Sep
16

Viva! Accessibility!

Exactly one year ago, I wrote my first blog post for PATINS. I introduced my family and displayed our picture as we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16, 2020. This past year has brought me knowledge, friendships, frustrations, heartache, and awareness. I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of adapting that we all have had to do in this time period. As I write this blog on the eve of a celebration of Mexican sovereignty, I am struck by our own paths to liberty as we merge back into our lives with “battle” wounds, weary bodies and minds, and cautious steps toward a hopeful future. 

Last year’s blog post with photo of Amanda Crecelius and family wearing Mexican futbol (soccer) jerseys with the caption: Celebrating Mexican Independence Day, September 16th, 2020

As we walk toward that optimistic horizon, we are often faced with fear of the unknown. In an effort to move forward, we tend to rely on our former strategies and situations, albeit negative, to guide our way.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and British former Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

If I could modify these two famous quotes I would say that “those who do not analyze, trim, add, and tailor lessons from the past will remain in a perpetual state of former struggles.” (Quote by: Amanda Crecelius, September 15, 2021) 

During the pandemic, schools scrambled to confront the arising (hidden) inequities that staff, students, and families faced in our own “battlefield” for accessibility and that got meshed with our “battlefield” against COVID. No one was truly prepared for the situation. Some schools used paper packets to reach their students academically, while others connected frantically to new platforms, extensions, and apps. Many educators, students, and families were frustrated with learning new technology, with new methods, with new home/school circumstances. After a long and, in some cases, painful struggle, we settled into a new normal. In many schools, family communication did increase, materials for learning became digitized and distributed via the web, and new methods of teaching and learning surfaced. 

And then a shift happened. It seemed that we were out of the danger zone and moving away from the COVID “battlefield”. So we filtered back into our school buildings. We set aside our virtual meetings. We picked up our paper and pencils. And we began again. This time we had increased our technology use and application and did utilize new techniques. But for some the opportunity to slip back into old ways was a sign that we had made it through. Unfortunately, for many students and families who had been provided accessible materials or tools to access materials, that ‘easy’ move back to the old normal was detrimental.  

Pre-pandemic we had methods, tools, and techniques that worked and we had some that did not. During the pandemic, we maneuvered into a new environment that had new methods, tools, and techniques that worked, sometimes better and sometimes worse. For each individual student, educator, and family the effectiveness varied in both in-person and online. What didn’t change was the need for all students to have access to equitable education.

So as we analyze, trim, add, and tailor from our past we can look at a few guiding questions:

  1. What accessible educational materials (AEM) developed in a virtual setting that did not exist or was limited in face-to-face settings? 
  2. What methods were used to provide materials to students and families in a virtual setting? 
  3. Are there options for providing materials digitally and physically? 
  4. Can we reevaluate materials that are one-size-fits-all?
  5. What worked for some and not for others (including family communication)? 
  6. How can we balance both old normal and new normal tools and tactics to create an inclusive environment at our schools?

PATINS' staff have specialized expertise to guide this process through consultations and training. Just this week the session: The Barriers that COVID Conquered: Shining a Light on Equitable Ed 4 All Webinar was offered and can be recreated and tailored for individual school’s specific needs. Also, this topic will be covered in our upcoming virtual conference Access to Education (A2E) in the session titled: “Returning FTF Without Abandoning Virtual Strategies" by Sarah Gregory & Kelly Fonner. Check out a preview of the session

To recap, as we dust off the old ways and apply the new ones, remember to 1) analyze the effectiveness of strategies and tools, 2) trim those that did not meet our student’s needs, and 3) add and tailor the new strategies and tools that have worked to provide access to all. In doing so we can move from lessons of the past to our own liberated future echoing el grito (the shout) from Mexican Independence Day: Viva! Our schools, Viva! Our students, and Viva! Accessibility!
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Jun
24

Realizing Student Capability

As my first year at PATINS wraps up, I reflect on all the beautiful relationships that were built solely via Zoom. Not meeting people in person has taught me that the heart behind the screen is bigger than circumstances and that educators utilizing PATINS has made an impact in the lives of their students. Our guest blogger, Erica Telligman, is one of those educators. She has been teaching for 16 years in second grade, junior high special education and currently first grade at North Knox, one of our AEM teams. She is currently finishing up her administration license this summer and she works with her teaching team to utilize tech tools to enhance her teaching by reaching all students. She has two kids, 13 and 10 years old. They enjoy fishing, riding four-wheelers, and playing in the mud on their farm. Erica’s enthusiasm for having a UDL focused classroom has helped her students engage with materials and build their confidence in their work and with their classmates.

