Oct
21

New, not Normal

A ball of blue yarn and the beginning of a knitting project on circular knitting needles


I stopped knitting in March of 2020. It was a small thing that happened amidst some big things. There was this new thing called a pandemic. We were all blinking like Dorothy staring out into Munchkin Land. My daughter and her family moved in with us. We had a toddler in the house and a daily wifi supply that needed to be stretched between two high schoolers, one grad-schooler, and 3 adults with full time jobs. So the knitting got shoved into a cupboard because we had to figure out grocery pick up and all the Zoom features.

Then time became blurry. The initial event felt a little thrilling like being stuck at home during the blizzard of ‘78. Then came the slump of daily reality. We stopped making homemade bread and added routines for checking the numbers in our county and the emails for school status. We’d pause while ordering another box of masks on Amazon and ask, “are we in Season 2 of the pandemic or have we moved on to Season 3?” 

In my work with PATINS and supporting teachers for the blind the pandemic has caused me to view my stakeholders in a new way. I had always known that the 140 or so itinerant teachers for the blind in Indiana struggle with feelings of isolation. When your caseload is spread over several districts or counties and you’re also educating staff about a low incidence disability, isolation comes without “unprecedented times”.  

Now they were being called to work in isolation from their students, and find ways to teach tactile skills remotely over a visual medium. They kept going, and they kept calling asking for ideas. We established some online professional learning communities to share obstacles and ways to overcome them. New strong bonds forged between teachers and families. Many who were hesitant to learn new assistive technology for braille were now forced to get a crash course, and finding they could stare down their fear of the blinking braille curser.

Many teachers and districts were forced to look at the accessibility of their online content. They worked to learn how to post and curate higher quality lessons and materials. The daily showing up to do the next impossible thing has generated better methods for future education. 

I’m trying to restart knitting. The weather is turning cooler, and life is feeling cautiously calmer. I have mastered the grocery order, which I will stick with post COVID. It saves time, I waste less food, and I’ve learned that it is much easier to leave the M&M’s out of my virtual cart than out of a real one.  I can make it to the Zoom meeting like a champion, putting on my earrings and lip gloss 2 minutes before it starts. 

I’m not sure why I’m restarting now. The daily showing up doesn’t feel much different, and I can’t say that I feel like the crisis is over. I’m hearing the phrase “new normal” lately like we used “unprecedented times” in the spring of 2020. “Normal” isn’t a real thing, right? But I can see glimpses of “new” on the daily, and will continue to look for them. 

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Oct
14

Evaluate and Rethink

This morning I had a Zoom meeting with a single Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team member who was the only one available. Their other team’s lead person was in a classroom subbing because their district did not have any available subs to fill in, and the other members could not take the time out of their extremely busy schedules. In fact, their district is down not only in substitute teachers, but in classroom teachers and paras as well.

There seemed to be an expectation that as we resumed in person learning and were hoping for some sense of normalcy in schools this year, things might lighten up. That does not appear to be the case.

Job openings are available across the state in about every capacity involving education. Job postings are found for teachers, support staff, school nurses, administrators, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and the list go on.

Many of these vacancies are not necessarily because of an increase in overall staffing, but an increase in people leaving the educational system.

An article, “How Bad Are School Staffing Shortages? What We Learned by Asking Administrators” in Education Week of October 12, 2021, from administrators polled, “Fifteen percent said shortages are “very severe,” 25 percent said they’re “severe,” and another 37 percent classified staffing challenges as “moderate.” Just 5 percent of administrators said they are not experiencing any staffing shortages in their schools or districts this year. Another 18 percent said the shortages are “mild” or “very mild.””

The article has other interesting statistics that I will let the reader refer to.

As we all see in the daily news, this is not isolated to the field of education, it is a growing concern on a national level, in every form of employment, but that is another focus.

So, for whatever reasons, these staff shortages now exist, and they are numerous. This must have an impact to some degree on the student education. I am not sharing anything that is not obvious to anyone regardless of the circumstances, but it does involve us all.

On a personal note, this school year my five grandchildren, ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade, all have wonderful teachers and support staff. I know their school district is facing similar challenges, but the impact to my grandchildren is barely noticeable.

For all of you educators that continue in the field, in this Covid Era that is so challenging, your dedication and persistence are having an immensely positive impact on students. Thank you!


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Oct
07

the littlest message

infant hand held by an adult hand, the text infant hand held by an adult hand, the text

Sometimes I feel I do little: 

little progress, 

little endless tasks, 

and little accomplished.


Then I remember sometimes I need more little: 

little celebrations,

little breaks,

little reminders of why it’s so important.


Because in this work, we love little:

little differences,

little changes,

for little people who mean everything.


You decided to click on this blog post and make a little room in your day for this message: embrace little, slower, and less in parts of your life. When we love the “little” in our lives, we have space for more of what matters.


My little suggestion today:

Take a little moment and let someone know that showing up and participating in your life today was important. One idea: nominating someone for the PATINS Starfish Award, which has an excellent tradition of celebrating Indiana school employees who have used Universal Design for Learning, Accessible Educational Materials, and assistive technology to meet the needs of their students.

That little memory, after many little moments, will mean more than you can measure.


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Recent Comments
Guest — Bev Sharritt
Friday, 08 October 2021 08:20
Guest — Glenda Thompson
What a big message. Thank you, Jessica.
Thursday, 14 October 2021 14:40
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Oct
01

AAC Awareness Month

AAC Awareness Month AAC Awareness Month with quote from USSAAC.

