Apr
08

Employee of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a dog?!”

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

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

Dear Winnie,

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

Love,

Todd

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

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

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

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

“Did she write this by herself?”

“Good question, what do you think?”

“She can’t use a pencil.”

“No, she can’t.”

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

“I think that’s a great idea.”

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

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Apr
01

SETTing Students up for Success and Counting Every Move for Communication


5 min read

Artist Name - SETT-Blog-Audio.m4a


Boardmaker symbol of frustrated young man with the printed word frustrated

I've been working with a student and his team. They have moved successfully albeit slowly through using the tools below. At some point a few years ago, this student was evaluated and deemed to be a candidate for a dedicated speech generating device (SGD) with eye gaze (very expensive but a key part of a communication system for the right person). His team (student, parents, teachers, SLP, OT, PT and support staff) was keen to make his SGD work for him. The student has cerebral palsy that reduced his limb movement/accuracy, so much time had already been invested AND after all, this solution was expensive.

Why change? This can be awkward. How do you bring up the topic of a significant change to access and trajectory of the student's goal/language programming? Two things; the eye gaze never really worked as well as expected AND the student became increasingly frustrated often abandoning the device. Eye gaze could be revisited but it was important to recognize that it was not working. Time to think about the S - Student, his M - Moves, his C - Clicks and his C - Chats. More about that later.

Head control/calibration were hurdles interfering with access. Using the tools mentioned below, this student demonstrated enough consistent and accurate improvement to control switches with his head and hand for scanning. His language setup was changed (Core Scanner on an Accent 1400) to work more efficiently with two switch scanning (i.e., he presses one switch to move through icons and the other switch to select his word).

He is reportedly thrilled with his new access method. He smiles more and enjoys communicating often producing spontaneous sentences.

excited preschool girl with open hands raised near her face looking at device screen

First of all, you must gather data. If you don't have data, it's just your opinion.  

I sometimes hear that students "inconsistently respond" to stimuli or questions, it "depends on how they are feeling", "if they're in the right mood", "they are being stubborn", etc. Maybe. Perhaps we have not presented motivating stimuli, observed the tiniest of responses,  offered the most appropriate access method, or given the student adequate wait time.

SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools created by Joy Zabala. It is a FREE resource. "Although the letters form a memorable word, they are not intended to imply an order, other than that the student, environments, and tasks should be fully explored before tools are considered or selected. Some people have tried to explore the first three separately and in order, however, that is nearly impossible because the first three are closely linked." The SETT Framework is so important, it's at heart of our process for the PATINS AAC Consultation Request form.

Another important tool to set the groundwork is the Every Move Counts, Clicks and Chats sensory based approach (EMC3). It is available to borrow from the PATINS Project Lending Library. EMC3 is a sensory-based communication program. It is based on the idea that everyone communicates in some way. The COUNTS Assessment explores sensory, communication, and symbols. The are seven sensory areas: vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory. The CLICKS Assessment looks for purposeful switch use. The CHATS Assessment is used to collect communication skills. It states that "Assessment results are seldom 'final'. Needs, abilities, and environmental demands change over time."

A third tool useful for SETTing students up for success is to establish a baseline for communication skills and determine goals. The Communication Matrix is an online/questionnaire tool for anyone in the early stages of communication. The first 5 assessments are FREE. Communication is more than just receptive and expressive, students also need methods to refuse, obtain items, socialize, and gather/share information. These functions of communication can be measure/quantified by using the Communication Matrix.

Hand in hand with these pieces is understanding the absolute need for flexibility, continuous learning, and ongoing assessment with students. It is a fluid process that can and should be revisited periodically as the student changes, technology changes or when things stop working as well as they had in the past.

SETT your students up for success. Use the SETT, EMC and Communication Matrix to better understand the student, environment, tasks/needs, sensory responses, access abilities AND communication skills. THEN consider the T - Tools to empower your students and goals for success. If the tools don't seem to be working, collect data and try something else!

If you would like to learn more, check the PATINS Project training calendar or reach out to a PATINS Project Specialist for more information.

The PATINS Project Tech Expo is fast approaching - Thursday, April 15, 2021. It's FREE. Get registered!

