Aug
08

Stop Teaching "Low Functioning" Students

Stop teaching the low students Magic Ball indicating High. A witch's hat with speech bubble reading,
I half-joke that I’m working my way out of education purgatory, trying to make up for my sins in years past. One particular mistake I made: I let myself believe I could help “low functioning students.” The year I refused to teach “low” kids (and “high functioning” students too!) I started to realize what my purpose was.

I worked in a school that had two self-contained special education classrooms. On paper, it was just Ms. A’s class and Ms. Z’s class, but everyone referred to it as the “high functioning room” and the “low functioning room.” Sometimes the students had instruction together or joined their peers in general education but, in general, the students of the low functioning group stayed in their room and the high functioning students had more chances to be included. The high functioning students sat with assistants and learned letters and numbers and the low functioning students watched the other students work. Maybe we’d stick a switch toy on their wheelchair tray. Yipee.

Why? Because it was The Way We Had Always Done It. You’ll be happy to hear it’s changed.

On the flip side, I had students who were “high functioning.” Teachers were very pleased to have high functioning students except when they didn’t do what the other kids were able to do, or in the same way. Every year, like an unspoken agreement, accommodations were slowly chipped away. “He’s high functioning,” we’d all say. “He doesn’t need a sensory break, or note taking support, or Augmentative Communication. He should be able to do that on his own by now, or else he’d be low functioning.”

“The difference between high-functioning autism and low-functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low-functioning means your assets are ignored.” - Laura Tisoncik

Once I was asked to observe “Cory.” Cory was a youngster who enjoyed trampolines, letters, and car commercials. He needed constant supervision, plenty of breaks, and explicit directions and support for academics, leisure, and daily living skills. He frequently hit the person nearest him, although staff could not pinpoint as to why (no FBA completed). He had no way to independently communicate. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried but what they had tried wasn’t working, so they stopped. He did have two little symbols taped to his workstation: “more” and “stop” that were used to direct his behavior.

His teacher met me at the door and gestured to where he was “working” (10+ minutes of redirection to sit in a chair with some math problems attempted in between). I asked what would be helpful to her as a result of our consultation.

“As you can see, we’ve tried everything,” she exclaimed, gesturing to her lone visual taped to the desk. “He’s just too low.”

It took me a while to pick apart why this particular visit weighed on my soul. I had been that person and I knew the ugly truth: as soon as we start saying students are “low” we’ve haven’t described the child, we’ve described our own limitations in believing in kids.

The terms “low functioning” and “high functioning” are not professional terms. They have no place in an educational report, school policy, or conversation. They are born from poor understanding, frustration, and/or a misplaced desire to categorize students by how high our expectations should be. Who gets to be high functioning? Who gets to be low? Did you mistakenly think (as I did) that researchers set an agreed-upon standard or that there was a test or some type of metric to determine what bin of functioning we all belong in? Perhaps there was a Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat of Functioning?

"...‘high functioning autism’ is an inaccurate clinical descriptor when based solely on intelligence quotient demarcations and this term should be abandoned in research and clinical practice." (Alvares et al, 2019)

In absence of a Magic 8 Ball of Functioning, I challenge you to stop teaching “low functioning students,” erase the phrase from your vocabulary, and start wondering “what do we need to be successful?” Describe the supports your student needs, the skills they are working on, the behaviors and interests you’ve observed. What do you need to do differently? Tell me about your student, not the expectations people have formed. At PATINS we have not met, in our entire combined careers, students who were too anything to learn. There is always a way, and we can help.

What ever happened to Cory? I haven’t heard back from his team since then. It still makes me sad, because I know that as long as one of the most meaningful adults in his life thinks of him as “too low,” not much will change.

You will not regret ditching those words. Your students will remember you for it. You have nothing to lose but functioning labels.

They weren’t helping anyone, anyway.
2
  4633 Hits
2 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Deb Meyne
Love this. Guilty of this. Will do better and share with my colleagues. Thankyou!
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 05:06
Guest — Jessica Conrad
Thank you, Deb! I am right there with you. "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." - Maya Angelou... Read More
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 09:25
4633 Hits
  2 Comments
May
16

Helping Students Move Forward

Grieving from the loss of someone or even a big change or transitions in your life is probably one of the hardest emotions to tackle. In grieving, so many other emotions are entwined with sorrow, pain, sadness and often misery. It’s like a tornado of memories that keep us attached to our loss or change that is constantly spinning out of control. How do we find control?

Everyone handles grieving in different ways. Some of us just shut down or we get angry. Some of us throw blame or stay so busy that we can almost pretend it didn’t happen or will not happen. Some seek supports and surround themselves with friends and family.

When we know that someone is grieving, we seem to be more lenient and understanding in how they respond to grieving and try to figure out how we can play a helpful role.

This leads me to the end of the school year approaching and how we can play that helpful role. As a teacher, besides holiday breaks, we often see many behaviors on the rise during this time. Often times, these behaviors are associated with the overwhelming joy that summer is coming and students can’t wait! While I have no doubt in most circumstances that is true; let’s not overlook those students who may be in grieving within the anticipation of no longer being at school because they may have food insecurities, violence, zero social interactions, deplorable living conditions or even perhaps no longer access to reading material.

Some students count down days to loneliness, violence and hunger.

We can predict this pattern of behavior toward the end of the school year; which means that we can also do our part in prevention. How can we help?

First, let’s not assume all students are excited about summer break and then make all of our writing and conversations about that excitement. I challenge you to ask your students what they will miss about not being in school, if they have fears, what they wish you knew about them and what they wish they had over summer break. Then, talk with your students and create solutions and goals.

Create summer calendars for your students to support the visual of each day to countdown summer days.

Share resources for local libraries, online access to reading materials, audiobooks or create a YouTube playlist of individuals reading books aloud for children. I love this story of how a principal is using Facebook to make sure her students get bedtime stories.

Make sure all of your students know how to call 911 and also have resources for local helpline numbers. This should also include information about local summer kitchens that provide meals for students at no cost.

Create a summer group backchannel to help prevent isolation and loneliness. This would be a place that students do not have to have “friend requests” but are already a part of the group. This could be a FlipGrid, Padlet, private Twitter feed with GroupTweet or even create summer pen pal kits, AKA: snail mail. (Yes, with stamps, envelopes, paper...shocking, right?)

mailboxes

I do believe some students begin to grieve the upcoming summer break. I recently watched a Ted Talk on grieving. The speaker mentions how we don’t “...move on from grief. We move forward with it.” Moving on being leaving what you know and moving forward being taking all of the skills and memories alongside you and growing with them. Also, knowing how and having supports. I found that extremely resonating and applicable for so many things on many levels. It is definitely worth the watch.

While our students head out for summer break, let’s not focus on them moving on toward the next transition...let’s help them move forward with supports, skills and tools they can use to continue to grow and self advocate for their well being.

We can make a difference. Believe in it.


