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Oct
20

Ode to Mrs. Bales

IMG_43822 Letter on notebook paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vacuum whirring, 
Words stirring.

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Oct
13

Time Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Oct
06

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup

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

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

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

Back up the AAC tools.

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

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

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

When backing up files, three really simple rules:

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

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

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

Backing Up AAC Files:

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

TouchChat iOS App

Proloquo2Go iOS App

LAMP Words for Life iOS App

Avaz Android and iOS App

TD Snap iOS App 

TD Snap on Windows

Empower (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NuVoice (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NovaChat devices

Speak For Yourself iOS App

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