"International AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world each October. The goal is to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and to inform the public about the many different ways in which people communicate using communication devices." - International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication

A few things to know about AAC:

  1. There is No Prerequisite for using AAC - as long as you are breathing, you are a candidate
  2. Everyone has the right to communicate - treat the communicator with respect and offer AAC solutions
  3. Presume competence/potential for the communicator - expect that communicator can learn, wants to connect with others, develop literacy skills and more
  4. Give the communicator adequate wait time to formulate a response
  5. High Tech is not necessarily the answer nor is any one particular device or app - complete an AAC assessment to determine the best fit solution for your student

Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk. - American Speech-Language Hearing Association

AAC is more than just high tech, fancy communication devices. It can be as simple as teaching a student gestures/signs (e.g., more or help), writing/drawing, to tactile symbols, pictures, icons/symbols, simple voice output devices to high tech devices like an iPad with an AAC app or a dedicated speech generating device (SGD).

Here are a few tools/resources to help your promote communication skills:

AAC Intervention Website by Caroline Musselwhite

Communication Matrix The Communication Matrix has created a free assessment tool to help families and professionals easily understand the communication status, progress, and unique needs of anyone functioning at the early stages of communication or using forms of communication other than speaking or writing.

Dynamic AAC Goals (DAGG-2) The primary objectives of the Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 are to provide a systematic means to assess (and reassess) an individual’s current skills in AAC and to assist partners in developing a comprehensive, long-reaching plan for enhancing the AAC user’s communicative independence.

PrAACtical AAC Website PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties. 

Lauren Enders (Facebook) compiles an exceptionally thorough resource that highlights the many AAC apps/software that go on sale during October.

Infographic created by Lauren Enders showing numerous AAC apps/software on sale for AAC Awareness month. Plain text version linked below graphic.

PDF with AAC & Educational App Sale information (info from above) for October 2021 provided by Lauren S. Enders, MA, CCC-SLP.

Do you want to learn more? Check out the
PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a free consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with at least one or more Specialists to review your case and help brainstorm ideas.

Want additional Professional Development?  Come to our 2021 virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now!

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Sep
23

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either) I Never Learned About UDL in College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

“You do UDL so well!” said the Director of Special Education.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully responded. It’s always nice to know your administrator values your work, especially as a brand new employee.

But, as I walked away, I thought “What am I doing well? What does UDL mean?”

To this day, I am not sure how I was implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) well. Did he hear I allowed students to choose topics for writing based on their interests? Did he know I start each language therapy session with ample background knowledge? Or did he see I was encouraging students to use both low and high tech assistive technology options that fit them best? I can only guess. At the time, I assumed UDL was a term everyone else knew and I had somehow missed this after six years of college.

In reality, I did not sleep through the lesson on UDL. My former classmates confirmed we had never learned the term. While not explicitly taught, the UDL Guidelines were interwoven throughout my graduate coursework. This may have been the case for you.

I have refined my understanding of UDL and its' implementation through attending conferences, trainings, and trialing what works best. It has made me a better educator for my students. By removing barriers to accessing school work, they saw real, impactful academic success. We even had conversations about moving students back to the diploma track. This created life-changing opportunities for my students and their families.

Are you ready to do UDL well too? Here are a few opportunities provided for no-cost by the PATINS Project.

  • The Access to Education (A2E) 2021 virtual conference is a great opportunity to learn more. There is an outstanding line up of local and national presenters who are eager to teach you the why and how of UDL. Our presenters have created preview videos to give you a snapshot of what you can expect to learn at A2E 2021. If you register for both conference days before September 29, 2021, we will send a welcome box, including earbuds (eligibility requirements apply).

  • Try out the PATINS Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Creator or interact with the Virtual UDL Classroom.

  • Contact Us for in-depth, individualized support and trainings.

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Sep
15

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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Sep
10

Perception, Least Restrictive Environment, and Changing A Culture

As humans, we tend to perceive the things we’re already looking for. …the things that we are expecting to see, the sounds we are expecting to hear, and the things we are expecting to feel.

Executive functions refer to brain activities that regulate or control cognitive and behavioral processes. It’s responsible for initiating, organizing, and prioritizing what we think about. Subsequently, what we think about is what we tend to perceive. Knowing, understanding, and being aware of this has huge potential implications for nearly everything in our daily lives, including how we teach, how we learn, and the expectations we have for others’ learning.

When teaching new motorcyclists the fundamentals of controlling a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time, safety is up the utmost concern! We actually begin with this very concept of perception. For example, total braking distance is determined by first perceiving that there is a threat, second by reacting to it, and finally by the actual physics involved in stopping the motorcycle. The perception part is overtly critical in whether or not this process will be successful! In that regard, much time and effort is focused on demonstrating how perception improves drastically if the brain has a priority (safety, threats, escape paths). The idea is to see everything but pull out the most significant factors in that moment, quickly, to be processed and reacted to!

Do you see the rabbit or do you see the duck? Both? 

Image of a drawing that can be perceived as a duck or a rabbit

If you only see one or the other, your brain has likely been conditioned, for whatever reason, to search for and perceive that particular animal over the other one. The really cool thing, however, is that you can reshape this! You can train your brain to perceive the other animal and once you do, you won't be able to NOT see them both from that point on! You might also check out this auditory and video version of the old duck/rabbit drawing on YouTube. 