1
  10735 Hits
2 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Bev Sharritt
making room for grief is so important. Grateful for the way that you have intertwined your story with all students' stories.... Read More
Thursday, 16 May 2019 13:55
Guest — Jessica Conrad
You are so right, I love that quote "move forward with it" and your point about teaching them to self-advocate for their wellbeing... Read More
Tuesday, 21 May 2019 09:46
10735 Hits
  2 Comments
Apr
11

ISO: Someone Like Me

We all want a sense of belonging to a community, a family, a social group that we can feel a sense of identity. These social groups are where we base our identity. 

One aspect that educational practices may be overlooking is our students who may identify with being Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. As a Teacher of students who are deaf/hard of hearing, it is part of our Expanded Core Curriculum to ensure our students meet and socialize with other students who are Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. 


Students who are deaf and hard of hearing need to be around peers with hearing loss. They need to have positive deaf/hard of hearing role models who share the same and different modes of communication than themselves. If they do not have these positive experiences while growing up it may be hard of them to not have a sense of where they belong in the world, which social group they identify with and/or perhaps have a sense of social isolation at some point in their educational career.

In fact, did you know that some students growing up with hearing loss that has never met an adult with hearing loss think there is no future for them? How will they know that they can achieve anything that their minds allow them to dream up if we don’t show them how great others are. We have to provide an “end result” picture so they know they are fully capable to do the same or better.


My mother, Beth Fritter, grew up experiencing hearing loss as a hard of hearing student in the 1960s. She attended a private Catholic school in northern Indiana until 6th grade and then attended the public school 6th grade through 12th grade. I was fortunate enough to visit with her for a few days in her northern Indiana home during this year’s spring break. As I was asking her what it was like to grow up in the 60s in the private and public schools with hearing loss, she described what the learning environment was like for her. She talked about large class sizes of about 50 students in one room per grade, desks in rows, and strict rules regarding no speaking, eyes forward, and material will be taught one time with little to no interventions to help students keep up or catch up. She also never received services for specialized instruction or technology for her hearing loss. She recalled having a few good friends that would repeat conversations for her or try to include her. She still hasn’t met anyone else that grew up like her with hearing loss and she just turned 60 this year.


Katie and her mother, Beth Fritter


Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing?" My mom just recently received her first set of hearing aids a few years ago. She recalled after getting her hearing aids fitted and taking them home that one morning she woke up and looked out the window she said she SAW that it was raining outside. She then put her hearing aids in and she could HEAR that it was raining. Without her hearing aids, she would have missed that everyone else could hear that was raining without looking out the window. Can you imagine what else she could be missing out on just simply because she wasn’t aware without her hearing aids? Think about our students in the classroom. When we simply ask if they heard us and they say, “yes.” They may not know that they, in fact, did miss something because we really “don’t know what we are missing.” It is best to instead ask, “What did you hear?” or “What will you do next?” to see if our students missed something and need something restated or clarified.


Can you imagine the impact on my mother’s life if she would have gone to a program with other students experiencing the same thing as her or even just got to meet one other student like her? The picture below is from a new popular book, El Deafo by CeCe Bell. The book is a personal account of what her childhood was like with her hearing loss. The picture below is a representation of what a class looked like for the author, CeCe. You may also notice what the hearing devices looked like back in the day! What a difference compared to today, huh? 


picture of six classmates with hearing aids sitting in a circle on the floor. text on picture:                                                                                                     
It should also be noted that it is best practice to be around typically developing peers in a language-rich environment for the best possible outcomes in language development regardless of the mode of communication.

pictures of classmates taped to the wall with names written by them. text on picture,                                                                                               

Give our students who are deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired a sense of belonging with providing times to interact and engage with peers just like them.

What can we do as parents and educators if our student is the only student with hearing loss in the area?  

Here are a few ideas:
Camps in Indiana for students who are deaf/hard of hearing:
Other ways to connect:
  • Zoom DHH Buddies program connecting students with hearing loss across the state through technology
  • Indiana Hands & Voices Parent Guides Events around the state
  • DHH Students Facebook group
  • Introduce books with Characters/Authors who are D/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired - Check out my list and add your favorites!
Please comment below if you have more resources and/or suggestions to connect our students who are deaf/hard of hearing in Indiana. We would love to hear from you! Make sure to “like” and share this blog with your educational teams!
1
  1480 Hits
2 Comments
Recent Comments
Jessica Conrad
Great blog! I love all the resources, which made me thumb through the Expanded Core and I love how the expectations of self-advoca... Read More
Thursday, 11 April 2019 09:50
Guest — Bev Sharritt
Thanks for sharing the Zoom program! Would love to see something like this developed for students with blindness and low vision.... Read More
Thursday, 11 April 2019 10:25
1480 Hits
  2 Comments
Feb
21

#ThrowbackThursday - Look at the Past & Future

#WayBackWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and the #10YearChallenge are opportunities for us to peek back into history. I love seeing these types of posts because it reminds me how small changes in the past lead to impressive results in the future.

Collage of PATINS/ICAM staff members from the past (2008).

2008 photo collage of PATINS/ICAM staff members. Left to right. (Top Row) Glenda Thompson, Lori Kane, Walt Daigle, (Middle Row) Daniel McNulty, Vicki Hershman (Bottom Row) Jeff Bond, Tina Jones, Jim Lambert, Sandy Stabenfeldt. Not pictured: Sheri Schoenbeck, Carrie Owens, Alice Buchanan

Have you read the PATINS Project’s fascinating origin story yet? I recently did. It's amazing that as I was learning my ABCs & 123s in a small, Cincinnati school, many dedicated educators were setting the foundation for the PATINS Project to bring access to all students one state away. Have a #ThrowbackThursday party of your own and take a look at Glenda’s 2016 post about the history of the PATINS Project.

After reading it, I realized that PATINS/Staff as a whole, both past & present, are forward thinkers. No idea is too simple or too outlandish. Never have I heard, “We do it that way because that’s how it’s always been done.” New ideas are met with “Tell me more!” This is a rare quality to find organization-wide and it has led to successful initiatives like the AEMing for Achievement grant.

Forward thinkers don’t rest on their laurels, so what does PATINS have in store for you in the future?

In early April, we’ll be hosting the PATINS Tech Expo 2019 in partnership with IN*SOURCE with vendors and non-profits from around the nation sharing the latest educational tools and support services. Before you talk yourself out of it due to cost or time commitment, there is no cost... and it is only one day off your calendar. Trust me, the resources you gain will help your students ten-fold.

Furthermore, we’ll be releasing videos like Success Stories featuring students and surprising dedicated educators with Starfish Awards. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these fellow Hoosiers!

Did you see we added a new Extended Chat option for #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat? If you can’t meet us at 8:30 PM EST on Tuesdays, now you have the rest of the week to join the conversation.

As always our Specialists & ICAM staff members are updating their trainings to include topics important to stakeholders and our Lending Library is consistently updated with the latest and greatest tools for you to borrow.

Signing up for our monthly eNewsletter is the easiest way to stay up to date with everything new at PATINS.

Now, I ask you to reflect. How have our services shaped your district, school, students, or even you over the years? What do you hope to see from PATINS in the future? Comment to let us know. :)

PATINS/ICAM staff picture 2018.

