While U Wait : You've Got This

Indiana’s new dyslexia bill will be implemented by the 2019-2020 school year. That will be here soon, you know how time flies. The IDOE is responsible in the bill for an Indiana Dyslexia Resource Guide, that will explain which trainings, screenings, and personnel requirements are approved for Indiana school corporations and charters. This will not be immediate due to personnel changes at the IDOE, and everyone there will be working in overdrive to meet time-sensitive challenges ahead.

While we patiently wait for directives on matters related to IN SB 217, a good plan would be for all educators to use the 2018-19 school year designing best practices for a dyslexia-friendly classroom. Which after all, is simply a student-friendly classroom.

Following are a few ideas to get your wheels turning. These suggestions are based on what we know after more than 100 years of research.
  • Addressing the learning needs of students with dyslexia is the responsibility of all teachers, not just those who teach reading. Communicate with other teachers to be sure you are reinforcing effective classroom strategies.
  • Teaching strategies used with students who have dyslexia will benefit all students.
  • Get in the habit of keeping classroom notes on students. If a child makes errors on the same tasks time after time, write it down. Whenever you notice areas of academic and/or behavioral struggle, make a note of it: who, what, when, why? This will help you determine how to help students. Expect some trial and error.
  • Allow the use of assistive technology for reading, writing and math.
  • Allow extra time. Students with dyslexia use 5 times the effort to decode words than typical readers, and often re-reading is necessary. They may also experience delayed word retrieval. Make time allowances during in-class assignments.
  • Do not over-correct written work. For instance, if there are multiple misspellings, mark only the most important to learn, such as high-frequency words. Too many x’s and circled words feel like so much ridicule to an overwhelmed student.
  • When you want students to read aloud, ask for volunteers. Please do not force anyone to read, or recite facts, or write on the board in front of the class.
  • Do not have students trade papers for grading.
  • In early grades, have a number and alphabet strip taped on each desk. This will cut down on memory work for those who need it, and the ones who do not need it will ignore.
  • Have a digital and analogue clock in your classroom, set together. Whenever you need to point out the time, use both clocks. Students with dyslexia will be able to tell  time with the digital; they will need the analogue to understand.
  • To accommodate differences in language processing speeds, slow down your speech, use basic sentence structures, and pause to allow students time to think. There is a difference between lecturing and providing plenty of opportunities for students to practice listening.
  • When you notice learning differences, look for the gifts. What tasks are he or she especially good at? Be sure they have opportunities to show what they know. Are they artistically or musically or physically talented? Nourish that. Students with dyslexia are fully aware of their reading deficits, you won’t need to point out those.
  • Encourage them to demonstrate their knowledge in ways other than as you typically require. Universal Design for Learning is something worth striving for. So is a student-friendly classroom. 
This intensified awareness of students and enhanced instruction may seem burdensome, redundant and may feel like an added drain on your time, energy, and resources. Which it may be, in the beginning. Perhaps you can also see it as the exciting challenge that it is, and take it on with confidence and enthusiasm. You’ve got this. 

Please contact PATINS/ICAM for further assistance with classroom strategies, creating universally designed lesson plans, using digital and audio formats of textbooks and popular fiction, and information about dyslexia resources. Thanks so much!
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Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them. *Pivotal Legislative Changes for Dyslexia

Recently, IN SB 217, which concerns schools’ response to dyslexia, passed through the Indiana Senate and House. This bill takes a huge step forward in addressing a problem that has the potential of negatively impacting lives of our students throughout their school years and beyond.

