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Sep
21

Evaluate the Show or Be The Show?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Sep
15

Synonymous

Synonymous [Definition] 


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Webinar: 

5 part series: AT in the IEP

Part 1 and Part 2 on September 29, 2022 

Register:

AT in the IEP: Getting the Money

AT in the IEP: Boots on the Ground

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Aug
21

Grateful!

Grateful! Sandy smiling with her family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep
14

Study Skills

My daughter and I.jpg


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

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

My parents and daughter.jpg


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

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


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Sep
06

Never Too Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan
03

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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Aug
14

Whatever Happened to Civics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much!

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Jul
25

No Shelf Life On Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much!


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Aug
24

The Vision of the Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much!
 
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Feb
02

Social Stories in the Classroom

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

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

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

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


When the Bell Rings

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

I will keep calm and quiet.

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

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

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

I will keep calm and quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

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

This is my job.

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

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

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Mar
15

Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them. *Pivotal Legislative Changes for Dyslexia

Recently, IN SB 217, which concerns schools’ response to dyslexia, passed through the Indiana Senate and House. This bill takes a huge step forward in addressing a problem that has the potential of negatively impacting lives of our students throughout their school years and beyond.

The good news for Indiana school corporations and charters is that the tenets of the bill are to be met no later than the 2019-2020 school year; scarcely more than a year from now. Of course, this time will not be spent idly, but rather in preparation for the ensuing changes in instruction, school personnel, and attitudes. Following is a skeletal outline of what will be required of schools in IN SB 217.  
  • At CCC meetings, on IEPs, and on your school’s website, start talking about dyslexia. Everyone should know by now that “if we just ignore it, it will go away” is a negligent fallacy. Talk to other teachers about what they are seeing in the classroom. Get familiar with dyslexia, get comfortable talking about it.
  • Use the IDOE-approved system of supports to address the reading needs of students that present characteristics of dyslexia. Be careful not to spend too long in a tier if it’s not working for the student. Time spent ineffectively addressing dyslexia is time wasted, and studies have shown that a poor reader in 1st grade has a 90% chance of always being a poor reader. Interventions that are timely and effective increase opportunities for academic and life-long success.
  • Obtain parental consent before screening. This should be no problem. When I speak with parents about this, they are hungry for solutions; they want honest discussion between teachers and their families, they want their child screened, they want outcome driven interventions, yesterday. Last year. Two grades ago.
  • Dyslexia interventions may include certain types of instruction. So vague, but so easy. The research is in and we know what works here: instruction that is Explicit, Systematic, Multisensory and Phonetic. If your instruction curriculum does not include these, let us help you find one that does.
  • By July 1, 2019, each school corporation and charter must employ at least one authorized reading specialist trained in dyslexia. Depending on school population more than one may be necessary. Begin making the decision on who will be designated as soon as possible, and find a certification program.
  • IDOE will provide professional awareness information on dyslexia to each teacher in each school corporation and will develop and update an Indiana dyslexia resource guide. Lean into the support they will provide.
So, there it is. If you regard IN SB 217 as an overwhelming addition of copious amounts of work, that is completely understandable. But allow this outlook to exist only for a couple of days. We all know how fast a year passes. This is so much to pull together, but you can do it! Your students need you to be successful, so they can be successful.

The ICAM will support schools as they serve students who have a current IEP in several ways. We will provide a membership for them to receive human voice recorded audio books, some that are accompanied by text: textbooks, children’s books, literature and novels. Also, we will provide NIMAS files, the digital format of their textbooks to use with text-to-speech software, and ePubs. These specialized formats are pathways to adding a multisensory element to your instruction. It’s not the whole multisensory component, which uses all learning pathways at once—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile-- but should be regarded as a substantial piece.

Also, we have a growing collection of dyslexia-related books and other resources in the PATINS Lending Library; you may review titles in ICAM Dyslexia Book Resources. There are a few articles in Document Resources you may find helpful, and on the Dyslexia Resources page there are webinars, websites, a dyslexia screener. We will be adding to and updating these pages as we continue our research.

PATINS/ICAM Specialists are happy to come to your school to present real classroom solutions that can be immediately implemented, even customize a presentation to address specific needs of your school or corporation as you adapt to the changes IN SB 217 requires.

We are here for you. And for the starfish.

Thanks so much!

* "Wall Street"
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Jan
27

The Chosen One

If you asked me, in an elevator, "What is a digital rights manager (DRM)?" I might say, "a DRM is an individual designated to oversee copyright protections for digital materials that are provided to students with a print disability and an IEP." That's not wrong. But I should never say that unless I've begun to exit the elevator when the question is asked, and the doors are already squeezing together on my leg. Because being an ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) DRM can be so much more.