Clearly, this becomes very important as a motorcyclist is scanning the road ahead, traffic to the sides and to the rear in the rider's mirrors. The more potential threats and potential escape paths that the rider is able to perceive quickly, the greater any risk becomes offset by skill and awareness. Personally, I work very hard at getting better at this, both on a motorcycle and in education in general! 

Getting better at perceiving things more deeply and/or in differing ways isn't easy. It requires deliberate focus, continued effort, and dedication. I wonder, a lot, how often we let our initial perceptions about learners settle as our only perceptions about them. For now, let's allow the rabbit to represent the more limiting or negative parts of what we perceive and the duck to represent the other parts that we're not perceiving, yet. 

Back in February of 2019, I wrote about an experience very much related to this, concerning a colleague I was traveling with and the difficulties she was forced to deal with as a result of initial perceptions. How often do we experience a student's IEP and gain a perception that we stick with and subconsciously allow to set the cap on our expectations for that learner? How often do we witness a student in the hallway making a poor decision, or hearsay from a previous teacher, etc., and allow the same thing to occur?

Even further back in June of 2017, I wrote about myself as a younger student and the way I was perceived by many of my teachers. Perceptions that guided what they felt I should be doing differently...how I needed to change...perceptions that clouded them from noticing that I loved to compose, that I loved to draw, that I loved music, that I love motorcycles even then! They just saw the rabbit! I wanted them to see the duck too!

More recently, I've been heard a lot about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and student proficiency. Both of which are highly important factors for consideration in schools! When learners are perceived as one thing, solely by their disability category, their inability to speak using their mouth, or their need to receive information in specialized or accessible formats, for example, they often get placed in more restrictive environments! When this sort of thing happens more than once, a trend begins to form. When that trend isn't deliberately, and sometimes uncomfortably stopped, a culture begins to form. ...a culture of, "this is just the way we do things here," or "we just don't have the resources here to do it differently." When that sort of culture has formed in a place, it really means, "we've decided we're satisfied with only seeing the rabbit, we just can't see the duck in there." This sort of mentality becomes very difficult to change. It requires the strongest, most tenacious, and wise parts of a place, to change.

This involves the combining of one's perception and their brain's executive functions. In other words, if a person maintains the priority to actively seek out certain things within a space or environment, the senses and the mind can process them very quickly and accurately. If an educator WANTS to perceive the capabilities of a learner or the ability to see the duck, they usually will have to seek out training, discussion, debate, mentorship, and collaboration!

This is where organizations like PATINS are so valuable to Indiana's public education. It takes trust, which is built over time! Encouragement, which has to be genuine and timely! Accessiblity and adaptability, which require great skill and practice! All active participants, which takes planning and patience. ...and Goal-oriented experiences, which are purposeful and requires great focus. Those 5 pillars represent, construct, and support everything that the PATINS staff builds, shares, creates, and offers to Indiana public schools, at no-cost to them! The offerings from this PATINS team are no accident! Through hundreds of combined years of experience and genuine passion for inclusivity and progress, we're here for you, Indiana. Reach out to us!! Come to our 2021 Virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now! Sign up for one of our Specialist's MANY GREAT no-cost trainings

Allow yourself to acknowledge that you, maybe, aren't always perceiving the "duck." Possess a desire to perceive more than just the "rabbit," because you trust that it's there. Reach out to others and request assistance in exploring a situation differently, focusing on different parts of it, and enjoy the process, as you begin to perceive so much more than you ever noticed before!

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Sep
02

No More Sticks & Stones

“Ya know, I do not think you are college material. I think your best route is to just find a job when you graduate,” said the educator to a student when asking for advice on how to apply for college.

Does this statement make you cringe? Does it make you upset? Has something like this ever been said to you in some capacity? How did you feel? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.Mad bitmoji imageMany of you have most likely heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For me, that is one of the most untrue statements. I feel like it's merely a way to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. Not only can words hurt, they can truly change the trajectory of one’s life. 

Fortunately, the student that I mentioned above had an excellent support system. While those words did hurt, he was able to use them as fuel to pursue college and graduate. Not all students are so fortunate. Many students have already felt that about themselves their whole school career and those words would only be a confirmation. It makes me wonder how many times that one educator said that to a student, and how many took it as truth and confirmation.

The way we interact and the words we choose with our students can impact their daily outlook, not only academically but behaviorally and socially. 

I work with many students who share with me that they do not want to go to school each day. They do not want to use accommodations they may need in fear of looking different than their peers. I get it. While I am not one of these students, I certainly have experiences that help me relate to those feelings. We can gather experiences of our own to perhaps attempt to be relatable. If we cannot, our students' reflections of themselves can be validated by simply saying, “I hear what you are saying and while I have not experienced that feeling, I believe that you feel that way.” This certainly would never be a chosen opportunity to lower the expectations that our students may have of themselves. 

The student who is yelling, “I hate my dyslexia” after he fails a test, does not need us to feel sorry for him and then lower the expectation of the assessment. He needs time spent helping him understand his dyslexia, making sure he has the accommodations that he needs with accessible instruction. He is the student who does not want to look different from his peers. How can we help him not feel different from his peers? We have conversations about learning differences with all of our students. We immerse ourselves in the principles of Universal Design for Learning and then implement. Need help? Reach out to us!  