The good news for Indiana school corporations and charters is that the tenets of the bill are to be met no later than the 2019-2020 school year; scarcely more than a year from now. Of course, this time will not be spent idly, but rather in preparation for the ensuing changes in instruction, school personnel, and attitudes. Following is a skeletal outline of what will be required of schools in IN SB 217.  
  • At CCC meetings, on IEPs, and on your school’s website, start talking about dyslexia. Everyone should know by now that “if we just ignore it, it will go away” is a negligent fallacy. Talk to other teachers about what they are seeing in the classroom. Get familiar with dyslexia, get comfortable talking about it.
  • Use the IDOE-approved system of supports to address the reading needs of students that present characteristics of dyslexia. Be careful not to spend too long in a tier if it’s not working for the student. Time spent ineffectively addressing dyslexia is time wasted, and studies have shown that a poor reader in 1st grade has a 90% chance of always being a poor reader. Interventions that are timely and effective increase opportunities for academic and life-long success.
  • Obtain parental consent before screening. This should be no problem. When I speak with parents about this, they are hungry for solutions; they want honest discussion between teachers and their families, they want their child screened, they want outcome driven interventions, yesterday. Last year. Two grades ago.
  • Dyslexia interventions may include certain types of instruction. So vague, but so easy. The research is in and we know what works here: instruction that is Explicit, Systematic, Multisensory and Phonetic. If your instruction curriculum does not include these, let us help you find one that does.
  • By July 1, 2019, each school corporation and charter must employ at least one authorized reading specialist trained in dyslexia. Depending on school population more than one may be necessary. Begin making the decision on who will be designated as soon as possible, and find a certification program.
  • IDOE will provide professional awareness information on dyslexia to each teacher in each school corporation and will develop and update an Indiana dyslexia resource guide. Lean into the support they will provide.
So, there it is. If you regard IN SB 217 as an overwhelming addition of copious amounts of work, that is completely understandable. But allow this outlook to exist only for a couple of days. We all know how fast a year passes. This is so much to pull together, but you can do it! Your students need you to be successful, so they can be successful.

The ICAM will support schools as they serve students who have a current IEP in several ways. We will provide a membership for them to receive human voice recorded audio books, some that are accompanied by text: textbooks, children’s books, literature and novels. Also, we will provide NIMAS files, the digital format of their textbooks to use with text-to-speech software, and ePubs. These specialized formats are pathways to adding a multisensory element to your instruction. It’s not the whole multisensory component, which uses all learning pathways at once—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile-- but should be regarded as a substantial piece.

Also, we have a growing collection of dyslexia-related books and other resources in the PATINS Lending Library; you may review titles in ICAM Dyslexia Book Resources. There are a few articles in Document Resources you may find helpful, and on the Dyslexia Resources page there are webinars, websites, a dyslexia screener. We will be adding to and updating these pages as we continue our research.

PATINS/ICAM Specialists are happy to come to your school to present real classroom solutions that can be immediately implemented, even customize a presentation to address specific needs of your school or corporation as you adapt to the changes IN SB 217 requires.

We are here for you. And for the starfish.

Thanks so much!

* "Wall Street"
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Unexpected Gifts

Last weekend while out shopping for a perfect treasure to give my husband for Christmas, I wandered into a thrift store and began perusing the book collection. We need another book in our house as much as we need another seashell. Which is to say, not at all. We have a rule now, “bring in 1 book, get rid of 1 book.” No problem. For the book I purchased, I will gladly bring to the thrift store a whole box of books!

The book is The Technique of Teaching, by Sheldon Emmor Davis, Ph.D. (I googled him, he was quite a prolific author in the field of education.) The copyright date is 1922. It’s a small book — 4.5 X 7.5, with a dark blue hardcover. The gold lettering on the spine is no longer readable, except for the word Teaching. I took the book from the shelf and opened it, and I have learned.

The book has seven chapters. Chapter One echoes the title: “The Technique of Teaching”, and is, of course, an overview. The next 6 chapters explain how to teach Spelling, Reading and Literature, Composition and Grammar, Arithmetic, History and Geography. All that in 336 pages!

Because of my interest in supporting students with dyslexia, I wanted to go straightaway to the chapters on spelling and reading. On the way there I came across several important gems: “We are teaching pupils, not subjects.” True. “Learning is attention.” Check. “Emotional response (is) important.” Yes. “Belief in pupils (is) essential.” Wow. I don’t remember discussing teaching in such direct terms when studying for my teaching certification. Are these ideas too obvious to mention?

The Teaching of Spelling chapter still is pertinent to the methods of instruction prescribed for dyslexic learners: systematic, explicit, phonetic, multisensory.

For instance, Dr. Davis wrote, “For clear impression the assignment may require writing words plainly, syllabication, copying in the air and upon paper, pronouncing aloud individually and in concert.” The language is dusty, but concise. He wrote, “The degree to which a given child or class may be visual, auditory, or motor minded we may not know, but the teacher who makes the multiple sense appeal is on safe ground.” Which is an accurate plan for using a multi-sensory approach in teaching spelling.