Realizing Student Capability
By: Erica Telligman

As a teacher, have you ever stood in the middle of your classroom feeling like the plates you are spinning could all come crashing down at any minute? I have been in this scenario so many times. There would be 20+ of them with their hands in the air staring at me and only one of me available to answer their questions. They aren't able to access all the components to be independent... or so I thought!

Enter Snap&Read and Co:Writer to the rescue! If you have never heard of the Don Johnston resources, you are missing out. I teach first grade. The thought of my students being able to utilize their technology to seek out information and understand that information when it more than likely is above their comprehension level made me seize up like an old rusty motor every single time I thought about trying to get out and use Chromebooks.

The journey of implementing and using these extensions was slow and steady for me. I knew after last spring being sent home due to COVID, we had to have more resources in place to help our students reach their full potential and our instruction to make the most impact. Phase one of implementation began in small groups. Two groups were taken and shown how to use both Snap&Read and Co:Writer. Apprehension was a major understatement. I couldn't sleep at all the night before this lesson. I just knew there was no way this was going to go well at all. I couldn't have been more wrong. These students were like sponges. It only took us 10 minutes to have all of theirs completely customized to their preferences. I was shocked. I decided to press on to the planned lesson for the next day of accessing information online so that they could use Snap&Read.

child on ipadWe picked the generalized topic of animal facts for kids for the students to type in for their search. I am quite sure I looked like a deer in headlights when my students typed that in, found an article they wanted to read, clicked on it and used Snap&Read to listen to the article. I actually went numb. I was partly excited because they could do it, but mostly I was terrified my students were going to come up with questions I wasn't prepared to answer. My fears were in vain. My students didn't have questions. Instead, they had facts they learned that they wanted to share with me and their classmates. It was so exciting!

Phase two was where I literally felt like my brain might actually explode. I now had two small groups (10 students) who knew how to use Snap&Read. These students were now my resource and allies. They partnered up and showed another student how to use Snap&Read. I stood useless in the middle of my classroom. We had done it!  They were independently working without an ounce of help from me. They were actively engaged and learning all kinds of facts that we would turn into a story later using Co:Writer. That was the day that changed my students' education and my instruction forever. I had now equipped them with the knowledge and access to the world at their fingertips in a classroom.

woman instructing children in classroomThe discussions and conversations we had in our classroom from this point forward were never the same. My students were able to make deeper and more meaningful connections to concepts. They could find and report facts to extend thoughts and defend answers they had come up with.  Because my students were able to do fact-finding independently, it freed me up to be an active participant in conversations.

I continued pulling my level of support back and gradually released my students to initiate the process of discovering they had questions that they needed answers to, finding the answers to those questions, and stretching their thoughts even further. We even used Co:Writer to write our letters to Santa this year. Due to COVID restrictions I couldn´t have parent volunteers come in to help me write all 20 letters, so I turned on the topic of Christmas and away we went. My students were so proud of their letters to Santa. It took all the frustration away from students not being able to get their thoughts down on paper due to struggles with spelling.

Children are truly not given enough credit for the power they have for their own learning. I know I was probably a teacher who never truly realized the potential my students had for taking control of their own learning or their abilities to seek out and obtain information independently. I know I learned just as much from my students this year as they learned from me. I pray they realized their own potential the same way I realized the capabilities of them.

Photo Credits: Tricia Hall
Photos used with permission.

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Mar
18

For the Love of Reading

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QR Code to audio For the Love of Reading Read by Author
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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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Dec
17

Our DIY School Year

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After much of my adult life as a happy nomadic creature, my husband and I decided to
put down roots and purchase our first home. We found our nest tucked in our favorite neighborhood and near some of our favorite people. It had just a few “fun” DIY projects. Once we started the DIY process I discovered that it really stands for Discovering an Infinity of Yikes, rather than Do It Yourself. We dove into project after project with high hopes that our inspiration could overpower our inexperience. We wanted to do each project correctly from the start, knowing that a good investment now would help create a home we could truly love. Despite the ups and downs, we came through with a beautiful home filled with love AND with sore muscles, paint splotches, tears of frustration, and lots of other things that we shoved into closets.

Our home, a view from the front yard of a red brick house.

I see a lot of parallels between my family’s DIY home projects and the “Discovering an Infinity of Yikes” school year. Just as a strip of duct tape here and glue there can be quick patches, this school year has seen a number of temporary fixes. But, I believe that if we take the time to make repairs correctly from the start, we can reshape our educational system into one that we all love.