2018 Photo of PATINS/ICAM staff members. Left to right. (Back Row) Julie Kuhn, Kelli Suding, Rachel Herron, Jeff Bond, Sandy Stabenfeldt, Jessica Conrad, Carrie Owens, Martha Hammond, and Jena Fahlbush. (Front Row) Jen Conti, Glenda Thompson, Bev Sharritt, Daniel McNulty, Sheri Schoenbeck, Andria Mahl, Sandi Smith, and Katie Taylor


2
  1663 Hits
4 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Rachel Herron
Jen, I loved this retrospective and review of what we currently offer!
Thursday, 21 February 2019 10:21
Guest — Julie Kuhn
nice Jen!
Thursday, 21 February 2019 10:46
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Ahh, I haven't changed a bit! Ha Ha. Well, my passion for this work we all do for the students of Indiana hasn't, that's for sur... Read More
Friday, 22 February 2019 10:30
1663 Hits
  4 Comments
Feb
14

A Reading & Writing App from me to you!

Pink & read M&M candies in heart shape.This Valentine is better than candy!

I learn so many great things every year. I want to pass one of them on to you this time in my blog. Being the Secondary Age Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) specialist for PATINS allows me to introduce auditory reading/text to speech technology and writing supports like voice to text and word prediction to so many Indiana educators and their students. This powerful combination can be the difference between a graduation certificate and a diploma for students with learning or cognitive disabilities. They are capable of so much when they are properly supported. There are many great solutions out there. The correct one for each student depends on their environment and task

Claro SoftwareHere is a new option, ClaroSoftware. ClaroSoftware includes the following apps: ClaroRead for PC, ClaroRead for Mac, ClaroRead for Chromebook, as well as iPad, iPhone, and Android Apps. ClaroRead for Chromebook comes free with both ClaroRead for PC or Mac. This is great if a student uses different devices in different settings. ClaroRead for Chromebook can also be purchased on its own, however, it is not as powerful as ClaroRead for PC or Mac.  Here is a quick comparison of the PC and Mac versions. 

ClaroSoftware is different in another way. I know that it is all about the student and the tools, but sometimes it comes down to....Hand writing COST in blue marker across the screen.
The pricing structure includes a version where the app can be purchased for a one time cost. No subscription, just like when we downloaded software to specific computers for specific students. Now don't go thinking I've changed! I still think it should be on every computer for every student. That's best practice and also increases the likelihood of the students that have to use it, doing so. Now that I have said that, the pricing options across the board are pretty great too! 

More great reading & writing solutions:
TextHelp - Read&Write, Snapverter, Equatio, Fluency Tutor, WriQ, Browsealoud 
DonJohnston - Snap&Read, Co:Writer, and First Author

If this wasn't the valentine you wanted from me, here's another! Baby Shark Valentine
1
  1586 Hits
0 Comments
1586 Hits
  0 Comments
Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

Thanks for sharing the lies you used to believe and found a way to dismiss, Rach! Have you heard of Rachel Hollis? She published a book this year that has gone viral called, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.” Have you read it? If you haven’t, I recommend the great and easy read!

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

Now, it's our turn to share and help others dismiss the voice inside their head. One lie that I used to believe for a long time is the one regarding age. Growing up we all experienced those moments when our parents told us, "You can when you're older," or "You’ll understand when you're older". Leaving you to always long for just the right moment “when you're old enough” for whatever it is.

Now that I am older, it has morphed in my professional career that has left me longing until “I have enough experience to write that book, or present on that topic, or to do exactly what I think I have always been meant to do". Always being told that you need to “put in your dues” and then it will be your turn. Suddenly, I realized that I am longing to do the things of the “experienced” and waiting for “someone” to tell me “it's time”. Do you find yourself waiting for permission or asking for someone else’s approval for that gutsy move to get ahead in your career? One of Rachel Hollis’ quotes from the book is,


“No one can tell you how big your dreams can be.”

We all seem to care a little too much about what others are going to say. The truth is if we wait for these moments, we may be waiting our whole lives. Another favorite quote:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

So, what have you been waiting to do?

Maybe you have been waiting to integrate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and technology into your classroom or program? PATINS Specialists are standing by for your email or call for on-site consultation and our *no cost* PATINS Tech Expo is coming up on April 4th to help connect you with the right tools, know-how, and inspiration to make your ideas a reality! Your time is now! Don’t wait to contact us and let us know how we can support you today! {Free Registration for Tech Expo opens soon!}

Don’t forget to like, comment and share this blog and the Tech Expo with your fellow teachers!

1
  1632 Hits
0 Comments
1632 Hits
  0 Comments
Dec
26

A New Year, A New Classroom?

Traditional & UDL Classroom Comparison From a traditional classroom to one that is more universally designed.
For many people, the end of the year is laden with traditions. After all, traditions are inherently part of the many cultures that exist around the world, especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations. They are present in a variety of our routines, activities, and schedules at home, work, and school.

Some traditions evolve over the years, reflecting the change in the times, the environment, or the family, while others remain the same from one year to the next. I like to call the latter, anchor traditions. I believe that our desire to observe these traditions not only stems from the definition that they bring to us as a people, but is deeply rooted in the comfort and familiar expectations that accompany each one.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s within this comfort and familiarity that many traditions, good and bad, persist in our schools and classrooms. It’s natural to cling to what we know and what has always been done, but when does our personal comfort begin to impede the learning experience for our students?

I’d argue that more often than not holding onto what we know to be true in a zone of comfort, holds us back from doing the job we truly want to do as educators. That it keeps us in the mindset of teaching the way we were taught, of putting our academic to-do lists before our students more immediate needs, of being resistant to new ideas, of overlooking the value that each student brings to the classroom, of forgetting why we became teachers in the first place.

In fact, as I reflect upon my own teaching and experience, I can admit that I allowed myself to retreat to my personal comfort zone, teaching the way I was taught and projecting onto my students what I wanted for them without asking them what they wanted for themselves.

Had I known then what I know now, there are steps that I would have taken to shift the focus from my traditional, teacher-centered methods solely created to manage my classroom to a student-centered classroom driven by my students’ individual wants and needs.

But how?

I would have started with relationship building. Not the type of relationship building that happens those first few days of school (and includes the obligatory beginning of the year “get-to-know me” poster activity), but real relationship building. The type that takes time, energy, and sometimes a lot of effort and persistence. The type that begins with allowing every student to enter the classroom with a clean slate and without preconceived notions.

I would have asked my students to share how they prefer to learn, what they believed their strengths and weaknesses to be, what their fears were and always given them multiple ways to respond - verbally, in writing, with pictures, etc.

I would have asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn that year and worked to incorporate their interests into the daily lessons and activities.

I would have asked my students how they were doing and truly listened without judgement.

I would have worked hard to make sure my students knew that I sincerely cared about them regardless of their behavior and even in the worst of times.

Relationship building can be a game changer and is key when it comes to creating a student-centered environment. And though it may be difficult to foster new relationships and leave behind those all too comfortable traditional methods, all it really takes to head in a new direction focused on students is to take the first step. The upcoming new year and semester offers the perfect opportunity to take this step, so will you?

