. Also, I even miss the occasional unfriendly office staff.

I miss your faces, looking up from tables in the library, some smiling and attentive, some bored, some zoned out after a full day of teaching, as I tell you about Universal Design for Learning or electronic media. I’ve seen your faces on Zoom, but in the library--in person--I feel a stronger sense of you as a person. I miss driving down the street in your small town and trying the pie at your local diner. 

I’m grateful for Zoom. I can’t comprehend the isolation during a Pandemic before the luxury of the internet and the corresponding agony of doom scrolling... I suppose folks wrote more letters. 

I searched for “letters from quarantine” and found that folks going through the Spanish Flu in 1918 were just as bored, frustrated, fearful, and sometimes desperately funny as they are on Twitter today. It is a small comfort to read their similar thoughts, complaints and hopes. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by Annie Clifton to her brother at war in Europe:

“Brother, Norfolk is some dull now,” wrote 16-year-old Annie Clifton on Oct. 21, 1918. “All of the moving pictures and theatres are closed on account of the Spanish flu. … I’m not working now [and] school … had to close, too.”

Here’s where I suppose I should add some optimistic thoughts and feelings about the positive things that are happening because of, and in spite of Covid 19. If you contact me or any other of our PATINS staff with your needs, we’ll find some creative way to work with you from a distance.  

On this painfully beautiful October day, though,  I’m going to stick with what I’m genuinely experiencing, and say again how much I miss you and the motion of my car speeding down the road to be with you. If you are feeling depressed or exhausted, that is o.k., and if you are feeling vibrantly hopeful, that is also o.k. Writing about any of it from any century is a good way to cope.

Pull out that journal. Better yet, write me a letter. 

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Aug
17

Twitter: Really a Place to Grow My Personal Learning Network?


In what seems to be a faraway land to many who don’t understand what it’s like to be a teacher, collaboration and camaraderie are vital to our well-being, which in turn positively impacts our students. Yet, sometimes the walls of our classroom can seem isolating, so seeking these connections beyond the school walls is necessary. Luckily, technology is on our side and has expanded the reach of our could-be connections.


Growing our professional learning networks (PLNs) as educators through social media platforms, like Twitter, is one way in which we can relate, share, and learn from our peers. These mutually beneficial relationships can now be accessed in the comfort of our homes, on our computers. The only thing standing in your way is you.

With that in mind, are you ready to fire up your own Twitter handle? Then the first thing you’ll want to do after setting up your account (or remembering your long-forgotten password), is to follow great leaders in education.

Now browse your feed for inspiration, retweet, like, or respond to a tweet, or even privately message someone. There is much information to be gained from just looking around - at different hashtags and individual or organization pages.

Or just maybe you’re ready to jump into or at least lurk around a Twitter chat. There are tons of education chats to choose from, and these chats are where some real-time interactions and connections can be made to grow your PLN.

Chats are offered on a variety of subjects. Led by a moderator who posts questions and allows time for responses as in the example below, they typically last thirty minutes to an hour and are hosted weekly. As seen in the image below, Q5 means question 5 and A5 (or sometimes seen as R5) mean answer (or response) to question 5.


screenshot of 4 tweets in a Twitter chat displaying the question/answer format

You’ll also notice that #PatinsIcam is added to each tweet. This is the hashtag of our project and of our weekly chat that runs from roughly September to June. (The #PatinsIcam chat returns on Tuesday, September 5 at 8:30pm EST. Earn 1 professional growth point for participating!) The chat’s hashtag must be added to each tweet in order for the tweets to appear in the feed of the chat. Without the hashtag, your tweet is only added to your page.

There is more than one way to follow or participate in a chat. I recommend using Tweetdeck. This site syncs with your Twitter account and allows you to follow multiple users or hashtags (among many other options) in separate columns. The benefit of using Tweetdeck for Twitter chats is that you can continue to view the chat in live time while you craft your tweet off to the side without blocking your feed with a tweet box. 6 Steps to Using Tweetdeck to Participate in a Twitter Chat

Below is a sample Tweetdeck dashboard with the user's home page and multiple chat columns.


sample of Tweetdeck dashboard


While there is much to gain from your peers and other educators as a bystander,
you
have information, responses, and ideas to offer as an active participant in your PLN. The connections you can create with others on Twitter are limitless.



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Jan
20

Helen Keller in Color



I am not a TikTok user. I did try to learn a dance during the early days of Covid as a way to get my family to exercise. I’ll spare you the video, but share that the teens in my house burned a bunch of calories by laughing. 

One of those teens recently shared a lie that’s been propagated on TikTok and other social media at my dinner table: “Hey, you work with people who are blind. Did you know that Helen Keller was fake?” I barely choked down whatever I was chewing along with my anger and confusion. Then, while (mostly) calmly addressing this with my foster daughter, I took the opportunity to cover truth, verification, and empathy.   

After our conversation, I did some research and found out the falsehood  originally started as a “joke”, and bloomed into full blown conspiracy theories. These theories center around the ableist notion that Helen Keller couldn’t have accomplished all that she had in her life, because of her disabilities. At their worst, they deny Keller’s existence altogether. 

With respect to all 15 year olds, I do admire healthy skepticism. In researching this blog, I discovered that Keller herself was among a minority that believed that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. While she did publish 12 books in her life, her manuscript about this topic was rejected as the fake news of her day. This astounded me as I’d always thought of Helen Keller as enlightened in every way, but she latched onto a trendy outlying academic group that saw “coded” text within the plays as a pointer to a different author. It also humbles me to challenge myself to root out any big lies I might be buying into because of my biases. 

The Niagra Falls of information flowing over our brains from the internet daily is overwhelming. We are finding for Gen Z what that deluge is doing to a generation of children expected to learn, but addicted to the consumption of screen time. This clearly mandates teaching about media consumption, and giving resources to students for finding and verifying information

This particular instance also mandates the difficult work to overcome ableism. At the heart of my foster daughter’s rejection of historical facts was her disbelief that someone having experiences so far from her sensory experiences could learn anything. I told her about my 2 summers of training as an orientation and mobility specialist under a blindfold. My brain was forced to do some very different things, but my brain was still my brain and also did the things it always does when it is learning. Here are some ways to discover your own ableism and work towards understanding differences. 

We will be listening as a family to Helen Keller’s autobiography to hear it from the source. I also told my foster daughter about some of the folks with deaf blindness whom I’ve met and taught, and about others I’ve followed on Twitter. Haben Girma just published her story of being the first person with deaf blindness to graduate from Harvard Law School. She uses braille technology to access communication, literacy, and her employment. I wonder if she has a TikTok account?

I hope that by connecting to their stories my family and others would see and respect their differences, and know their humanity is not a hoax. 


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Apr
30

Parents as Partners: Maximizing Continuous Learning Success

Change can be scary, and it’s not uncommon to be resistant to change. It seems that 2020 brought us a leap day that still doesn’t seem to have ended and that came full of change, whether it was welcomed or not. As a former 3rd grade teacher, I keep wondering how I would be handling my virtual classroom in light of schools being ordered closed for the remainder of the school year.

I believe that I’d be stressed, missing my students, and wondering whether or not I was doing all that I could to keep the learning, engagement, and feelings of value going. I believe that I’d be in need of more collaboration with colleagues and my professional network than I once thought possible. I believe that I’d need more support than ever from my student’s families and support systems to best set my students up for success. It’s the latter that really has got me thinking and deeply reflecting on the role that our student’s families and support play in their lives, especially when it comes to learning.

After some conversations with friends who are working from home and parenting, it solidified for me just how difficult this time is for everyone. Almost no one was prepared for a flipped script like this, and to make it through, we’ve got to rely on one another now more than ever- parents/families on educators and educators on parents/families. That said, the educator in me has begun wondering how well parents have been armed and trained to support their student(s) in a learning environment at home, and how we can boost supports for our students during continuous learning, over the summer, and in the future through a solid, cyclical partnership with parents. 
Cyclical graphic indicating parents/families and educators relying on another
If you find yourself reflecting and parsing through the same notion, consider reaching out to parents/families through a survey to find out how things are going, what they feel they need, how the teacher/school/district could better support them, etc. This information could facilitate a stronger parent/family and teacher relationship in these uncertain times and as we move into the future. Quick surveys can be created in Google Forms. 

You may also find it beneficial to reflect on what’s been shared with your student’s families to figure out where there’s room for improvement. Some questions you may ask yourself are (in no particular order):

  1. Do families know how to download apps on their devices?
  2. Do they know how to login to school-wide systems?
  3. Do they understand how to use the tools/apps/websites that their students are using for schoolwork, including how to submit work or join a virtual meeting?
    1. If not, would tutorials, virtual office hours, a school-wide Facebook page, or other means of information sharing be beneficial?
  4. Do they know how to reach you, when you’re available, and how quickly to expect a response? Over-communicating is better than under-communicating.
  5. Has creating a learning environment been discussed with families?

Upon this reflection, you may find some gaps between what you’d like for parents/families to understand and what they actually do. For example, I’ve been working with a gentleman who sells pavers for a patio we are considering installing, and without asking the obscene amount of questions that I must in order to clearly understand his explanations, I’d have no idea what he was talking about. This is because he knows his pavers inside and out, but I’m lacking his background knowledge; therefore, I’m thrown for a loop with each new brand or term he throws out. 

To avoid this type of confusion, let’s explicitly share information, provide clear instructions, and teach our students’ parents/families how they can support their student(s) at home now, over the summer, and every year, emphasizing that many of the following are ways to create stronger relationships, to instill values, and to spend quality time with their student(s). 

To begin, let’s consider the learning environment. 

  1. Share examples of working/learning environments, understanding that this must be flexible to fit the needs of individual families
  2. Share sample schedules that include building in learning and screen time breaks for students
    1. Include ideas for breaks:
      1. Physical play or activity
      2. Stretching
      3. Reading
      4. Listening to music
      5. Playing board or other non screen games
      6. Mindfulness activities like deep breathing or yoga
  3. Share and adhere to time limits for virtual learning 
    1. Times suggested by the Indiana Department of Education
      1. Elementary Grades K-1: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 5-10 minute time spans, a total of 45 minutes 
      2. Grades 2-4: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 10-15 minute time spans, a total of 60 minutes 
      3. Grades 5-6: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 20-25 minute time spans, a total of 90 minutes 
      4. Grades 7-12: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 30 minute time span per class, a total of 3 hours
  4. Provide printable or print versions of visual cues to support directions

Consider how you’d like to see your student’s learning supported at home and maybe break it down, sharing specific ideas with students and families subject-by-subject.

