Aug
07

The Reward

Summer has come and gone for many students around the state, and it’s back to school. New experiences, new friends, and new teachers. One must think of what each one of those students brings to the classroom.

That thought struck me this summer when we were on our family vacation. As with one of my blogs last year, I got to thinking about interactions with my grandkids as inspiration. This summer was no different.

My wife and I, joined by my two daughters and their families, have made it a tradition of going to the Outer Bank of North Carolina. It’s warm, relaxing and a nice way to finish the past school year and begin the summer.

Each morning we like to pack up the kids and head to the beach for the day to play in the sand and surf. We encourage all five of the grandkids to play hard but take time out to rest when they get hot, tired or hungry.

This year, my oldest grandson, Dean, who is 7, took time to sit and rest next to his mom and chat. The sun came and went from behind the clouds and Dean started watching them. “Look, Mom, that one looks like a dog,” I heard him say. Back and forth they went trying to figure out every cloud that passed by.

It wasn’t long before Logan, my 5-year-old grandson, joined them. Logan listened to them describing what they were seeing. He would glance at the sky and squint searching for what they were observing.

After a couple of minutes, Logan whined, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there. It looks like a Pokémon,” Dean said.

“Where? I don’t see it,” Logan replied.

Fluffy white clouds with a blue sky background.
After listening to a couple more descriptions by Dean and his mom, Logan was on the verge of tears. “I don’t see it,” he said.

Dean tried to help and came closer to Logan and pointed to the cloud he had described. “See that cloud right there?” pointing to a large billowing one, “Doesn’t that look like a dragon?”

Logan looked hard and said, “In the clouds? I see it now, I thought you were looking at the blue part.”

It wasn’t communicated to Logan that they were looking at the clouds. Logan had missed critical information as to how to play the game.

We have all experienced that situation at one time or another when that one key tidbit of information was missing and those around us just assumed we understood.

When we get that missing piece, it’s been called that “Aha!” or lightbulb moment. Whatever you call it, it’s that realization of understanding what was missing. For Logan, it was simply the clouds.

I have to wonder how many students come to school with just a few missing pieces here or there. It’s our place to help them find them through listening, encouraging questions and watching facial expressions.

The reward is the smile one sees when that missing piece is found, and we’ve made a difference. I enjoyed watching my grandsons, Logan and Dean, that day as they sat for a while longer both having fun comparing clouds.

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Thanks Jeff! There is always that insight that is needed, sadly, we dont see it or forget to see it because we are so busy with th... Read More
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 10:51
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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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Jun
14

"I got this."

fishing jumping from one bowl to another with the words I got this
Reflect, reflect, reflect is what my college professors used to say constantly. I always felt like I was going to lose my mind with one more forced reflection because I never understood the “why” of reflection.

If you have ever been to one of my trainings, you will know that I discuss the “why” in all that I talk about. I do feel that if we do things for a purpose because we know the meaning and relevance for ourselves, then we will most likely stay ignited in the passions we pursue or grow within the learning environment. We will want to learn. We are presented with the big picture and we can actually see it. We will apply and we will continue to remain expert learners; which in turn...can turn glazed-over eyes that look upon us in a classroom- into active, independent, engaged participants in their own learning. Our students.


I naturally reflect almost daily now as I work in education. This wasn’t an easy thing to do for myself because I am my biggest critic. Reflection makes you pause and think about the recent past and when you feel like you have failed; it’s so hard to relive in the moment because most of us just want to accept that feeling and just get away from it. However, within that pause, we can find change, we can find resolution, we can find growth.

Flower reflectionIt’s now summer time when most of us finally take that moment and reflect over the entire year. If you are like me, do not only reflect as your own biggest critic; but also as your own biggest fan. Look back at the awesome things you have accomplished, the changes you have made, the lives you have touched and the laughter that you may have sparked. Grow within those awesome moments and pack up the feelings of failures, learn from them and become a stronger, better teacher because of them.  

As you take some much needed time off this summer and begin the planning of the new school year, consider adding reflection into your days, weeks, months...not only for you, but for your students. Explain the “why.”  In thinking of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of engagement and action and expression, here are some examples for fun and engaging ways to incorporate reflection into your classroom:

  • Tools such as Padlet for weekly reflections to share.
  • Try using the app One Second Everyday from the first day of school until the last to create a virtual diary by taking one picture each day. The app quickly makes a video contemplation of your entire school year. What a fun way for students to reflect and to share!
  • Consider using furtureme.org to email the “future you” for goals to yourself or for your students. However, there are many good ways to use this free online tool.  

Relax and enjoy your summer.  When the moment comes to get back into the swing of things, pause...look at yourself and repeat, “I got this.”

PATINS staff has got your back also. Contact us anytime.  

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May
11

Expanding the Reach of Assistive Technology


As a general educator turned PATINS Data & Outreach Specialist, assistive technology (AT) has become part of my life more than ever. Before my change in professional roles, my knowledge of AT was minimal at best. To be honest, I often associated it with only the needs of individuals with physical disabilities. What a mistake to make!

Jena Fahlbush looking down at something with students at their desksNow that my exposure to AT has increased tenfold, I find myself wishing I had known more about it while I was still in the classroom. So many students come to mind as I learn about more technologies from low to high. Additionally, I find myself thinking about different types of tech that could or are already benefiting the lives of my friends, family, and even myself.

For example, closed captions are assistive technology for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Though I have typical hearing, the closed captions are permanently on the TV in my bedroom. This is great for when I wake up in the middle of the night and want to watch the TV without disturbing my husband with the sound. Plus, consistently using closed captions at home and in the classroom promotes and supports literacy amongst many children and adults.

The magical realm of AT has broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the world around us. More importantly, it’s broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the curriculum in a classroom setting. Yet, from conversations I’ve had with students and educators around the state, I’ve found that I wasn’t alone in my original thinking about AT. Many of these conversations have yielded a similar perspective - the preconceived notion that AT only supports physical access to one’s world.

Though AT may be understood by many to be technology used to support one’s physical access, it truly offers so much more. Think about your cell phone for instance. Do you ever speak your texts? Have you ever turned on flash alerts, so that you can get visual text notifications in a loud room? People constantly benefit from AT in their everyday lives in ways they may not even realize. So let us as educators, students, and parents begin to think differently about AT.

It’s true; many assistive technologies are specifically designed to increase access to the curriculum for individual students, such as eye-gaze systems for students with limited mobility or communication devices for students who are nonverbal. Furthermore, in these situations, AT must be included in a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) to ensure access to it. However, you will find that many of these same technologies contain an element of universal design or that they can be implemented with other students in more creative ways.

For example, maybe a shy student could break out of his/her shell through the use of a simple communication board. Maybe text-to-speech could help your students who are gifted properly pronounce the new vocabulary words they’ve found through research during an oral presentation. Or just maybe a student with typical vision that struggles with visual decoding skills could learn how to read using braille.
female 3rd grader using a laptop and headphones while laying on the floor

I believe there are three keys to unlocking successful implementation of technology in the classroom. 1) Understand that AT is specifically designed for individuals and that it is essential to find the right piece of technology to support the desired outcome. 2) Remember that many assistive technologies are universally designed or can be creatively implemented to benefit many of your students. 3.) Training for students and educators on this technology is the only way to ensure clear results of effectiveness.