The Right Tools

This school year, we awkwardly slipped back into remote learning with packets and phone calls. The struggle was similar to turning a rusty screw with a butter knife. Yes it might eventually work; but, the extra time and effort, combined with the possibility it might not work should be enough to start the search for a better tool. In my family’s case, an electric screwdriver made seemingly impossible tasks more manageable. It was just one example of our learning process, as we moved through various never-before-needed gadgets and equipped a toolbox with enough to be the envy of any contractor. 

Just as my family struggled, through tears of frustration and sore mental muscles many teachers and schools have started utilizing support tools (like Schoology, Google Classroom, Canvas, and Seesaw) to enable centralized communication for students and parents. The hard work early on of teaching students (including Kindergarteners) to login and find assignments built independence and a foundation for success when students later moved to remote learning. Through evaluation and reflection, schools using synchronous learning moved from full-class zoom calls to focused, short, small-group sessions with specific goals like collaboration and interaction. Schools also created a balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning, adding even more tools (like Epic, Starfall, Khan Academy, ABC Mouse, BrainPop, Kids Academy, TED, Mendeley) to help balance teacher workload and student engagement in other ways. Another example of added tools were: a variety of Chrome extensions and apps for students are used to practice, learn, and respond in a variety of ways supporting a more universally designed classroom. This has included the increased acceptance of accessible materials and assistive technology, breaking emotional and educational barriers for many students. 

Tips, Tricks, and Expert Advice

When we first opened the door to our adventure in home remodeling, we had many inspiring dreams of what could be; but, the reality of our inexperience prevented us from taking the first steps. So, we called in the experts. We had many professionals give us recommendations on types of paint, low-cost options for tile, and how best to arrange our kitchen. Without this advice, we would have spent countless hours struggling to do these projects. With this support to boost our confidence, we googled how-tos for smaller issues and watched YouTube for our mini projects. 

For teachers, this year has been Professional Development after Professional Development (PD). Consults, webinars, and YouTube tutorials have been equally accessed. Teachers have been in a state of emergency, training and (in some instances) being forced toward technology integration. 

Some popular tips from PDs that I have noticed include: creating a Bitmoji classroom to build a fun space to communicate with students, using Flipgrid to create videos for and by students, and using interactive slide tools like Pear Deck

Inexperience with technology is a barrier that continues to be a stopping point for some teachers trying to reach their students. At PATINS, we have seen an increase of teachers and administrators requesting personalized/individualized training or one-on-one sessions (provided by the PATINS/ICAM team) to create universally designed online classrooms for ALL students. 

The Risk

For many of my family’s projects, one of the biggest barriers was fear. Fear of the first step, fear of messing it up, fear of the cost, and fear it would take too much time or turn into something we hated. One of my biggest fears was to use power tools, especially the table saw. It is big, scary, dangerous, and once you have cut something, it is final. However, at one point in a project, we needed a small piece of wood to be cut before we could move forward. Waiting for a contractor would have increased our wait from one week to up to three months! I stayed up all night convincing myself that I could use this saw. I finally got up, put my safety goggles on, and picked up the table saw. I practiced on a couple of scrap pieces, took measurements, and marked where to cut. I blasted through it with no fear. Did I do it perfectly? No. But, we were able to move forward quickly after that point, and I now can start building my table saw skills. Before this school year, many teachers dabbled in technology integration in the classroom, but some avoided it at all costs. 

Today, many still struggle with the same barrier: fear. One of my AEMing for Achievement Grant  team members, Melissa Harrison, has an inspirational quote in her office: “You never learn anything by doing it right.” In many of life’s fearful experiences this rings true, such as bike riding, public speaking, going on a date, or starting a new career. The level of risk is high, but necessary for success. 

As for our DIY school year, we have all been risk takers and continue to learn new methods and use new tools. The results are not perfect, but the more steps educators have taken toward a seemingly scary new form of teaching and learning, the more enriching experiences have resulted for both students, parents, and teachers.  We are forming bridges and exploring methods that have not been utilized before, and as a result, we are seeing a bright path toward an educational system that we can all love.

Melissa Harrison, smiling and holding a sign that says, “You never learn anything by doing it right.”

Like any new homeowners, our new place will probably be under construction for the rest of our lives, but the process of creating and recreating a space that we enjoy and cherish is invaluable. Similarly, teachers, parents, and students continue to grow as our schools are reimagining what education could be. We still have a long journey ahead, but a universally designed educational system is in our sights. Just like any home remodel, it was not easy and there are still are many unfinished jobs, surprise repairs, and exhausted workers. But we can continue to build our toolbox, seek expert advice, and be brave enough to take risks with that we can continue to build a place we truly love. 

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Sep
17

Silenced Voices, Let Them Be Heard

Amanda Crecelius with husband and daughter.  Amanda and husband are wearing Mexico soccer jersey and daughter is wearing a shirt with Mexican dolls.