Additional resources:

SETTing Up Successful AAC Use - Lauren Kravetz Bonnet, PhD, CCC-SLP

The Dynamic AAC Goals Grid DAGG-2

Symbol Assessment

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Mar
25

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates! Tech Expo PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. Virtual 2021. Students and teacher using assistive technology.

Around this time last year, you pivoted with us to the first ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE allowing us to ensure the health and safety of everyone, while also bringing you high quality presentations, resources, and time for connection. It still amazes me how quickly everyone -- attendees, presenters, PATINS/ICAM staff -- adapted for a successful event!

As I am currently writing this, a small part of me is waiting for the frantic rush to get everything into place for the second virtual PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE like last year. I have checked my to-do lists many times, communicated with presenters/exhibitors, and assigned duties to our top-notch PATINS/ICAM and IN*SOURCE staff. Everything is running on schedule and humming along nicely for April 15, 2021. (Knock on wood!) What’s left to do? Get excited!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE has new and improved features and extra perks for the virtual event! With a record number of presentation submissions, we have added 4 additional sessions from amazing organizations dedicated to support students. That’s 24 presentations to choose from to earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)! Due to popular demand, we have divided the sessions into strands to help you determine the best presentation agenda for you. The strands are:

  • Access
  • Advocacy and Social/Emotional Services
  • Communication
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Low Vision
  • Literacy
  • Tech Tools 

Your time is limited and valuable, which may make it tricky to choose only 4 sessions. Even if you are not sure if you can fully commit to attending live, we encourage you to register for no-cost to receive access to presentation/exhibitor information as well as presentation session summary videos for the opportunity to earn up to two more PGPs!

A major upgrade for the 2021 event is the opportunity for attendees to speak with exhibitors live! There are currently close to 50 organizations eager to share their transformational products and services with Indiana administrators, educators, pre-service teachers, families, and advocates. So even if you only have 10-15 minutes to drop in, visit the Exhibitors to learn about products and services which can support your students’ academic, communication, and social/emotional skills.

I hope to see your name come through on our registration list before April 12, 2021 when the form closes.

If you would like to start the Tech Expo 2021 celebrations early with us, download and use one of these free themed virtual backgrounds on your upcoming video conferencing meetings!


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Mar
18

For the Love of Reading

For-The-love-of-Reading
QR Code to audio For the Love of Reading Read by Author
Artist Name - For-the-Love-of-Reading-Audio.mp3


For the love of reading 
By Amanda Crecelius

I love reading. I love reading for pleasure, for current news updates, for educational purposes, for self-improvement, and tips and tricks. I love reading with my eyes and with my ears. I L-O-V-E reading. I often have a stack of books by my bedside that I have started to read, some in the living room, and at least one in my daughter’s swim class backpack. My Audible account has around 30 books on my wishlist waiting, not so patiently, for my next credit. My top two genres are Historical Fiction and Psychology. Sometimes, I read both at the same time. As my eyes move over the letters on the page or my ears tune into the tone of the reader, my mind chain links the information to various parts in my memory, my knowledge, and my experiences and it is close to euphoric. There is nothing equally as satisfying yet saddening than finishing a good book. As I look around my world, I see fellow lovers of reading and others who have little or no interest in reading at all and this baffles me. This mystery has been slowly deciphered as PATINS’ staff work our way through the LETRS curriculum, along with several social media groups and podcasts dedicated to the science of reading. Through each I am reminded that our brains have not evolved to naturally develop reading like our brains pick up the spoken language. According to the US Department of Education, most children aren’t reading until the age of seven. While speech development can be heard in the babbles of babies shortly after birth according to The Journal of Child Language

I have blocked out my own reading preparation and the challenges that I faced in a curriculum of guessing and memorization. I forget that I myself struggled with reading early on and that I still have a mini panic attack when I need to read out loud (also when I read aloud for blog recordings). Those panicked moments bring flashbacks to sentence counting, so that I could practice the words that I would be called upon to stumble over in front of a class full of excellent readers. Every now and then I come across a word that I do not recognize and I stop, pronounce each letter, and my usual response is “huh, so that’s how you spell that.” Since working at PATINS these personal experiences and the knowledge that I have gained through professional development, including the LETRS training, have enriched consultations and webinars. One of those sessions is coming up on March 30th as we discuss the overlapping literacy strategies used for English Language Learners and students with Specific Learning Disabilities. Register here.
 