Don’t forget AT and other technologies can simplify your life in the classroom, too! Try using Google Translate to support communication with non-English speaking parents and guardians. Use a screen reader to check online content for accessibility and to proofread your classroom newsletter, professional emails, and self-created materials (your students can use screen readers to proofread their writing, too). Perhaps you could even improve your focus in meetings with the use of a fidget cube or spinner.

Implementing AT isn’t a new trend or just one more thing on your plate; it’s about increasing access for your students. The possibilities are endless, and we’re here to support you along the way. Through the Lending Library (where you can borrow AT without financial risk), classroom consultations and training, and our specialists’ areas of expertise, your students will find increased access to the curriculum through innovative techniques, strategies, and AT. Let us help you!



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May
03

May Marvels

It’s May, and some of my favorite days are in May. I know the voyage of summer is near when the light green mist in the woods becomes the solid green flag of all the maple leaves unfurling at once. This happens in the course of just a few May days. Did you see it?

We have a few dozen peony bushes in our yard left over from our flower farming days. I love the heavy fuchsia blooms that usually open around Memorial Day, but over the years I’ve learned to watch for the gorgeous dark red shoots that emerge through the spring grass, and I love their form and fortitude even mdark red peony shoots emerging from the groundore than the show-off flowers. I wonder at how all that silky color is packed into those shoots.

My husband and I have the same discussion on May 3 or so, give or take an unusually warm day or Indiana monsoon weekend. He, of the glass-half-empty part of our relationship, starts the conversation with, “The peonies look like they’re coming on early this year.”

Glass-half-full wife replies, “That’s unusually optimistic of you, but you say that every year. And then they bloom around Memorial Day.”

“We’ll see,” he says, and my heart surges to know that his glass can be full! It happens on a May day, and this year, I think he’s right and I’m glad to be wrong. I’ll be watching as the hard, marble-sized buds expand and soften into pink marshmallows. That’s the day in May before they open.
fuchsia peonies in full bloom at the Sharritt farm
On yet another spectacular day in May, my husband makes the announcement that it is time to switch from the flannel sheets to the summer ones. (insert birdsong and trumpet fanfare!) If you’re familiar with
his blog, then you know what an epic event this is.


May, in the world of education, can tempt us to hurry to the June finish. We’re missing a lot of great May days if we don’t keep our expectations high for ourselves and our students. I happened upon another blog by Aaron Hogan that encourages us to consider the end to be as important as the beginning and to wrap up the year with a flourish. It includes great ideas in the comments section from colleagues on how they energize their May classroom.

My May days have been filled with preparing for trainings at the Indiana Summer of e-Learning events (hope to see many of you there!) and organizing regional professional learning communities for the Teachers for the Blind/Low Vision in Indiana. Reflecting on your year’s failures and successes is another way for teachers to make May a blooming finale, rather than a fizzle. If you are a BLV teacher and haven’t signed up for one of these groups yet, please email me.

5 elementary aged students running through the grass

In the blog mentioned above, Aaron writes, “We cannot afford to do anything other than continue to pursue our students.” The students have been equipped from August through the year to learn in your classroom. They are ready to dart ahead of you. May days are great days to hand over the dry erase markers, and let those capable students lead. Great growth, in fact, blossoming happens here, too. Do you see it?


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Apr
06

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword
A preschool teacher consulted with me about a student who was struggling with behavior; one of most intense issues she’d ever seen. The little girl would bite and punch and roll on the floor, and it was a full-time job just to keep her in the classroom. She also had a severe communication impairment. She talked and you could understand the words, but there wasn’t any meaning behind them. She couldn’t tell you about her favorite movie or answer beyond a simple question. For four years, every adult and child had to guess what she wanted to say.

“We’ve got a lot of things started, a lot of plans,” she explained, rattling off all our favorite behavior acronyms: FBA, BIP, FERB, etc. The one thing she didn’t say: AAC - Alternative and Augmentative Communication. The student had a severe communication impairment; couldn’t that be a big part of why she’s having behavior issues? Did they consider AAC and giving her a voice?

“But she can talk,” the teacher said. “The issue isn’t talking, she just wants control.”

Before I could jump on my soap box, another preschooler yelled with perfect dramatic timing:

I don't wanna tootie!” edged with the desperation of a preschool boy who would probably explode if he had to eat an animal cracker cookie.

“This is what we have,” said the assistant, pointing to the snack menu visual. He screwed up his face. “Do you want anything?”

“My teez.”

“You have cheese in your lunchbox?” He nodded. “Go and get it.”

And life went on. Crisis diverted! Communication saved the day! And wouldn’t you know, he was awfully and age-appropriately controlling. It’s communication that gets us what we want: acceptance, love, and cheese. Adults are known to throw fits when they can’t communicate their order in a drive-thru. Imagine four years of being stuck in the Taco Bell drive-thru and never getting to talk to someone. You’d want to hit someone too.

In another preschool, I got to observe a program where AAC was wrapped around the entire classroom. Brightly colored AAC boards were taped to the walls and hung from the cabinets. Every kid, whether they needed to use it or not, had a core word communication board at their elbow and so did all the adults. I sat down next to one student, and the teacher smirked.

“I don’t know if you want to sit next to him.”

Oh no, I thought, panicking, Did he have pink eye? Was I going to get pink eye?!

“He’s our typical peer.”

This little guy, brand new to preschool and a little wary of everything around him, was talking with the communication board like he’d used it for a month. He didn’t have a communication impairment, and he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a typical AAC user. But we’ve all seen the new preschoolers cry and shut down at their first-ever activities, and he was using an alternative way of communicating and interacting with his brand new environment and classmates. Maybe he only needed it that day, maybe he’ll never want to use AAC again, but he’ll remember feeling safe and included in preschool from the beginning. Communication, in any form, saved the day.

According to their speech-language pathologist, Jenni, including robust and thoughtful AAC has been amazing:

“They know that they give them a voice… We've had so many days that we've just looked at each other and shouted, "Did you see that?", "Did that really just happen?" It's been so fun to watch these kiddos learn... I can't believe how quickly she is learning. She carries her board around with her like it's a mighty sword.”

So teachers, therapists, administrators everywhere, (I can’t believe I’m saying this): all students must have swords*, whatever sword(s) fit them best. Make sure they have their swords everywhere. Make time for sword practice. Seek sword specialists, talk to other sword users. Don't favor one type of sword over another, because it was never about the sword, but the person wielding it.

Expect swords to be mighty and all students have strength to wield them, and they will conquer dragons.

*the sword is communication, all types of communication, for those who still aren't into my ridiculous analogies


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Guest — Kristen Baker
Love!
Friday, 07 April 2017 11:35
Guest — Martha
I love your analogies! Great Blog! Would like a follow-up to the first little girl, with the great big behaviour problems...... Read More
Monday, 17 April 2017 15:27
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Mar
02

Happy Birthday to...Me?

Please wait, I'm thinking
I recently attended a training and the presenter asked us all to introduce ourselves and then share one thing about us that would not be on our résumé. I instantly went into panic mode and could not think of one thing about myself to contribute. Luckily, my colleagues came to the rescue and offered this unique information about me when I was failing. My response was, “One thing that is not on my résumé is that when I am put on the spot to answer a question about myself, I totally forget who I am and what I like.”