Under a heading called Repetition with attention, Dr. Davis wrote that since spelling can be monotonous, keep study times short and focused, and use different types of drills to keep it interesting. He spoke of using reasoning to help teach spelling, such as the rules for vowels depending on their positions in words. “One who is led to discover the reason for persisting e in singeing, tingeing, or hingeing is far more likely to be using economy that the child who mechanically masters each word. For he has a key to the situation even when he encounters a word he has never studied.” The spelling of hinging has been changed (Dr. Davis also discusses spelling changes through history), but his method of teaching spelling involves using a tactic that is systematic, examples provided.

In Chapter 3, “The Teaching of Reading and Literature”, Dr. Davis begins to discuss phonetics in a substantial way, with examples of learning activities that at first sound archaic, until I began to understand their brilliance. For example, the teacher or students might create a tool called “winding the clock.” A phonogram (ick, ock, ore) is placed in the center, think of the point where the clock hands connect, then 12 consonants or consonant blends are placed instead of numbers, for students to make real or nonsense words. As Dr. Davis points out, the student should meet the sight words first: “After the pupil know at sight can, man, hand, and others of the same family, it is not difficult to focalize his attention upon the phonogram, an.”

Does this book utilize explicit instruction? Absolutely. The author describes how to make different types of card decks, and how to use them. His methods and activities, or “devices” are easy to understand, often with practical advice: Use of Objects and pictures. “Use of objects is one of the surest ways of introducing the ideas for which words stand. This is experience gaining rather than reading, but necessary nevertheless.”

This is not a handbook for teaching dyslexic readers, and not once is the word used. If you are an educator you should by now have your own copy of Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, even if you teach content other than reading and spelling. Because as Dr. Davis wrote, “Every group doing written work is a spelling class.” As teachers, reinforce one another, every chance you get.

Indiana now has IN HB 1108, the Dyslexia law, and educators are being called to address the 1 in 5 in meaningful ways. Which means you may be required to attend trainings to help you teach. Hopefully, that will be the case. I have heard the big sigh, and have been told by a few individuals that “This is just too much, with all else I have to do. “I get that.

But help is all around you. There are resources in the PATINS Lending Library: books, software, hardware. The ICAM provides free memberships for your students to receive Learning Ally audiobooks-all they need is an IEP and documentation of a reading disability. There are trainings to attend here in Indiana. You probably have some very good resources in your possession now. Don’t wait to be trained to begin helping struggling readers. Use what you have until you get what you need. Let us help!

Happy Christmas, Everyone!



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The Vision of the Project

Recently I helped my husband work a concrete pour. This wasn’t our first pour together, and like all the times before, we were nervous. He had already prepared the environment: cleared the building site, built the forms, bent and placed the rebar and supported the forms with clamps and stakes. We were pouring a 4-foot wall, about 100 feet long, to support the hillside and allow Tom to begin his newest building venture.

Pouring concrete is very hard physical and mental work, fast-paced, even frantic, especially if there are not enough people. One of the workers we had hired cancelled at 11:30 p.m. on the Friday night before; no time to find a replacement. So, there was the man who drove and operated the concrete truck, my husband Tom, our friend Ed, and me. This could put us in the category of “not enough people.” We talked about the stress this would put on all of us, and decided to go ahead.

For a job such as this, everyone works together as a team, yet someone has to be in charge: that person assigns the specific jobs, provides the tools needed for each job, and goes over the instructions, answers questions and invites input, then goes over the details one more time. The mental challenge is to manage what is happening in real time, to anticipate what is about to happen, and to know when to step in and help your co-workers without neglecting your own tasks.

My job was to guide the “elephant trunk”, the canvas sleeve attached to the chute which puts the concrete where it needs to go, to re-direct any spillage, and to communicate to the driver: “Hold up” or “Bring it on.”  Ed stood above the forms with a long pole which he used to tamp and shake and settle the cement as it filled the forms, and he shoveled overfill to underfilled areas. Tom followed up with the “finish work”: the screeding and floating, which levels and smooths the surface, and helped Ed and I as needed. This was roughly a 2-hour job, it seemed like 30 minutes, and we never stopped moving, from start to finish.

As it is with working concrete, so it is with the SETT Framework. Developed by Joy Zabala, the Director of Technical Assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technology, this is a valuable tool that collaborative teams may use to create the best learning environment for each student. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Task and Tools, and provides an outline for the gathering of student information. This is a great starting point for designing instruction for each of your students. A friend and previous co-teacher of mine uses the SETT outline this way:  She fills in the info for each student during the first couple of weeks of school, as she is getting to know and understand each child. Then she sorts the outlines by their similarities, and this helps her determine who goes where for small group instruction. Brilliant!