In fact, if you are a DRM for your school district, congratulations! Someone felt that in addition to your other tasks at school, you would do a good job in this role. Now, you have a special opportunity to help students increase literacy skills and improve learning outcomes across all content areas. You have the means to help certain students elevate their attitude toward school as well as lift their expectations of themselves as a reader and as a student in charge of their own path because reading changes everything.

As the DRM Specialist for the ICAM, I encourage you to display your DRM badge proudly. This badge (pictured below) is provided in the ICAM’s welcome letter to new DRMs. 

PATINS Project/ICAM Digital Rights Manager Badge for email

You can copy/paste it into your electronic signature so that your communications throughout the district identify you as a DRM for your School Corporation. You can also enlarge the badge, copy and hang it outside your door to invite interest.

Share your enthusiasm for your new role by contacting other DRMs in your district. Experienced DRMs may offer valuable tips and tricks that could help you. You may reach out to a DRM who attended the required training then proceeded to languish in the role; your energy may be the nudge they need to up their DRM game and get more involved.

Talk to professionals in your district who may notice students struggling with reading, writing and language, e.g. Librarian, Reading Specialist, Study Hall Teacher; of course the Special Ed Teachers, and Gen Ed Teachers in all content classes; Special Services Providers such as SLP and OT. If everyone knows you are a DRM, perhaps they'll approach you: "I've noticed that student A always asks what's for lunch even though the menu is posted." A simple comment like this can lead to an investigation that can lead to knocking down a learning barrier for one student. And that is big. 

Recently, an educator asked me if DRMs should still be appointed if their district currently has no students who need accessible educational materials (AEM). My immediate response to this was, "Your district does have students who need AEM, they just have not been identified." Because research proves that 1 in 5 students has some degree of dyslexia. In fact, during our AEM Grant Mid Year Update, one district found that 95% of students who took uPAR benefitted from some type of read-aloud accommodation. See the January PATINS Pages for more AEM Grant results. 

My secondary response to her inquiry was also, “Yes, because when a student is newly identified and becomes eligible for AEM, and/or moves into the district, there should be a DRM trained and ready to order AEM on behalf of that student.”

If you’re reading this blog and are unsure of who the DRMs are for your district, contact the ICAM staff. They can quickly tell you who the DRMs are in your corporation. Should you learn you are the only one, report that to the person that appointed you. There should NEVER be less than 2; 3-4 is better yet;  5 DRMs is a full staff, allowed by the state and recommended by the ICAM.

If you've been appointed as a DRM and have completed the DRM training, remember that beyond your connection to other DRMs in your district, comprehensive support is at hand. You can contact the ICAM anytime with any question, including "I've never ordered and don't remember the training." Also, look for You, as a Digital Rights Manager on the PATINS Training Calendar. This training will explain the tasks required of a DRM as they acquire AEM for students with documented print disabilities through the ICAM. The next one is February 3 and you can register now!

Thanks so much!



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Oct
04

Knowledge is Power

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. October 15 is World Dyslexia Day. People all over the world will be wearing red to celebrate awareness. This may be a terrific way to introduce our state’s new dyslexia bill to your classroom, or even the whole school: encourage everyone to wear red. Maybe ask everyone to learn and share one fact about dyslexia.

A frequent grievance from students who have dyslexia is that other students tease, berate and bully them. Those bullies are acting out of unfamiliarity of reading disabilities, and there is only one way to fix that; educate them. Ask them for support. Point out the obvious: some of us are good at golf, some of us are good at baseball, some of us enjoy working with technology, some of us are artists or dancers or mechanically inclined. That does not make one better than the other, just different. Perhaps, this is the first thing to talk about with your students when you begin the dyslexia conversation.

A common objection from teachers is that very soon (July 2019) they will have to be skillful in early identification of dyslexia, and then able to provide effective, science-based instruction, when they themselves have not been trained in these areas. It’s true. I’m certain that “dyslexia” was never mentioned in my own education. As more states, 39 so far, pass laws for teaching learners who have dyslexia, such as our Indiana SB 217, colleges will have to better prepare pre-service teachers with reading instruction that is explicit, systematic, sequential, and cumulative.

The more parents know about dyslexia, the more they will understand how to advocate for their child.

The more teachers understand about dyslexia, the better they can justify their needs for professional development to help them improve instruction.

When students with dyslexia receive the instruction and support they need, the more success they will experience.