Over the past few months my daughter, who is nearing the end of kindergarten, has been going through this learning process. And although she is learning through methods fueled by the science of reading, she still has to force her mind to practice and focus on rewiring itself for comprehension of the letters on the page. Frustrations can result in books flying through the air or a stalemate when it is time for bedtime reading or doing homework. 

So how did I develop the love of reading that I have now? I remember my mother sitting with a book in her hand at the kitchen table, on the sofa, in the car, at my volleyball practice, and basically any free second in her day. She read book after book, sometimes not able to put them down until she was finished. I was drawn into her passion for reading. And she filled our lives with exposure to books. She took my siblings and I to our small local library to listen to storytime and let us pick out books to take home for her to read to us. As she read the books she replicated an imagined voice of the characters, showing excited energy for each word on the page. She took us to “The Big Library” which was a two story building in New Albany, IN. For a small town girl, this library was gigantic. She let us wander around freely choosing books and playing throughout the stacks and shelves, as she worked on research. I remember checking out materials that sparked my interest from “The Babysitters Club” to the latest issue of “Seventeen” magazine, even learning Spanish via cassette tapes. Being able to obtain information in a variety of different formats opened the door to the travels, tales, and tips that made me keep coming back.  

Valuable strategies to help students with developing reading skills, include phonemic My daughter sitting on a bench with legs crossed, holding a book in front of a wooden wall that looks like a bookshelf with books on it.awareness, vocabulary building, and comprehension. These strategies build the ability to read but do not necessarily create a love of reading. A love of reading is held in examples of others reading with their eyes and ears, of others sharing their reading experiences, of connecting stories and information to student’s interests, and allowing them to choose from and float around in the sea of reading options in the different formats including read-to-me, audio, parent/teacher/peer read alouds, ebooks, captions on videos, and physical books in large, small, and braille print.

Although I value my daughter’s development of reading skills, I also want her to love to read. So tonight as the stack of Bob books (a series of simple phonetic stories that we use for practicing reading)  sit at my daughter’s bedside, I ignore them and the urge for me to rush her brain to learn all the strategies of reading. Instead, I let her dash excitedly to her bookshelf to find her favorite adventure for the evening. As I prep my character voices, we cuddle up and turn the pages to take us away to a castle or a pirate ship and I watch my daughter’s eyes light up with love.

Sources:

Oller, D. K., Wieman, L. A., Doyle, W. J., & Ross, C. (2008, September 26). Infant babbling and speech*: Journal of Child Language. Cambridge Core. 

Typical language accomplishments for children, birth to age 6 -- helping your child become a reader. (2005, December 15).


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Mar
11

Accessible Materials & Competent Authority: A Step Closer to Equity & Access in 2021

In October of 2006, I was an assistive technology (AT) coordinator with PATINS and just four months into the job! As if the world of AT and Universal Design for Learning wasn't overwhelming enough to a new PATINS Coordinator, fresh out of the Intense Interventions classroom, I was about to be tossed head-first into the world of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) as well! With help from Jeff Bond, I started the NIMAS and Digital Rights Managers (DRM) Podcast on October 6, 2006, when the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) was officially opened to the state of Indiana.

The ICAM was created that October of 2006, to support Indiana Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in meeting the
National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS) Regulations of the IDEA 2004. Provisions in this federal mandate require state and local education agencies to ensure that printed textbooks and related core instructional materials are provided to students with documented print disabilities in accessible formats in a timely manner. This was a huge step forward for access in that it was, essentially, the federal and state governments acknowledging that specialized formats of the same content was a necessary accommodation and that denying access to information because of a disability was a civil rights issue! While we were all beyond excited for this, we also saw the "fine print" that limited who could serve as a competent authority to qualify students with print disabilities, in order to receive these specialized formats. It was right then, that many of us committed to doing whatever it took to expand this! The first thing that the ICAM did was to develop our old Form 4, which helped, but most certainly did not alleviate the barrier.