Reading

  1. Turn on the captions for all screen time
    1. Turn on captions in YouTube by selecting the CC button in the lower right-hand corner of the video. Check to see if the captions are accurate.
  2. Model reading newspapers, magazines, books, recipes, cards
  3. Read together (use different voices for characters, stop reading at the climax to drive engagement, change where you read)
    1. Guide parents to support comprehension skills with digital or printable graphic organizers, to connect stories to students’ lives, and to show genuine interest in the story
  4. Act out a skit
  5. Turn on podcasts (age-appropriate podcast can be found in a quick Google search) or audio books in the car or on a home speaker (Try the Libby app, books on tape or CD)
  6. Read aloud to pets, siblings, or stuffed animals
  7. Identify words, letters, phrases when out for a walk, drive, or trip

Math

  1. Use dice or dominoes to play and learn with numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
  2. Provide printable visuals like a 100s chart
  3. Practice counting any and all things. If basic counting is mastered practice skip counting items
  4. Cook and bake together (supports following directions, fine motor skills, measurement, fractions, and more)
  5. Sort indoor or outdoor items by color, shape, texture, weight, size, and talk about the sorting method
  6. Practice budgeting, set up an economy system for chores, or play store
  7. Play card games

Writing

  1. Write/make words or letters with magnetic letters, Wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, chalk, shaving cream, hair gel with food coloring in baggie
  2. Daily journal entries. Everyone is living in a time that will undoubtedly be added to the history books. Journaling will offer great daily reflection as well as future reflection on this life-changing time. 
  3. Play Mad Libs
  4. Guide parents to provide writing support by modeling real-world writing tasks- making lists, writing invitations, writing in cards, writing to-dos on a calendar, writing thank you notes to our first responders and hospital workers, filling out forms, etc.
  5. Ask students to create labels for household items, for organization purposes, etc.
  6. Guide parents to support writing through positive and specific feedback and not to concentrate on spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors, but to celebrate their students’ writing
  7. Publish students’ writing on the refrigerator, in a window, or digitally (Book Creator, Tarheel Reader)

Science & Social Studies

  1. Take a walk around your neighborhood, noting different types of architecture, structures, designs, plants, trees, flowers, etc.
  2. Conduct at home science experiments
  3. Share and discuss age-appropriate current events
  4. Research and make paper airplanes in different styles
  5. Explore any maps (theme parks, state parks, atlases, city, state, etc.) you may have laying around, noting the compass rose and key
  6. Go on a rock, flower, or plant scavenger hunt
  7. Make homemade dough for play

Art, Music & PE

  1. Add daily drawings and art projects to a dated sketch journal
  2. Make music out of different household items
  3. Explore different genres of music 
  4. Go for hikes, walks, or bike rides
  5. Make collages with newspapers, pictures, magazine cutouts to illustrate different feelings, ideas, concepts
  6. Start a fitness challenge between family members
  7. Make homemade puppets for a show

As summer nears, I encourage you to continue your reflection, thinking about all of the positives that have come from this change, this new teaching experience. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned so much. Though we may be anxious to get back to life as we once knew it, let’s, instead, grow from this experience, taking the amazing things that you’re doing (maybe once even thought impossible) and grow from this experience to better serve your students by considering:

  1. What tools will you take into next school year? 
  2. What strategies have you learned that you’ll forever hold dear? 
  3. What bonds have been created?
  4. In what ways have you increased the universal design and accessibility of your teaching to better meet the needs of your students and their support systems?

Please share your answers in the comments, reach out for more resources, and keep on, keeping on! 

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Jul
21

Making Room for Eureka!

 

How is your summer going? My kids’ preschool teacher, Mrs. Callahan used to look for scrapes and bug bites to determine if the kids were having a good one--evidence that they were getting outside and having fun. 

After a year plus of COVID griefs, fears and stress, I’m thinking we Indiana educators may need a different measure than how many boxes of bandaids we’ve purchased to determine the quality of our summer. The bumps and bruises on our psyche are evident and it’s time to stay off of the monkey bars for a day or two.

My turn to write the blog for PATINS staff is coinciding with a vacation to Lake Michigan. Our plan was to:

1. Find a place close to the beach.
2. Stare out at the waves.
3. Resist the urge to make other plans

So far, we’ve accomplished steps one and two, but step 3 was derailed by the fact that we forgot a couple of crucial items—I forgot my prescription and the teen girls forgot their bathing suits. So we’ve spent more time in CVS and Meijer than staring at the lake. One of the teens whose birthday is today started throwing up yesterday evening. Our rental is really nice so we may just huddle here with all of the chocolate that we somehow remembered to pack. (Update: she’s recovered on day 2!)

I do not wish a barfing teenager on you at all to force you to slow down, but I do hope that you are making room for some “nothing” time in your summer. Research shows that our brains need down time in order to reset and come up with new pathways. Rest is essential for creativity. I’ve been working on content for new trainings to present for this school year with my focused brain in the past few weeks, but this week I’m letting my diffuse brain take the jet ski handlebars and drive. 

I know when I return to my laptop next week, I'll revise with some fresh ideas.

Are you focusing on your return to the classroom this fall? Take some time to walk, meditate or just stare blankly. If you find yourself mopping a bathroom floor in the middle of the night, prepare yourself for the jolt of creativity that only comes when you make some room for eureka

If your idea keeps floating around and you need some help pinning it down, give one of our specialists a call. Check out our professional development guide or training calendar for opportunities to learn something new. Registration is open for our PATINS A2E state fall conference. At PATINS we strive to practice the UDL methods that we preach and encourage creativity and participation for a deeper learning experience.

We have a wonderful opportunity to frame this coming school year with all of the new strategies we’ve discovered through this challenging time. Join me and the PATINS staff in creating new opportunities for Indiana students.


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Apr
20

Did You Want to Talk About the Weather?



It’s mid April, so I put away my husband’s heavy Carhart coats, my winter boots and all of the hats and gloves clogging up the entryway and the mudroom. It felt amazing saying “so long!” to fleece and wool. Did I mention that it’s mid April in Indiana? Right on cue, the day after my ceremonious dumping of the hats into the back of the closet, Indiana came back with an inch of snow overnight–on a Monday morning no less. 

The snow melted gradually throughout the day–gone by evening, but it left a little frostbite on my psyche. As a Hoosier, I have trust issues with the natural universe. My weather app predicts 80’s by Saturday, but I’m thinking this wild swing into sweatiness will also mess with my head. 

To quote one of my favorite actors, Bill Murray, in one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day: "Did you want to talk about the weather, or did you just want to chit chat?"



For Hoosiers, maybe it’s less chit chat, and more talk therapy. 

Predictability, in general, helps us all to flourish mentally. At PATINS, our staff has a brief weekly meeting where we report progress on our professional goals and ask for anything we might need to move forward. It has become an important ritual for me, and a way to connect with my coworkers as we work remotely all over the state. You educators reading this likely have daily/weekly rituals in your classrooms that make your students feel secure. Would love to have you share some of these in the comments!

Indiana educators have missed out on a well-loved summer ritual in the past two years as Summer of E Learning events were canceled. For summer 2022 these are being revived as Summer of Learning Conferences. Our PATINS staff will be presenting at many of these events and excited to reconnect with you in person. 

It will probably be a warm day that we’ll gather. Or hot. A storm might blow up unexpectedly. Not ruling out an F5 tornado. I predict 100% we’ll gain some new knowledge or add to our professional network.  But dress in layers.


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Jan
18

That Big Guy at Purdue


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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Apr
20

Spring Samaras

One of my favorite days on our farm is April 20. August 3 is also pretty good and June 8 is so lovely, but  April 20 is on average when all of last year’s dead plant material that we’ve left in the rows for the insects and microbes to live on over the winter has blown away.  

sedum emerging from the ground with dead stalks still attached
Surging upward into the warmth, the green perennial shoots are shoving aside the gray of Indiana March. It’s also the day that the silver maple trees are a shimmery yellow green color as they develop their helicopter-like seed pods and tiny leaves. In just a week, they’ll shift to their summer darker green color, but for now they are luminescent chartreuse, especially spectacular when viewed at a distance–lanterns of the woods against a blue stormcloud background. 

April 20th is also around when I’m hearing wonderful end of school year success stories from Indiana Blind and Low Vision teachers when we meet in our Professional Learning Community Sessions. The stories are often ones where general education teachers have met the challenge of having a student with blindness or low vision for the first time. Nervously, they claimed in August, “I’ve never had a student with blindness before.” A veteran teacher, Rhonda, told me she replies, “don't worry, most teachers haven't. Students like this one come along once every ten or twenty years. You are lucky!” 



Another BLV Teacher, Alison shared that in August, a high school English teacher, finding out that she will be working with a student using braille for literacy, claims that there is no way she can teach her reading method “OPTIC” to a student who can’t access visuals. Fast forward to a magical day in spring. She, the BLV teacher, and the student met and developed a way to turn the elements of OPTIC into auditory elements and the student related her reading assignments to musical pieces. Multisensory means of representation for the win! 

Alison also told a story about how a math teacher, also unsure about having a student with low vision, began to display his visual geometric examples under his student’s magnifier and invited the class to view along. It provided a form of engagement that he’d never thought of before and declared around April 20th that, “having this student has made me a better teacher.” 

Apr 20, 2023 is also the date for this year’s PATINS Tech Expo. Seeing your faces and hearing more of your stories in person will be the spring tonic to rejuvenate us all. 

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Mar
08

Just One Emotional Connection


I am a podcast listener. They are great for passing the time when I’m driving, mowing, or out for a walk. “Missing Richard Simmons” was the latest podcast that I checked off of my to-listen list, and I learned some things about him that I found fascinating.


The first fact being that his gym in Hollywood was called Slimmons, which couldn’t be a more brilliant name. For some reason, I really enjoy saying Slimmons. Secondly, to attend a class with him only cost twelve bucks. That’s less than I pay for an exercise class with an instructor far from one of the world's most renowned fitness gurus.

Yet, most interesting to me is a fact that this podcast made clear through numerous interviews with people who know this outspoken, eccentric, lovable man-- he has the ability to create a connection with nearly every person he encounters, and these connections don’t feel fake or false as one may expect when meeting a celebrity; they feel authentic and natural. He became the friend who - from states away - would call to check on your weight-loss progress. He was the friend who made you feel important. The friend who could relate to your story, empathize with you, and validate your feelings. The friend that truly got “it”, whatever “it” was.

His gift for making connections got me thinking about the relationships built between teachers and students. Relationships that have the ability to change the ways students think and perceive themselves.

In fact, I learned from watching a presentation by Dr. Lori Desautels, associate professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, that “resiliency research in children has shown that just one emotional connection with a teacher, a coach, an educator of some capacity can change the architecture of the brain of a student who has suffered from trauma.” Changing it in a way so that the student begins to see themselves as a valued, loved, and an important human being.

I would argue that Richard Simmons’s gift for connecting with individuals can be used as an example for the change that can be effected in our students’ lives when they feel valued and validated. He was able to motivate thousands of people to lose countless pounds and to once again put themselves first in their own lives through the bonds he created with them. We can surely connect with our students in deeper and more meaningful ways, remembering that just one emotional connection with an adult can mean a new, more positive outlook for the student.

Armed with this knowledge, take the time to ask a student how you can help, and listen intently and give the 2x10 strategy a try. Employ available community or school resources like before or after school care, the Boys & Girls Club, Girls, Inc., etc. to support the student. Go out of your way to show that you care and are genuinely concerned for their well being, because you may be that student’s one emotional connection that becomes the game-changer.