For instance, I’ll never forget the time I was in gym class when I was in second grade. It was January 12. To make teams, the PE teacher had us line up and tell him the date of our birthdays. I was third in line, and he wanted this to happen very quickly. When he pointed at me, I said: “January 15.” (My birthday is September 23.)

I was horrified when he responded, “Oh! Your birthday is only a few days away!” He then proceeded to let me pick whatever team I wanted, and I was first in line for everything. Then the worst (but kind) thing happened on January 15...he had the whole class sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

Birthday Balloons


I mention this story as a reminder to give students multiple ways to respond to your requests, alleviating many of the barriers to expression. This will allow students to access themselves. Even if we feel our requested tasks are simple things to ask of our students, we must also make it simple for them to respond.

Being cognizant that some students may struggle with verbal responses for various reasons can be a game changer in getting to know our students and allowing them to open up to their peers. It may not even be a struggle to express; but a matter of their own processing time as we hurriedly skip them or show frustration, translating their actions into defiance.

This coincides with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle of offering multiple means of action and expression. Having a universally designed environment in all areas, all locations, all subjects, all the time within the walls of your schools is essential for equitable education.

Just a few examples to start or continue;

  • Get to know your students. Ask them how they like to respond.

  • Have visuals available for responses.

  • Allow students to write or use speech-to-text (STT) responses.

  • Using backchannels in your classroom are not only a beneficial way to remove the barriers of anxiety of having to verbally respond on the spot; but they are also a good way to expand the classroom outside of school hours. There are many free tools to make that happen.

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Guest — Laurel Blough
Kelli, I connected completely with your dilemma in your opening paragraph, as I also have a tendency to shut down when asked on th... Read More
Thursday, 02 March 2017 18:03
Guest — Dee Suding
Kelli, I wish I had had someone like you around when I was teaching. Keep up the grat work. Love ya
Thursday, 02 March 2017 19:56
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Jan
26

How to Write a Solid Lesson Plan


The simple answer… collaborate. But maybe not with someone in your comfort zone. Let me explain. 

As a 3rd grade teacher, I often co-planned for each week with my partner-in-crime, Tracey, the other 3rd grade teacher. We worked extremely well together — her strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa — and our collaboration decreased the amount of time and effort it would have taken us to plan independently. Think smarter, not harder, right?
two nondescript human figures collaborating to push two 3D puzzle pieces togetherNow fast forward to the present. I am no longer in the classroom and responsible for writing day-to-day, week-to-week lesson plans with Tracey. However, only a mere three weeks ago, I discovered the most valuable trick to lesson planning.


It was the last Friday of December 2016. At the request of our director, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, and I were nestled into a corner at Panera, collaborating on an engaging, universally-designed lesson plan. 

I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated by working with Jessica. She’s a super smart and creative licensed speech and language pathologist. What did I know about speech and language pathology anyway; other than my students getting pulled out for their time with our speech and language pathologist (SLP)? Not to mention, I preferred teaching math and science when I was in the classroom. My bet was that she would prefer to focus on the English/language (ELA) arts standards in our plan. 

I was right. ELA standards were on the menu, but she made a kind compromise and agreed to write a plan using third grade standards; standards in which I was the most familiar. 

And so the lesson plan writing began. 

Trading ideas, resources, and strategies came naturally to us both. What I hadn’t given much thought to was everything that Jessica would bring to the table from her role as an SLP. She shared so many awesome resources and techniques — in addition to introducing me to the Indiana Content Connectorsmodified standards written in parallel for each grade for students who are not on a diploma track in Indiana. Embarrassingly enough, I did not know these existed. 

In the end, we created what we felt was a solid lesson plan that implemented activities and resources in a way that would make the content accessible to each student in a classroom.  

Without her expertise, my lesson would have been lacking in its universal design and implementation of assistive technology and accessible educational materials — even though I may not have realized it at the time. 

female student pressing a big switch to activate a toy


So, while I always thought that the lesson plans Tracey and I co-wrote were engaging and creative, many of the students in our classrooms would have had greater access to the curriculum if we had the opportunity to include the expertise of another educator who was beyond the general education setting. 

If you’re reading this and thinking that perhaps your lesson plans are lacking techniques or technology that could increase access to the curriculum, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to another professional in your building. Schedule some time to collaborate on a chunk of lesson plans for a week. Be open to new techniques, technologies, and ideas. Plus, our staff is here for support. Just let us know how we can help! 

Trust me, your students will thank you for it.

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Nov
16

The Shaved Shih Tzu Effect or The Case for Universal Design for Learning in Everyday Life

Pei Pei 1   In March I brought home a shih tzu puppy! 

Included in the care of a shih tzu is grooming.
Pei Pei 2 The first time went well. Pei Pei 3


Pei Pei 4But it grew out quite quickly.  

It was time to take her back and I had a few other requests.  

Just a bit of a change.  
Not much really... just keep the hair around her nose and mouth a bit shorter this time.
Not so much mustache and beard.  

So, I took her to her 6 week appointment and I think I said just that.


Pei Pei 5

Obviously I had failed in communicating my request.  I was disappointed.  In my mind, I blamed the groomer.  How could they have done this?  
They took my puppy away.  As I looked at my poor hairless baby, I reflected.  How could I have made myself clearer?


This reminded me of when I would fail to teach something I was really passionate about, like weather.  I would stand up in front of the class and give
some of the best lectures of my life.  Full of energy, (hand motions are required) sound effects, (boom, crash, swoosh, zoom!) engaging anecdotes
(hold the camera still and be quiet)!  Then I would give my students a lab that I thought they were totally prepared for and some would be, but most
wouldn’t.  I would be disappointed.  Why didn’t they learn?  


We forget all the work that we have already done in our brain that we take for granted.  I have taken numerous courses and had several extensive field
experiences.  I have read and internalized all of the information that I will be providing them.  I designed the entire experience.  No wonder I would succeed.  
So how can we be better guides for those who have not had this experience? Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


Universal Design for Learning tells us that if we want our students to understand and embrace what we are teaching we need to employ multiple means to:

  1. Engage them - interest them in the activity.
  2. Represent the information to be absorbed - facilitate different modes of communication to create understanding.
  3. Action and Expression - allow for different ways to show that they comprehend the information.

So, let's UDL my next grooming appointment:


Step 1:  Engagement - Upon entering the new groomer I will show them pictures of my dog before and after our previous appointment.  We will brainstorm
ways that she could look cuter than she did following that last appointment.  They will gain ownership of her hair care and connect with past knowledge
of shih tzu hair appointments.


Step 2:  Representation - I will offer alternatives for auditory information.  I will show them pictures of other shih tzus that I feel are very cutely groomed.  
I will clarify vocabulary such as “teddy bear cut” and “beard and mustache” through pictures and physical manipulation of the areas prior to cutting.


Step 3:  Action and Expression - I will break the assignment into manageable chunks.  We will begin with trimming around her eyes and trimming her ears.  
Once I am confident that we are communicating well I will continue with graduated levels of support to work towards a full grooming experience.