Do not underestimate the power of your position as an educator. We are not in the business to “make or break” our students. We are in the business of meeting our students where they are, with high expectations and ensuring equitable opportunities for all, not just some. 

Teach your students how to be champions for themselves. Then, when someone says to your student, “Ya know, I don’t think you can do that.” Their response: “Wanna bet? Watch me.” Teach them how to always bet on themselves. That is always a win.
If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore.


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Aug
19

Looking Forward to Fall!

Fall will be here before you know it and I am so excited, Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Although I love summer and hate to see it come to an end, the Fall brings its own wonderful treasures.

Fall brings football, which I love. The Pittsburgh Steelers is the team I root for. I’m often asked why Pittsburgh? There was a very famous linebacker who played for Pittsburgh named Jack Lambert and I just happened to have an uncle with the same name and I thought that was neat! 

Also, in 1977 my hometown college basketball team from the University of Evansville was on an airplane when it crashed leaving the Evansville airport killing all 29 people who were aboard. I was just 11 when this happened but I had just been to watch them play and it was quite devastating. 

Harry Lyles Jr. states in his article “‘Oh my God, it’s the Aces’: Remembering the University of Evansville plane crash that shook college basketball”:

On Feb. 11, 1978, just under two months after the crash, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to Evansville to play in a charity basketball game to raise money for the crash victims and their families. “They all said, ‘When do they want us to come?’ Not, ‘I’m available next Saturday’ or ‘I’m available June the 15th,’” Stephenson tells me. “It was, ‘When do they want us to come?’ and they came.” The university offered to pay their travel expenses, and the Steelers declined. Stephenson took Keith Vonderahe, Maury King’s 6-year-old son, back in the locker room to meet the Steelers. Back there, they met players like Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, and others. “It was the first time since the plane crash that there was — you felt joy in the arena, and in the community,” Stephenson says.

This act of kindness and grace for my community made the Pittsburgh Steelers my favorite team as well as many others in Evansville.

I also look forward to the MLB (Major League Baseball) playoffs in the Fall. I played girl’s little league fastpitch hardball when I was young and I have loved baseball ever since. I root for the New York Yankees and again I am often questioned about why the Yankees. We didn’t have a team that was very close but the Yankees did have a player named Don Mattingly, 1st base All-Star, who was from Evansville, so they became my team!

Fall is also the perfect season for tennis and pickleball which are the sports I play now. The break in the heat and humidity are welcomed and fall evenings are perfect weather for being outside.

Fall also brings Halloween and although I have never cared for the costume aspect of the holiday I happen to love the pumpkin painting and carving, the decorations, and most of all handing out candy to all the trick and treaters! My daughter Courtney, my best friend Donna, and I have been at it since Courtney was a little girl. The memories of these wonderful fall days always bring a smile to my face.

Sandy's daughter Courtney painting pumpkins
Sandy's daughter Courtney with painted pumpkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, and her friend Donna with painted pumkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, her friend Donna and painted pumkins

Finally, Fall brings a new and exciting school year full of new opportunities and possibilities. I am
here to help Indiana educators serve their student’s need for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM). Let me know if I can be of any assistance this Fall or anytime!
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Aug
13

Change is Good!

A caterpillar is talking with a butterfly. They are sitting at an outdoor table sipping drinks. One says to the other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write this in big letters and post it somewhere prominent: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much!

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Guest — Glenda Thompson
Change IS good. The approach print disability has been recognized and addressed over the years has certainly come a long way. Th... Read More
Sunday, 15 August 2021 09:29
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Aug
06

What is the Goal, Anyway?

What is the Goal, Anyway? What is the Goal, Anyway?

I have two sons in lower elementary grades. They started their 2021-22 school year on July 26 this year. I have to brag about their teachers this year! 

Allow me to give some context to what I am going to share about these amazing educators. Something that we learned from the last year and a half is to give grace and be flexible with everyone. We did this because we all felt the weight of what was going on. Though, typically, we need to remind ourselves that we don't know what others are going through and to take a deep breath and allow for some grace and give people the benefit of the doubt. Over the past 18 months and for what felt like the first time, we all realized that we needed to allow for grace and kindness because we were all experiencing, dare I say it, the pandemic. together. 

Ok, now onto celebrating a positive with the aftermath of the pandemic. My boys came home this week with homework packets. We usually meet our nightly homework with whining and not-so-kind words. Most of the time, I think this is true because my boys have difficulty with reading on their own (they both have IEPs), and they can not wait to relax at home after working so hard all day at school. However, homework seems like it's going to be different this year. But why?

Their teachers have extended grace and flexibility with this year’s homework. The homework has great and clear expectations and for the first time, there is breathing room on the due dates and built-in choice. The homework gets sent home at the beginning of the week on Monday and isn’t due until the following Monday.

 As a mother, I am thrilled that we get to have the weekend in case we get too busy during the week. We also know exactly what will be expected of us for the whole week so we can plan accordingly due to the boys' participation in a lot of activities including private tutoring, swimming, hockey, and scouts, just to name a few! 

Another reason why I am so thrilled is the choice and options that are built-in. The boys need to read for a minimum of 60 minutes per week, however, the teachers understand that the reading does not have to be all with the student’s eyes or traditional reading. They built-in choice with options ranging from students reading printed and digital text with their eyes, reading auditory formats through MyOn on their school laptops or through Audible or eBooks on their tablets, and/or parents and other families reading to them. 

After all, what is the goal of reading 60 minutes at home a week? 