Image attribution: Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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Nov
01

"A Volcano of Human Potential"

Inactive volcano.

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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Jul
29

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal?

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal? Text Consumption: Are all options created equal? Accompanied by eye, ear, and hand graphics.

Reading or as I like to call it, text consumption, is a large part of many of our lives. People may read textbooks with their eyes. Some individuals may read audiobooks with their ears, and others may read Braille books with their fingers. Text can be consumed for understanding in a variety of ways, but are all options created equal? Please share your opinion in a one-question survey linked at the end of the blog.

Over the last handful of years, I’ve reflected on my own text consumption habits. I once only considered myself a sighted consumer of text, with some practice listening to text, I found that I really enjoy auditory reading. I especially enjoy having access to text when I’m driving, walking, or mowing. Not only does it stimulate my brain, it makes the minutes tick by much faster. Plus, I’m grateful that as an adult I have options and can choose how I consume text with no fear of being told that I’m not really “reading” if I consume or read an audiobook auditorily.

Have you ever taken a minute to reflect on how you prefer to access and consume text for comprehension and recall? Some questions to ask yourself.
  1. Do you consume text in different ways? What about your students?

  2. Have you investigated ways to ensure your students have equitable access to grade level text using a method(s) that provides them with an optimal opportunity to consume text for comprehension and recall, especially if they struggle to decode text visually?

  3. Have you ever limited a student’s choice of text only because you believe that their struggle to decode it with their eyes means that they can’t glean any meaning from or find joy in it?

It wouldn’t be fair if I asked you to reflect upon those questions without doing so myself. Though hard to admit, I’d have to answer yes to the latter question during my time in the classroom. My students could only choose library books to read for pleasure from within their prescribed reading level as designated by the STAR program. Ugh, what was I thinking? With the knowledge that I have now, this dreadful strategy likely only caused embarrassment for students that were reading below grade level and barriers to texts that, if offered in an alternate format, could have stimulated imaginations, told meaningful stories, and sparked a love for text.

Elementary student wearing earbuds and looking at tablet.
After reflecting upon your text consumption preferences and the opportunities that have been afforded to your previous students, how might you change what it means to consume or read text for comprehension and recall in your classroom this year? 

If you desire to make some changes in your comprehension instruction this year but need some support or ideas, reach out to a PATINS Specialist! We are here and ready to work together to ensure each and every student has the opportunity to receive and interpret text for meaning, which is really why we want students to be able to read in the first place, right? 

Are all text consumption methods created equally? Share your opinion in this one-question survey (opens new window)!

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May
19

The Timely Manner

a digital watch in black and white

"TIME
"  ...the indefinite continued process of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.   

Yes, I looked up the definition.  I had a couple of reasons and you're right again, the first was in a desperate attempt to understand how in the world it was possible that NINE other PATINS bloggers had beautifully taken their rotation already and the arrow points directly at me again!  If you haven't already read the previous 9 wonderfully written blogs by the PATINS Coordinators, you're missing out on a wisdom that I'm confident you won't find elsewhere.  I started this blog process in hopes that you might gain some insight into the brilliant minds of the PATINS Coordinators. However, I admit that I was promptly put in my place, week after week, as every single one of them have posted nothing less than magic in the form of words.  I've personally been inspired by each of them.  

Second: my limited and rapidly transfiguring attention was recently drawn, by a colleague, toward a conversation that was happening online.  A question was posed online to the world of "us" regarding "Timely Manner."  My colleague and I experienced very different INITIAL reactions to this question posed online and I want to talk about that a bit, because I think the same sort of variety in reactions likely exist in the field.  

From my professional perspective, the majority of the time, "timely manner" typically refers to Accessible Educational Materials and more specifically WHEN those materials arrive to the end user (the student).  Of course, Timely Manner also applies to other services and assistive technology.  The IDEA mentions "timely manner" several times, and gets as specific as stating, "...accessible formats are provided those materials in a timely manner, the SEA must ensure that all public agencies take all reasonable steps to provide instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities who need those instructional materials at the same time as other children receive instructional materials."  In Indiana, our Article 7 makes some similarly nondescript statements about "Timely Manner," which do provide some level of guidance, but lack a certain desired specificity.  Allow me to explain.  

There can frequently be many steps and people involved in getting services, materials, supplies, or assistive technologies to a student, once the need has been determined.  Many potential roadblocks exist, which can cause the "Timely Delivery" of said services or items to possibly be delayed.  This brings up the question, "how much delay is too much and how much is acceptable/unavoidable?"  

Again, only dealing with the Accessible Materials subsection of "Timely Manner," our Indiana Article 7 refers to "Reasonable Steps."  511 IAC 7-36-7...

(h) For purposes of this section, "timely manner" means that a public agency will take all reasonable steps to ensure that students who need print instructional materials in accessible formats are provided those materials at the same time as other students receive instructional materials. Reasonable steps include, but are not limited to, the following: 
(1) Requiring publishers or other contractors to, at a minimum, provide the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) with electronic files containing the content of the print instructional materials using the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). Such files must be provided to the NIMAC with sufficient time, according to policies and procedures established by the department of education, to ensure that students requiring accessible formats receive the instructional materials at the same time as other students receive the instructional materials. 
(2) Having a means of acquiring print instructional materials in accessible formats according to policies and procedures established by the department of education, including for students who transfer into the public agency after the start of the school year. 
Reasonable steps would not include withholding print instructional materials from other students until print instructional materials in accessible formats are available. 

The very next portion of our Article 7 states something of DEEP importance

(i) Nothing in this section relieves a public agency of its responsibility to ensure that the following students, who need print instructional materials in accessible formats, receive those materials in a timely manner: 
(1) A student who is not a student with a print disability as defined in 511 IAC 7-32-93. 
(2) A student who needs print instructional materials that cannot be produced from NIMAS files. 

THAT... my friends, essentially means that ANY student, regardless of a "Print Disability" presence, has a right to receive materials that are accessible to them in a "Timely Manner!"  Yes, you read that correctly, I'm no lawyer, but that reads pretty clearly to me, that even students who do not have a print disability MAY need Accessible Materials, they MAY not qualify for materials derived from NIMAS files, and they have a right to them in a "Timely Manner!"  

While that certainly can be as tall of an order as it sounds like, it is actually very doable with the right processes, policies, procedures, workflow, and training.  It DOES NOT, however, just happen on it's own.  At this point, I'd like to mention two things: 

AEM Collaboration Day 2017 Participants1. The PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant.  This is a year-long collaboration between your entire district (represented by a small team) and PATINS-ICAM staff.  This 15-16 school year had 8 teams and we JUST finished up on Friday with a day of collaboration and sharing successes and struggles of the year and I honestly tell you that it's the most inspirational day of my whole year!  Incredible!  Success stories of student's lives literally changing for the better evidenced in video and data.  ANYWAY... I will be posting the application for NEXT YEAR's district teams THIS WEEK!  The purpose of this grant is EXACTLY what I stated above; to assist your district with the the right processes, policies, procedures, workflow, and training to ensure that ALL STUDENTS have the materials they need in a "Timely Manner."  Regardless of where you feel your district is now, we can help you to get this tall order accomplished over the next school year.  We've done it. 

2.  I've been upfront up to this point that I'm really only talking about "Timely Manner" as it refers to AEM, both in IDEA and Article 7.  However, I want to deviate just a bit here and I'll be blunt and direct.  One COULD deliver Accessible Materials in a "Timely Manner," (at the same time as peers receive their materials) BUT, there may still be a mountainous problem!  MANY times, those materials in specialized formats REQUIRE some technology or Assistive Technology before they can be used at all!  So, they MAY be "Accessible," but at that point, they are NOT USABLE!  This brings up a whole new level of policies, procedures and workflow around the coincidental delivery of tech or assistive tech, also in a "Timely Manner!"  

While the concept of time is both abstract and relative, it is of great importance to students waiting for the materials and/or technology they need to level the playing field, to close the achievement gap!  The unit of measure we must use for this is that of the same time when other students receive their materials and/or technologies.  However, we KNOW that there can often be a greater number of obstacles in the way when we're talking about specialized materials, services, and technologies.  This means that there must be a systematic process in place, which means that policies, procedures, and workflow, must be established and adhered to.  Long story short... it doesn't just happen on it's own or by chance.  

...and, YES, for those keeping track of such things, this posting IS 4 days LATE and YES it is a posting about "TIMELY MANNER."  ... oh, the irony.  My apologies.
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Jan
03

To Do One Thing Is Also Deciding To Not Do Something Else

Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. Likewise, to believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else. This almost certainly seems like a simplistic statement...one that is nearly self-evident. Yet, when one begins to contemplate daily decisions, even routine or minor ones, from this virtually-transposed perspective, things can start to be inspected differently.  

I had a friend once, whom I haven't spoken to in many years. Like most people I have had any length of contact with, he said a lot of things, most of which I do not remember even the notion of. However, one particular statement he verbalized to me nearly 20 years ago, has remained with me, word for word.  

He said, "You are always going down one road or the other with every single decision you make, but never the middle." He continued, "Any time you think you're in the middle, you're actually on one path, but thinking about the other path." He concluded with, "Every decision and every action is either moving you in one direction or the other, but never both directions at the same time." 

He wasn't a really great friend, but I've always remembered these particular words from him. I try to meaningfully and regularly ruminate on the deep implications of their meaning. I was also recently prompted to think of this ever-protruding philosophy in my life in a slightly different way, which I anticipated to be worth discussing here.  

There's a question that tends to get posed consistently, whether I'm providing a training, sitting with my office computer, checking emails from my phone on-the-go, or participating in a meeting. That question has to do with two separate, but very related concepts: ALL students' ability to work toward grade-level standards and which accommodations are/are not permitted on high stakes testing. Conclusively, questions that indicate one belief...one path, which is simultaneously not believing something else, according to this philosophy at hand. 

I pose that these questions represent beliefs, rather than simple factual inquiries. Asking me which shoes I put on this morning, could be a simple factual inquiry. In contrast, asking about allowable accommodations on a high stakes test or how it could be possible for ALL students to work toward grade-level standards, proposes that the inquiry comes from someone who is traveling down the path to the left, while thinking about the path to the right. 

While I cannot fault this, and much could be said at this juncture about the value of reflection while on one path or the other, the actuality of the path that is underway (decisions and beliefs), is that the student who is figuratively walking with the facilitator, is actively traveling on ONE path, but not both at the same time and not the middle. When accounting for the relatively limited time our students have with us, each step taken in one direction, potentially sacrifices steps that could be taken in the other direction.  

By deciding that what ultimately matters, is the allowable accommodations on a high stakes test, one is also deciding that the tools that could engage a student meaningfully for "the other 175 days" of school are of secondary importance. Traveling down this particular path seems to be rather common and also understandable given the gravity of these tests! Yet, allowing this anticipation of the end of the year to decide the path to get there, seems quite counter-intuitive to our ultimate goal.  

We know that the more actively engaged our students are in a curriculum that is accessible to them, the more accurately we can predict their success on that high stakes test (with or without the tools) and more importantly, their success toward independence as uniquely awesome and creative humans in society.  

