Summer: A Time to Create (and Eat Kohlrabi)

purple kohlrabi ready to harvest in the garden

“Beginnings. I detest them.”


This is the first line I wrote in a journal I kept for my first creative writing class in high school, circa early ‘80’s. I was sixteen, so my first inclination in reading it all these years later is to reach back in time and pat myself on my big, feathered,1981 hair and gently say, “oh honey, turn down the drama.” I was, after all, sixteen, so maybe there was only one setting.

photo of Bev's creative writing journal from 1981
In reading the whole journal entry, I sense that what I was really feeling was fear. I liked writing, and other teachers had told me that I was a good writer, but I was nervous about measuring up for Mrs. Bales, who had a powerful reputation in our school. She was known to be quirky, funny, creative, and to set the bar high. I had even heard that she arranged the desks in a circle on certain days--gasp!

She wrote back to me in the journal feedback, “beginnings can be beautiful and new!” which turned out to be true for her class, where I felt challenged and nurtured as a writer. It was also the place where the seeds were sown for my career in education. Mrs. Bales paired me with classmates who struggled with editing, and pointed out that I was good at helping them without doing it for them.

37 years later, (with much smaller hair) I’m thinking about the beginning of summer, and the beginning of my 3rd year with PATINS.

Summer starting:

  • Slicing the first kohlrabi from the garden
  • Walking through the entrance of the amusement park and deciding which roller coaster to ride first
  • Opening the first page of the book you haven’t had time to read
  • No socks for months and months ahead
  • The garage freezer is full of Klondiketwo rows of sunflower plants in the garden Bars
  • Betting with my husband on the first sunflower bloom
  • Porch swing cinematic view of an Indiana storm bowling in
Beginning a new year with PATINS:
I know in September I’ll be ready for structure again, but for now, bring on the blank pages, the possibilities, the bare feet!

outline map of Indiana with pie stickers placed where Bev has traveled for PATINS and found good pie
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March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

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There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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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.
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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!



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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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Exploding Kittens Bringing Folks Together


We had a delightful few days at the Sharritt’s over Christmas vacation when my daughter, her husband, my son, and his fiancée were all at the farm with us. We ate rich foods, fought over choice spots on the couch, and spent some time playing games.


My son introduced us to a new card game, Exploding Kittens, which is a cross between Uno, Old Maid, and the Broadway show Cats. The illustrations of the kitties that can be matched in order to earn a free draw from another player are funny--my favorite is Tacocat (a palindrome). The goal of the game is to be the final player who has avoided drawing an exploding kitten card. The key is to be holding “defuse” cards (belly rub, laser pointer, etc.), and strategies involve knowing how many volatile kittens are where, and knowing when to play directional cards including “shuffle”, “attack”, “skip”, “favor” and “nope.”

Exploding kitten game cards

The card, and word “defuse” worked its way into my brain, and I woke up in the middle of the night a few days later thinking about the game, and at the same time, special education. I could try to figure out the thought cocktails produced in my brain blender at 3 am, or just run with them. . . here goes.

I was thinking about a Twitter chat session that PATINS had hosted as a discussion about special education teachers working with their general education peers. Twitter chat may sound as strange to you as Exploding Kittens so I’ll explain.

Twitter chat is where people with the same interests get on Twitter at the same agreed upon time and tweet about a topic together. They “see” the conversation by adding a hashtag to their tweets--as everyone uses the hashtag, new comments and answers appear. There is an assigned moderator for the sessions who posts questions. The pace is rapid, and lively; think dinner conversation for a big table. You may be listening to one end of the table, and then drawn into a comment from your other side. You will miss some things, but might engage more deeply with others nearby, and I suppose you may just be shouting out to no one in some instances.


I did not use Twitter much before becoming a specialist at PATINS. I had an account, but gravitated more towards Facebook and Instagram. My tendency towards reserved listening makes me a little anxious in this media, and I struggle to hit the “tweet” button sometimes, fearing that I’m blurting something weird, incomprehensible, or offensive #tri-(ump)-fecta. Poet Bev, though, really relishes the challenge of distilling my thoughts into a precise 140 characters or less, so it’s slowly growing on me #wordwhittle.

So, the game, and education. I’ve heard teaching kindergarten (mostly lovingly) described as herding cats so let’s start there. In today’s classrooms of all levels, we are faced with the challenge of reaching students of many varied backgrounds, abilities, and needs. Designing instruction for all to have access is as complex as herding felines. You want success for all, and no exploding of any kittens. In the work of both special education and general education, you are faced with opportunities to undermine the other, and hold your cards closely, or form alliances to the success of Beardcat and Hairy Potatocat alike.

In the game played at our house, parents and in-laws were eliminated, leaving my son and daughter in a one to one marathon of Exploding Kitten twists and turns. Ben and Grace went back and forth, alternately yelling, pleading, but, most often, laughing. Someone won, someone ran out of defuse cards and exploded, but the process itself was most delightful to witness.

The process of general educators and special educators coming together may also look like sibling rivalry sometimes.

“The principal likes you best!”

“I always have to do all the things!”

“You got a better room than me!”

But in my experience, taking the time to do the beautiful and hard work of universal design benefits everyone in the end. The recent research and emphasis on universal design in the classroom, and how it can overcome student learning barriers is something we are tweeting about every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m at PATINS. Follow the hashtag #PatinsIcam to sit with us at the table. We’re nice, and sometimes downright poetic. Just listen (also known as lurking), or chime in.  For some helpful hints on how to participate you can go here.
Exploding kitten see the future game card

My favorite card in the Exploding Kittens game is “See the Future” which allows you to pick up the next three cards in the draw pile to see what goodies or perils await. For teachers, let’s share this future with each other--if explosions await, let's use them together to detonate any obstacles we see for our students.


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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:

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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!


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