It's the Thought That Counts

a person's open hands holding a small wrapped giftbox

If you celebrate the holidays that take place this time of year, there’s a good chance gift giving is a part of that celebration.


I love to give gifts. I enjoy it even more when I think I’ve come up with something the recipient might actually like. But I usually find myself slightly stressed this time of year, and frequently at a loss when it comes to determining gifts for the people on my list.

Gift giving will be a different kind of experience for me this year. One reason for this is that my son’s family recently expanded to include three foster siblings, (2 year-old boy, 4 year-old girl & 7 year-old boy) in addition to their 18 month-old daughter.

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While I had an idea about the kind of gifts I wanted to give the them, I had no clear sense about how or where to start. I began thinking about the kids, both individually and collectively. I tried to figure out what I knew about their likes and dislikes, unique characteristics, strengths and challenges, and anything else I had come to understand about them.

I factored in the kinds of experiences I hoped my gift selections might offer, as well as elements I thought they’d value and derive maximum enjoyment from. I tried to take into consideration the physical space of their home and the general environment in which they live and play. I did a lot of Internet searching, asking friends and colleagues, and just plain contemplating.

Looking back, I realize my approach for gift decision-making wasn’t scientific or profound. Yet I also recognize the value of working through the process in the way that I did. It allowed me to identify what was most important about my gift selections.

Ah-ha! The connection.

As it turns out, my gift selection process closely resembles the process I used to go through on a regular basis when creating lesson plans as a teacher. I’d start with the general vision in mind (like the goal, standard, topic), then work through multiple layers of available information until I felt I’d reached as much clarity and discernment as possible. At that point I’d feel ready to turn plans into action.

Lesson designing was always a labor-intensive endeavor for me, as I think it is for many teachers. There is much necessary intentionality of design - planning, research, collaboration, and a great deal of deep thinking.

Deep thinking about:
  • the students - what is known as well as what’s unknown
  • the goals - what is intended, hoped for, expected, assumed
  • the obstacles - what stands in the way or threatens to impede the child or the goal

Now, as educators begin looking ahead to the implications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its numerous endorsements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I am excited about the improved potential impact. This is because UDL guides the process for curriculum development in such a way that
all students are able to access, participate in, and enjoy rich and meaningful learning opportunities.


At the design level within UDL, potential obstacles are eliminated (or at least minimized); the learning environment is set up with everyone in mind; and students’ variability is not only acknowledged, but also honored. There are no average students, no singled-out special cases, and no exceptions to the original plan. A UDL plan for instruction is intended and designed to be fully inclusive.

The lesson design process may continue to be a fairly labor-intensive process, even with the clear principles and supportive guidelines of UDL. But I believe when we’re engaged in deep thinking about the work we do, and about the students we teach, the process will always be a sort of labor of love.

If you’re curious about UDL or ready to dive in, you can access helpful information from the PATINS’ UDL resource page located on our website. There’s even an online tool to help you create your own UDL lesson plan from scratch. Our PATINS blog, as well as our weekly #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat regularly includes great ideas and insights related to UDL. (You can read archived blogs and chats at anytime!)

Finally, whether you’re just beginning or already implementing a UDL approach in your classroom or school, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us to share your UDL questions, experiences and expertise. We’d love to support you wherever you are in the process of ensuring access to the curriculum for all students!

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De–Clutter Is De-Problem - Lack of Headspace Causes Havoc

Colorful image depicting visual clutter, busyness

My kitchen table is a disaster. The table itself is fine. It’s all the junk on top of the table that’s a problem. Obviously, I haven’t been serving any elegant meals lately. (Clever tactic, if I do say so myself.)

I decided to tackle the semi-organized chaos when my eyes caught sight of a Health & Wellness newsletter that was partially buried. It seemed to be mocking me with its title: The Mental Cost of Clutter. Ironic, I thought.

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I quickly glanced around the house and determined I was safe - no real clutter around except for this stupid table. I skimmed the article just to be sure I wasn’t harboring some unknown health issue.

According to this article’s source, statistics show that:
  • Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), making our senses work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  • Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
Other negative impacts were cited in the article, but these two caught my attention and prompted me to Google clutter, and declutter.

Apparently, I have more of a problem than I thought.

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Here are some of my red flags:
  • I’ve never been through a 15-step declutter program or 30-day declutter challenge
  • I don’t have a Pinterest collection of Top 10 Ways to Eliminate Clutter
  • I don’t belong to a Clutterless Recovery Group or to Clutterers Anonymous

Admitting the problem is the first step.