During the 15 years since October of 2006, through thousands of conversations, demonstrations, and pleading, we've arrived at another milestone in accessible materials! Given the timing of my turn to blog again combined with the deeply important and impactful changes to who can certify students as qualified to receive Accessible Educational Materials derived from NIMAS files, I'm confident there is no better guest blogger for me this week, than our very own ICAM team of Jeff Bond, Sandy Stabenfeldt, and Martha Hammond!

"The ICAM under the guidance of the Chafee Amendment identifies the print disabilities as: Blind/Low Vision; Orthopedic Disabilities and Reading Disability resulting from Organic dysfunction.

In the cases of Blind/Low vision and Orthopedic disabilities, the qualifications have always been straightforward. In order to qualify to receive K-12 textbooks and core instructional materials in accessible formats rendered from NIMAS files, the student must have: (1) an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP); and (2) a certification of a print disability, by a certified Competent Authority (CA), on file with the school district. A CA is defined to include doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, ophthalmologists, optometrists, registered nurses, therapists, professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (e.g. social workers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents).

However, it was determined by the National Library Service (NLS) of the Library of Congress that Reading Disabilities from Organic dysfunction, dyslexia being the most frequently identified of this group, could best be confirmed by a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathy. When the ICAM was created it was decided it would follow the NIMAS law as written. Still, the requirement for a doctor’s signature has historically been a barrier to receiving Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for many students. This has also been an obstacle for the ICAM, because our goal from the beginning has been to provide AEM to any student who needs it. 

The ICAM is ecstatic to announce that a change has been made. On February 12, 2021, the National Library Service (NLS) published the regulations that go along with the Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act of 2019. In addition to expanding the list of persons who may certify a student’s eligibility for accessible formats, the Library of Congress removed the requirement for certification by a medical doctor for those with reading disabilities. Educators, school psychologists, and certified reading specialists are now among the professionals authorized to certify students with reading disabilities. These guidelines have been revised to align with changes to copyright made by the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MTIA).

This is a profound procedural change, so it is not surprising that there has already been some confusion on how to interpret the law. So allow us to emphasize:

There is no change to the eligibility requirements. The student must have an IEP.  The presence of a print disability is still a Case Conference determination. The change is who may certify reading disabilities resulting from organic dysfunction. 

ICAM/IERC NIMAS Form 4 may now be signed by TOR, school psychologist or reading specialist. The ICAM has created a guide to provide clarification of the AEM process for the Case Conference Committee and is intended for use during the IEP meeting, please refer to this guide for additional support.

The last year has been a difficult one for students and for educators. Let’s celebrate this move forward together by providing paths to literacy for more students! Please contact the ICAM staff with any questions concerning this important policy change, or any AEM-related queries you may have, moving forward.

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back. – Chinese proverb"

Big Thanks to our own ICAM team and the work that's gone into this already and all of the work that will continue as we strive to get accessible materials to ALL of the students who need them!
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Mar
04

Laverne & "Surely"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  [drawing cursive L]

On a side note: If I am ever participating in an online activity like Kahoot, etc with you, know that I am always the Laverne in the room.
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Recent Comments
Guest — Laura Knoke
I totally remember that show! My name does start with "L"! Thank you for the inspiring story and your timing at this point in the ... Read More
Thursday, 04 March 2021 17:01
Guest — Paige West
Wow what a beautiful story of how your teacher really knew what mattered to you and applied to other students. Thank you so much f... Read More
Thursday, 04 March 2021 19:40
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Way to remind us to open our eyes ears and hearts to those around us, Kelli. One never knows what can make a small or big differe... Read More
Sunday, 07 March 2021 08:01
  4 Comments
Feb
18

Helping Others

The pandemic has changed so many things in my life, but some things have remained the same. I have always enjoyed helping others and this current environment that we live in makes this even more important than ever. Many of my relatives including my parents are in Florida and they were finding it nearly impossible to get a COVID-19 vaccine even though they were qualified to get one. 