1
  1719 Hits
0 Comments
1719 Hits
  0 Comments
Nov
15

Everyday UDL

When I heard we could invite a guest blogger, I knew who mine would be from the get-go. Introducing my former college study buddy, roommate for many years, and always my professional/life guide, Sammi Bowyer.

Currently, there are two preschools in Indiana lucky to have her as their Speech-Language Pathologist. Her incredible optimism and #AvidReader* status lend well to providing the highest quality services for our students.

Sammi & Jen standing next to the

*
#AvidReader is someone who loves reading, reads a lot, and isn’t ashamed to flaunt it.  

Now, when you hear Universal design for learning (UDL), do you think, “Great, one more thing I have to do...?” It’s okay if you do. But, before you click out of the page, keep reading. I think you’ll find Sammi’s take a common-sense way to look at the importance of incorporating UDL in the classroom as we empower and show care for all our students.

--

When I think about UDL, I think about the unique interests of my students, how I can teach a concept in multiple formats, and the many ways in which my students share with me what they know. By utilizing UDL, I work to remove barriers so all my students are able to use their unique skill sets as learners and people. My targets for what I need to teach them doesn’t shift, but rather the ways in which they can go about learning and demonstrating their knowledge can.

We use the three principles of UDL, representation, expression, and engagement, all the time in our everyday lives. For example, think about the expression principle the next time you are completing a task at work, researching something new, or offering help to a friend in need. Then, think about all the different ways you might be able to reach your end goal. Chances are that one of those ways will stick out as making the most sense for you, but it might not be the same way that your spouse, your child, your co-worker, or your friend would approach the same task.

When we utilize UDL in the classroom, we are modeling for our students that their ideas are valued.

--

If you want to learn more about how to put UDL into practice in your classroom, I highly recommend registering for Access to Education 2018 by Nov. 21st. Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana Director of Special Education, and Dr. Kelly J. Grillo, 2018 Florida Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Marjorie Crick Teacher of the Year, lead the way with inspiring keynotes followed by great breakout sessions!   

PATINS Project Access to Education 2018

1
  1494 Hits
0 Comments
1494 Hits
  0 Comments
Nov
01

Hopscotch Moments

I wrote a blog post last year titled, Happy Birthday to… Me? There I described my difficulty in answering on the spot questions about myself…to the funny (not funny) moment of actually making up my birthday date after going numb from a simple question, “Kelli, when is your birthday?” You’ll have to read it to believe it.

This past summer, I had the professional development opportunity to spend a week at Camp Yes And at Indiana University learning the art, skill and the power of improv to support social and emotional learning for students on the autism spectrum. This is on the spot responding at it’s finest, which the idea made my heart race. Jim Ansaldo, Ph.D. from the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and heads Camp Yes And states: “Improv is not about being funny, it’s about being you.” It was intensive, meaningful instruction in the morning and then immediate implementation with students with autism in the afternoon.

3 people sitting on chairs on stage

This type of professional development was out of my comfort zone knowing that I once succumbed to making up my own birthday from fear of being judged of my slow processing. However, I also know that we cannot grow as educators if we remain in our comfort zone. Students deserve the best us and they deserve to know and have the skills to be the best them. Modeling plays a considerable part. Their success often begins with our support so count me in with zero hesitation!

What if you don’t know where to start? Start with finding your tribe. Your tribe does not mean like-minded people. It’s about finding fellow educators who will push your thinking and at the same time support you. Besides your colleagues, PATINS staff is always ready to gently get you out of that comfort zone. Join Twitter and develop your personal learning network. Joining Twitter may even be out of your comfort zone…which means 
do it!
iPad with question mark on screen.

Register for Access to Education 2018 and attend sessions that are geared toward the integration of methods, tools and equitable education for your students. When you come to barriers in education, don’t stop and stare…find solutions. When you are not sure how to do something or working with a student you cannot seem to find that breakthrough, ask for help. All of this will not only impact you but also your students!

As I was typing this blog, I received an out of the blue message from a young lady on Facebook who I have not actively spoken with in probably 21 years. She was in elementary/junior high school at that time. She was one of my “little sisters” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program where I volunteered. Her message states this: “My aunt sent me pictures after cleaning out my grandmother’s place. There was an article about you being the Big Sister of the Year. Thank you so much for helping me at some of the hardest times of my life. My childhood was extremely rough, but you have no idea how you inspired me to have a better life. You helped me break the cycle.”

I had no idea that I had that impact on her after all of these years until 10 minutes into writing this blog. Here I was trying to break my own cycle of my painful childhood by supporting those who were struggling. I was out of my comfort zone then but realized that no change can be made by staying there…just like taking that improv class. We may never hear of the stories of how we have changed a student’s life; however, push your own thinking and remain that expert learner and seek those out of box moments to be the best you…because you indeed can help students be the best them. I was told that we can’t control the lives of our students…but we do have influence.

I LOVE this video and have watched it more than a dozen times. It is worth the few minutes to watch. What would you do? Would you be able to release all inhibitions and play? Get uncomfortable and find your hopscotch moments…and let’s model for our students that it’s ok to be “you.” #KidsDeserveIt

2
  3070 Hits
0 Comments
3070 Hits
  0 Comments
Oct
11

Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

On July 1, 2012, I became a PATINS Coordinator. At that time we each had our own library of assistive technology and were assigned to assist educators within a certain region of the state. I was fortunate enough to find myself in an office within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Administration Building. The special education department welcomed me and assisted me with my transition from a K-12 educator to a PATINS Specialist. At the forefront of that welcome and assistance was Dr. George Van Horn. So, typical to form, when I asked if he would like to be a guest writer for the PATINS Ponders Blog he immediately agreed to share his thoughts. 


George Van HornInclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

George Van Horn, Ed.D., Director of Special Education, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation


street sign the corner of perception and reality







Image reference


I have long believed in inclusion. Inclusion is a school environment that welcomes all and provides what is necessary for all students. But believing in inclusion is not enough. Many people don’t realize that P.L. 94-142 did not create special education, it created general education. In an effort to allow children with disabilities access to the public school system, states and local districts started with the assumption that the environment was focused on educating only students who were already educated in public schools and a system needed to be created. Hence, the creation of general education. Prior to the passage of the federal law, the system educated “all” students. Through P.L. 94-142, “all” was expanded to include children with disabilities. In order to accomplish this, the system in place was kept, named general education, and continued to serve students. However, to educate students with disabilities, a parallel system was created because the existing system was viewed as only being for students without disabilities.

Venn diagram on mainstreaming with 3 areas: general education, special education and high ability. None intersect











As time moved on it became clear a separate system for students with disabilities was not effective and the initial solution was “mainstreaming”. Students with disabilities were still a part of the separate special education system, but would “visit” general education classrooms. This practice was useful in introducing general education educators and students to students with disabilities. But, the “home” for children with disabilities still remained the special education classroom and they were not members of the general education environment. This practice led to the next step in educating children with disabilities – inclusion.