When we look at what we could have done, it is easy to see what we should have done. UDL is great in that way. We look at the barriers and the ways
that things could go wrong and place options into the lesson plan that take those barriers away.

For more UDL fun you should tune in to our Twitter Chats on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm. #patinsicam We always have great discussions peppered with
interesting points of view!

Until next time! Pei Pei 6

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Oct
12

Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."

Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."
We just recently wrapped up our first #patinsicam Twitter chat, 6 week cycle on the Basics of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  When the question, “Which UDL principle do you find the most challenging?”...the majority vote was not surprising at all:  ENGAGEMENT.  

This made me reflect as to why engagement poses to be the most difficult in teaching.  After all, we can engage with people easily on a daily basis and also engage ourselves.  We share conversations, we tell jokes, we laugh and smile, we listen to music, we enjoy our hobbies, we may read for pleasure...all for engagement.  

We are engaged because these are things that are relevant and meaningful to us.  We aren’t focused on our weaknesses but using our strengths and interests to enhance fulfillment of our lives, which results in applying these experiences to increase our own intelligence...naturally.  It’s not even something we think about, it just happens.

A coworker and I have often pondered about the intense level of engagement in video games.  We have thought that if as teachers, we could change our mindset like that of a developer of video games, engagement may be a piece of cake.  What IS the secret key they hold that will naturally lead young people to sit for hours in front of a monitor, take breaks and stop when they need to, be driven and take self initiative to be successful in the game?  NEWFLASH!  Video games are universally designed and player centered. Are our classrooms, instructions and materials universally designed?  Are they student centered?

Well folks, I have to say that recently- I happen to be at the right place, at the right time.  After all of these years of pondering the draw to video games...I had a young man eloquently describe his occasional video game dabbling.  This is how it went:

Boy:  “I feel dumb sometimes.”

Me:   “What?  Tell me more about that.”

Boy:  “Well, school doesn’t come easy to me like it seems to for everyone else. I have to study all the time to even get smart and I don’t feel like doing that all of the time. My mind races because I’m so focused on getting the good grade, that I start forgetting what I learned and then make mistakes”

Me:  “So, how do you cope with that?  What do you do?”

Boy:  “Well, I started wearing earbuds and listening to music while I do my math homework.  It keeps me from overthinking the problems and then I just do the problems right without even thinking really.”


Me:  “Oh wow, that is such a great idea!  I need to do that!  I overthink all of the time.”

Boy (laughs):  “Yes, it really helps.  I don’t even think about the grade.  I just enjoy my music and working math becomes easier.”

Me:  “What makes you focus on the grades so much that you actually get stressed out?”

….and then this is when my teacher lightbulb came on and shined brightly with confirmation after the innocent, perfect “rant”...

Boy:  “School seems to be ALL about the grade!  It’s so stressful and so focused on intelligence. When someone doesn’t feel so intelligent, how can you even survive?  There is so much more to us than how smart we are!  If school was like most video games, we’d all do better….”

Me:  “What do you mean “like a video game”...?”

Boy:  “...I feel as if we are just seen with how much intelligence we have.  They are forgetting the other qualities of us that build us as people!  We have strength, agility, luck, perception, charisma, interests and endurance.  In certain video games, you build your own character and the better you perform with ALL of your qualities, the more intelligence you build.  You have to have all of those qualities to become more intelligent in video games.  As we go through school, we are just focused on gaining intelligence and teachers forget about our other qualities.  Some of us may have high intelligence and some of us may feel like we don’t.  This makes us feel completely unbalanced which affects everything else.”

                                                                game.jpeg

I heard a keynote speaker once say, “We don't have to teach kids curiosity...they came that way. We have to NOT take it out of them!”  Let’s make our students feel BALANCED inside of our classroom.  Let’s teach with relevance, meaningfulness and then naturally ENGAGE.  Let’s get to know our students and build upon their strengths and lessen the load of heavy feelings of weaknesses.  Have them actively participate in their own goals, no matter how big or small.  Let them self monitor themselves by using tools like https://www.futureme.org/  Let’s bring their interests into our teaching.

Need suggestions on how to make that happen?  Give any of us PATINS Specialists a shout!  

Now...Go forth and teach like a “Gamer.”


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Oct
05

We All Need to Belong


“Jena, how can you be so happy with your ears so big and flappy?” was one of the questions used by my uncles and their friends to repeatedly tease me as a child. I always took it in stride and laughed it off, because I was young and not really worried about the way I looked.


You see, my elementary school friends had always known and accepted me with my “big ears.” I was on the track and basketball teams, and I was a cheerleader. I had a strong group of friends, and I belonged. I LOVED school and couldn’t wait to start at the end of every summer!

belong

So sure, my ears may have been “big and flappy,” but elementary school life was good! And then...


Middle school happened.

Now my friends and I, overrun by hormones, were funneled into a new school with 3 other elementaries frantically trying to figure out where we fit in this new world. It wasn’t easy (at least for me).

There are two things, a moment and an experience, that stand out in my middle school memory:

One - It was the third day of school in the locker bay. I was heading out as a new boy was coming in. As we passed, he cupped his ears with his hands and blew up his cheeks. He laughed hysterically and told me I looked like a monkey.

Two - I was losing many of my friends. All of these new kids kept swooping in like vultures and taking them away. I thought we were closer than that. Guess I was wrong.

School just wasn’t what it used to be… My sense of belonging had begun to disappear. I no longer fit in the way I used to. Maybe it was because of the way I looked.

So where does this leave me today? How much of an impact did these moments and experiences have on me later in life?

Well, at 14 I had bilateral otoplasty, surgery to pin back my ears. At 15 I found a hairstyle that I felt confident with, because it hid my ears that still stuck out more than I wanted. At 25 I attended an event where I styled my hair in a ponytail for the first time since I could remember. And now at 32 ponytails are part of my day-to-day style, and I no longer fear my ears.

The friends that were so easily pulled away in middle school weren’t meant to be my lifelong friends and that’s okay. Two of my best friends are friends from my elementary school years. The rest of my current friends are those that I choose to surround myself, not people that I’m trying to fit in with.

Generally life is good! I am happy being me! I don’t dwell on these moments and experiences, but rather reflect on them in a way that continually helps me to learn more about myself. My sense of belonging has returned.

So where does this leave you and your work with children?

I think you can begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever felt like YOU didn’t or don’t belong; what was that like?

Do you foster your students’ sense of belonging? Have you ever asked your students if they feel like they belong to your classroom community? To your school community? To the community at large?

How about your students that get pulled out for special services; do THEY feel like they belong when they are being pulled in multiple directions?
I believe that as educators we must take the time to TRULY get to know our students and support their sense of belonging. Additionally, we must be sensitive to the words that we use with our students. The impact, whether positive or negative, may last far longer than you expect.

kids embracing in circle

In the end, we want ALL of our students and the others that we influence to have positive self-images and to know that they belong.



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Recent comment in this post
Guest — David Jackson
Thanks for sharing!
Monday, 10 October 2016 13:31
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Sep
29

Just skip to the butterflies

Usain Bolt guiding Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter to train for the paralympics
(Rio 2016 / Alex Ferro)

Have you seen this photo of the fastest man in the world guiding a Paralympian with blindness while training for her own Olympic quest? Usain Bolt showed up for this event not knowing exactly how to guide (he worried he might run too fast--seems legitimate!) But he showed up, nonetheless, to guide Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter competing in the 200 meter run.