What I think we are achieving with this flexible format and giving choice is:

  • Building habits of taking time to read at home
  • Being able to answer questions and discuss what we have read
  • Developing a love of books and reading 
  • Decoding and fluency practice (which isn’t always the only goal!)
  • Building vocabulary
  • others?

Because choice and flexibility were built into this weekly assignment, the boys have embraced that they just need to do a little each day and it's ok if we need to miss a day. We are actually getting the homework done without the tears and frustration of past years. This makes my education-loving heart so happy. 

I have been blown away by the results from this past week. The flexibility of choice of format of reading is making all of the difference for my boys. One day they chose to read 10 pages with their eyes for 10 minutes, and the next day they picked a chapter book on MyOn and read 80+ pages with their ears for 25+ minutes. Regardless of the type of reading, the results were the same - answering questions on their reading log each day. Also, we are achieving my goal, a love for reading! 

This leads me to a question for you all… What is your understanding of the definition of reading/literacy? Check out my colleague, Jena Fahlbush's blog on ways to consume or read text and share your thoughts on options for reading in the one-question survey at the end!

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Jul
29

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal?

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

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

Midsection of girl reading Braille book

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

Have you ever taken a minute to reflect on how you prefer to access and consume text for comprehension and recall? Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you consume text in different ways? 
  2. What about your students? 
    • Have you investigated ways to ensure they have equitable access to grade level text using a method(s) that provides them with an optimal opportunity to consume text for comprehension and recall, especially if they struggle to decode text visually? 
    • Have you ever limited a student’s choice of text only because you believe that their struggle to decode it with their eyes means that they can’t glean any meaning from or find joy in it?
It wouldn’t be fair if I asked you to reflect upon those questions without doing so myself. Though hard to admit, I’d have to answer yes to the latter question during my time in the classroom. My students could only choose library books to read for pleasure from within their prescribed reading level as designated by the STAR program. Ugh, what was I thinking? With the knowledge that I have now, this dreadful strategy likely only caused embarrassment for students that were reading below grade level and barriers to texts that, if offered in an alternate format, could have stimulated imaginations, told meaningful stories, and sparked a love for text.

Young student wearing headphones and reading a textbook auditorily
After reflecting upon your text consumption preferences and the opportunities that have been afforded to your previous students, how might you change what it means to consume or read text for comprehension and recall in your classroom this year? 

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

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

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Jul
21

Making Room for Eureka!

Light bulb with lights inside that look like fireflies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Jul
15

Lyrically Correct

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

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

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

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

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

ACDC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Aus Front  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC

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

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

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

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

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

'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen

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

'Paradise City' by Guns N’ Roses

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

'Livin’ on a Prayer' by Bon Jovi

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

'Purple Haze' by Jimi Hendrix

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

ELO Discovery album cover  Don't Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra

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

“Helen Wheels” by Paul McCartney and Wings

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

TOTO IV album cover  “Africa” by Toto

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

'Blinded by the Light' by Bruce Springsteen

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

“Money for Nothin’” by Dire Straits

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

Men At Work album cover  “Down Under” by Men at Work

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

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

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

Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief…


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Guest — ICAM Martha
Jeff, this brought back memories of, before the internet, resetting the needle on the record over and over again--did they really ... Read More
Thursday, 15 July 2021 12:39
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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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Jul
02

Lifelong Learning is a Must!

Quote

Today, there are so many opportunities available to improve your skillsets to help students improve communication, literacy and learning.  Instead of being the person who says "I don’t' know how to do that!", you can;

  1. Find someone to teach you, or
  2. Teach yourself, and then
  3. Become the person who says "Let me show YOU how!"

Every year on my birthday (February, if you want to send a card…LOL), I reflect back on the previous year and tell myself I thought I knew everything but NOW I really know what life is about.  In reality, I spent another year learning not just about life but work, relationships, technology, teaching strategies and what things make me happy. 

From 1986 to 1991 while attending Purdue University full-time, I worked 30 hours per week (except for my first semester of Graduate School). After earning my Master's degree, I worked nine months in a Fellowship before I was let loose on my own.  I had to work while I learned.  Now I learn while I work!  It can be overwhelming but I have found a balance.

Being employed is important to me and specifically in the field of education I find happiness helping students, teachers, professionals, parents and more.  To be an effective educator, continuous learning is a must.  It is so important that state credentialing and licensing organizations require continuing education hours.  National organizations too require commitments to continuous learning to receive renewed certifications/credentialing.  Technology improves seemingly daily and data is being collected to help improve instruction.  We must consider these, be willing to learn and improve our teaching.

At one point in my career, I was licensed by three state agencies, certified by one national, and was a member of three professional organizations.  Each had different continuing education requirements!  And…this was before Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts and all of the other learning opportunities and choices that constantly fill my email inbox today.  How do you know where to get you information and learn new ideas (scientifically sound with good evidence)?  I love to learn new ideas and solutions that not only improve my service delivery but help kids communicate better, read better and become more independent.

There are SO MANY options available…FREE, subscription, Patreon (fans support your creative work via monthly membership).  How do you find the time and avoid burnout?  I have found several solutions and ideas that work for me and might help you too!

First of all, consider how you learn best (UDL Guidelines from CAST) - great resource for upping your teaching skills for your students).  How do you engage learning, what keeps you connected, how do you best perceive and connect to new content, how do you organize and express what you have learned…

  • Do you prefer to read with your eyes or your ears (computerized or human)?
  • Are you a hands on learner?
  • Do you learn from watching others?
  • Do you take notes with paper and pencil or digital?