Picture shows Mainstreaming with student going into a classroom and Inclusion showing an arrow where students can leave for support and service
Image Reference

Inclusion means all children are members of one educational environment, meaning there are no more general education and special education systems. As I reflect on the many years I have supported inclusion, I have come to the conclusion that in reality what many of us have accomplished is advanced mainstreaming. In most educational environments, children with disabilities are still viewed and treated differently. Many educators continue to struggle with the concept of equity versus fairness. Inclusion is not about giving all students the same (fair), it is about providing students what they need to be successful (equity). While progress providing equitable opportunities for all students has been made, there still remains two educational systems, general and special. While this is not our goal, it is a step toward achieving the goal of creating truly inclusive educational environments. What’s next?

Photo of students in classroom.

The barrier that has not been addressed is the need to create education environments that remove barriers and create options for instruction, assessment, and most importantly student learning. Until this occurs, it does not make sense for students with disabilities to be placed in classrooms where failure is probable because we have not changed why we do what we do, how we do it, and what we do. The focus in education needs to shift from the individual as disabled to the environment as disabled. I suggest the framework for accomplishing this monumental shift is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a framework that begins with several assumptions:
  • Variability is the norm
  • Disability is contextual
  • Focus on the learning environment and curriculum, not the students.
Through the use of the principles and guidelines of UDL in designing learning environments, educators can identify barriers and create options for ALL students. UDL is not about some students, but instead, focuses on improving learning outcomes for all students. Educators know that students come in all shapes and sizes. Variability is the norm. We know the students we work with will all be unique. In addition to variability, we also know that all students have strengths and weaknesses depending on the activity. Hence, disability is contextual. Everyone is disabled depending on the circumstances. For inclusion to become a reality, we must create one learning environment for all students that allows the students to choose what option works best given the activity. The creation of an environment where all students have a sense of belonging and ownership is our ultimate destination. While this is not an easy shift, it is necessary if we truly want to educate all children.


1
  4855 Hits
0 Comments
4855 Hits
  0 Comments
Sep
20

Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

In the winter of 2018 at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, Florida, I attended a breakout session presented by Thomas O’Shaughnessy and Conor Hartigan, two nearly lifelong friends that are also colleagues in the assistive technology department at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Together they presented, “Assistive Technology in Education: An Irish Perspective.”

Their session opened my eyes to the universal struggles that we face as advocates for equitable access to the curriculum in all levels of education, especially when it comes to the implementation of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning.

In the time since ATIA, I’ve remained in touch with Thomas and feel lucky to call him my friend. It’s within this friendship that he so graciously agreed to share some of his higher ed experiences and perspectives from across the pond.

- Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education - written by Thomas O'Shaughnessy

Ireland haThomas O'Shaughnessys changed significantly in the last 25 years. It is now seen as a leader in terms of technology, science and medical advancements and is well on its way to becoming a global technology hub. With a heavy emphasis on education, our universities have developed reputations for developing highly skilled graduates in every area of employment from business, technology and engineering to science, the arts and education. These higher education bodies have developed programmes to accommodate a range of learners from different backgrounds including socio-economic disadvantaged, asylum seekers, mature students and students with disabilities.

While initiatives like the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) in Ireland promotes inclusion for students with disabilities at higher level in terms of an access route, are these students appropriately accommodated in Higher Education?

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education for 2015-2019 in Ireland was designed to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. It discusses the mainstreaming of many supports that currently support this social mix including students with disabilities.

This argues that the current systems are changing and as they further develop we may no longer have a need for specialised supports to accommodate this social mix. Realistically speaking, this is currently still far away from the truth. However, one support that could help alleviate a lot of these issues involved in supporting this social mix is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It is called Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

However, when it comes to UDL in higher education in Ireland, we seem to fall well short of our American counterparts. I’ve been to my fair share of UDL themed conferences (AHEAD (Irish Organisation), ATIA, etc.) to know that the implementation of UDL in a classroom stateside is one thing, the implementation of UDL in higher education in Ireland is entirely another. Principals and school administrators have far more influence at school level than their counterparts in higher education. Teachers can also take control of their set curriculum much easier than academics in higher education.

Unfortunately, we are now in an era where business models drive many universities and other higher-level institutions where research income and reputation (ranking) take precedence over teaching and learning. We see senior academics buying their way out of teaching to further focus on research. Academics that are needed to help drive UDL change, replaced with younger less experienced educators too inexperienced to initiate any change like UDL.

This business shift is coming from the top down, exactly where the adoption of UDL should originate from. However, since UDL often comes with a cost (time, resources, etc.) are higher education institutions interested in driving UDL forward? Are academics for that matter?

When we do see academics engage it is usually when the push comes from the top down or when priorities arise related to statistics on student engagement or student progression. We could begin to discuss incentivising the UDL approach, but should we have to? Are financial and other rewards the only way we can get buy-in?

UDL requires lecturers to allow students multiple means of representation in order to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know and multiple means of engagement supporting how learners differ markedly in how they can be engaged or motivated to learn.

While I’m sure in theory we all recommend this framework, do academics have the resources to support this framework and do they have the multiple rubrics needed to implement it? Would they have the support to inform their department or faculty? A colleague of mine said recently “UDL is great if you have unlimited resources and buy-in from everyone” and for me, this struck a chord.

The biggest problem incorporating UDL in Higher Education is the lack of buy-in from the top. UDL will only ever work in Higher Education by employing a top-down approach where the president/senior academics buy-in from the start and where UDL is mandated into every new academic contract.

Unfortunately, interdepartmental politics, accountability (lack thereof) and attitudes make some initiatives hard to employ at higher level. In my experience most academics still don’t even know what UDL is and unfortunately there are many who simply don’t care – they don’t currently see it as a priority or their responsibility. How do you convince a lecturer to spend three times the time (approximate guess) developing class material to support UDL when nobody is requiring them to? They will almost always argue ‘time and resources’ – I know, I’ve seen and heard it.

I love reading books like Dive into UDL, attending talks by UDL experts like Kate Novak and seeing images like (Em)Powered by UDL. My excitement however quickly dampens when I realise how difficult it is to organise UDL at third level and even, at times, in schools. Who will train the staff, who will pay for this, would the staff attend? (even if it is mandatory) Who will drive it?

We have seen some small shift; University College Dublin is making strides to incorporate UDL in their everyday practices although I’ve yet to see how this is being handled and deployed. In October 2018, The Universal Design and Higher Education in Transformation Congress (UDHEIT2018) will be held at Dublin Castle, it will be an exciting conference that will give a proper insight into the current situation. There will be a focus on the creation of the state’s first technological university - based on the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown.

Apparently all three (yes, I said three) presidents of this new technological university are advocates of UDL and they have put UDL as a cornerstone of this merger. I await this conference with equal scepticism and anticipation. Too often have I attended UDL conferences where the theory didn’t meet the practice, where “UDL practices” were not real UDL practices. Too often have I left more disappointed than when I arrived. I want practical solutions on how it is implemented, not theory on how it could or should work. For me, for UDL to be successful the answer lies with teachers and teacher educators.