This recent image in the news encapsulates the vision for educational teams working with students who have blindness and low vision in Indiana schools. We want students to achieve to their highest potential whether their race for the year is to complete AP World History, or learn how to cook some great Indian food like their mom. Many who might guide and teach them have similar worries as Usain, wondering,

“will I go too fast?”

“How do I share visual cues with someone who does not have sight?”

“How the heck does a student with blindness use an iPad?”

Because the particular disability of blindness occurs in such low incidence, many teachers may never have a child with this need in their classroom. Those that do, may never repeat the process. In my experience as a teacher for the blind and low vision, I witnessed a predictable emotional timeline for each school year for staff dealing with this particular new need in their classroom:

IMG_0001.jpg

Starting with the initial fear phase, and gradually coming to a settling-in phase, and ending with the this-kid-with-blindness-is-just-a-kid-after-all phase. My career quest has become to find ways to pole vault over those first 6 weeks of freaking out--not an easy task, as folks have deep seated fears regarding blindness. So as fearless as Usain Bolt may seem, his hesitance to guide comes naturally.

The guidelines for being an effective running partner from the AFB (American Federation for the Blind) organization United in Stride apply in many ways to the races we are running with our students toward their educational, social, and expanded core curriculum goals.

Highlighting a few from their website:

  1. Let the runner set the pace.

  2. Communicate often.

  3. Be patient.

  4. Accept correction as a way to improve your guiding skills.

If you read these, and let them sink in for a moment, you’ll realize that they can be further boiled down to: let the runner/student maintain most of the control for the process, and listen to them. Like many other challenges we face with fearing those who have differences from us, the remedy to fear is spending some time with, and getting to know the person. Ask them about their blindness, and the challenges they face, but also ask them about what kind of running shoes they prefer, and what movies they saw this summer.

After making a connection, seek the resources available for answering the questions about visual cues, access, and iPads. In addition to your local teacher for the blind and low vision who will be your point person for accommodating your student’s needs, PATINS has added my position as specialist to help teams sort through, and implement the amazing advancements in technology available for students with visual needs. I’m excited to be your coach for pole vaulting over the fear,  sprinting past the fear,  wrestling fear to the ground (insert your favorite sports analogy here).

We’ve got some exhilarating races ahead of us!


IMG_0004.jpg
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Aug
04

Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!

Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!
I have a slight obsession with food trucks.  I follow the food truck schedule on FB. Then, assume most people around me are just as excited as I am that one is parked in our office lot.  (They’re not.)  Recently, I have honed in on snow cone ice.  I passed a food truck this summer that HAD snow cones!  I felt like I was in heaven. 

When I get gas at the station, I HAVE to end the dollar amount on a zero (0) or a five (5).  I struggle with beginning a project and having to stop in the middle.  I am allergic to hay and as a young child, got bucked off of a horse and quickly found out what manure tastes like. (It tastes like it smells…blah.)
Boy holding nose in disgust
Watching scary movies as a child has left me STILL to this day, always pulling the blankets up past my neck to keep vampires away; and occasionally jumping up on the bed so no Boogieman can grab my feet.  (Yes, I am a grown-up.) As if that isn’t enough, mice will make me find a safe spot on top of furniture; but grasshoppers can nearly make me pass out from fear.

If you have never met me or maybe even DO know me, you probably would not know those things about me.  I’m terrible about talking about “me.”  It’s out of my comfort zone to share things about myself.  This reflection made me think of students in the time we are at now…BACK TO SCHOOL!
Back to school!

As teachers, the first weeks of school are spent getting to know your students, students getting to know you, and students getting to know their peers.  For students who struggle with expression and communication, this can create high levels of anxiety; or students who are nonverbal may be unable to get to know their peers equally.
With that said, while being focused on the implementation of accessible educational materials (AEM),let’s not lose sight of being socially accessible as well.  Here are a few ways to make that happen:

telegami logo   Telegami:  Create a quick avatar, typed or spoken text
 
TeleStory Logo  TeleStory:  Write and tell your story via video

ChatterPix Logo  ChatterPix:  Take photo, draw line over mouth, and record voice

Photo Mapo Logo    Photo Mapo:  Great app to share summer adventures or wish list places

Book Creator Logo  Book Creator:  I feel like this should be a “staple” app; but is great to use for digital About Me books.
 
Give all students that voice for introductions, regardless of barrier and allow them multiple ways to find their own zone of comfort to open up and share with their peers.  Let the friendships begin!

Drawing of boy and girl happy
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Jul
28

Break it… Just Break it.

collage of Daniel, laptop, guitars, motorcycles, and a truck

...Buy it broken. Accept it damaged and worn. Welcome it ripped, ragged, and rough. 


…Don’t just stand there because it works ok right now. Don’t just stand there and talk about the pieces of it that don’t work ok right now. Dive in, take it apart, try something new with it!  For Daniel’s sake, take a chance on breaking it! Here’s why...

When I literally steal a moment away from other things I should be doing to sit in the breeze to assuredly think about the things I’m truly good at; the list is definite, short, and the items on the list are unmistakably bound together with 3 common threads…

The things I feel confident other people would identify as those I’m good at are all things I’ve: 1. Had to learn out of necessity to fix something, 2. Taught myself by seeking out resources and through trial and error, 3. Were born out of deep passion. 

Not many people likely know this about me, but almost every single thing I know about computers, programming, assistive technology, motorcycles, cars, photography, welding, or music, I’ve taught myself. These things, I taught myself because I either HAD to learn to fix problems I created for myself, couldn’t afford something without pre-existing problems, or simply NEEDED to know NOW…before I could wait for someone to teach me!  

When I was 16 years old, I broke my leg playing the sport I was best at. A subsequent domino effect from this unfortunate event proved highly negative to the point I lost almost all of my friends; some of whom I’d had since kindergarten. Long story short, I could no longer march in the marching band as a snare drummer, which meant that I couldn’t be in any other bands in my high school. Devastated to have lost two of the things that I most valued, in addition to my friends, I sunk deep. I bought an old Peavey guitar with the last $150 I had from working the previous summer cutting grass. Not being able to walk, drive, or even hang out… I taught myself to play that guitar. It kept me going and the necessity to have something to keep me going required me to learn something I may not have learned otherwise. Now, playing the 6-string is a return-ticket to a place where I’m deeply rooted and can return, re-focused and recharged to some extent. 

At 17, I was so ready to have my own car. I had loved motorized and mechanical things for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember very limited things, but I most definitely remember disassembling nearly every toy I owned.  ...taking them apart, exchanging pieces with other toys, sanding off the paint and repainting in differing colors, and sometimes never actually getting them back together. I always felt like I’d gained something though and never felt like I’d “lost” a toy. I always gained the knowledge of the inner workings of my things, which meant so much to me. It was a most certain gain that would apply positively to the next thing I took apart! I’m not so confident my mom saw it the same way as she stepped on parts and pieces of toy cars, action figures, bicycles, speakers, radios, and OUCH…legos! So, I bought my first truck for $700 with money I’d earned by tagging successfully hunted deer at the local sporting goods store in my small town. You’d be accurate in thinking it needed a lot of work.  …work I had no real idea how to do and parts I didn’t have and couldn’t afford. Long story short, I got really good at searching salvage yards, applying-sanding-painting bondo, and shifting that manual 4-cylinder in such a way that I could limit it’s back-firing, which would cause me undue attention in that little red truck that could. 