“A teacher educated about dyslexia can be the one person who saves a child and his/her family from years of frustration and anxiety. That teacher can play a pivotal role in changing the whole culture of a school. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child and a village of advocates to raise a child who struggles.” - Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Other Helpful Resources:

Reading Horizons Overcoming the Dyslexia Paradox

International Dyslexia Association-Perspectives on Language and Literacy

IDA Dyslexia Handbook: What Every Family Should Know-Free Download

Solution Saturday-October 6 2018
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Jul
06

Failing the Stranger Test

Failing the Stranger Test: a communication board, and IEP screen, a Speak and Spell Toy, and a red Failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death

My first year writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) an administrator coached me in “The Stranger Test.” I would argue it was one of the hardest ongoing writing assignments I will ever have: everything you ever learned in graduate school, all the jargon and technical language, hide it. Write and communicate in such a way that a stranger on the street would understand what you mean.

It’s important because in practice, failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death.

A student I got to work with for a few years had moved across the state. I got a friendly email from the new team asking if I could help them out. When I recognized the student, I asked about the  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools that he had been using at his previous  school.

“He has specific AAC tools? All the IEP says is that he gets ‘high and low tech AAC.’

What in the world could that mean?

  1. A picture of snack choices and an eye gaze controlled computer
  2. An alphabet board and an iPad with any random app.
  3. The cases of DVDs from his video collection and the Speak & Spell from my childhood.

All of those would satisfy the legal document. Yet none would match what this student had been using for years, the only way the team had figured out how to help him communicate what he wanted and gave him access to his education.

Why had the IEP been written in such a way that one of our most vulnerable students potentially lost all of his access to language? The most common answer I hear: “I was told not to name the exact brand/type of device in the Assistive Technology box.”

In the words of the greatest movie of 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean, the unwritten rule about not naming brands is “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Individually, with the case conference committee, consider what the student needs and be clear about the features. In some cases, one and only one specific language system or product may meet that student’s needs and it may need to be named. For other students, several options might be appropriate, and then it’s critical to name the features that make that tool successful for that student, and “high and low technology” is not professional vocabulary for a stranger test.

In other words: the language systems of Proloquo2Go and LAMP Words for Life are not interchangeable for many students. The language system that is only available in iOS is not often interchangeable for whatever language system that can be found on a Chromebook. They might both be “high tech AAC” but for many people it’s like exchanging German for Mandarin. That change move might mean the difference between being able to communicate pain, needs, and accessing education and not. It might mean the difference between life and death.

Of course, we at PATINS have nothing but good news:

If you need help, a friendly stranger for your stranger test, PATINS is here with Specialists to assist you in making sure that you accurately describe the features in the tools your team has trialed. If your student has outgrown those tools and you’re looking for something new, we are here for that too!

Also, I have created a list of common feature terminology used in Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools with descriptions of what they mean, a little study aid for your ongoing Stranger Tests.

The hardest writing assignment of your life, the one in which the futures of children rest in the words you choose, is a living, breathing group assignment. Don’t hesitate to reach out if PATINS can help.


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Dec
16

Guest Blogger: Access to Education…Access to Thrive

Introduction to our guest blogger, Emily Ott

Over the past year or so, I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated educators who are committed to creating inclusive classrooms through the use to accessible eduational materials (AEM) and assistive technology (AT). One of those educators is Emily Ott, who is on a third year AEMing for Achievement team at Greenwood Community Schools. In her blog she describes her experience as an new educator and an active member of the AEM team at her school.

Access to Education…Access to Thrive

As I began teaching, accessibility was an educational term that, quite honestly, really intimidated me. I wanted to be an inclusive educator. I loved my students and wanted them all to succeed. The issue? I wasn’t sure how to get there. I wasn’t sure what accessibility was all about and I definitely wasn’t confident in my ability to make and provide educational materials accessible to all learners. Hopefully this post will encourage, challenge, and inspire you, as an educator, supporter, school nurse, parent, administrator, student, or, school guidance counselor, etc. Yes, you, the one in the thick of it. Let’s break it down now, y’all…

The What

Accessibility is simply this: giving all students access to learning in ways best suited for them…incorporating technology or not. This video will give you a brief overview of accessible materials in easy to understand language.

photo is captioned

Caption: A student having a conversation through sign language with his classroom teacher reflecting on how his day had gone, what behaviors he had improved upon that day, and his behavior goal for the next day.

The When

Students deserve to receive an accessible education every single time they step through the doors. Whether students come to school ready to learn or not, we as educators have the opportunity to create a safe place for inclusive learning with each interaction we have with each individual student. So the “when” is the moment the student walks into the building.