When we slow down to think before we take that next step or make that next decision, it is of significant consequence to ponder what we are also deciding not to do... not to believe... not to expect.  

Decide to expect greatness from ALL of your students in ways that you can't even envision yet. Take steps that demonstrate your travel down this path decisively. Seek support, training, and trials of tools, from PATINS. Be aware of what your steps, your decisions, your beliefs also mean that you are not choosing, not traveling toward, not believing in. Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. To believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else.

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Oct
26

Our Strongest Parts

For many educators, it’s about the time of year when the adrenaline of the school-start may begin to wane, the fatigue of many early mornings/late nights is no longer remedied with six cups of coffee, and the compassion poured into every single learner each day has left the drain plug pulled and the tank nearly depleted. 

By this time, you’ve solved many “puzzles,” endeavored WITH kids through all kinds of issues not related to the curriculum, maneuvered strategically to improve access to materials and instruction, skipped lunches, stayed late with struggling learners, and work-dreamt repeatedly about the one or two you just cannot seem to reach YET! 

You’ve probably also noticed that this is the time of year in Indiana when the summer foliage of teeming green has started to convert to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges! Have you wondered why this happens? In parts of the country, like Indiana, where trees are to withstand rigorous and grueling freezing temperatures over winter, they cleverly reduce themselves to their strongest parts!  

The leaves of a deciduous or broadleaf tree contain thin fluids that are susceptible to freezing, making them relatively delicate, weak, and unprotected by the coating of wax that evergreen trees exhibit. These shrewd trees conserve energy, thus preserving themselves, by shedding their leaves! This begins to occur when their chemical light receptors start to detect the change in daylight hours, which can happen with as little as a 30 minute reduction in daily sunshine!

As downcast as the long winters here can tend to be at times, I do find a genuine appeal in how and why our trees transform themselves in order to focus on their strongest parts! Trees slowly let go of their leaves through the magnificent display of Fall color that we are beginning to see, in order to direct their energy to their trunks, stems, branches, and bark to weather the cold winter! Brilliant! 

I wonder if we might take a lesson from our Indiana trees? I wonder about my own “toughest parts” and which parts of myself I might be able to temporarily let go of in order to conserve the energy that is available and focus on my foundational structures. What parts of yourself are your strongest and most resilient? What might you be able to let go of, in order to grow those strongest parts of yourself? What about your students…what could be set aside temporarily, in order to focus time, energy, and resources on the strengths of each student? 

As educators, we tend to also be perfectionists and we strive to address so many things with our students all at once, that we sometimes create our own greatest barriers. Perhaps, letting some "leaves" fall off that continually distract from the more important tasks at hand could lead to more of the outcomes we seek. What if we let go of a student’s phonetic decoding skills temporarily in order to feed his intense interest in science or history and we let the student drop his phonics “leaves” temporarily in order to focus on his strength of reading with his ears? What if we permitted a student to drop her handwriting “leaves” and begin to use text to speech or a keyboard, instead of continuously losing points on writing assignments? When we introduce a new piece of assistive technology or a new format of specialized educational materials; what if we allowed the student to temporarily drop the “leaves” of the content itself, while familiarization occurred with the tool? Focusing on learning the tool at the same time as learning the content is often just too much! 

Sometimes, it’s simply too much! There’s just too much that requires ours and our students’ finite energy and in order to continue to thrive (or begin to thrive) we have to let go of some “leaves” and focus our resources on strengths and we have to facilitate a means for our students to do the same! What are your “leaves” that you can drop temporarily? What are the things in your classroom, your school building, your district, that might add beauty, but could be dropped for a little while in the interest of refocusing your resources? 

Recently, the PATINS staff made a little time to focus on our creativity through some mindful breathing, stretching, and purposeful discussion around the concept of “sacred rituals” in our daily lives. I dropped the leaf of feeling like I never have a spare 5 minutes in the mornings, regardless of what time I got up. I decided I’d spend 3-5 minutes every morning, making coffee by hand…from grinding the beans, to heating water, and pouring it slowly in a four-step process over the delicious and aromatic ground up beans. That “leaf” of feeling like I needed to get to my emails 5 minutes earlier each morning was a seemingly small one to drop, but it allowed me five minutes to focus on deliberately being slow, intentional, aware, and creative. It was a small but important "leaf" to let go of.  

Perhaps, when you identify a “leaf” of your own to let go of, you can feed more energy into finding some colleagues who share your passions, frustrations, and struggles… your personal learning network! While there are so many ways to go about this, I want to make sure you’re aware of two great ones!

Tuesday evenings, at 8:30pm EST, PATINS hosts a Twitter chat where we post questions and have a discussion around them for a half-hour! In fact, last week’s chat was all about “Preventing Teacher Burnout!” Join us this next Tuesday evening, we’d love to have you. Simply search Twitter for the hashtag, #PatinsIcam! You can also reach out to any of us and we’d love to help you get set up to participate! 

I also want to make sure you’re aware of the rapidly approaching PATINS Access to Education 2018 State Conference! This is a GREAT opportunity to connect with others! We have over 40 concurrent sessions and two great keynotes! The full schedule is posted and registration is open! Drop a few “leaves” and allow yourself the time and opportunity to focus your energy into growth with us on November 28 and 29!
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Sep
21

Are You Getting The Results You Want Now?

Daniel Presenting

At a recent training I was providing, I began to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and proceeded through the notion of a framework full of choice and options as well as the necessity of providing multiple and flexible means of engagement, presentation, and interaction/responses. Participants had a lot of great examples of what each of those UDL bullet points might look like in a classroom setting and there was ample head nodding and note taking occuring. I valued these indications of a group of educators looking forward to teaching differently, rather than just with different tools. As I was demonstrating the PATINS Universal Design for Learning Lesson Creator, walking through each of it's sections, I was met with a sense of agreement and excitement! 


However, the demeanor in the room quickly took a u-turn when I arrived at the discussion of environmental factors in a Universally Designed learning space! More specifically, I began to talk about the importance of flexible seating options and student choice. Up to this point, everyone seemed very much in-sync with my push to try doing things a different way. We had talked of our mutual belief that all students can learn and grow and, in accordance, there must be a way to teach all students! There seemed to be a shared agreement that, in order to achieve different outcomes, we had to be willing, able, and permitted to teach differently. Yet, when I mentioned the out-dated concept of students being forced to sit at desks, in traditional chairs, facing the front, raising their hands to speak, I was literally and loudly met with laughter. Typically, getting a laugh or two in a presentation, I would consider a positive thing, but this was at a very unexpected time and caught me totally off-guard. However, I continued by asking, "Why do we have this seating requirement in many classrooms...what is the reason for it?" At this point, I was almost knocked backwards in my brown wingtips by the increased laughter and head-shaking, by one table in particular. Worse, this table of participants began to pack up their belongings as if they were preparing to leave at that point in the discussion.  

As a presenter/trainer, this is rarely something you look forward to seeing or hearing. In fact, it's often what a presenter's nightmares consist of the night beforehand, right on-par with forgetting to get dressed and spilling coffee on your shirt! Unfortunately, this was near the very end of our time and I didn't have an opportunity to seek clarification on the laughter and head-shaking. Quickly afterwards however, I began to think deeply about it. I can only interpret that sort of reaction as a strong disagreement with what I was encouraging with regard to flexible seating and other environmental UDL factors.  

One question ran through my head over and over; "what could be the reason that people who are looking for different results are so interested and willing to try a different strategy when it comes to presenting materials in a different way, while being so adamantly against allowing students to sit on the floor?"  

Perhaps, they had reasons that I am not considering. I certainly realize that abandoning what you know and are comfortable with to try something new, especially in front of a student audience, can be overwhelming. Fear is a natural response and sometimes, a natural response to that fear can actually be laughter. Upon thinking even more deeply, it seemed that I found myself settled into one valley of a tough spot between two mountainous forces. Looking to the left, inside that valley, I see the fear of abandoning the familiar. To the right, I see the seemingly insurmountable climb toward different results. If I stay safe in the valley, I experience neither the fear to my left, or the strenuous climb to my right. ...it feels comfy right here in the valley...safe. As long as I keep walking straight ahead in that valley, not veering too far to the left or to the right, I stay safe. However, I also continue to achieve the same results that I always have.  


As I've said for many years when talking to others about trying something new, and have tried to live my own life by "greatness rarely happens when you're comfortable." That tree, the one that you really want to sit under and truly enjoy the view of results, is high upon the hill. Getting to that view requires abandoning the mountainous fear to the left and taking that first step toward making the ascent to the right. It's going to be uncomfortable, but the desired results are there. ...way up there. Further, if you happen to get winded or scared along the way, it's far easier to just turn around and head back to the safe spot in the valley. ...somewhat like trying a different way of presenting information to learners, but deciding that flexible seating is just to difficult to keep climbing. From that spot under the tree on top of the hill to the right, the view of the mountain of fear that used to be to your left looks peacefully at rest in the distance. The view of your former safe spot below seems minuscule now and the differing results achieved as a result of your dedication to the climb is exactly the fresh air needed in the lungs of yourself and your learners.  

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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative

“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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Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

Before I was a PATINS Staff member, I was a middle school Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and introduced to the Assistive Technology Lending Library by a colleague. I knew exactly what I wanted to borrow first. An iPad loaded with LAMP Words for Life for a student with a lot to say and in need of a better tool to tell us about all the amazing ideas he had to share with the world.

I started using the loaned device with the student and saw his language and his personality blossom. Once I had a good amount of data to share with his family and school team, I packed up the iPad, completed the loan request evaluation, and it was on its way for another Indiana student to use.

The last time I borrowed from the Lending Library as a SLP with my own caseload was in 2018. To create the infographic below, I spent some one on one time with the AT Lending Library catalog. I discovered ingenious tools that could have been *life changers for many of my former students, like bone conduction headphones, reader pens, and Cling! ARM.

But why hadn't I seen these items before or thought about different ways to use them? I did some research and it turns out there are two reasons, *time and stress. (Learn more in the article "The Science of Creativity"). Being a new SLP, I was low on time, placed plenty of stress on myself, and therefore did not allow much room for creativity.

*I wish I had set aside a little time to search through the catalog to boost my creativity, stretch my professional skills, and be an even better educator. I would follow only two criteria:
  • Learn more about any item which piqued my interest.
  • Brainstorm how I could use the item to benefit the skill development of students at my school.
*Finding creative solutions is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an educator (and in life). Think of the last time you discovered a new tool that made a big impact. How did you feel? Hopeful? Proud? A little relieved?

Right now, uninterrupted time is a luxury, so tuck this idea away for when you need a burst of inspiration. This would be an engaging activity to begin a staff meeting or even for your students to partake in. Who better to know what we need to succeed in school than ourselves right?

The Assistive Technology Lending Library loans out a variety of educational items, even when we’re facing a pandemic. One of the best parts is that the AT Lending Library is a no-cost service. (The PATINS Lending Library is following the strictest protocol for cleaning and disinfecting all loan requests before shipping to Indiana schools.) Here’s a breakdown from the previous school year:

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year.