The PATINS Specialists can help you determine the best tool-a.k.a. assistive technology- which will effectually fit the needs of a particular student. They can suggest software, show you hardware, and demonstrate how it is used. Maybe there is an item in the Lending Library that you would like for a student to try. And of course, the ICAM should be your first stop for specialized formats when you see a student struggling to access the curriculum. We can explain the federal mandate to provide specialized formats, describe each of those, and advise you on the requirements for obtaining specialized formats of print instructional materials and related content.

Last Saturday, Tom referred several times to the “vision of the project.” It was not just about this 4-foot wall we were pouring, it was about the tiny home that will eventually be, which will provide needed shelter for someone in a peaceful setting.

Remember the vision of your project will be realized when your students move forward on productive paths because you have created the best learning environment, have given them meaningful tasks and the tools to complete the job. This is our vision too. We are here to assist you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
 
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She’s Always Been a Procrastinator; Didn’t Get Her Birthmark Until She Was Six


For many of us, procrastination comes naturally. Eventually, if one is a good procrastinator, one will learn to determine safe times to practice our postponing ways. For me, that means when no one else will be affected or offended. For instance, if I can just spot in the deferred task/phone call/research/hand-washing in the sink at the last minute, and I am sure the outcome will not be negatively altered, I will put it off. Many of us can work well and accomplish much when there is not much time left. It’s a gift. And a curse. There is anxiety. Self-reproach. Embarrassment when we are observed.


Here’s an example. Last weekend my husband was irritated because I have not yet renewed my passport, which, he insisted, had to be completed in the 10th year, by my birthday. So, Saturday I needed to get to the post office before it closed to have a photo taken and file the renewal paperwork. I called the P.O. to confirm closing time and learned that my birthdate was not the expiration date, necessarily. Voila—my passport is valid until August. I was so happy. I stacked up my renewal documents and put them back on the shelf. Tom: “Well, you should go ahead and do this, while you are thinking of it. Since you are ready to go.” Me: “No, I’ll do it later. There are a hundred other things I need to do right now. I really wanted to weed my flower beds this morning, and now I can.” His look showed his dismay. 

If you are a good procrastinator, you know that you can bake the complicated cake the night before the party, and if doesn’t come out, you can run to the bakery and buy one. If you put off hemming the pants and the date to wear them arrives, there’s always tape. If you do not go shopping for the wedding gift, you can pick up a gift card on the way to the shower.

The discriminating procrastinator knows the other thing too. Some things demand and deserve our immediate attention, because otherwise there may be a financial penalty. Because we have signed an agreement. Because someone depends on us to take care of things.

If your child, or one you teach, shows symptoms of an illness, you get help, you let someone know. If that child exhibits developmental delays, you initiate due process and take other steps to accommodate their learning needs.

If your child or one you teach is obviously bright and inquisitive, yet he or she struggles to decode spelling words, misspells wildly, puzzles at age-appropriate multi-step directions, you know there is a problem. If you notice a student has an odd way of counting time on an analog clock, holding a pencil, or remembering something you are sure they had learned, think of Dyslexia. First. Please do not put this off. Children do not grow out of reading disabilities, and timely, effective intervention is the key to their catching up.

Talk to the parent. Did the child struggle to learn to tie her shoes?  Did he or she talk/crawl/walk late? Do they seem extremely stressed when the room is too warm, when they are ill or when they are tired?

These seeming dissimilar traits could be connected to the brain differences apparent in individuals with Dyslexia. If what you are seeing really is dyslexia, the worst thing you can do is to wait. If you begin interventions, and it becomes obvious that what this child is experiencing is not dyslexia, then, no harm has been done. All students will benefit from explicit instruction, audio books and other multisensory supports. They may not need those reinforcements to read well, but if a student needs those and they are not provided, they then are set up for present and future failure.

A general overview of issues surrounding dyslexia will help you help your students. Knowing what to look for at each age/grade level is a very good start, and this website, Understood is a great resource to help you decide next steps.

Please do not put this off. There are tiny little faces depending on you to get it done.

Thanks so much!