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day.  September 16, 2020
Photo Credits:  Hugo Salmeron

Artist Name - Read-by-Author---Silenced-Voices-Blog.mp3

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As a new addition to the PATINS team, let me introduce myself. My name is Amanda Crecelius (Cri-sil-yus). I grew up in a small town in Crawford County in Southern Indiana. My mother was an elementary school teacher in one of only 5 schools in the county. My father owned his own mechanic shop which based on the number of men hovering over my dad as he worked, was what I considered one of the hubs of the community. My mother instilled in me a love for reading, learning, and teaching. My father taught me to work hard and that my dreams and my voice were valuable. They both taught me the merits of being independent and caring deeply about others.

Those principles led me to leave home and live abroad in both Madrid, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico for over 13 years of my adult life. From living abroad, I gained a language, a family, and an infused culture. I gleaned empathy for the struggle of a newcomer and an understanding of cultural clashes, racial tensions, and the unfairness of discrimination. Privilege and value were given to me through circumstances that I did not earn and taken away from others for no reason other than their place of birth and/or color of skin. I wrestled with the predetermined value of my voice against the unheard voices of those deemed unimportant, those who showed generosity with empty pockets, who showed love despite abuse, who when I looked in the mirror of their hearts, I saw my own reflection.

When I returned to my home state of Indiana after living abroad, I wanted to find some way to use my voice for the voices that do not have the words to speak for themselves. Many times when I was on the streets in cities abroad, I was not able to communicate my thoughts, my beliefs, my objections, my concerns, my rights, or my dreams. As I state this, I acknowledge that many others have language barriers amplified by poverty, discrimination, and racism.

The first step for my voice to be used was to become aware of the current situation in my area. According to the 2018 Census, approximately 63 different languages (identified on the census) are spoken in the state of Indiana. Of the 559,000 who speak another language and that completed the census (and remember that some did not), 195,000 approximately identified that they did not speak English well. Meaning that 195,000 voices are not being heard. They are not invited to participate in the conversation, in the community, and sometimes in the lives of their children and grandchildren. It's not only language that is unshared but also culture, traditions, and community connections.

When we moved back to Indiana, my daughter at age 3 spoke only Spanish. My husband and I spoke Spanish to each other, while a mix of Spanish and English to her. She went to daycare and soon learned that not everyone understood two languages. Within three short months, she stopped speaking Spanish completely. We were shocked at how quickly she rejected her first language for another. The thing that I have observed over the past 2 years is that she has slowly and unintentionally moved away from her father’s language, culture, and traditions, a heartbreak that I can only imagine for any parent. I know that many parents are experiencing this and want to find ways to connect and participate. If my child and I do not share a language, how can we share the joy of our traditions? How can we build and curate our shared culture?

Over the past 10 years, I have witnessed a growth of the Latinx population in Indiana. This has led to an increase of written material provided for Spanish speakers. I am thrilled to see this incorporated into many aspects of our daily lives but what about those that speak Spanish but do not read it? Apart from providing written translations, how are those who do not speak English invited to participate in our community conversations? In classroom conversations? What about those that speak another language that is not English or Spanish? What do they do? How is their voice heard?

As someone born and raised in a small town, I know the love that a community has and how that love is shown and used to surround each of its members. What are the first steps for us to extend to those that are in our community? I am still in the process of learning how to be a voice. I invite each of you to brainstorm with me about how to use tools, technologies, compassion, and love to build our community to be inclusive and to recognize the value of inviting those that do not share our language and culture to the decision-making table.

Now that we are aware, how can we show that we care? As this is deeply personal, I am hoping that we can each look for ways to create and project the silenced voices around us. Here are some of my resources to help aid in your next steps. If you are a teacher, I am currently offering a Power Series to help ELL parents. In addition, I am happy to set up a time to discuss the needs of the students and the parents in your community and how we can help to get them involved. Also we have many organizations who need volunteers for connecting foreigners to the community, such as, Exodus Refugee and Immigrant Welcome Center to name a few. Also if you have a neighbor, a friend of a friend, or even a stranger on the street, acknowledge them, be patient with them, and listen to them. There is value in their voice. Let it be heard!

Sources:

U.S. Census Bureau 2018. Language Spoken at Home. Retrieved from https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=languages%20spoken%20in%20Indiana&tid=ACSST1Y2018.S1601&hidePreview=false.

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Guest — Rachel
Fantastic and timely blog! Thank you Amanda!
Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:59
Guest — Kelly
This is a testimony to how many families feel, loss of culture and family connection is a real issue when language is compromised ... Read More
Thursday, 17 September 2020 21:37
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