Toys - 23%

AAC - 15%

AT Hardware - 15%

Hearing/Vision - 14%

iPads - 12%

Switches - 10%

Print/Software - 6%

Mounting - 5%



Toys - Educational toys to support academic skills.

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

AT Hardware - Hardware to facilitate access to Assistive Technology tools.

Hearing/Vision - Devices to support hearing and vision needs.

iPads - iPads for academic and communication apps.

Switches - For environmental and communication control.

Print/Software - Reference guides for theoretical methods, assessment/intervention techniques, and practical tips.

Mounting - Adjustable arms and connectors for improved access to devices.

Peruse the Assistive Technology Lending Library when you have a chance. To view the most results, use a *simple keyword and *always capitalize the first letter. This will return all the items with that word present in the title or description.

Lending Library catalog with

Another way to learn more about the AT Lending Library is to join us at the virtual Access to Education conference in November 2020. You have the opportunity to view new and popular AT Lending Library items paired with practical ideas for your students at the *AT Exploratorium and the UDL Classroom Experience.

How has the Lending Library helped your students recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

At the end of October, I start to see gift guides for anyone and everyone in our lives such as “The Ultimutt Holiday Gift Guide” or “Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie - 20 Unique Ideas.” While I love exchanging thoughtful gifts with family and friends, there is one gift I am valuing more each year - time. Specifically, time to engage in hobbies, time to learn a new skill, time to learn a language, and even time to be bored once in a while. 

As educators, we know time is a critical resource. It is always at the top of my speech-language pathologist (SLP) wish list. Alas, we cannot wrap up time and top it with a bow to give to colleagues, but we can gain more of it. This year, more than others, time has been at a premium encouraging me to find creative ways to get everything done. I’ve compiled five reflection questions which have proven helpful to me in gathering up more time. I hope you find these helpful too. 

  • Am I inventing things to do? I heard this on a podcast and it stopped me in my tracks. (I wish I could remember which one to give credit!) As educators, we may think “Of course, everything I am doing directly benefits my students.” While I have no doubt we all have the best intention of doing right by our students, there may be a more efficient way to approach certain tasks. For example, as a SLP, did I really need to laminate every speech therapy material? Absolutely not! I could create or find digital materials, print one time use visuals, or use a page protector. I saved hours each week by freeing myself from the unreliable laminating machine and directed this new found time into analyzing data for better educational reports as well as leading to a better work life balance. A major win for me and for my students!
  • Can I “outsource” part of my work? The students on my caseload very much preferred receiving a pass from the office rather than having me picking them up from their classroom. Nothing hurts your “cool” factor more than a random lady breaking up gym time with your buddies. This left me creating hundreds of paper passes each year until I outsourced this work. In lieu of a study hall, some students were “pass runners” for the office staff during a class period. These helpful students were more than happy to cut the passes for me and one of them even offered to laminate a bunch for me so I could reuse them, saving me even more time!
  • What can I automate? Automation is huge in the business world right now. It is one of the main reasons Amazon can get items to your doorstep in two days. Educators can reap the benefits of automation right now with technology readily available on your devices. Do you need to send reminder emails for IEP meetings? Do you need to collect data and send daily/weekly communications to parents? Do you need to speed up the calculation process for progress reports? Automate it all! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to PATINS Specialists for ideas on how to optimize your work day.
  • How often do I need to check my email/phone? Did you know it is estimated that every time we stop a task to check our email or phone, it can take us roughly 25 minutes to refocus on the task? (View the study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.”) That’s why a seemingly simple task can end up taking us three times longer than originally planned. Also consider this scenario, if you check your work email from bed, on your way out the door, or in the car and then decide you need to be at work to focus on answering it, you are devoting twice as much time to the email reply. To combat these pernicious time wasting habits, dedicate a few times a day when you check your email and voicemail. It’s important this is not the first thing you check though. You want to get your most important tasks on your to do list completed at the beginning of the work day. This new habit has been a game changer for me!
  • How many things can I actually get done in a day? Two. I have averaged it out, and I can get two major tasks done in one day. If I try to do 3 or more tasks, usually I am working overtime or it’s not done well. This realization has been both shocking and empowering. Shocking since I originally estimated I could get five to ten tasks done each day. Two sounds like a low number yet, think about if you completed an entire language evaluation, reported all grades, or developed lessons for the entire week or month in one sitting. Those all require major time commitments and are often completed in smaller chunks throughout time. This information was also empowering because the knowledge of this causes me to be “choosier” about the tasks I agree to and reminds me to reflect again on question one above. Plus, when I happen to get more than two things done, I feel super accomplished!

I believe it goes without saying that the demands placed on educators this year has stretched our time thin. However, we are the only ones who can give ourselves more time. I hope the reflection questions posed help you gather up chunks of time by eliminating, “outsourcing”, and automating tasks to do what you do best - teach Indiana students!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach your work after reflecting on the five questions above. Is there anything you plan to do differently? Are there any other ways you give yourself the gift of time that I did not mention?

Suggested time management focused reading:

40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson

Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam


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Feb
04

What We May Not Always Perceive First…Always Matters.


Recently, while traveling, I found myself engaged in conversation with another traveling educator about the stresses of air travel. The recount of the travel experience that this other traveler shared, made all of mine call back to memory as if they were lazy Sunday morning cups of black coffee and required me to hold back tears for her. I listened. I confirmed, beyond doubt, that her experience was terribly frustrating, sad, hurtful and that it was exceedingly important to share it with as many people as possible. I told her I knew of a great forum for doing just this. A place where I knew that some of the most passionate educators and warriors against injustice frequented with hungry eyes and ears. After a short and gentle persuasion, this fellow traveling educator graciously agreed to contribute her painful story as my guest-blogger this week.  


I had just finished speaking to others about the importance of inclusionary practices and had even shared stories of several students I personally know, who struggle daily with being treated unfairly for a variety of reasons. I was traveling from one national educational conference to another with a colleague of mine and needed to board an airplane to my next destination. I speak to others often, about disabilities and about including all kids in all aspects of the educational experience. What I don’t always tell people, is that I have a disability myself. One cannot really see my disability by looking at me and sometimes I choose to not share. However, I sometimes struggle with numbers, letters, direction, verbal instructions, and word recall. My colleague helps out with this stuff, but this time was unfortunately, a little different. As a frequent traveler, I have documentation that allows me to skip the security lines at airports…not only a nice convenience, but truly an accommodation for me. My colleague does not have this documentation and proceeded through the typical security cattle chute, as I smiled my way toward TSA Pre-Check.

I immediately noticed two other people also preparing for Pre-Check. These travelers also had a disability; ones that were visible. I was asked by TSA workers to allow these travelers in front of me.  Of course, I immediately complied with a smile and offered well-wishes to them on their travels. A few moments after stepping aside, I apparently had ended up standing in a restricted area and was hastily noticed by TSA, who advanced toward me with great urgency! Yes, these were the same TSA staff who had just asked me to step aside. They questioned why I was there, what I was doing, who I was, if I had Pre-Check credentials, where my identification was, where was my bag, if I knew that I was standing in a restricted space, why I was still standing there, what was in my purse.

Like lightning had struck, I instantly found myself shocked and without my own speech. This frequently happens to me when I feel like things are falling apart around me. My words all fall into a downward spiraling drain like a toilet flushing and I cannot retrieve them! To the TSA agent in my face, my silence was perceived as non-compliance. I was physically pulled to the side, my purse taken from me and searched as demanding words continued to flood my brain. As I was trying to decide if I’d done something wrong or if this was the result of my different brain, my boarding pass was being commanded. It was on my phone, of course, and I couldn’t recall the numbers of my passcode in the correct order. My hands were sweating by this time, so my thumb also wouldn’t open my phone. My identification and Pre-Check documentation was in my purse, which was not in my possession. I couldn’t speak, even to get my name out and certainly not to state why I was standing where I was. There was no way I could even say, “I have a disability, I’m not being contentious.” My colleague was already through regular security and unable to help me. I was on my own, with people who didn’t know I had a disability, thought I was being oppositional, and I’d actually done nothing wrong. I was crying by this point and was actually asked by the TSA staff, “what’s your problem, lady?”

The reason I was standing in the restricted area was because the TSA agents took special care to accommodate the other travelers who had a visible disability, which I was more than agreeable to me! However, to then be treated as a potential threat when my own disability was not outwardly visible, was devastating.  


Most of us have probably heard the old adage, “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Upon hearing this story, and holding back most of my own liquid emotion, I reminded myself that many people probably carry more in the bag within the bag, than the bag we actually see. A lot of people are quite good at putting the old tattered bag inside the shiny new bag and it’s easy to see that shiny bag without another thought about what might actually be inside of it. Your students, your colleagues, your students’ families, all have two or three other bags. It may not always be easier, but it’s always worth it, kinder, more productive, more efficient long-term, and more effective to presume that there’s another bag.  “What’s your problem, lady,” “what’s your problem kid,” is rarely productive and not the question that will get to the answers we actually seek. It is of utmost importance, that we seek to accommodate both the things we can see, hear, touch AND those we might not perceive immediately.  

What We May Not Always Perceive First…Always Matters.
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May
07

Construct Hope, Rise Above Fear, and Insist On Possibility.


There’s an amazing man by the name of 
Nicola Dutto. Nicola is an off-road motorcycle racer, and a very good one! In 2008 and 2009, he was a European Baja champion. Then in the 2010 Italy Baja race, he experienced a disastrous high-speed crash, leaving him paralyzed. 

Anyone who knows a racer, knows that racing is a powerful thing running through his or her veins…a drive and passion that cannot easily be dropped. Nicola was no different and set his sights on racing again. After 9 months of intensive therapy, he entered the 2011 Baja 1000 in a 4-wheeled vehicle. Mechanical failure kept him from completing this race, but he also learned that 4 wheels just didn’t do it for him. He greatly missed having the command of a 2-wheeled machine. The subsequent steps of this story are the pieces that really grabbed my attention.

Daniel McNulty racing a dirtbike, standing on the foot pegs.

Noteworthy, is the fact that Nicola admits to being terrified to ride again! He knew that his soul needed to ride again. Nevertheless, he wasn’t shy about the fact that it seriously frightened him! As an off-road rider myself, I know that I’m slightly terrified every time I grab the throttle. I also know that the majority of the time I'm riding off-road, I’m actually standing up on the foot pegs, not seated! A lot of steering, control, and weight distribution happens with your legs. They also act as additional shock absorbers and, of course, rear brake control and shifting all happens with the feet! To even begin to comprehend racing at the level of Nicola Dutto while remaining seated the entire time, with no use of my legs, is beyond intimidating!

Nonetheless, Nicola did it. He placed 24th in Spain’s Baja Aragon race to become the world’s first paraplegic pro racer just 4 months later and then…he set his sights on becoming the first paraplegic to race the world-legendary, white knuckling, and grueling Dakar race! While I love riding and racing, what truly excites me about this is the passion, determination, skill, creativity, and support of Nicola and his team tackling this together! He needed all handlebar mounted controls, a special seat from a wheelchair cushion specialist, a roll-cage for his lower extremities, and a 3-point harness to hold his legs within the cage, and this was just the necessary hardware ingenuity!