The Where

This is where accessibility becomes tricky. We can control what we can control, yes. However, we must also fight for what we believe to be right. Fluidity and communication throughout my building and district is started by ME. I can choose to begin a conversation about accessibility with colleagues in my area of expertise. When push comes to shove, the culture in my building and in my district is changed through me. The same is true for you. Challenge yourself to see each inch of your building as your “where.”

The Why and Who

The why and who are our students. They deserve it. They deserve the best. They deserve someone who fights for and believes in them. I believe in my students. I believe that their best is good enough, but I also believe that they can handle adversity. I believe that they are worthy of endless love and support as they journey through life. They’re just like me, just wandering around trying to figure it out. Let’s not forget why we show up and who we show up for. Here you’ll see some faces of my “who”. They also happen to be my “why”.

Left photo         Right photo    

Caption: (Left) A student is smiling with his work after completing an assignment using Co:Writer. (Right) A student is smiling holding a note that says “I love you.”

The How

  1. Start a conversation.
  2. Be vulnerable about where you are on this journey.
  3. Think deeper about accessibility.
Have your students reflect accessibility, as well.

Attending the
Access to Education Conference the past three years has been a huge point of growth for me. I encourage you to look into attending the conference next year. Lastly, reach out! I would love to give any advice or encouragement I can. You can follow this link to find my name and get in touch. Also, don’t forget the resources and staff at PATINS who are always available to train, coach, and support you as an educator. I will leave you with an affirmation to hopefully help you stay encouraged as we close out 2021. 

Educator’s Affirmation

"I am a skilled and talented educator. I am not alone in the weariness of teaching. My best as an educator is enough. I do not have to strive for perfection. I will work as hard as I can to support all students in my sphere of influence."

About Me

I’m a second (and a half) year special education, teacher/dog mom, living and working in central Indiana (Greenwood to be exact). I began teaching in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It has been a wild ride, but I am working on being mindful, staying present in each moment, and remaining grateful. I love reading, spending time with my family and friends, supporting students, and encouraging others! I also recently started an accessibility team for my building as part of goals our district team created. We were third year recipients of the AEMing for Achievement Grant, so this was the perfect opportunity to think outside the box and create something great for students, families, and staff! 

photo is captioned

Caption: Miss Ott is smiling with her two year old Miniature Australian Shepherd, Maisie.

Extra Special Thank Yous

Thank you to Amanda Crecelius at PATINS Project, accessibility extraordinaire, for all of her support as I’ve dipped my toes into all this accessibility stuff. Thank you to Greenwood Community Schools and its leadership for being a community of lovers and includers.

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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.

Fingers on the keys of a saxophone
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!

chalkboard with math equations and symbols

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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  1475 Hits
Sep
03

Assistive Tech Supports for Anxiety

anxiety Image of face profile with words questioing themself.

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

Portrait of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles


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

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

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

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

Meditation/Mindfulness

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

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



Sound Therapy

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

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



Movement

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

Gratitude

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

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

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


References:

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

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

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

 


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  2456 Hits
May
23

Jump in, the water's fine!

       2007 Indianapolis 500 Starting field formation before start.

       Stick figure person running through door with

School is ending, the Indy 500 is this weekend, and pools are open for the summer! It’s time for a little relaxation. Oh, wait...this is a blog for educators. Back it up.


Odds are that you will be doing some kind of professional learning this summer. Is your district hosting a Summer of eLearning conference? Will you be participating in a book club with your colleagues? Maybe you are just planning on relaxing and reflecting. I would like to challenge you to do something this summer that is totally not something that you would normally do. If you are at a conference, attend a session that you normally wouldn’t, even if you don’t think it applies to your classroom. If you normally read fiction, read a non-fiction book or vice versa. Are you a knitter? Learn to sew. You get the picture. Just get outside of your groove.

pool frog floaty.
There are a couple of good reasons to try this. New experiences create new ideas. This could stimulate your brain and give you some creative leaps for next year. But, did you know that some scientists believe that the perceived passage of time is connected to the amount of new information you feed your brain? In other words, by filling some of your time with new experiences and thoughts you can make your summer seem to slow down.
 If a longer summer break sounds good to you, this may be the answer! Give it a try, even if it’s a total disaster, you’ll have a new story to tell!

shark
Watch for the PATINS Specialists at the Summer of eLearning conferences around the state. Come up and say hi!


Oh yeah, remember to take some time for yourself this summer too. Reconnect with what makes you, you. Have a great break!


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  2083 Hits
Sep
01

Pure Bliss

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

bliss

Artist Name - Pure-Bliss.mp3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remind your students to use their own strengths to support barriers that appear to be a weakness. The combination of those two working together…pure, joyful bliss. Happiness.
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  465 Hits
Apr
30

Parents as Partners: Maximizing Continuous Learning Success

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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