When I bought my very first computer in 2000 (yes, just 16 years ago), I pushed that poor laptop to do things that nearly made it blow smoke and cry… which in turn caused it to have issues that required me to blow smoke and cry! I spent MANY late nights learning coding and writing script to fix the problems with my Windows 98 installation that I didn’t have a disc to fix and couldn’t afford to buy. I was literally eating macaroni and cheese 4 nights a week out of a Frisbee with the same plastic fork. I had a special education degree to finish and well …that computer simply HAD to live and I was the only surgeon on call!

The same is true about photography (which I learned DURING the professional transition from film to digital), website building (back when we had to do it all in html code), and both riding and maintaining motorcycles. 

Almost everything I know on a deep-understanding, passionate, and highly confident level with regard to all of those things...is self-taught for the reason that I HAD to fix things, learn things, try things, rebuild things, redesign things, and seek resources. These were (and still are) problems that I mostly made for myself. But many kiddos are not permitted the opportunity to create situations for themselves which require such trial and error type of learning. We have been taught to set them up for success, which isn’t entirely bad! But…

While this may sound a bit silly to some, I feel there's no better, deeper, more comprehensive or true way to learn something.  …to fully KNOW something in a way that you feel confident in pushing it to it’s potential, than to experience breaking it …and subsequently repairing it, seeking resources, improving it, redesigning it, and ultimately gaining OWNERSHIP of experiential knowledge. 

This is one area I think we often may fail our students. We care about our students and we want to protect them and keep the space in which they exist safe and secure.  In doing so, we sometimes limit their space to ‘existence,’ which is not the same as ‘living.’ While I’d never advocate for creating an unsafe environment for a student, I undoubtedly feel that without allowing them the dignity of risk to fail, frustrate, and re-build, we are plainly denying them the opportunity to truly and deeply KNOW a thing at it’s core measure.   

We CAN offer that opportunity to students in a way that props up curiosity and DEEP understanding of THINGS in a way that is secure and encouraging!  We can! …and in doing this, we encourage independent people! I recently heard a speaker say something that nearly made my eyes too wet… “We don't have to TEACH kids CURIOSITY...they came to us that way. We have to NOT siphon it out of them!” Thanks @goursos. 

We have to focus more on the result of the 27th re-build, when they finally “get it” and it works, than the 26 times we stepped on Legos, thought about the cost of dis-assembled ‘things,’ or placed our own value of whole-things over the value of BREAKING IT and learning to re-create, improve, re-design, rebuild that’s so essential to our job of building independent little individuals. Independent and proud little faces ONLY ever result from allowing the dignity of risk, which can require a difficult transformation of philosophy about what’s best for learners. 

I’d go so far as to say that many education professionals have denied themselves or have been denied through a variety of reasons, the same opportunity to explore something, potentially break it, and subsequently truly LEARN it by having to re-construct it. Many who’ve heard me speak probably know my “just jump in the shark tank” philosophy.” If you don’t, just ask me sometime. I like to share. 

Likely through a combination of policy, fear, and conditioning, many educators may feel discouraged from pushing anything to it’s limit without the confidence of being reinforced, propped up, and encouraged to struggle through repairing it.   

When we consider the weight and prominence of “HIGH EXPECTATIONS” and “SHARED RESPONSIBILITY” for ALL STUDENTS set forth for us in both ESSA and the November 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I feel strongly that we often have had safety goggles on when we should have been sporting binoculars, microscopes, and welding helmets! To arrive at achievement levels beyond what we currently are experiencing, we MUST value the dignity of risk in being the reinforcement for teachers to TEACH DIFFERENTLY, and for students to LEARN DIFFERENTLY, which might require rebuilding and redesigning, and we MUST value the opportunity for ALL of our students to feel absolute pride in THEIR confident stride toward independence through temporary downfall and subsequent, necessary, and repeated rebuilding! 

It is only through this process of experiential acquisition of knowledge with an authentic purpose or audience, that one becomes an “expert learner,” which should be the ultimate goal of what we are trying to achieve through all educational experiences. The task, the tools, and the method can be counted on to evolve. Those things will not be the same in 5-10 years, I promise. The desire, passion, and experiences to be an ever-growing LEARNER is what separates existence from living. 

So…Twist the throttle until something smokes. Smash the brakes until traction is temporarily lost. Take something apart solely for the purpose of knowing how it works in order to put it back together BETTER. Sit on the floor and just look at something that works OK as it is and IMAGINE what it COULD BE if you took off panel A  and B and moved some things around between the two compartments or found a totally new component to install. Or …Just simply take it apart, look at the pieces, put it back together exactly as it was….and truly KNOW how it works. 

PATINS has parts and pieces. We have passionate people who want to support your journey.  We have high-fives, encouragement, strategies, data, opportunities to push expectations for yourself and for your students. In fact, THIS is WHY WE are here…we’ve taken ourselves and the things around us apart and we’ve arrived HERE to support you during your experiential road-trip. …just find one of us and say, “watch this….”  We’ll be there. Break it.  


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Jul
07

Universally Designed Blended Learning

The term Blended Learning is all abuzz in the world of education — and why shouldn’t it be? Our students were born into a digital age, and using technology comes naturally to them. So it only makes sense to use it in our daily lesson plans to give students opportunities to explore online content, allow new forms of expression and displays of content knowledge, and to connect with other students from all around the world.

face-to-face plus self-paced plus online equal blended learning
While we are enthusiastic about engaging our students by implementing technology into our teaching, we must remember Universal Design for Learning. This makes it important to ask yourself — How will I make my blended learning environment, content, and activities accessible to every student in my classroom? Will students who have visual, hearing, motor, and/or cognitive needs have the ability to access my curriculum just like my other students?
 female student using braille reader


Well, making that content accessible without practice is no easy task, and intentional planning is necessary, but I assure you it can be done!  

We know that images and videos increase interest in our content and that many students are visual learners. Yet, in order to make these features accessible to all students, videos should be closed-captioned and images should have alternative text (allowing a screen reader to read a short description of the image).

Fancy fonts can be fun to use, but sticking to a minimum 12-point font size in fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana is preferred. These types of fonts, known as sans serif fonts, can be easily magnified for students with low vision. 

Format your documents with the tools given to you in the program you are using. Avoid using multiple spaces for indenting, creating your own spacing for bullet points, or using text boxes as screen readers will not read these elements correctly. 

I personally love color-coding for my own use, but relying on using only color to convey meaning makes a document inaccessible for students who are colorblind, have low vision, or are blind. 

Blinking and flashing content should be limited to no more than 3 seconds — if not completely eliminated – due to risk of headaches or seizures.

Check out http://webaim.org/intro/ and https://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm for additional guidelines on website accessibility that you can translate into accessibility standards for your content. I expect to find new rules coming down the pipeline over the next few years that will mandate specific accessibility features in state and federal government websites, which includes K-12 public schools and public universities. This could certainly affect how your content is being delivered to your students as well as the content itself. 