 

Nicola also needed “ghost riders.” People to ride ahead and scan the terrain, helping him choose racing lines, since he would be unable to stop his motorcycle. He also needed two riders behind him to right his bike in case of a fall (which happens a lot to me). In short, Nicola truly relied on his team in many ways. The Dakar race would simply not be possible without his team’s collective brain power, physical dedication, and willpower. He needed them and they quickly rallied around his determination to make his dream a reality. Nicola states that it's difficult to even describe how he now has to ride and that it required a lot of practice for him to become proficient with the changes. 

While I could read and write about motorcycling for days, what I love even more about this story is the camaraderie, the support, the teamwork, the passion, and the determination of the team! The PATINS Team embodies all of this in my eyes! This PATINS team of incredible people bring their respective expertise together to accomplish seemingly impossible feats for so many Indiana students every week! This team pulls together to get students physical and cognitive access to their curriculum, to put communication systems in place for students who are non-verbal, to create emotionally secure learning environments, to support teachers who feel like they have a "Dakar" race to complete without the use of their legs, to convey information to students who cannot hear it, see it, or organize it. …and this inspiring teamwork happens every single week, all year long! 

Many of you are also likely part of a team who rallies around student’s strengths, desires, and goals. Frequently, you invite the PATINS staff into your team for further support and we are so grateful for those opportunities to help assist your kids! When we consider all of these things that our teams work to accomplish, one word presents itself prominently; accommodations!

Nicola didn’t want to compete in a different race, he wanted to face the same demanding Dakar experience as other racers who were not paraplegic and he needed some creative accommodations and hard-core resolve to make it happen! We have so many students in Indiana who are fully capable of and desiring to take part in the “Dakar” of their educational experience…to meaningfully participate in the general curriculum and obtain a high school diploma, with appropriate accommodations both in the daily classroom and on assessment! The race is the same race, the content is the same content, the diploma is the same diploma, but the ways in which it is approached, interacted with, and responded to could vary! Taking away any one of Nicola’s accommodations would almost certainly guarantee his non-participation. Similarly, taking away any one appropriate student accommodation will almost certainly exclude them from the most meaningful participation in the general curriculum, and effectively, from a diploma.

As Case Conference Committees (CCC) come together to build effective Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students, they must rally together as a focused, insistent, creative, and purposeful team! Each student’s strengths and barriers must be analyzed. Potential software, hardware, and strategy-based solutions must be trialed! Remember you can always borrow from the PATINS Lending Library and seek support, training, and development from the PATINS Team! Data from these trials must be used to determine appropriate and effective accommodations in each and every IEP! These accommodations must then be implemented with fidelity on a daily basis (the extensive practice necessary to become proficient), and on assessment (the Dakar)!

I don’t anticipate losing the use of my legs, or my arms, but if I ever do, I’d certainly be grateful for and reliant upon a team of passionate, hopeful, creative people around me, figuring out how to get me back on a motorcycle as quickly as possible! Figuratively speaking, unfortunate things happen all the time which, on the surface, appear insurmountable, and take our "legs" out from under us. The riding of the “motorcycle” seems like a lost cause many times. These are the times when we need our teams, and students need their teams, to match our/their determination, to be the most creative, and to be brave enough to believe with all their heart that the impossible only seems as such because no one else has done it yet. It’s hope that these dream teams construct! Before Nicola Dutto and his team made racing in the Dakar as a paraplegic a reality, many thousands of people likely didn’t even possess a construct for hope in this regard. 

Be a constructor of hope in your team! Be the determination who thinks and tries things for 10 minutes longer! Be the creativity that encourages possibility. Be the strength that “picks the bike up” for a teammate every time it falls!
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  6971 Hits
Nov
13

MackinVia*: Another Path to Literacy

*Via: by way of (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

After the long ICAM/Learning Ally partnership was dissolved, many DRMs and educators expressed the same disappointment that PATINS/ICAM felt, and we began the quest for a new solution. By now many Indiana educators know that the ICAM has chosen Mackin, as a source of audiobooks and eBooks for students with documented print disabilities.

Patrons will place a Special Order through the ICAM Web Ordering System for fiction and non-fiction titles, textbooks are not available through Mackin. While Mackin does not provide actual textbooks, it does feature a broad range of content-related titles. The ICAM team has created a training video, Getting Started with Mackin that describes the ICAM ordering process for Mackin titles. Patrons will place a Special Order and the ICAM staff will search for the title.  Patrons can create a free Mackin account so they can log in and search for titles that are available in these formats before they place an order. You can browse by different categories including grade level, interest level, and subject. 

Related content titles can notably enhance a struggling reader’s learning experience. For example, say you are starting a 4th grade Science Unit on our solar system, and you are working from the class textbook. You have a student who is Chafee-qualified to use audiobooks and text to speech. From his IEP we know that this student has an SLD in the area of reading, and as his teacher, you know that he struggles to decode from print. However, this book is not available from the ICAM. If only you could get an accessible textbook! Yesterday! He needs a solution, fast.

You can choose a Mackin title on the Solar System, in an eBook or audiobook platform, at the 4th-grade level, to supplement the textbook. You search available selections and find SOLAR SYSTEM: BY THE NUMBERS by Steve Jenkins. By reading the summary and reviews you determine this to be a near-perfect match for the textbook’s approach. And, it is available as a MackinVIA eBook. Your student can have access for a checkout period or throughout the school year, depending on publisher permissions.

This will help the student in several crucial ways. By 4th grade, sentences are longer and more complex, and multi-syllable words are frequent. Often, students who struggle to decode also experience a working memory deficit; by the time this student has worked through the sound and symbol of each word, recalling the content seems hopeless.

With this Mackin eBook, he will learn the same important vocabulary as his classmates. When he returns to the textbook in class and encounters words like “meteorite” and “asteroid” he will have seen and heard the words before. This will help alleviate his anxiety associated with printed words: They are just words, and he knows them! With the Mackin audio support, highlighting, and note-taking features he will begin to build background knowledge. Then, with teacher support such as guided context cues, repeated reading, and class discussion, his fluency and comprehension will show improvement. Imagine how he will feel, keeping up with the class. This is a powerful confidence builder! 

Next week, November 18-19, is the PATINS/ICAM Access to Education 2020, our annual fall conference. If you are registered, Great! Please stop by the ICAM/IERC Room to learn more about Mackin, and register for an Echo Dot! Registration has formally ended, but if you are just now deciding to attend, please contact Jen Conti at jconti@patinsproject.org. She will set you up, and we hope to “see” you there!

Thanks so much!

 

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  2545 Hits
Aug
13

Change is Good!

When the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Regulations were added to the IDEA in 2004, three categories of print disabilities were indicated, which deemed a student qualified to receive accessible formats: Visual Impairment, Physical Disability, and the poorly understood Reading Disability resulting from organic dysfunction. 

Say goodbye to all that. Or at least say goodbye to some very archaic-sounding language and its pairing with perplexing policy.

Finally, after seventeen years this language has been rescinded by the Library of Congress, in keeping with new amendments in the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MTIA). The changes in this policy are something to celebrate. One of the main tenets of PATINS/ICAM/IERC is the removal of barriers to learning. Now we can demonstrate that without concession. The MTIA has updated terms of who may benefit from section 121; instead of "blind or other persons with disabilities, the term is "eligible person." Then, "eligible person" is defined:

"as someone who is either blind, has a “visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability” rendering them unable to read printed works “to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability,” or has a physical disability making them unable to hold or manipulate a book or focus or move their eyes to read.   

So, as you can see, the term "organic dysfunction" has been removed from the language.

Furthermore, the requirement for a medical doctor to be the only recognized competent authority for confirming a reading disability has also been changed, or you might say, expanded.

"Eligibility must be certified by one of the following: doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, ophthalmologist, optometrist, psychologist, registered nurse, therapist, and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (such as an educator, a social worker, caseworker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian)."

Let me repeat: now, the competent authority for print disabilities is the same for all, including the addition of educators, school psychologists, certified reading specialists, and certified psychologists. So, a teacher or other named school personnel, in conjunction with the case conference, is able to confirm that a student presents any type of print disability. 

Write this in big letters and post it somewhere prominent: 

IF THEY HAVE (1) AN IEP, (2) A DETERMINATION OF A PRINT DISABILITY, AND (3) CONFIRMATION BY A TEACHER AS THE RECOGNIZED COMPETENT AUTHORITY, A STUDENT IS ELIGIBLE FOR AEM FROM THE ICAM.

Please don't be wary of this gift from the powers that be. When you see that a student is struggling to read, pay attention. Perform informal and research-based assessments. Screen for dyslexia. Confer with all classroom teachers who are with the student daily, and the special services providers who work with them. Document every assessment, every intervention, and every result. As stated in the IDOE 2021-22 Accessibility and Accommodations Information for Statewide Assessments (p.51), "Determining the nature of the student’s reading challenges can help determine the appropriate intervention approaches, as well as needed accommodations during classroom instruction and during assessments."

The ICAM team has created the AEM Instructional Guide and ICAM/IERC NIMAS Forms Guide for the Case Conference; see p. 6 for instructions on how to include related information in the IEP, and p.9 for AEM and AT Considerations. For another resource, consult Accessible Educational Materials in the IEP, from the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST).

Based on scientific, replicated research, it is widely reported that at least twenty percent of the population presents some degree or level of dyslexia. However, only about four percent of school-age students receive special education services for reading disabilities. Some students will respond to Response to Intervention (RTI) that is required by Indiana's SB 217, the state's dyslexia law, without the need for special education services. Some will not. Now we can close this gap, and open the door to literacy.

"By not recognizing shades of gray represented by struggling children who haven't yet failed enough to meet a particular criterion, schools may be under-identifying many children who will go on to experience significant reading problems." This is from Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a book all teachers should have in their toolkit. Also, it is available from the PATINS Lending Library.

If you would like to discuss these significant changes and how they may impact students, and the AEM decision-making process, or information on a tool found in one of these resources,  please feel free to contact me or one of the PATINS/ICAM specialists.

Thanks so much!

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  1920 Hits
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.

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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  1181 Hits
Aug
07

The Reward

Summer has come and gone for many students around the state, and it’s back to school. New experiences, new friends, and new teachers. One must think of what each one of those students brings to the classroom.

That thought struck me this summer when we were on our family vacation. As with one of my blogs last year, I got to thinking about interactions with my grandkids as inspiration. This summer was no different.

My wife and I, joined by my two daughters and their families, have made it a tradition of going to the Outer Bank of North Carolina. It’s warm, relaxing and a nice way to finish the past school year and begin the summer.

Each morning we like to pack up the kids and head to the beach for the day to play in the sand and surf. We encourage all five of the grandkids to play hard but take time out to rest when they get hot, tired or hungry.