I am definitely a hands on learner.

I love to read but since discovering audiobooks and podcasts, I have increased my reading and learning time using my ears while running, in the car, and walking my dog.  Many audiobooks provide additional controls.  I increase the reading or playback speed to 1.5x or 2.0x allowing me to devour books and podcasts more quickly! At night, I read with my eyes before bed (usually fiction for entertainment).

Notetaking is accomplished with paper and pencil at times but Microsoft OneNote has improved my organizational skills.  I can type or dictate notes, insert pictures, documents, recordings, share/collaborate and so much more.  OneNote is also text searchable.

When people explain things to me, I sort of understand but as soon as I do it myself everything seems to click.  I have always like this quote (various forms of this have been attributed to many people) because it fits MY learning style, 

When I hear, I forget.

When I see, I remember.

When I do, I understand.

Is there an online platform that works for you?  Find it or try a new one!  You don't have to do it all at once.  James Clear says (author of Atomic Habits) in his Blog from February 25, 2021, "Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. You don’t have to do it all today. Just lay a brick."   Find a time each day, a regularly scheduled day and stick to it.

Here are some trusted resources and tools (various platforms to suit your learning) that I have found useful and you might too!

From the PATINS Project:

Access to Education is where dedicated educators, who are focused on ensuring that every student has equitable access to the curriculum, will come together to experience motivational keynotes, local and national presenter breakout sessions, opportunities to view the latest assistive technology, networking, and so much more!

Sessions will be designed around accessibility, Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), Assistive Technology, and/or the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. There are no vendors at this conference.

Continuing education opportunities curated by your professional organizations and others - books, journals, Twitter, podcasts, Facebook, listservs, etc.

Book options

  • Hard copy - local library and bookstores
  • Digital and/audio

Libby or Hoopla app (books, magazines, music, movies) active library card required

Audible paid audio books

MackinVIA through PATINS ICAM for eligible students

Book Clubs (Team/Collaboration learning) e.g., The Knowledge Gap  by Natalie Wexler

Speech-Language Pathology - ASHA Continuing Education, Learning Pass and Special Interest Groups and Indiana Speech-Language Hearing Association (ISHA)

Occupational Therapy - AOTA Continuing Education and Indiana Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)

Physical Therapy - APTA Learning Center and Indiana Physical Therapy Association (IPTA)

Deaf and Hard of Hearing - PASS Project Deaf/Hard of Hearing Listserv and Center on Literacy and Deafness Activities and National Deaf Education Conference Elementary Resources, Middle School, High School

Teachers - MyNEA360 edCommunities Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA)

Facebook - Indiana Inclusive Communication Matters (IICM)

Twitter - #PatinsIcam, #UDL, #AT, #AAC

PATINS hosts a weekly Twitter Chat during the school year on Tuesdays from 8:30 - 9:00pm ET

Podcasts - Talking with Tech (AAC) (link to website)

Assistive Technology Listservs and more

AT Makers - ATMakers.org introduces Makers and Assistive Technology (AT) users and give these two communities the tools they need to collaborate.

AT users and those who support them desperately need engineers and technologists to help them with everyday tasks. High School STEM and Robotics students, hobbyists & DIY electronics enthusiasts have the skills necessary to create innovative solutions today.

QIAT (pronounced quiet) - Quality Indicators in Assistive Technology

RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) AT Forum

Indiana Resource Network (Organizations across the state)

Please reach out to one of us at PATINS if you have questions, want to learn something new or want to share an idea!  Enjoy the 4th of July, be safe and enjoy the rest of the summer!


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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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Jun
17

How Do I Get “Buy In”?

How Do I Get "Buy-In"? How Do I Get "Buy-in"? written on chalkboard with pencil, ruler, and chalk nearby.

“How do I get “buy in”?” It's a perennial question many educators ask throughout their careers. How do I get my student to try new assistive technology? How do I change mindsets to create universally designed lessons/environments? How do I encourage caregivers to model and provide a student’s communication device wherever they go?

Much of it boils down to creative marketing, or messaging from multiple sources/formats, and persistence. Here are a few ideas you can seamlessly incorporate into your day to day:

  1. Get your students on board. This has been a time tested proven strategy for me. When I introduced the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) to a class of middle schoolers, teachers were hesitant to adopt another tool. It was viewed as too much of a time commitment for something that may not work. What quickly convinced the teachers to “buy-in” was seeing how their students looked forward to our weekly EET writing sessions and when they independently requested an EET visual support for other writing assignments. The students enjoyed selecting their subject for writing and sharing their interests with the class. Ultimately, their teachers were convinced with impressive writing quality and quantity!
  2. Tie in real-life success stories. Sharing student success stories with your colleagues can help spark “a-ha” moments. If you need a bank of these to draw from PATINS has a playlist of success story videos showing students gaining tools to communicate, improving their literacy skills, and independently reaching higher academic success.
  3. Keep it top of mind. When introducing new tools or ideas, bring it up anytime there is an opening in the conversation. Staff meetings are a great time to connect your ideas to what teachers are already doing. Also, there are many creative ways to share the information such as hanging posters or filling bulletin boards in hallways or common areas for all to see research based strategies. You might even schedule a PATINS no-cost professional development session to help you demonstrate the importance of Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, and Universal Design for Learning.