In the meantime, making a conscious effort to ensure all of your students have access to the curriculum, will only make following the future rules that much easier. And, of course, we are always here to help you along the way.


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Jun
29

My Quest for Gold

It’s time for another blog entry and after posting my previous one it got me thinking about what I do.  I moved from the PATINS Central Site Coordinator position that I held for 17 years to become the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) Technology Coordinator just less than a year ago.  It has been a year of learning the details of what happens when a student qualifies for digital print materials and how we get it to them.  As a site coordinator I would troubleshoot with the Digital Rights Managers as how to use the technology they needed to open files like NIMAS, ePubs, PDF, etc. for use with their students.  My current position offers me the opportunity to get the digital content from the publishers, the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center), Learning Ally among other sources.  I also process orders and still offer technical assistance when needed, which is often, but hey that’s the job and I like a good challenge now and then.

If you read my first post, “Mimi, would you read this to me?” you know my confession, but more importantly it was about how crucial it is for children especially young children to be read to.

Sometimes things come full circle and I’ll explain.  We had a family vacation not long ago to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We have been there 4 times before and last year my wife thought it would be worth trying an audiobook for the drive so she downloaded the first chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ll be honest again, but driving through the mountains of Virginia at night and trying to concentrate on the road was much more than I had in mind.  Needless to say it was over before chapter two.  She wanted to try it again this year, but had planned to do a couple of chapters when the stress of driving was minimal.  Together we worked at logging on to our local library, downloading the Overdrive app on her iPhone and selecting an audiobook.  The process was relatively easy.  The audiobook that we chose was The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.  Once on our way and traffic tolerable, we popped the auxiliary jack into her phone and started with the Preface.  I have always enjoyed sports through participation or observing, but never thought of just listening to what was being described.  For the first time in a long time it was enjoyable.  The anticipation of the next chapter was figuratively and literally just around the corner.  We listened to half of book on the way there and the other half on the way back.  I know what you’re thinking, why did you wait a whole week to finish the book?  Again, it was anticipation for me.  It was something to look forward to during the boring part of the drive.

I opened this blog with what my job description is in a nutshell, but this experience was one that the students with a print disability and even those that don’t experience every day.  It was a glimpse for me to walk in their shoes if only through one book and to really feel what I have been a part of over so many years had come to fruition. 

There are many “tools” for supporting access to digital content and selecting one or two might seem like a daunting task, but the PATINS Project and ICAM staff can help with making that easier with the right background information.  It’s not your quest for gold, but it is for your students.

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Jun
01

It's a crutch!

Admiral Ackbar Meme It's a Crutch!“It’s a crutch!  If we let students get by with listening instead of reading, how will they ever learn to read?”  This or some similar phrase has been heard or said by many of us.  One word in that quote jumped out at me.  Crutch.  When did that become a negative word?  It’s a noun, not an expletive! What is so bad about a crutch?  Crutches allow people to walk unaided who would otherwise need assistance.  If a student has a broken leg do we want them sitting around doing nothing until it heals?  What if it doesn’t heal?  Is that it?  Are we going to tell them to sit there while we place things across the room for them that they need and then fail them for not getting up to get them?  The organization
Crutches 4 Kids describes the reason for their work, Crutches help children access school giving them the opportunity to learn and become productive members of their communities..  Their slogan, “A Pair of Crutches Changes Everything” is just as applicable to us as educators.  

Using assistive technology to read digital material to a student has many titles.  Among a few are: Audio Supported Reading, Auditory Learning, Text to Speech and Reading by Ear.  What this refers to is having the words read out loud with the support of highlighted text.  crutch2.0

There is a history of Audio Supported Reading use in conjunction with braille to increase the speed and accuracy of reading in students who are blind or have low vision.  New research is beginning to show similar results for students who are struggling readers.  By scaffolding a student’s ability to decode difficult words they become capable of decoding the meaning behind the text faster.  This leads not only to greater comprehension but increased concentration and motivation.  Through the use of
Don Johnston’s uPAR testing software some of the PATINS AEM Grant Teams were also able to see a change in the comprehension level of their students over time who had access to Audio Supported Reading as a part of their reading support.  This is so exciting!  

Let’s talk UDL!  What was once a negative is now a positive.   In the past it has been hard on teachers and students when assistance has been given to one student but not all others.  Who hasn’t heard, “Why does he get that and I don’t?  I want that too!” and “I don’t want to look different.”  Audio Assisted Reading has many plusses for all!  For instance:  You want to assign your students research on the process of presidential elections.  The articles on the internet will contain words that not all good readers will understand.  This is the point of learning.  It is supposed to contain some things that are new to you!  By using a text reader for some of the more difficult words, a student can avoid skimming over them and missing the deeper understanding of the topic.  I used it to read the CAST article cited below.  It helps me concentrate and read slower so that I can focus on the content and meaning instead of just finishing the article.  I also used it to read this blog post out loud to me to help proofread.

Research:
The following article is a good beginning for understanding the basis in research and Education Law for the use of Audio Supported Reading:

Another good read on this subject can be found in this 4-part article. http://www.readspeaker.com/does-text-to-speech-technology-help-students-learn/


Some of my favorite crutches are:  

There are many more, including some that come standard as a part of the computer or tablet!  

Some internet sites have it built in.  Look for symbols like these:
button for text to speech button for text to speech button for text to speech


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May
25

Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples

Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples
As a young girl, “Oh my goodness, look at those curls; and those dimples nearly swallow your cheeks!” were words that she would hear often from strangers.  One day, she even slipped and fell face flat into a mud puddle at a public park.  Clearly, the mud was what swallowed her face AND her embarrassed tears; but what she heard was, “Not even a speck of mud in those dimples,” from the lady who came to help her.  All she really wanted to hear was, “Are you ok?”...because she wasn’t.

Growing up, she quickly realized the smile that would create those dimples, was like a magic cape that would make her invisible...even when she wanted to be seen. Many acquaintances, friends and even teachers knew that behind the facade of a beautiful home, lived the girl who could not possibly be “ok”...but no one ever asked.

When she entered her high school years, a teacher realized a pattern in missing days at school...and the teacher asked, “Are you ok?”  The young girl froze in surprise of the question, looked at the teacher and smiled…”Yes, of course I’m ok.”  Her “magic cape” allowed her to vanish in plain sight once again with her grades slowly faltering.  Her barrier was the inability of verbal expression under intense stress, fear and/or anxiety.

While she was a typical student in the mainstream classroom who could speak and read and write text, this story makes me think of all of the students that come to classrooms daily from diverse backgrounds and needs...each one with their own form of a “magic cape.” With that in mind, working to create a universally designed environment (UDL) may seem like a daunting task when working with students with disabilities and/or emotional & behavior disorders. How are those students able to access what they know or how they feel if they are unable to access that communication in the way that they need? I would like to focus on one of the UDL principles- “multiple means of expression.”  