Too often these days I hear “give it to the teachers”, however UDL is one area where I generally think teachers can make a real difference. We need to train (our already overburdened) student teachers about UDL and its importance. Let them incorporate its principles in their class through lesson plans and let them show every student that there are multiple ways in which tasks can be represented, engaged with and completed. Let them see the teacher using it and let it become the norm where when their students graduate they will be able to incorporate multiple approaches to everyday issues. Let them use readily available (what will hopefully become standardised) resources to achieve this. Then and only then will we see a change in attitudes and practices needed to fully utilise the UDL framework.


2
  1590 Hits
1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Guest — Rachel
I am so grateful for this perspective and awareness of how UDL is going In countries other than our own! Thank you so much for bei... Read More
Thursday, 20 September 2018 17:25
1590 Hits
  1 Comment
Sep
12

When Life Overlaps (With More Life)


two teen girls jumping on a trampoline at the Sharritt's farm
Have you ever felt stretched in more directions than you ever felt possible? This summer was a season of challenging and unexpected beginnings for me, which is kinda funny because in my last PATINS blog, I used the phrase “bring on the possibilities!” (shakes head at 3-months-ago self). Here’s the summary of summer for specialist, flower-farmer, foster mom, and new-grandma Bev:


A challenging beginning for my full time job at PATINS was to create meaningful trainings for ALL educators for the summer of eLearning conferences, given that my specialty area is with blindness and low vision technology. Most of my participants may have one student in their whole career with this disability. I came up with “Close Your Eyes and Imagine UDL” and “Electronic Books for Elementary Students”. Check these out as fall webinars by searching the PATINS training calendar.

More and more, the boundaries of special education and regular education are dissolving into “this classroom works for everyone.” I met many educators who are doing this creative work. They enriched my specialized views with their ideas for taking accommodations traditionally available to students with blindness and low vision and considering how they could help any student.


My part-time summer job as flower farmer became both harder and easier when my Mad Farmer husband Roger, planted 20 new perennial varieties. I loved having a larger variety of textures and palettes when making bouquets, but it also increased the number of times my back had to bend to cut those beauties. We are already negotiating on limits for next year, but I’ve seen some new dirt flying in the perennial field when Roger thinks I’m not watching.

close up of black-eyed Susan flower; black center with gold narrow petals
In late June, we suddenly welcomed two foster daughters ages 11 and 12 into our house. This led to having more than one kind of cereal in our cupboard, and other oddities like an unexpected evening of putting together a trampoline as a thunderstorm approached. The trampoline
does block my view of the perennial field. The volume of life has increased for the Sharritts with this addition of both loud laments/bickering and high-pitched joy/hilarity to our lives.


With great anticipation, I awaited the title of grandma this summer with a due date for Margaret Rosemarie on August 3rd. Then in June, the news that her dad would be a working in Indianapolis, rather than Michigan, threw new possibilities and logistical challenges into the mix. My son-in-law moved in with us to start his job and look for housing (buy more cereal). We worked on squeezing in visits to our daughter while she finished her job, and waited to deliver in Lansing. Then we all waited 9 extra days for the girl while she took her sweet time to make her entrance.

September and structure are my new favorites. I’ve never been more excited for school to start. I’ll be a little sad when the frost comes and kills the zinnias--but only a little. I’d even concede that I’m looking forward to socks again. We’ve all landed softly (or continue to bounce on that trampoline!) after a chaotic summer. The heaviness of the stress when many roles overlapped, eventually found a balance with something lighter. Or I yelled for help, and someone stepped in. Or I just yelled. 

I witness educators being pulled in many directions as well. If it is a season of extremes for you, I wish for you a good team, and a willingness to look for growth in the stretching.



6
  1597 Hits
1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Guest — Rachel
I absolutely enjoyed this season of changes for you! Thank you for this beautiful blog!
Thursday, 13 September 2018 12:38
1597 Hits
  1 Comment
Aug
23

Labels, Learning Styles and Stars

"Labels, Learning Styles and Stars" on a starry background
How would you label yourself as a learner? Take a moment to think about some words you’d use.

Did you use your astrology sign? No?

When I was in high school my career counselor helped me pick a major. I took some tests which yielded lists of potential careers. Every week I studied them and shrugged.

During our last session, he sighed and said, “let’s check your horoscope.”

We pulled up a list of suggested careers for Geminis and laid my career assessment list next to it. One career showed up on both lists: speech-language pathologist. I never knew that was a thing, but I said I’d try it and I haven’t changed my mind since.

However, I do not recommend the Jessica Conrad Horoscope Method for choosing careers or to better understand your student’s possibilities. There is zero science or rationale behind it. I could have just as easily been an antique dealer. I hate The Antique Roadshow.

Also worth noting: it turns out I’m not a Gemini. This whole time, I’ve been a Taurus.

When the news broke at NASA that the astrological charts were out of whack for various reasons, I was shocked. Go ahead and look at the new suggested dates. If your sign changed, do you feel a pang of denial or disbelief, even if you use it for entertainment? I did. It’s hard to let go of that label.

Humans like labels. We are programmed to like knowing who are “our people” and who isn’t, what we are and what we aren’t. It helps us feel safe, helps us feel like we understand things, whether it’s true or not.

Go back to my first question, how you would label yourself as a learner. Did you use any of these terms:

Visual learner
Auditory learner
Kinesthetic learner

Or something like that? Several years after I picked my career from an astrology website, I was sitting in a class where the lecturer announced in passing “there’s no such thing as a learning style.”

I felt my foundation of identity rock a little when I heard that. Learning styles aren’t real? “Say’s who?” I wondered because I knew that I was a visual learner. I took a little learning quiz once and my teachers reaffirmed it and I felt it deep in my bones. Give me a book over a lecture any day. I was great at understanding graphs. Didn’t that mean anything?

A little digging revealed decades of research reaffirming the truth: our brains are amazing and complex and cannot be categorized with the decades-old hypothesis that I am wired to learn one way and others another. We still have a lot to discover about brains and learning, but the learning styles myth doesn’t hold any water or make any difference in instruction. You can read this analysis for post-college learning, and this meta-analysis summary from Indiana Wesleyan University and the research article published this year from Indiana University. You can also listen to Tesia Marshik’s Ted Talk on learning styles and the importance of critical self-reflection.

It’s hard to adopt that new information in the face of what we feel is correct. Our brains are wired to identify it as a threat, seeing information that opposes our strongly held belief no different than a lion trying to eat us. It’s hard but important! Why bother writing this and debunking the myth? Besides promoting evidence-based practice, bad information hurts kids.

For example, a young me who saw the list of careers like “engineer” and “concert vocalist” under different learning styles and thought they were out of reach. My high school student refusing to give geometry another try because “I’m just not a visual learner.” The guidance counselor who advised my friend to not pursue nursing because there was so much reading and not enough kinesthetic learning for her.

There’s a lot of other labels and titles we throw around:

Stubborn. Sensitive. Flighty. Rude. High-functioning. Low-functioning. Special. Gifted. Delayed. Aggressive. Picky. Not Diploma Track Ready.

All labels we’ve seen passed around a conference table helping us make very big decisions about what that student’s future of learning might be.

I challenge you to pause and wonder, what if the label isn't true?