This year, my oldest grandson, Dean, who is 7, took time to sit and rest next to his mom and chat. The sun came and went from behind the clouds and Dean started watching them. “Look, Mom, that one looks like a dog,” I heard him say. Back and forth they went trying to figure out every cloud that passed by.

It wasn’t long before Logan, my 5-year-old grandson, joined them. Logan listened to them describing what they were seeing. He would glance at the sky and squint searching for what they were observing.

After a couple of minutes, Logan whined, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there. It looks like a Pokémon,” Dean said.

“Where? I don’t see it,” Logan replied.

After listening to a couple more descriptions by Dean and his mom, Logan was on the verge of tears. “I don’t see it,” he said.

Dean tried to help and came closer to Logan and pointed to the cloud he had described. “See that cloud right there?” pointing to a large billowing one, “Doesn’t that look like a dragon?”

Logan looked hard and said, “In the clouds? I see it now, I thought you were looking at the blue part.”

It wasn’t communicated to Logan that they were looking at the clouds. Logan had missed critical information as to how to play the game.

We have all experienced that situation at one time or another when that one key tidbit of information was missing and those around us just assumed we understood.

When we get that missing piece, it’s been called that “Aha!” or lightbulb moment. Whatever you call it, it’s that realization of understanding what was missing. For Logan, it was simply the clouds.

I have to wonder how many students come to school with just a few missing pieces here or there. It’s our place to help them find them through listening, encouraging questions and watching facial expressions.

The reward is the smile one sees when that missing piece is found, and we’ve made a difference. I enjoyed watching my grandsons, Logan and Dean, that day as they sat for a while longer both having fun comparing clouds.

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  2979 Hits
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.



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  2472 Hits
Jan
14

Books, yes, real books!

Books, yes, real books!

If anyone has viewed my blogs, you know that my subject matter is family, primarily my grandchildren. Oh, sure I mix relevant content to school and the like, but I have shared a lot on the subject of reading.

My very first blog was “Mimi, would you read me this book?”. That was in April 2018 and it has been almost three years ago since my grandchildren sat on Mimi’s lap as she read to them.

Fast forward and over the past three years my school-age grandchildren have been reading to Mimi. The three oldest grandchildren, Dean, Logan, and Kenzie have found reading to be a window of information, anticipation, and excitement.

Interestingly, all three have access to technology provided by their school and what is available at home. All three however have found that their mode of choice is books, yes, real books! The ones that you hold in your hands.

Technology is amazing when you think that you can have hundreds, if not thousands of books available almost instantaneously. eBooks are readily available at your fingertips, just waiting to be pulled up.

We can change an eBook font, text size, background. We can highlight, bookmark, take notes, and even have it read aloud to us. Can a real book do all that? Or do we want it to?

This blog was inspired by a Facebook post I saw recently. It was an image. The more I looked at it, the more I thought about my grandkids and their choice for a book, yes, a real book!

There are arguments for and against either mode, but in the end, it is a personal choice or preference, call it what you like.

It fills Mimi and me with delight and satisfaction (particularly Mimi) that the simple “Mimi, would you read me this book?” would open a world of information, anticipation, and excitement for three inspired grandchildren.

0
  1704 Hits
Jul
15

Lyrically Correct

It is my blog time again. Not moving too far from what I have blogged in the past regarding my grandchildren, I am keeping it in the family. Today, I am going to share a tidbit about myself.

I LOVE listening to music. I find comfort in the sounds, the melodies, and instruments used, but really enjoy the lyrics and the stories told.

I have an abundance of song lyrics memorized to a wide variety of tunes. There are a lot of lyrics that have special meanings that conjures up memories of a time or place or event. This is not unique to me; we all experience those moments when a song starts.

Over and over, I sing along, word for word…. or though I thought! Let me give you a couple examples.

I was late in arriving to listening to AC/DC. I found them of value when I wanted some upbeat music to listen to while working out. “Thunderstruck” is quite motivating. I began listening to AC/DC a little more. I had listened to their song “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” several times. It was not until I came across the written lyrics, that I realized I had missed a couple words.

The refrain is “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap”, but I heard “Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief.” That is what I head. I knew what the song was about, and I even knew the title of the song. BUT I heard “Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief.”

If I had been that wrong with an AC/DC song, what other songs could I have been mis-lyricing? Probably plenty. Was I the only one that thought Dunder Chief was the lyric? It turns out, I am not. In polling several others, they shared a similar Dunder Chief experience with this popular song. How could others have had such a similar version of a song, when the lyrics are in the title, but be so misguided by what they heard?

When you listen to a lot of music, this type of thing must happen all the time. My wife shared with me that she and some friends came to Indianapolis for an Eagles concert in high school. The question was asked, “What is your favorite Eagles song?” “Hotel California”, “Desperado”, “Flies in the Vaseline”? Yep, someone thought “Life in the Fast Lane” was “Flies in the Vaseline”. Makes Dunder Chief sound mild.

I have since found other songs that I had the lyrics a bit off the mark, but this old dog is not in the mood to be lyrically correct after all these years. Besides, that is the way I heard the song, and why take that away from the experience.

Here are a handful of other lyrical mistakes people have shared and how subtle they are, me included:

'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen

What people thought:Saving his life from this warm sausage tea”
What the lyrics are: “Spare him his life from this monstrosity”

'Paradise City' by Guns N’ Roses

What people thought:Take me down to a very nice city”
What the lyrics are: “Take me down to the Paradise City”

'Livin’ on a Prayer' by Bon Jovi

What people thought:It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
What the lyrics are: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”

'Purple Haze' by Jimi Hendrix

What people thought:"'Scuse me while I kiss this guy,"
What the lyrics are: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky,"

What people thought: "Don't bring me down, Bruce."

What the lyrics are: "Don't bring me down, groose."

“Helen Wheels” by Paul McCartney and Wings

What people thought: “Hell on, hell on wheels”
What the lyrics are: “Helen, Helen Wheels”

What people thought: "I miss the rains down in Africa."
What the lyrics are: "I bless the rains down in Africa."

'Blinded by the Light' by Bruce Springsteen

What people thought: “Wrapped up like a douche, another rumor in the night.”
What the lyrics are: “Revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.”

“Money for Nothin’” by Dire Straits

What people thought: “Money for nothin’ and your chips for free.”
What the lyrics are: “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.”

What people thought: He just smiled and gave me a bite of my sandwich.”
What the lyrics are: He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.”

It is easy to chuckle at some of the things people sing, but that is just the way they heard it. I bet some folks were laughing at me!

So, think back on some lyrics you might have thought you knew, but they seem odd now that you sing them. Just keep singing!

Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief…


0
  1585 Hits
Oct
26

Tutoring teaches me some lessons!

I have had the pleasure of tutoring a young man in mathematics for the past 4 years which I’ll call “George.”  George is in the 7th grade and we have been working together since he started having trouble with math in the 3rd grade. 

We have had many challenges over the last four years.  One of our first challenges was communication with his math teachers.  We have had teachers respond very quickly and we have had teachers not respond at all.  Some teachers posted assignments and due dates online and others did not.  The lesson I learned about communication is it is a key element in helping students succeed.  It was extremely difficult for me to assist George in succeeding without communication.

The next challenge we faced was my own challenge of having preconceived notions of how math facts should be learned.  I, like many other teachers, believed using your fingers to count should be avoided.  George struggled mightily and I could see him practically hiding his fingers under the table so he could use them!  This opened my eyes and I changed my course of action.  As well as I also remembered I had used my fingers for years to learn my multiplication factors of 9.  The lesson I learned about pre-conceived notions is to throw them out, each student will learn in their own way!
 
We were also faced with the challenge of when to use a calculator.  George had so much homework not just in math, but in all subjects, so we decided that using a calculator would be highly beneficial.  His math homework was exceptionally repetitive and there were so many problems to complete.  I would have George complete the first few without a calculator to make sure he understood how to complete the problems.  Then I would allow him to use the calculator to save valuable time.  This also taught him calculator skills which he did not have.  In addition to we talked about the importance of being able to solve problems without a calculator, but also discussed how using a calculator could help him focus on problem- solving.  I explained to him these skills would be highly valued when he entered the workplace where using a calculator isn’t considered cheating.  The lesson I learned about calculators is the use of a calculator is a skill and we need to teach this skill.

This year we were faced with another big challenge.  George has ADHD and takes medicine to help control his symptoms.  He takes his medicine in the morning and by the afternoon it is much less effective.  Unfortunately, his math class is the last period of the day.  This makes it immensely difficult for him to concentrate in the class where he struggles the most, this is not a good combination.  This is the only math class available so there were no alternatives.  Most days I would have to re-teach the lesson as well as having to help him complete his homework.  The lesson I learned about class schedules is sometimes they are not flexible and you just have to come up with solutions!

It has been wonderful to see George succeed in math although the road has been long and filled with challenges.  He has taught me as many lessons as I have taught him.
0
  3298 Hits
Nov
07

Tutoring Teaches Me Some Lessons - Part 2

I have had the pleasure of tutoring a young man in mathematics for the past 4 years which I’ll call “George.” George is in the 7th grade and we have been working together since he started having trouble with math in the 3rd grade.  

We have had many challenges over the last four years. One of our first challenges was communication with his math teachers. We have had teachers respond very quickly, and we have had teachers not respond at all. Some teachers posted assignments and due dates online, and others did not. The lesson I learned about communication is it is a key element in helping students succeed. It was extremely difficult for me to assist George in succeeding without communication. 

The next challenge we faced was my own challenge of having preconceived notions of how math facts should be learned. I, like many other teachers, believed using your fingers to count should be avoided. George struggled mightily, and I could see him practically hiding his fingers under the table so he could use them! This opened my eyes, and I changed my course of action. As well as I also remembered I had used my fingers for years to learn my multiplication factors of 9. The lesson I learned about pre-conceived notions is to throw them out, each student will learn in their own way!

We were also faced with the challenge of when to use a calculator. George had so much homework not just in math, but in all subjects, so we decided that using a calculator would be highly beneficial. His math homework was exceptionally repetitive and there were so many problems to complete. I would have George complete the first few without a calculator to make sure he understood how to complete the problems. Then I would allow him to use the calculator to save valuable time. This also taught him calculator skills which he did not have. In addition, to we talked about the importance of being able to solve problems without a calculator, but also discussed how using a calculator could help him focus on problem-solving. I explained to him these skills would be highly valued when he entered the workplace where using a calculator isn’t considered cheating. The lesson I learned about calculators is the use of a calculator is a skill and we need to teach this skill.

This year we were faced with another big challenge. George has ADHD and takes medicine to help control his symptoms. He takes his medicine in the morning and by the afternoon it is much less effective. Unfortunately, his math class is the last period of the day. This makes it immensely difficult for him to concentrate in the class where he struggles the most; this is not a good combination. This is the only math class available so there were no alternatives. Most days I would have to re-teach the lesson as well as having to help him complete his homework. The lesson I learned about class schedules is sometimes they are not flexible, and you just have to come up with solutions!

It has been wonderful to see George succeed in math although the road has been long and filled with challenges. He has taught me as many lessons as I have taught him.