The process in Florida is very confusing, especially for seniors to figure out. First, they must use a computer or cell phone to register. Then, after registering they have to find out when shots are being released via a website or Twitter. Many can figure out email and use technology, but Twitter is an unknown world to them. Next, they log in to their already made account at the exact time that the shots are released and then they can possibly get an appointment if the stars align.

There was no conceivable way my parents and many like them in Florida could have ever figured out this maze of craziness without my help. I was able to use my technology skills and get the process completed for them. I am happy to say they have had their first vaccine shot and their second vaccine shot is scheduled. I felt like I had hit the lottery the day I was finally able to get their appointments made after several weeks of trying and coming up empty. Even when you do all the steps correctly and login at the proper time, there is still a chance that you will not get an appointment.

Once I figured all this out, I wanted to help as many people as I could. I want to help them get their shots as well. So far, I have been able to help 8 people get through the process and they have all received their first vaccine shot. I will keep offering my help and I hope I can help others. I encourage everyone who can help to reach out to anyone who needs a helping hand. We all have skills that can benefit others and right now I am grateful for my computer skills. Hopefully, soon we will be able to get the vaccine easily like our flu shots but in the meantime, let’s find ways we can help those that need it.

Helping others is also important to me in my professional life and is a big part of what I do. PATINS/ICAM is here to help you with many issues we face due to remote learning made necessary by COVID-19 as well as in-person learning. We are available via email, Facebook, Twitter, or just an old-fashioned phone call! We have many training opportunities available on our Training Calendar. Let us know how we can help you!


 
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Recent Comments
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Where there's a will there's a way...and that "way" could be Sandy! I've used that "way" many a time over the years for my techno... Read More
Thursday, 18 February 2021 13:55
Guest — Martha
Sandy, so happy you use your skills to help so many. For sure, your tech skills have helped me many times over! Thanks so much!... Read More
Thursday, 18 February 2021 14:17
Guest — Bev Sharritt
If we all helped 8 folks that would be alot! Thanks Sandy.
Thursday, 18 February 2021 14:21
  4 Comments
Feb
12

Everything You Know


When I was in college there was a tagline my friends and I would use when appropriate and necessary: "Everything you know is wrong." Had memes been invented back then, this would have been a good one. It's a sweeping statement to be used in very specific situations: you know and understand the subjunctive tense, until the test. You know you have enough gas to get to work until you have to call a friend to pick you up. You know that 3 days will be plenty to write a comparison of Beowulf and Jesus. Nope. Everything you know is wrong.

You know by now, as an educator, that you have experienced enough odd surprises that you are prepared to handle anything. Unexpected new student? Welcome. Fire drill in the bleak mid-winter? Okay. Nosebleed in the cafeteria? No problem. 

Then comes a global pandemic. Schools are closed. Teachers are asked to provide remote instruction to not just the 1 student who is home with mono, but to everyone in all your classes. You have to make learning packets because some students don't have internet service at home. Others can get service but have no device. You are familiar with online platforms such as Zoom, but not like this, not the hours of integration and navigation required by day after day of presenting lessons written in the wee hours. You had become quite adept at monitoring IEP goals during classes, you could write social stories on the fly and provide unplanned task assessments just because the student seemed well-rested. Now they are so out of reach. Are they sleeping? Eating? Reading? So much instruction time is lost for all students, how will you and they ever catch up? 

Catching up lost instruction time will not be an equitable process, as described by a recent study released by McKinsey & Company, reported in Time magazine. "While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss." Preaching to the choir, right?

Education theorists are coming up with creative solutions for this loss of instruction, including a strategy being incorporated in several Massachusetts school districts called "acceleration academy" which focuses on Literacy, Math, and ELL--the content areas where the loss of instruction time is most evident--and provides in-person and remote instruction outside the typical school day, such as during fall and spring breaks, and for several hours on Saturdays. This strategy is having positive results. How We Go Back To School is an informative and helpful eight-part series by Education Week (must be a subscriber) that provides clear, illustrated descriptions of timely issues that educators now must consider: social distancing at school, rearranging schedules that adhere to safety measures, and instructional needs, student transportation, making remote learning work for students, teachers, parents.