So all of this begs the question: if not learning styles, then what? How do we ensure we are reaching all students? PATINS Project highly recommends Universal Design for Learning and the research behind it. We’ve got great resources and specialists who can assist you in designing for all learners in mind.
2
  2165 Hits
1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Guest — Rachel
Jessica...this is the blog I have been waiting for! This has lead to so much self-reflection, and your words are so beautifully or... Read More
Thursday, 23 August 2018 15:02
2165 Hits
  1 Comment
Jun
15

Next Level Instruction With Captions


speech bubble with 3 dots indicating that text is about to appearA question we frequently get asked at PATINS is, “How can I provide captioned media and content for my students?” We’ve found unique situations within many of these requests. These range from wanting to add captions to the morning high school announcements to providing captioned media 
for a student with this accommodation written into his or her IEP. Often overlooked in each scenario is that captioning has been proven to improve attention and engagement, memory, language acquisition, vocabulary, and level of comprehension for many students, not only those requiring them (Evmenova, 2008).

Thankfully, we live in a quick-changing, digital world that provides us a variety of free tools to generate and curate quality captioned content in an effort to create inclusive, language-rich environments for all of our students.

Let’s start with ways to engage your students. Videos can be a great way to hook your students into a lesson. If you’re starting a unit on fables, try dressing as your favorite character and creating your own selfie video to introduce the new unit with apps like Clips or Cliptomatic, which have the option to automatically add captions as you speak.

Ready to dig further into your lesson? Search for closed captioned videos to support your objectives on YouTube by adjusting the filter after entering your topic. Khan Academy and Veritasium are two YouTube channels that offer captioned educational videos that you may find useful. What if you find the perfect video for your needs, but the captions are non-existant or terrible? Create a free account at amara.org to crowdsource or personally caption videos that belong to someone else.

Now it’s time to give your students feedback on their progress toward the objectives. Using Clips or Cliptomatic, you can record verbal feedback, add the clip to your Drive, grab the shared link, and add it as comment to their digital submission. For a paper assignment, you could shorten the link with a site like bitly.com or tinyurl.com and then write it on your student’s paper. Maybe your students would be amazed if you turned the link into a QR code that you print and include when you return the assignment. Now your students could scan the link with their iOS device camera or an app like QR Reader to find out what have to say about their work.

Do you have students that would benefit from live captions during your whole class instruction? In the latest version of Microsoft PowerPoint and Windows 10, you can activate live captions during your presentations or just simply bring up a blank slide and begin a “presentation” to project the captions onto your screen or wall.

Including captions as part of your daily instruction can greatly increase your students’ access to the content while supporting many functional and academic skills. Furthermore, it shows your students that you are considering and acting upon the multiple ways in which they learn and receive information. Captions are your opportunity to bump up the universal level of your instruction. Because we are here to support you, please let us know if you’d like more information on captioning or would like support with any of these tools or ideas.

1
  2416 Hits
3 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — david jackson
Jenna - Thanks for sharing!!!
Saturday, 16 June 2018 17:35
Guest — david j
Jena - oops misspelled your name. sorry!
Saturday, 16 June 2018 17:36
Guest — Jena
No worries! It was nice meeting you at Ignite! Keep in touch.
Thursday, 21 June 2018 14:28
2416 Hits
  3 Comments
Apr
20

Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

1
  2308 Hits
0 Comments
2308 Hits
  0 Comments
Jan
03

To Do One Thing Is Also Deciding To Not Do Something Else

Image of a fork in a road with an ominous looking sky above

Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. Likewise, to believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else. This almost certainly seems like a simplistic statement...one that is nearly self-evident. Yet, when one begins to contemplate daily decisions, even routine or minor ones, from this virtually-transposed perspective, things can start to be inspected differently.  

I had a friend once, whom I haven't spoken to in many years. Like most people I have had any length of contact with, he said a lot of things, most of which I do not remember even the notion of. However, one particular statement he verbalized to me nearly 20 years ago, has remained with me, word for word.  

He said, "You are always going down one road or the other with every single decision you make, but never the middle." He continued, "Any time you think you're in the middle, you're actually on one path, but thinking about the other path." He concluded with, "Every decision and every action is either moving you in one direction or the other, but never both directions at the same time." 

He wasn't a really great friend, but I've always remembered these particular words from him. I try to meaningfully and regularly ruminate on the deep implications of their meaning. I was also recently prompted to think of this ever-protruding philosophy in my life in a slightly different way, which I anticipated to be worth discussing here.  

There's a question that tends to get posed consistently, whether I'm providing a training, sitting with my office computer, checking emails from my phone on-the-go, or participating in a meeting. That question has to do with two separate, but very related concepts: ALL students' ability to work toward grade-level standards and which accommodations are/are not permitted on high stakes testing. Conclusively, questions that indicate one belief...one path, which is simultaneously not believing something else, according to this philosophy at hand. 

I pose that these questions represent beliefs, rather than simple factual inquiries. Asking me which shoes I put on this morning, could be a simple factual inquiry. In contrast, asking about allowable accommodations on a high stakes test or how it could be possible for ALL students to work toward grade-level standards, proposes that the inquiry comes from someone who is traveling down the path to the left, while thinking about the path to the right. 

While I cannot fault this, and much could be said at this juncture about the value of reflection while on one path or the other, the actuality of the path that is underway (decisions and beliefs), is that the student who is figuratively walking with the facilitator, is actively traveling on ONE path, but not both at the same time and not the middle. When accounting for the relatively limited time our students have with us, each step taken in one direction, potentially sacrifices steps that could be taken in the other direction.  

By deciding that what ultimately matters, is the allowable accommodations on a high stakes test, one is also deciding that the tools that could engage a student meaningfully for "the other 175 days" of school are of secondary importance. Traveling down this particular path seems to be rather common and also understandable given the gravity of these tests! Yet, allowing this anticipation of the end of the year to decide the path to get there, seems quite counter-intuitive to our ultimate goal.  

We know that the more actively engaged our students are in a curriculum that is accessible to them, the more accurately we can predict their success on that high stakes test (with or without the tools) and more importantly, their success toward independence as uniquely awesome and creative humans in society.  

When we slow down to think before we take that next step or make that next decision, it is of significant consequence to ponder what we are also deciding not to do... not to believe... not to expect.  

Decide to expect greatness from ALL of your students in ways that you can't even envision yet. Take steps that demonstrate your travel down this path decisively. Seek support, training, and trials of tools, from PATINS. Be aware of what your steps, your decisions, your beliefs also mean that you are not choosing, not traveling toward, not believing in. Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. To believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else.

0
  2073 Hits
0 Comments
2073 Hits
  0 Comments
Nov
22

A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
0
  2227 Hits
0 Comments
2227 Hits
  0 Comments
Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



1
  2371 Hits
0 Comments
2371 Hits
  0 Comments
Sep
21

Are You Getting The Results You Want Now?

Daniel Presenting

At a recent training I was providing, I began to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and proceeded through the notion of a framework full of choice and options as well as the necessity of providing multiple and flexible means of engagement, presentation, and interaction/responses. Participants had a lot of great examples of what each of those UDL bullet points might look like in a classroom setting and there was ample head nodding and note taking occuring. I valued these indications of a group of educators looking forward to teaching differently, rather than just with different tools. As I was demonstrating the PATINS Universal Design for Learning Lesson Creator, walking through each of it's sections, I was met with a sense of agreement and excitement! 