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Social Stories in the Classroom

Recently a friend, an educator, asked me for advice on a student with autism who was sweet natured, but lacked friends because he was a grabber: of food, milk, books, toys, whatever he wanted, he grabbed, and his classmates disliked him. I suggested using a social story. She was unfamiliar.

When I first learned about Social Stories, it was as though I had discovered pencils; here was a simple tool that could have profound effects in my classroom that included 4 students identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 as a tool to help individuals with ASDs respond to others and to situations more appropriately. More complex stories may be used with higher functioning students, however my students were younger and still learning basic skills, in many cases, with limited support from home. I had participated in a full-day workshop of strategies for reaching students with ASDs, and social stories were my light-bulb take-away. Implementation was immediate.

One afternoon I met with my classroom assistants for several hours of brainstorming. We discussed frequent stressful situations and wrote social stories for those. High stress times were: upon arrival at school, before lunch, before bus-boarding, intercom announcements, and any occurrence that was out of the ordinary, such as a whole-school assembly, or a fire or tornado drill. Other situations included another student having a meltdown, being asked to end a preferred activity, or being presented with food that was not a favorite, at breakfast or lunch.

We used positive words to guide the students to appropriate behavior; for instance, instead of saying “When the bell rings I will not throw a fit” say “When the bell rings, it is time to go home.” Writing the stories for the students was fun, and we shared a few good belly-laughs as we
wrote stories for each other! Following is a story for a 4th grader.


When the Bell Rings

When the bell rings, it is time to go home.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home, I can play with my dog.

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

I will get in line behind Teacher. I will walk to the bus.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home I will see Mama and play with my dog.

Stories can of course be personalized: My name is Charlie. When I go home I can play with (my dog) Hank. More generic ones may be used with several students, for our class we decided that was best in many cases. We typed, printed, and laminated the stories we created, and filed them in a basket on my desk. Once we began using them, we’d find them everywhere at the end of a day. A story would be grabbed in a hurry, read with a student, and left behind. I found them with the corners chewed, damp, sometimes stuffed in a desk. It did not matter—the stories worked, by preparing students for changes ahead, limiting outbursts, and giving them some power over their behavior. We were fairly consistent in recording behaviors, which should be done to measure progress. In addition to the stories for recurrent issues, my assistants and I became quite proficient at writing stories off-the-cuff, as needed. If you have card-stock paper and a Sharpie pen, you can write a story in a minute. Later you can add pictures and make it look nice.

I talked to the General Education teachers about the stories, and we designed stories for behaviors they saw when my students were with them. One of the teachers had a cd and license for Boardmaker, this was another life-changer, since my students preferred stories with pictures. I had also used free resources from Do2Learn and am happy to see they’ve expanded services and added color to their web site. When you click a heading, look for the green tabs: Free Area. There are printable symbol cards, teaching resources and more.

Of course this sounds like old-school. Now there are on-line resources, and many of you may be using these. And some of you may be like me, and will have a head smacking moment.

There are myriad social stories on YouTube --just search on the social or academic skill you need to address. You will want to preview the stories before presenting to your students; some are just too long; some characters may have an annoying voice for a particular student. Social stories are great for teaching skills such as sharing and taking turns, as well as more complex issues such as expecting a new baby in the home. Check out One Place for Special Needs and Small Steps, Big Skills from Sandbox Learning; the latter provides options for designing individualized stories by creating student profiles so the child in the story physically resembles the student.  

The use of digital social stories requires planning, preparation and time. For example, after you preview and choose an appropriate story, you will need to upload it to the student’s device. If you personalize it, there is another step. Some may find it is effective to use a combination of digital and hand-designed social stories. You may want to review a few guidelines before you begin, and soon you will be able to execute a story quickly for nearly any situation. Parents will also find social stories helpful for home-life skills, so please share your resources.  

On a lighter note, once I began writing social stories for my students, I would sometimes find myself in circumstances where I felt that adults could use a social story: Can you imagine when you encounter a grouchy or inattentive server while eating out?

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

When I have a customer, I will be helpful, patient, and kind.

This is my job.

When I do my job nicely, we all feel better.

Social Stories could lead to a kinder, gentler world. Which could start in your classroom!