The most profound losses may not necessarily be academic and will likely be the most challenging for everyone. Many students have lost family members and friends during the pandemic. Many parents became unemployed, which has led to food insecurity for more families, loss of health insurance, loss of home. Many families who already experienced these particular hardships are now "competing" with many more others for limited community resources. 

A marked rise in domestic violence is a dark response to these losses. Teachers as mandated reporters are often the first to identify possible/probable child abuse, but now, children may have been confined at home with despondent, depressed, and yes, violent adults. Teachers can't report what they do not see. 

And then there's just plain loneliness. Your students are not seeing their friends, not giggling together between classes, or sitting together for lunch. They are not whispering behind shelves in the library or sending silly messages in the computer lab, all the social acts that make school a fun place to be. And they miss you. Their teachers. You are their parents for seven or more hours a day, teaching them subject content and modeling for them how to adult. Then, COVID changed all that.

Those who know me well know that I believe in journaling to help us through difficult situations. I know it works. One doesn't have to be a good writer to keep a journal, and keeping a journal can certainly help someone become a better writer. While I was teaching 7th grade Language Arts, one of their assignments was to write in a journal. They could choose how often, but at least once a week. It was for their eyes only, if they chose. They would just come up and show me the new entry, and they would get a point. Often they asked me to read their thoughts, which was quite helpful in understanding their moods, propensities, and even their appearance. One boy only drew illustrations, which told his stories perfectly. And now, of course, there is digital journaling with a smartphone or iPad. Some of these have a free app, with more features available for a monthly fee.

Our students are living through a historic time. There have been several pandemics and epidemics that have profoundly affected the United States in the last several generations; COVID-19 is the worst because it's here. Now. And it's everywhere. As in-class instruction picks up, no one expects that to be "normal". So we must forgive students if they struggle to pay attention to what we are trying to teach. Support them if they seem distracted and sad. Encourage them to express their fear, anger, frustration, whatever it is, in productive, creative ways. Every day. At the beginning of every class. Whatever it takes. 

Not a bad practice for the adults in the room, either. Because suddenly you may feel that everything you know is wrong. And it is not. You will have to add to what you know, so lean into the PATINS Project--check the PATINS Training Calendar--for tools and ideas you can use immediately. Like adding captions to everything you do. Like overlapping strategies for ELLs and students with SLD. Like creating accessible materials for distance learning, using APPs for sensory and self-regulation, or learning new ways to help the littles participate in virtual preschool instruction. Whatever you need, just ask. PATINS Specialists are magic that way. They will do the research, design the training to fit your needs, then present it all to you so you can increase everything you know.

 

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Feb
04

Level Up!

Level Up Your Virtual Platform Level Up Your Virtual Platform

Last year I brought you the most popular blog post of last year: Top 5 Reasons for Captions in Schools. Did you see that the post was viewed and shared over four thousand times? Soon after that blog was published we all know what happened that dreaded month (I am not going to say it, you already know)... which led to a mass influx of virtual learning. This increased the number of teacher and school staff videos to an all-time high. The PATINS Project provided training and individual staff consultations with school districts on ways to make their educational materials accessible through their various learning platforms. It was a learning curve that benefited the masses. 

So, the great news is that the information that captions are a must reached schools and teachers and applications are now integrating the software into the products for us. 


But wait, there is more!  What if I told you there is a way to put the captions into your virtual learning platforms camera? Also, this application works across virtual platforms such as Webex, Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams! 



You can create different scenes that fit your needs for your virtual classroom. I have included the PATINS logo in mine. You could include your virtual classroom link or school mascot. You can even make a scene that includes your slide presentation. 

With your creativity, the possibilities are endless! Please share what you come up with and how you are using this application for your classroom! 

Check out this month’s PATINS TV Episode where I show you how cool, creative, and accessible this application is! 

Don’t forget there are written instructions for you to take and share with your colleagues when you are leveling up your skills for your virtual classroom! 