Image of children in a traditional classroom facing the front in desk and chairs with one boy raising hand and teacher looking at him.
However, the demeanor in the room quickly took a u-turn when I arrived at the discussion of environmental factors in a Universally Designed learning space! More specifically, I began to talk about the importance of flexible seating options and student choice. Up to this point, everyone seemed very much in-sync with my push to try doing things a different way. We had talked of our mutual belief that all students can learn and grow and, in accordance, there must be a way to teach all students! There seemed to be a shared agreement that, in order to achieve different outcomes, we had to be willing, able, and permitted to teach differently. Yet, when I mentioned the out-dated concept of students being forced to sit at desks, in traditional chairs, facing the front, raising their hands to speak, I was literally and loudly met with laughter. Typically, getting a laugh or two in a presentation, I would consider a positive thing, but this was at a very unexpected time and caught me totally off-guard. However, I continued by asking, "Why do we have this seating requirement in many classrooms...what is the reason for it?" At this point, I was almost knocked backwards in my brown wingtips by the increased laughter and head-shaking, by one table in particular. Worse, this table of participants began to pack up their belongings as if they were preparing to leave at that point in the discussion.  

As a presenter/trainer, this is rarely something you look forward to seeing or hearing. In fact, it's often what a presenter's nightmares consist of the night beforehand, right on-par with forgetting to get dressed and spilling coffee on your shirt! Unfortunately, this was near the very end of our time and I didn't have an opportunity to seek clarification on the laughter and head-shaking. Quickly afterwards however, I began to think deeply about it. I can only interpret that sort of reaction as a strong disagreement with what I was encouraging with regard to flexible seating and other environmental UDL factors.  

One question ran through my head over and over; "what could be the reason that people who are looking for different results are so interested and willing to try a different strategy when it comes to presenting materials in a different way, while being so adamantly against allowing students to sit on the floor?"  

Perhaps, they had reasons that I am not considering. I certainly realize that abandoning what you know and are comfortable with to try something new, especially in front of a student audience, can be overwhelming. Fear is a natural response and sometimes, a natural response to that fear can actually be laughter. Upon thinking even more deeply, it seemed that I found myself settled into one valley of a tough spot between two mountainous forces. Looking to the left, inside that valley, I see the fear of abandoning the familiar. To the right, I see the seemingly insurmountable climb toward different results. If I stay safe in the valley, I experience neither the fear to my left, or the strenuous climb to my right. ...it feels comfy right here in the valley...safe. As long as I keep walking straight ahead in that valley, not veering too far to the left or to the right, I stay safe. However, I also continue to achieve the same results that I always have.  

Tree high upon a mountainous ledge
As I've said for many years when talking to others about trying something new, and have tried to live my own life by "greatness rarely happens when you're comfortable." That tree, the one that you really want to sit under and truly enjoy the view of results, is high upon the hill. Getting to that view requires abandoning the mountainous fear to the left and taking that first step toward making the ascent to the right. It's going to be uncomfortable, but the desired results are there. ...way up there. Further, if you happen to get winded or scared along the way, it's far easier to just turn around and head back to the safe spot in the valley. ...somewhat like trying a different way of presenting information to learners, but deciding that flexible seating is just to difficult to keep climbing. From that spot under the tree on top of the hill to the right, the view of the mountain of fear that used to be to your left looks peacefully at rest in the distance. The view of your former safe spot below seems minuscule now and the differing results achieved as a result of your dedication to the climb is exactly the fresh air needed in the lungs of yourself and your learners.  

2
  3092 Hits
0 Comments
3092 Hits
  0 Comments
Aug
09

Failing Forward

Bev Sharritt using a Braille Note Touch
As the specialist at PATINS for Blind/Low Vision, I work with Braille, and its evolving technology. In an exercise in review (and humility), I decided to type this blog on one of the Braille devices that we provide in our lending library. Here is my first line attempt:


“My blog is due throughursday so i geed to startd.”

Hmmm, probably need to brush up on my Braille skills as I head into the school year towards training sessions with teachers for the blind and their students. Definitely a wobbly ride after a summer of staying off the proverbial bike, but after a few more sentences, words were flowing more smoothly, at a creeping rate of about 25 wpm.

The device, a Braillenote Touch, is a Braille note taker created to fuse with an Android Tablet so that a student who uses Braille as a primary literacy media can access anything their sighted peers can access.

Watch me work at my speed on the device.

Watch more proficient users on the same device.

I learned to read and write Braille back in 1996 from a delightful teacher named Margaret, who had taught for many years at the Indiana School for the Blind. I struggled with e’s and i’s while writing Braille because they are mirror images of one another like b’s and d’s are in print. Margaret helpfully admonished, “You go up the hill and down to hell,” describing the orientation of the dots in “i” and “e”. I think of her every time my fingers pause at these litters, I mean, letters.

I read Braille as a visual code, rather than a tactile code, as do most sighted folks. The course I took taught the complete literary Braille code in one semester, and after this, I could read my students’ work, and compose documents on a mechanical Braille writer for them to read. It was much easier than I anticipated--mainly learning an alphabet code ala Kindergarten plus punctuation, plus 250 or so contractions (like learning stenography), but, nevertheless, accomplished in a single semester.  

If you’re looking for a fun brain challenge, the app Braille Tutor is free, and will guide a sighted user through the code. Many folks look at others using Braille as “amazing” or “inspirational”, but they just learned to read like the rest of us, one letter, word, and corrected mistake at a time. If you’ve learned all the ins and outs of that current game on your device, I’m sure you can learn Braille.

When I go back to typing in Braille, using 8 keys, my muscle memory kicks in, for the most part, but I am wretchedly slow, and the letters that were difficult for me before remain hard. It really is like riding a bike, but y’all could probably walk beside me and keep up, and I definitely should wear a helmet. Throughout my years of teaching, the more I used it, the faster and more proficient I became.

Even more than reigniting the synapses in my brain reserved for Braille, this exercise reminds me of the need to consider that the learners (students and teachers) that I’ll be working with are ready to fail and ready to achieve. As C.S. Lewis put it:

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”  

How are you setting up your learning environments for failure this year? How will you create situations where students will struggle? How will you model reframing a failure into a learning opportunity? Here’s a list of resources to spur you on to failure.

I’m going to break out the Braille device once a week. I kind of like the word “throughursday” that came out in my first attempt. Sounds like the day you need to struggle through to get to Friday.

Wishing you all a year full of epic failing forward opportunities!



3
  2862 Hits
2 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Glenda Thompson
I so enjoy your writing style. I can be vulnerable, take risks and make mistakes with the best of 'em. Thank you, Bev, for broad... Read More
Thursday, 10 August 2017 07:50
Guest — Rache
Bev...so humorous and enlightening! Thanks for this blog entry!
Tuesday, 15 August 2017 07:44
2862 Hits
  2 Comments
enfrdeitptrues

Copyright 2015- PATINS Project