Behaviors happen for a reason and they can adversely affect a student’s educational performance.  Some students would rather have a physical or emotional outburst or shut down completely when asked to do a task in front of the classroom- before they will EVER let their peers know that they struggle with reading or completing what seems to be a simple math problem to most.  Some students may be repeatedly told in various ways that they are not smart; which in turn causes them to disengage academically and socially.  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel verbally.  What about our students who are nonverbal?  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel in written text.  What about our students with physical disabilities?  

At times, we get so caught up in what is in front of us, whether it is the disability, the behavior or even the dimples- that we avoid or forget to simply ask, “Are you ok?” A simple gesture that when asked, we must provide various ways for our students to respond in a way that best fits them.  A few examples are verbally, written, text-to-speech, drawing, recorded response, AAC, pictures, etc.  

Getting to the core of what is creating the behavior and addressing that with your student, can certainly assist in avoiding what I like to refer to as the behavioral domino effect.  Dominoes in lineMeaning, when one falls without being caught, it lands on another that falls, which lands on another, etc.  Before you know it, you have a whole line of new behaviors.  If you have ever lined up dominoes to create the chain reaction of falling in a pattern, then you know that if you want to set them back up...you have to set the very FIRST one back up that fell.

Let’s help our struggling students KNOW and FEEL that we care and that they CAN achieve great things.  Sometimes that IS the most important thing they need to know and understand.

For those of you who may want to know what happened to “Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples,” I do not want to close this blog with a story half written.  A teacher did ask her AND her entire class one day a simple question in the form of a writing prompt:  “Tell me something that you think I would never guess about you.”  The young lady wrote and she wrote and she kept writing...  

If you were to ask her if she is “ok” today...she will offer you a real smile, with no magic cape and now verbally respond,  “Absolutely.”  I can answer for her with complete confidence...

...because she, is me.
Drawing of girl in grass

 
 
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Guest — Jodi Click
Oh my gosh, so much this!!!!! Why doesn't everyone understand this and why isn't every single school trying to do this for student... Read More
Wednesday, 25 May 2016 13:36
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Mar
22

How do you find things if you don't know they exist?

fashion shopping girl clipartOne of the questions you get asked when people are curious about you is, “Do you have any hobbies?”  I have a hard time answering that.  I have things that I enjoy doing, but are they hobbies?  You tell me.  I really enjoy shopping.  I don’t care who I am shopping for.  I just want to find the one thing that will make someone smile and understand that, I get them.  I want to buy the perfect wedding gift or birthday gift, and I’m not afraid to hunt for it.  I search both online and stalk the stores.  Sometimes I know exactly what I want.  Sometimes I find it accidentally while shopping around for fun.  The thing is, I do it enough that I don’t have to wonder where to look for things when I need them.   

Recently I worked with a school district that is going through an abrupt change of status with one of their students.  In the blink of an eye that student’s method for learning and expressing their comprehension was drastically altered.  The learning professionals banded together to find a path to learning for this student through a forest of technology that they didn’t even know existed.  They built a team that included administrators, technical support, special educators and regular educators because they knew that it was going to take the knowledge of all concerned parties to facilitate the student’s needs so that he could continue learning at his previous level.  The thing is, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.  Everyone was ready to pitch in, however they needed help finding out if the things they wanted to exist, did.  Moreover, would they work the way they needed them to.  

So, how do you find things if you don’t know they exist?

The need for assistive technology solutions in schools is constant.  It is always an emergency when a student is blocked from learning.   Resolutions need to be found quickly and this is where years of shopping experience comes in handy!  It is time to shop!

When shopping for Assistive Technology solutions I am particular about where I look. The sites must be credible. I need to see expert level analysis or be able to link to it. If they are comparing technologies I want to see the rubric. I appreciate having tech sorted through and rated on a consistent scale, but the scale must be pertinent to the activities to which it will be employed.

Screenshot 2016 03 22 13.17.45
Tech Matrix - "Assistive and educational technology tools and resources to support learning for students with disabilities and their classmates."  This site allows for searching by text, content area, grade level and IDEA disability category.  It then compares up to four products across that search criteria.  It also allows for the searching of up to 302 pertinent research articles.  This site is worth knowing for this function alone.

Since you are reading this blog I bet you know two other great AT searching opportunities...

That's right, the PATINS Library and PATINS Tech Expo.

Both of these resources come with expert level support to empower your search.


Whether we play a big part in the coordinating of a student’s assistive technology or a small part, everyone involved has an important role.  Once you have considered the student, their environment, and the task that is to be performed I will be happy to help you shop your technology options!







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Mar
15

What I learned, I learned from a robot.

What I learned, I learned from a robot.
Let’s face it, teaching isn’t for the weak.  Not only do we have to smile to our student with Asperger’s when he asks us a question that warrants the reply, “No, I am not growing a mustache. Mustache Icon It must just be the lighting.  Eeks! Let’s focus on math now;” we also need to provide multiple means of engagement, representation and expression.  Better known as creating a universally designed learning environment (UDL).   

I have to admit, many moons ago- there were times when I allowed my students to be too dependent on me.  I would read their tests for them, often times take notes for them, type their papers, inflect my voice at JUST the right word to heighten their senses or do the brainstorming while they were disengaged from me.  Afterall, if the work didn’t get completed- my students may have a huge physical meltdown. Who wants THAT to happen?!  To go even further, while on recess duty, if they fell- I’d even rush to help them up.  As I reflect...what a complete disservice I offered them in those moments of my own discomfort.

Today, I work with educators on a daily basis sharing ideas, suggestions, tools to make sure that codependence is so far removed- regardless of any disability.  Afterall, the main teaching/modeling objective for our students should be independence.  Accessing the curriculum independently, in the way our diverse learners need- may require our own mindset change to having high expectations for each and every student.  Yes, the easiest and quickest way to get through a lesson to prevent upset or outburst is to continue to assist them; but the RIGHT thing to do is to give them the tools they need to work independently.  I do not mean just SOME of the time, but ALL of the time.

With a universally designed classroom environment comes independence.  With independence comes confidence.  With confidence comes natural problem-solving in your students’ life skills without relying on us.  We owe it to our students to provide accessible materials with the support of usable assistive technology tools that fits them;  and develop self regulation through everyday experiences.  If you aren’t sure how to make this happen or even find yourself allowing your students to be dependent on you SOME of the time, let me know.  I will fill your “teacher toolbox” with a plethora of resources with FULL support for you to get started with your students.  

Portrait of Kelli Suding
 
I brought our NAO robot, Ophi- into a few classrooms these past few weeks.  During one of his activities for students in a life skills class, he got tangled in himself and went crashing down on the table robot-face first.  His fall was loud; but not as loud as the shrieks from the teachers and students nearly rushing to pick him up.  I use to pick him up.  However, I now have impeccable wait time.  I held up my hand to assure the students that Ophi was fine and I stood back and let him figure out how to get back up himself.  He did.  Success.  The student’s smiles were stretched from ear to ear because they did not know that he could stand up by himself.  However, I knew.  

Always know that your students can do it.  Believe in them and show them how and/or give them the gift of figuring it out. We don’t have the right to impose our fears, or our lack of confidence in implementing new tools for students to gain independence.  Our students face enough barriers daily…let’s not be one of them.

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Kelli Suding
The app "Fused" was used to create multiple pictures into one and it's FREE! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fused-double-exposur... Read More
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 12:21
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