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Jan
29

Communication is Key

Key and keyhole with the text communication is key


This Jamie Witheringtonmonth I'm thrilled to present a guest blogger, Jamie Witherington. She has been a teacher for students with intense needs for 19 years. Her career began with Indianapolis Public Schools before moving to Greenwood Community Schools, where she has taught for the past 14 years. She presented at the PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference in 2019 and was also a Project Success Model Site Teacher during the 2019-20 school year. When she's not passionately supporting her students' communication in the classroom, she is a mom to 3 amazing kids, coach, friend, and lover of all things gnomes.



Have you ever had a day where you couldn’t get your thoughts and feelings into the words you needed? Have you ever been so frustrated or overwhelmed you couldn’t articulate those feelings and just felt like screaming or crying? I know I have had days like this. So many of us take for granted that we can have a verbal conversation with someone and share those thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. But what if you couldn’t… what would you do? 

I often think of these things as I work with my students with complex communication needs. Many of my students use an alternate method of communication or numerous means of alternate communication. I work with students who use modified sign language, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, picture boards, and verbalizations. I have worked really hard to try and make sure every student I teach has a mode of communication… it may not be a standard mode to some… but it’s a mode that works for that student. I have had students who used eye gaze, facial expression changes to indicate a response, picture cards, pointing, etc. The main thing it comes down to is building a relationship with each student and figuring out what works for them to “show/tell” what they know. 

I currently have a student that when he moved into our district had some basic sign language, but did a lot of screaming and vocalizing his displeasure. We started with choosing pictures to communicate his wants and needs. We continued to work on growing his base of understandable sign language signs, using American Sign Language (ASL) as the goal, but knowing his physical needs, we knew some signs would not be perfect! Today, he uses a communication device and has learned to scroll down to what he wants. It wasn’t easy; it was days of a lot of headaches, but the smile on his face now when he uses his device to communicate what he wants to us, that’s why I do what I do. 

This has become my passion, my purpose, my “why” if you will. Communication is key to every area of our lives. How do we function without it? We can’t. We have to communicate-- behavior is communication, body language is communication, facial expressions are communication. There are so many ways to communicate if we just take the time to learn what works with and for our students. 

If you follow me on Twitter (@JamieWithering2) you have seen me tweet about the importance of visuals. I love visuals! I need them to function in my daily life. I need them to communicate to me what is happening around me and what I need to do. The red octagon telling me to STOP, the green light telling me to go, the yellow telling me to be cautious, my color coded lesson plans and calendar telling me who I am supposed to be working with and when. If our daily lives need these types of visuals to keep functioning, think how much more important it is for students with complex communication needs to have access to visuals. 

Side by side photos of visuals. The left pictures a check in visual that allows students to indicate how they feel about the lesson and whether the understood it using different emoji faces. On the right is an I Can statement. I can create a 3 or more word sentence using the Core Word of the week.
My students have a visual daily schedule that tells them what is happening and what time it is happening. I have classroom rules and expectations visuals, “I can” statement visuals, and even more importantly, core word and communication visuals all around my room. Students need access to ways to communicate. Students need teachers and speech therapists willing to stand on their heads if need be to give them that access. I have learned that the more I am willing to go that extra mile to find the communication tools, visuals, access points, etc, the more I am able to connect with my students and the more they connect with being able to communicate. 

Side by side photos. On the left is a photo of a large augmentative and alternative communication board posted on a whiteboard. On the right a photo of a folder visual with the top showing to do items and the bottom is open for moving these items to the done side using Velcro

I have also learned that Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. I have partnered closely with my Speech Therapist, PATINS Project, and other passionate educators in my district to create an Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team. By sharing my passion for communication and visuals, my team was able to create two Playground Communication Boards. They are pictured below with students using them. These boards were a dream for my Speech Therapist and myself, but they became a reality thanks to the buy in from teachers across my amazing district. They were constructed by the high school Industrial Technology teacher and his students. I truly believe it takes a village to make great things happen for students. 

Side by side photos of a two different young male students pointing to words on a large outdoor augmentative and alternative (AAC) board

All this to say Communication is Key! Don’t give up on students, have high expectations and presume competence. In the end, it’s all for students, and don’t they deserve to have a voice no matter what that looks like?!


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Recent comment in this post
Guest — Rachel L Herron
Fantastic Blog Jamie! Your students are so lucky!!
Friday, 29 January 2021 12:37
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