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Improving Outcomes

The students ranged in ages from 6 to 10. I looked at the IEP for each student, it was fairly bewildering. Four still wore diapers. Four had no spoken language. Four had Autism. Four had to eat a soft-food diet. Four used a wheelchair as their primary mobility. One boy had a warning written in a black sharpie pen:  Paralyzed! Blind! Deaf! Developmentally delayed!

There were eight students. Seven boys, 1 girl.

As you can see, there was much layering of disabilities.

During our interview, the Principal told me I was the 5th teacher he had interviewed for this position. The other 4 had said “No thank you.” They walked out. School would be starting the following week. He was nervous.

I said yes.

This would be my first year teaching, after graduation. I had completed a one-year assignment as a substitute for a class of 10 boys, EBD and LD. That too was a not very ordinary situation, but this made that look fairly benign.

I received an emergency certification to teach students with Multiple Severe Disabilities, and off we went.

By Christmas I was exhausted. The commute was 105 minutes one way. That was my sitting time because once I arrived, I never sat down again until I got in my truck to go home. Sometimes I was surprised to turn in my driveway because I didn’t remember driving. Every morning I arrived early, got their breakfast from the cafeteria, and ground it up in little food processors. Those boys arrived at school hungry!

Only one of “my” boys was on a Graduation Track. He was very bright, and had severe Autism. The rest would, each year, receive a social promotion, and were expected to attend school until age 21. As I got to know the children, as we worked together and I began to see their hidden potential to learn, by the end of the year I felt like the "social promotion track" was appropriate for only 3 of the students. Now, with improved outcomes for students due to increased emphasis on best practices including UDL, effective modifications, research-based interventions and nationally recognized allowances, I might feel differently about even the most disabled student in that class. The one who came with a warning.

According to an article in disabilityscoop, the national graduation rate of students with disabilities rose to almost 65% during the 2014-2015 school year, which was the fourth year of consecutive growth. In 2005, approximately 35-40% students with disabilities graduated high school. I remember discussing this in a class. It was quite bleak. A 25% increase is something all educators should be proud of, but it’s not time to put our feet up.

In Indiana, in 2013, 87% of the Senior class received a diploma, 69% of Seniors in Special Education did, according to Education Week. For a good breakdown of special education outcomes in Indiana, including statistics on post-high school engagement in college and job-related activity, please see this supplement: Indiana State Highlights 2015 Special Education Landscape. If you love statistics and comparing numbers, you will find this fascinating.

Indiana is fortunate to have a unique system of supports to help you serve your students with disabilities: the PATINS Project, the ICAM, and the IERC.

Together we make educating fun, real, and effective. Our team of Specialists are always available to assist you with services and tools and methods designed to improve outcomes for students, and to point you in another direction if needed. We are, however, only part of the equation.

Last week at the PATINS State Conference, I had the opportunity of meeting many educators who were overflowing with enthusiasm and hope, a genuine love for teaching, and a deep desire to do that well. You are the reasons our students continue to enjoy improved graduation numbers, which leads to improved lives.

We cannot thank you enough.
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The Value of Human Connection

Years ago while I was finishing up my master’s degree, I was also substitute teaching. Which may put me in the category of Wimp-I know many of you continue your education while teaching full-time. I salute you for that.

I had a 6 week assignment to teach a 2nd grade class during the teacher’s maternity leave. It was a dream. Teacher had left concise lesson plans and extra activities to be used as needed, for every day. So once I learned the children’s names, we sailed. We were able to follow her plans exactly, the children kept up their hard work, it was clear they missed their teacher, and wanted to make her proud of them. They were used to that.

There were several students with an IEP, 5, maybe 7. The classroom accommodations were well chosen and easy to follow, and Teacher had left me personal notes about the children’s preferences and quirks. When one was pulled out for the resource room or a related service, they knew exactly what to take with them, they were cheerful to go, and to return. They were very nice, very well-prepared children.

Of course if your absence is sudden, this kind of preparation is likely impossible. When I complimented Teacher on making this experience seamless, she said, modestly, “Well, I did have several months to get this ready for you.” I would come to learn though, that her preparation went way beyond concise instructions and great lesson plans for the sub.

Every morning I would greet the students at the door. I remember those sweet little faces, and it’s one of the things I miss the most about not being in the classroom: those shiny happy little faces in the morning, usually with a story they wanted to tell.

The children would hang up jackets and backpacks and put away personal belonging, sort their homework papers in specific boxes, and then they could go to centers while they waited for the bell. I loved to quietly hang out around the classroom and listen to the conversations during this morning transition.