While you may feel like a broken record for a little while, with creative marketing and persistence; eventually your efforts will pay off as colleagues and families “buy-in” after seeing the benefits for their students!

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Jun
10

Predictably Successful Outcomes from Purposeful Design

six motorcyclists practicing a cone weaver exercise on a closed range
Near the end of this past March, I set a goal for myself to expand my teaching and I began a new adventure. March 27th was the start of 10 days and well over 100 hours of preparing and learning to become an instructor/coach of beginner motorcyclists. 

Combining two of my greatest passions, education & motorcycling, just seemed like a most logical (and fun) next step in my life! I'll admit that I went into this new endeavor thinking that I'd bring an abundance of knowledge, skill, strategy, and perspective about education to these "bikers," and I'd be revered as a Super RiderCoach, responsible for bringing inclusivity and equity to the teaching & learning of safe motorcycle riding.  Well, the reality of what I walked into quickly made me realize several eye-opening things that I'd like to share. 

Before any activities, exercises, or other interactions at all, the first thing that quickly began to put me in my place was a statement at the very front of our RiderCoach Handbook about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and our trainers drawing attention to it. This was, indeed, a strong confirmation that all possible accommodations being made would be the expectation from that point forward for anyone and everyone. I first thought to myself, "how incredibly cool and refreshing is that!" Then, I wondered why that felt refreshing to me. After all, I was coming from the world of education, special education, in fact! I then tried to think of even a single classroom or school I'd been involved with that started interactions with students & parents with a statement of accessibility, accommodations and the ADA, and the only ones I could even start to compare were the AEMing for Achievement Teams that PATINS had worked intensively with to get an Accessibility Statement and Policy in place. Yet, here I was with a bunch of "bikers" who prefaced all learning to come with not only a public proclamation of the value they placed on inclusivity and accommodations, but they also had actual guidelines for accommodating students with disabilities that was available! 

How could this be? How could it be that the very same concepts of inclusivity I thought I'd be proudly bringing into this group of motorcyclists, was actually the first thing they told me? Then, I thought to myself, "well, a statement is just words if there are no meaningful actions behind them." ...and once again, I was put in my place by the very next statement in the handbook! 

"The curriculum is modularized for flexibility and customization in order to meet the varying needs and interests of program administration interested in maximizing student outcomes."

"Whoa..." I thought to myself... "I think I just read that this curriculum is based in Universal Design for Learning!

Now, I was deeply intrigued and also feeling a bit like the world of K-12 education from which I came, might just be significantly behind and less comprehensive/effective when it comes to inclusivity than this bunch of "bikers" are! 

Further reinforcing this realization I was coming to, were the next few general instructions I was given: 
  1. Utilize gender-neutral statements when addressing students
  2. Never call out any people to read aloud in class (this isn't a reading class and we aren't testing reading) 
  3. Never ask people to check both eyes with the chart when demonstrating the importance of vision checks at a doctor. 
  4. Work in collaborative groups and allow the members to utilize one another's strengths
...and this was all before we'd even gotten to any parts of the actual curriculum or content! These were simply the expectations for any and all students that might come through the door! Once we go to the content, the topic of Engagement was the first thing to be discussed! That, I'm sure, sounds familiar to many of the readers of the PATINS Ponders Blog as it's the very first of the three summarizing bullet points of Universal Design for Learning!

Multiple and Flexible means of: 
  1. Engagement
  2. Presentation of materials
  3. Interaction and response
We discussed utilizing background knowledge, experiences, hobbies, preferences, etc., as ways to approach making sure all students were engaged, before presenting content, which we were asked to do in multiple ways including visually and auditorily! 

Eventually, we got the range and had students on motorcycles, which furthered this notion of high quality, purposefully designed education that I'd been noticing. Also, most of which I'd love to see in all classrooms! 
  1. Limit talking. Pick one thing at a time (the most important thing) to work on and limit coaching to 7-8 words or less at a time. "...longer-than-needed explanations of how to use the front brake lever can overload the brain and result in key information becoming confusing or forgotten, and could even reduce the amount of practice time."

  2. Remain fully cognizant of what it is you're really wanting to assess, in any given moment. For example, if the thing I'm really working on is getting a student to keep their eyes up in a U-turn, I'm not going to draw attention to dabbing a foot down at first. Furthering this, if I'm assessing a student's ability to stop precisely inside a box, I'm not going to drawn attention to them missing a downshift before that stop.

  3. Empathize with all students. Many may already be close to cognitive load capacity when they get to class. 

  4. Try to induce good & positive stress through having high expectations for all students regardless of any prior motorcycle riding ability! 
...and this was truly just the beginning. Many statements followed, including ones like, "Motor skills are best learned if they are acquired naturally instead of being forced, and it helps if basic development is provided in a somewhat random and varied manner. For example, the skill associated with making a U-turn is introduced in perimeter turns, and riders often repeat actions in different contexts (like varying weave dimensions, reversing direction in an exercise, or practicing the same path of travel later on in the program with increased skill)." This probably sounds a lot like explicitly teaching the generalization of skills to many of my SpEd Teacher friends! 

In summary, it quickly and repeatedly became apparent to me that this course was very purposefully designed to be inclusive, promote an equitable learning environment, to be empathetic and accommodating of differing learning needs, and was truly based in the science of learning.