Part 2

I have again started tutoring a wonderful, young man who is a 7th grader. This time I’ll call him “Alex.” Alex is similar to George in that he is struggling with math, but unlike George who had a strong, stable home life, Alex until recently has been in a very unstable home environment.  

Again, I face some of the same challenges as before. I am not only assisting Alex with math, but we work together on every subject. So, again communication with his teachers is one of the key factors in helping Alex succeed. Alex and George go to school in the same district, so grades and assignments are posted online, but as was the case with George, many of Alex’s teachers do not keep this up to date. I cannot stress how important it is for us to have this information updated. Alex is working very hard to become better organized and to use his agenda book to write down assignments, due dates, etc. He is getting better at this task. I have been working with him on the importance of these skills, but it is new for him. He was never taught these skills and the importance of being organized so we work very hard on these skills. Nevertheless, every once in awhile assignments do not get written down, and I depend on the teacher to post the assignment. If they are not posted, it usually results in an assignment being missed or late.

I would encourage all teachers to find tools that give whoever is working with their students, and in many cases, this is not the parents, a way to communicate with caregivers what the daily assignment is and when quizzes and tests are scheduled. It would be so beneficial to be able to go onto their website or to get a message. There are services such as Remind that can be used to quickly send out a message at one time. Many schools already have systems in place, but I cannot stress how important it is that they are being used and updated.

Just like George, Alex struggles with multiplication facts, so I am very grateful for the previous learning experience with George. My prior experience has been so beneficial in working with George, and he has picked up his multiplication facts so quickly.  

One of the most important factors in working with Alex has been in building his self-esteem. His self-confidence had been battered, and he did not believe that he was smart, but he is incredibly smart. His grades were mostly F’s when I started working with him, and this semester he made the B honor roll. I think about this often and wonder how many more students like Alex are failing and are being left behind and falling through the cracks. Nothing changed at school, the item that changed was the support that he is now receiving outside of school, so what can be done? I don’t have many answers just many questions; I know that teachers are working as hard as they can. I just know that there are so many smart students like Alex that do not have the tools or support that they need to succeed.

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Feb
19

Music is Good for the Soul!

You might have heard the saying “Music heals the soul.” I have always believed this, now according to the evidence, it’s good for your health as well. Psychology Today states on their website: 

“Study after study has found that music therapy has a positive effect on a broad range of physical and psychological conditions including dementia, anxiety, depression, and cancer."

Music therapy is a service that can be delivered by psychologists, therapists, or caregivers in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and even outpatient clinics. The goal is to improve people’s health through music experiences such as free improvisation, singing, and listening to, discussing, and moving to music.”

This comes as no surprise to me that music had and continues to be a big part of my life. I have always loved a variety of music, but the musical genre of Rock has always been my favorite.

My pre-teen and teen days were spent at the roller skating rink when Disco and the beginnings of Rap kept me bouncing and dancing as I went round and round. When the skates came off, we would head to the floor and dance the night away doing the Bus Stop and other popular dances at the time. 

For Christmas one year, my parents purchased a stack music system from Sears for me as a present. I was so excited. It had a record player, an 8-track tape player, and dual cassette players. My first 8-track player title purchase was The Eagles and one of my first records was Meat Loaf, Bat out of Hell. In prior years for Christmas, I was always so excited to receive my K-Tel records which were a compilation record of the various hits at the time.

In high school I discovered Rock music and I continue to enjoy it even as I grow older. I have attended countless concerts with my best friend, my cousin and my daughter. Many of these concerts are out of town and we always have so much fun being together, listening to great music, and making great memories.

Sandy and her music friends


Music is also a mood changer for me. If I am feeling down, I can listen to a good dance tune and the next thing I know I am dancing around and feeling better. On the other hand, when certain songs come on they can instantly remind me of a sad time in my life. It always surprises me how hearing a song can take you back to a moment in time.

The next time you need a boost, put on your favorite song and dance around the room, trust me you won’t be sorry!

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May
25

Finding Ease with the Uneasy

The words Finding Ease with the Uneasy next to four pictures. One of a person moving through a ropes course. One of a variety of rubiks cubes. One of multiple sudoku puzzles. One of a rock climber hanging from a cliff.

Last April, I began a journey towards finding my optimal health. Fortunately, this is a proactive and not a reactive step to becoming my best self inside and out. During this journey, I’ve embarked on lots of new experiences and thus lots of new self-reflections. 

This week I’ve been reflecting upon how I engage and respond to new activities, social situations, information, etc. Some experiences I’m exploring include learning new information about my blood sugar levels, playing on a new sports team (and playing a sport that I haven’t played in years), and meeting new people at a friend’s birthday party. 

While I’ve identified differing responses and feelings about how these activities impact my overall mental, emotional, and physical health as a human being, I’ve also noted that they all have something in common. I chose to take part in them. It was my choice to research my blood sugar; it was my choice to play on a new team and to revive my softball skills; it was my choice to attend the birthday party.

This revelation stood out to me, because our students are regularly confronted with many new experiences in which they aren’t given the opportunity to choose whether to participate; participation is mandatory. So where does this leave our students who struggle to transition into new or difficult activities throughout the school day?

I believe that the answer is that we must teach our students how to become at ease with the uneasy. 

To try this, I encourage you to consider explicitly teaching students how to appropriately request help when up against a challenge. Though it may seem that all students should naturally understand how to ask for help throughout the day, this task actually requires multiple skills. This skill set requires the ability to recognize one’s struggle and the need for help, identifying the person to ask for help, getting this person’s attention, and so on. This means that students who struggle with asking for help need time to practice the steps when they are self-regulated and in a space where they aren’t afraid of what their peers or others may think. 

In that same safe space, I recommend having conversations with your students about what it means to ask for help. These conversations can demystify the stigma around needing help, identify nonverbal or discreet ways to request help, and/or create shared language on alternative ways to ask for help such as, “I need to see another example” or “I’d like clarification on this section.” 

We can also work on improving our students’ ease with the uneasy by improving their cognitive flexibility. This is a skill that can be practiced through the use of student schedules. For example, consider creating student schedules where an unknown activity is represented by a question mark icon. When we first introduce this type of activity to a schedule, the question mark could be accompanied by two or three activities to support the student’s expectations and need for predictability. This can be seen below in the left most visual schedule in the progression.

Three vertical visual schedules with a question mark placed as the fifth of six activities are placed in a progression from left to right. On the left, the question mark is highlighted next to a box with two options of math practice and writing. In the middle, the same question mark is highlighted next to a box of four options of math practice, writing, whole group, leisure. On the right, only the question mark remains.
Then over time, the number of activities could increase to improve their cognitive flexibility, helping the student to understand that during a certain time of day any number of listed activities could occur (seen in the centered visual schedule in the progression above). The list of activities could grow until it becomes difficult to list a large number of activities at which point only the question mark is used indicating that the activity is truly a surprise (indicated in the right-most visual schedule in the progression). It’s important to take behavioral and academic data on how the student is responding to these unknown and mandatory activities.

The end goal of this strategy is for the student to have collected personal data through experience and from real-time educator feedback on how they’ve been handling the new or unexpected activities. This information should then allow them to see how their ability to be at ease with the uneasy is improving, and that in fact, they can handle unexpected challenges, where there was no choice but to lean into it and ask for “help” or “clarification” or “support” when needed.

With hope, we will scaffold our students’ ability to be at ease with the uneasy and lead them into independent lives that allow them to take on challenges they once never imagined they could.

If this blog brings to mind any specific students, please email me! Together, we can investigate what is causing their unease and design strategies or find tech tools to support them. 

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Jun
01

Finding Their Way: Empowering Students with Learning Disabilities

Finding Their Way: Empowering Students with Learning Disabilities Gavin Brown Learning How to Install Duct work for heating and Cooling

It is no surprise that struggling students need extra support, however adding these extra supports  often takes the place of classes where these students excel and enjoy. Think about that…Imagine that inorder for you to do your job effectively you are asked to sacrifice something that you love to do; fishing, boating, yoga, working out, no wonder students that have learning disabilities describe disliking school so much. We are in their eyes “stealing” the joy out of these fundamental times of their adolescence to account for extra class time to bridge their learning gaps while making school an even less enjoyable environment for them in the process.

Several years ago I had the privilege of catching a great documentary called “I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences”. This film not only had me captivated but in tears listening to the students openly talk about their struggles and opening up about what they were amazing at that had been taken away to allow time for support to help their learning struggles. The idea that stuck with me the most was listening to the children change the language around their deficits. These brilliant and resilient children were not claiming to have a “disability” they all believed that disability means I CAN’T. I have a learning difference that just means I learn differently than you do. I immediately sat back and thought about how changing this phrase alone had made these remarkable children change their outlook on their struggles and view them as a strength not a burden.

After the film concluded I knew in an instant I had to sit down and watch this with my own child, who had recently been identified with a Specific Learning disability in reading. Like the children in the documentary, Gavin had asked me similar questions. “Mom, what is wrong with me?” “Why has school gotten so hard?” Gavin was ready to throw in the towel and we had just begun to understand his learning difference and how to help him.

My family sat down one evening and watched “I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That” and I watched as Gavin smiled and shook his head while listening to the children describe their situations. After the documentary concluded, Gavin looked at me and said, “so I am not broken am I?” I immediately burst into tears and replied, “No, buddy you are not.” He said I just have to do things in a different way. This documentary changed my son's outlook on his new learning challenge. From that moment forward Gavin refused to use the word “disability” he called it a learning difference. Gavin took the information he learned from this documentary and made it his new way of looking at school. Gavin took every moment as a teachable moment to educate others about his learning difference and the learning differences of others. 

Advocating had become Gavin’s weapon to fight back against his disability and I credit showing him the film as his motivation to never give up. As Gavin continued through school like others had described he was asked to forfeit elective classes that he enjoyed so he could accommodate an extra math class or language arts class. Gavin would agree as long as he could have one class that he enjoyed. Gavin figured out early on in highschool career he wanted a career in skilled trades. Gavin pursued his dreams explaining the exact motivation he had gained from listening to the stories within the documentary. Gavin has never been happier in his career and never let his learning struggles stand in his way. 

Gavin Brown Learning how to install heating and cooling duct work

If you would have asked me eleven years ago if I thought a documentary could change someone's life  I would have said no, but after watching “I Can’t Do This I Can Do That: A Film For Families With Learning Differences” I have changed my mind. This film played such a huge role in changing not only my perspective but my family's perspective around learning differences and I encourage anyone who has a child who is struggling to sit back and watch this film together or others like it. Learning as much as we could about Gavin's learning difference was the best tool we could have given him. Knowledge is power and teaching him about his differences made him less frustrated and more empowered. 

Many times we forget about how struggling everyday can make students feel. Find joy in learning about one thing, whether it be academic, fine arts, sports or some other area. Once students can find joy again while learning, the rest seems less overwhelming. If you would like help supporting your students Patins has specialists avaible in many different areas. It is as simple as completing a TA request. Guide them, encourage them and help them understand what their learning difference means. Knowledge is power and once the student truly understands their difficulty they are more willing to work to overcome it instead of throwing in the towel.


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