One tiny little girl wanted to take care of everyone: if someone sneezed, she got them a tissue. If someone coughed, she patted their back, if someone was sad or disappointed, she supported them: “It will be all right. Today at lunch, you can sit with me.” Both her parents were nurses, Teacher had written, “she will remove her shoes and give them away if someone asks for them.” She told me to “intervene as needed.” This one had vision in only one eye, and wore very thick glasses. She was a heart-stealer.

One little boy was noticeably sullen and gruff, but soon I saw that he was very sensitive and often had his feelings hurt by the more outgoing children. Eventually, I won him over with smiles and attention, and learned that his parents were separated. He was with this mom during the weeks, and with his dad on weekends. His sister, who was in middle school, did the opposite: she stayed at their dad’s apartment during the week, because it was closer to her school, where she was involved in cheerleading and clubs. Then she came to their mother’s home on weekends. They saw each other for just a little while during this child-swap, and sometimes a parent would take them both for ice-cream or go shopping. But, he really missed his sister. I emailed teacher, she knew of the separation but did not know his sister had moved. She would communicate with mom.

Even while caring for her new baby, Teacher wanted daily updates on her kids, wanted them to know she was thinking of them. Her love for these children was a major support in their lives. She sent me emails of encouragement to share, and pictures of her baby sleeping.

It was clear that these young students had been infused with certain competencies that would, I hoped, stay with them throughout school, college, life: The children possessed a level of self-control that was obvious when they waited their turn, raised their hands to speak, and did not constantly nag me, “just a sub” to get a hall pass for the restroom, go to the nurse, or call their mother. Their class had a schedule for certain activities, and usually no one made requests to vary from that. I had subbed for older students who were way less mature!

They were decision makers. For instance, to choose a center, they had to remove a tag from the wall, for the center they wanted to play in at a given time. There were 5 centers, and no more than 5 students could be in a center at the same time. Also, they could not just move from center to center. This was understood, and although sometimes someone might show brief disappointment when a friend could not choose the same center they were in, every child would interact with anyone else in the center. They had to choose, they knew to follow the rules.

Most of the students presented a sense of autonomy. Now and then someone would have a “moment” or a little “meltdown” but largely these students knew who they were and why they were at school: to learn. There was a little girl with mild CP, who obviously moved and walked differently from the others. She wore it well, so her physical differences were accepted by the others. For instance on Fridays after lunch, I would write sentences with errors for them to correct. She would come on up in her jerking little gait, and do her work like everyone else, unembarrassed. If she dropped her dry erase pen, she would awkwardly pick it up and move on. She got applause, like everyone else, and she expected it.

This classroom experience was wonderful for me as a beginning teacher. Teacher insisted she had great kids from great families, but I learned from conversations with others, the PT, SLT, and the teachers on my hall, not all of the kids came from stable families. There were divorces, a jailed father, couple of addictions, some domestic abuse. What I’ve come to regard as “normal traumas.” Teacher saw what was lacking and endeavored daily to fill in the gaps. She developed relationships with the parents where she could, and especially with her students. They trusted her, she valued their trust, and they learned from her that even if things at home were imperfect, there are codes to living in the world away from home that will allow us to experience success.

These were 23 small people learning to navigate a big world, and it was fascinating to be a part of that from a different perspective: not as a parent, and not as a constant figure in their lives. In fact it made me sad to know I might never see them again. But for thirty days I developed relationships with nearly 2 dozen little people, who knew how to do that because of an exceptional teacher who understood the value of human connection.

Rita Pearson:  Every kid needs a champion
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Making Sense of the New Dyslexia Bill

Last summer, Indiana House Bill 1108 also known as the “Dyslexia Bill”, moved through the House and the Senate then was passed into law by a simple majority. As it was introduced, the bill was worded with directives that were specific and strong. Then amendments were filed and it seemed to me that the explicit language had been removed, so by final passage the bill sounded vague and watered down. I have had conversations with some of you, in this vein, and now I would like to modify that view and explain how my position has evolved.

In Section I, dyslexia is generally defined. The definition is not all-inclusive, but it is solid.

Then, Section 2:

If an education service center offers in-service training or other teacher training programs, the education service center may offer courses for teachers on dyslexia screening and appropriate interventions, including courses relating to a structured literacy approach that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic.