All of this combined with a curriculum full of very demanding skills and tasks and tons of information... in other words, "high expectations!" I began to wonder about the success of this. ...did the data actually support all the work, the intentionality of the design, etc. I asked a lot of questions and sought out the data. I was told things like, "the purpose of this course is to create more independent and safe motorcyclists on the street," and "failing riders does not serve that purpose." Then, in looking at the actual state data on crashes and particularly crashes with fatalities, the percentages of both are very significantly lower for students who've gone through course! In other words, it works! 

Since then, I've coached six classes of riders as a certified RiderCoach and every time I think about all of the things in K-12 education that I wish were a little (or a lot) more like the way "bikers" teach one another. Our purpose in K-12 education is not to fail students. It's not to preserve the bell curve, weed students out, or separate students into ability levels. It is to create independence and success. By purposefully designing instruction and curriculum and learning spaces, (both physical and virtual) that are inclusive of all students, empathetic to their prior knowledge and current situations, universally designed with flexibility, choice, and engagement, we absolutely can experience greater success rates! By remembering things like, "spelling doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to creative writing," and "phonetic decoding doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to comprehending written text through auditory reading." 

Utilize No-Cost resources, like the PATINS UDL Lesson Creator! Consider applying for the PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant, which is open for new apps until the end of June! Reach out to PATINS Specialists and request No-Cost training on making your learning spaces more inclusive and accessible to ALL of your students! We're here to help and eager to do so!
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Jun
03

Learning Through Reflection

I am so thrilled to share Leslie DiChiara's words of reflection of this past year with you as our guest blogger this month. Leslie was a classroom elementary teacher for 15 years. Her background is special education and literacy. She is currently the Assistive Technology Specialist in her school district in New York. I met Leslie a few years back at a national conference and we became instant friends and a colleague in our field. Her passion for access for ALL students mirrors that of our PATINS team. #BetterTogether

Portrait of Leslie DiChiara

As John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience.” If you have spent any time over the past 15 months working in the educational system, you can unquestionably agree that the pandemic certainly provided its share of opportunities for reflection. What we once knew about education was swiftly flipped. The equivalent of literally having the rug pulled out from underneath your feet. Yet, with no notice teachers across the nation rose to the occasion to revamp every aspect of how they provided instruction to their students. Even if this looked different based on where you work or the student population you work with, the one thing educators had in common was that we were navigating uncharted territories together.  

As a mother to two school-aged children and an educator for the past 20 years, I was able to view the educational impact of the pandemic from multiple lenses. Questions swirling about how our children would make up for lost months, closing educational gaps, meeting their social and emotional needs, ways to creatively provide accessible instruction with various constraints. So many unknowns.  

Looking back a year later, virtual students are returning to in-person learning, desk shields are being removed from classrooms, masks requirements are lifted in some establishments for those who are vaccinated, schools are beginning to reopen, and a small sense of normalcy seems to finally be on the horizon.  But it’s safe to say that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on education, casting a critical light on everything from ed tech to student equity to accessibility to school financing.  

Many aspects of education were directly impacted by the pandemic leaving years for schools to successfully get students back-on-track, not only academically but also socially and emotionally.  Teachers, parents and students spent the better part of the year being pushed outside of their comfort zones and likely will seek a return to the educational world they once knew. However, we can argue that some changes resulting from COVID-19 were for the better and efforts will be placed by educational leaders to maintain those changes.  

With the end of the school year here or on the near horizon make time for reflection. The act of reflection provides an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos while sorting through and creating meaning from your experiences. The questions below are adapted from article Reflection Questions for Teachers and Students: Looking Back at Our Year created by Lydia Breiseth and Elena Aguilar’s Questions for Reflecting on a Year of Learning. The hope is for you to pause and think back on the challenges, the successes, the impact they had on and how it shaped yourselves, your students and families.

  • What was the most difficult challenge (or series of challenges) I faced this year? my students and their families faced this year?
  • What strengths did I show in addressing those challenges?
  • Who or what helped me address those challenges? What helped my students and their families begin to address those challenges?
  • What opportunities did those challenges create?
  • What did I learn about my students’ lives, families, and past experiences? my colleagues? my school community? my local community? myself?
  • What impact did I have on my students and their families?
  • What impact did I have on the systems in my classroom, building, or district?
  • How did I grow as an educator this year? 
  • How can I harness what I learned and continue to move forward with it? 
  • What do I anticipate facing next year? What is my plan of action?
  • What has given me hope?
  • Who or what was particularly helpful in a moment when I needed it?
  • How did I take care of and nurture myself this past year?

If the past year has allowed us to reflect on anything, it’s that our teachers, students and their families are not only resilient but adaptable. It has taught us that our educators should not be taken for granted. It has taught us that not all COVID-19 changes were necessarily obstructive. It has taught us the powerful impact technology has had on how instruction is delivered. It has taught us a valuable reminder of the importance of in-person interactions and engagement both in and out of school settings. It has taught us there is more work to be done to change the challenges of our educational system and the inequities many students face. It has taught us to place priority on the things and people who matter most to us. It has taught us to celebrate small victories. It has taught us to be flexible and to step outside of our comfort zones.  And most importantly it has taught us to be forgiving and patient with ourselves as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters.

As we near the close to another unprecedented school year I can say with certainty that although the path we journeyed may have been divergent, with hills and valleys along the way, we emerged changed but maybe in some ways for the better. 

_______________
If you would like to hear more from Leslie, you can follow her on Twitter @lrdichiara and her blog Where It's AT.

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