I found it curious that the authors of the bill addressed service centers first. Why not go directly to the classroom? Well, the service centers are a very good path into the classroom. It states that the education service center may offer courses, so ask for them. Member schools administrators should contact your service centers and request trainings, on screening, classroom accommodations, and specialized instruction, for dyslexia.

Be sure to request courses that provide instruction that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic. Because after over 40 years of documented, replicated, published research by the NIH, we know these elements are the backbone of effective reading instruction for those who struggle with learning to read by traditional methods.

Next, Section 3 provides:

A teacher preparation program shall include content within the curriculum that prepares teacher candidates to recognize that a student who is not progressing at a normal rate related to reading may need to be referred to the school's multidisciplinary team to determine the student's special learning needs, including learning needs related to dyslexia

This is a fundamental change. Looking back on the coursework for my teaching certification, the lack of attention given to dyslexia was striking. Now, new teachers will come in much better equipped to identify and serve students with dyslexia, as current service teachers will be leaning into their service centers for support, all to benefit the 1 in 5.

I didn’t like those phrases: “may need to be referred….” and “…related to dyslexia.” But there are other reasons for a student to fall behind in reading, like students who are English Language Learners. Or students who are experiencing family problems such as homelessness, or abuse. All need not be assigned a multidisciplinary team. Other supports may be more appropriate. Perhaps a student cannot decode words because she or he has an undetected vision impairment that could be corrected with glasses. Special education is not the solution to every problem and dyslexia is not every problem with reading. I knew that. Now I get it.

And now I see that my views were the limiting factors here. Indiana HB 1108 actually gives us much space wherein we can follow best practices for our students. 

For instance, the law does not stipulate that in order to provide interventions for dyslexia, that there must be a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. Evaluations can be quite expensive, and schools are not required at this time to pay for dyslexia screenings and diagnosis.

Let's back up a bit to review: a student with a disability is one who has been evaluated in accordance with 511 IAC Article 7, and has been determined eligible for special education and related services, by the Case Conference Committee (CCC). If the student is identified as such, this same CCC will determine which school-provided services will best meet the student’s educational needs. If the CCC agrees that the student presents a print disability, this must be indicated on the IEP. The NIMAS Regulations were added to the IDEA in 2004 for these students, specifically.

The NIMAS Regulations mandate that State and Local Education Agencies ensure that textbooks and related core instructional materials are provided to students with print disabilities in specialized formats in a timely manner. Also remember that a student with a print disability is defined as one who cannot access print in the normal manner (I don’t like that term “normal” but it is used in the NIMAS Regulations, so we reluctantly use it).

If a student has been determined to have a print disability, and is presenting 3 or more of the classic signs of dyslexia, that student is not accessing print in the normal manner, and
 the CCC may indicate the presence of a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction on ICAM/NIMAS Form 4, and on the student’s IEP. In this category of print disability, dyslexia is the most frequently identified, and always has been. Once this determination is made and included in the IEP, the ICAM can begin to provide immediate assistance.

Typically, students with dyslexia prefer digital and audio formats, to print instructional materials. The ICAM is happy to offer two very special partnerships which we are able to share with Indiana schools.  

Learning Ally audio books are human voice recordings of more than 80,000 textbooks, popular fiction titles and classic literature. Previously known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Learning Ally produces high quality audio books that help students increase word recognition, reading comprehension, fluency, and confidence. Important features include text highlighting, audio and speed adjustments, and most recently, a growing library of titles in a combination format, called Voicetext.

Read: OutLoud by Don Johnston, Inc.is a text-to-speech screen reader that provides elements essential for struggling readers: text highlighting, options in font and background color, reading speed adjustments, and a selection of digital reading voices. Don Johnston knows firsthand how frustrating school can be for students with dyslexia, so he and his team continue to design a range of tools to level the playing field for a range of abilities. The ICAM provides the basic software.

We now know that dyslexia presents in levels, or degrees: mild, moderate, severe, profound. Students with dyslexia in the mild to moderate range may find adequate support through one or both of these tools. A student who falls in the severe-profound ranges may need more specialized instruction to go with these tools, and there may come a time when one will need a formal evaluation/diagnosis of dyslexia. However Indiana HB 1108, the NIMAS Regulations of IDEA 2004, and the ICAM can help schools help students, now.

Let’s get started!
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