I’m actually pretty careful about physical clutter. To be honest, I’m pretty much an organizational freak (which is an entirely different Google search…). Nonetheless, I’m fairly organized - except for my kitchen table area. I don’t think physical clutter is my problem.

However, clutter inside my head – now that’s a different issue. The cumulative amount of stuff running around in the confined space of my head is definitely a source of messiness for me.

This mental clutter consists of new input, old residue, and every drive-by source of stimuli in between which, when combined, ends up consuming too much space inside my head. When headspace has no white space, the result is mental clutter.

If I’m in a state of mind-full clutter, I’m likely to become distracted more easily and focus on unnecessary or unimportant details. If I’m struggling to curate the information in my own head, my ability to transfer new information into learning is minimal.

Note to self: Less clutter. More curation.

Distractibility, excess stimuli, information overload, and internalized stress are all known to be barriers to learning. We may not know how prevalent the issue of mental clutter is, but we do know barriers like these negatively impact the learning process.

image of barrier, barbed-wire fence around a field

In and out of the classroom, we know the advantage and importance of developing strong executive functioning skills. Everyone benefits from support in this area. (Case in point: me. I rest my case.)

I love the way Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation is described by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:

Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

I sure could use a Captain Sullenberger Level of Executive Functioning right about now. And while I can’t offer a 15-step program for mental decluttering, or a 30-day challenge to eliminate all barriers to learning, I can offer a few resources to support students in the development of their own executive functioning:

Composite Lists of Recommended Apps:
Apps for Mindmapping & Habit Building:
Don’t Forget About Built-In Tools Such As:
Gotta run now - my kitchen table’s overflowing with inedible objects….

What are your favorite resources and strategies? We’d love to hear from you!
Or, feel free to contact us with questions you may have. We’re here for you!


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The Best Next Step

I’ve had the opportunity this past year to attend several workshops and conference sessions focused on innovative uses of technology in the classroom. I’ve been excited and inspired by the ideas, activities, strategies and suggestions for using technology in meaningful, engaging and thought-provoking ways with students.

These are the kinds of learning opportunities all students (and teachers) should be engaging in and benefiting from. These are not experiences designed solely for the purpose of using technology. Nor have they been designed exclusively for the adventurous, the extraordinary or for those with too much time on their hands. These are experiences designed for content-rich, level-appropriate learning opportunities that incorporate technology.

Yet, in nearly every session I’ve attended, a handful of attendees have commented on challenges they face either with getting technology into their classrooms, or with being able to fully utilize the technology they have. The challenges mentioned include things like inconsistent internet access, restrictive internet blocking, lack of training, lack of training on devices, lack of time for training, lack of technology plans, lack of technical support, and lack of funds.   

A handful of situations where challenges like these exist may not seem like much of an issue, but I wonder how many students are being impacted by each of these situations? Even a handful of these kinds of potential barriers is too much. A barrier is still a barrier for the person(s) being impacted.

This has caused me to think deeply about the disparity that exists between technology-rich and technology-less environments. It doesn’t mean that an impressive and powerful learning environment cannot exist with little or no technology. Nor should we assume that wherever technology is plentiful, the learning will be guaranteed and abundant. However, it does mean we have not yet reached a level of equitable access to technology for every school and every classroom. While I’m sure we can’t afford to be okay with this status, I certainly realize the magnitude and complexity of a viable solution.

Likewise, I’ve been thinking about the notion of ensuring equitable access and equitable use of technology for every single student. As in:

  • All students should have access to technology that allows them to learn and survive in the ways they need.

  • All students should have access to current and emerging technologies and to technologies that extend their own thinking about ideas, experiences and the world around them.

  • All students should be able to use these technologies (not just have access to), as much and as often as needed, with the level of proficiency needed, and in ways that provide similar experiences with the technology as their peers are able to receive.

All students, not just some.

When I think about the question “So what do we do?” I realize there is much that can be done, no matter the particular circumstance. There is always a best next step. One great starting point is to consider what technology already exists and explore how it can be used to improve students’ (and teachers’) lives. No matter what your current situation is, it’s important to clarify (and share) key thinking around the following kinds of questions:

  1. What does it look like to use technology in the classroom in such a way that it becomes meaningfully infused into students’ lives?

  2. What message(s) will we send to students and others by virtue of the technology we use - or don’t use - in our instruction and daily life?

  3. What measures can we take as we design instruction that will incorporate the use of technology to enable and encourage students’ thinking?

Moreover, the best suggestion I can offer anyone is to call upon the expertise, resources and support available through PATINS-ICAM Project. Services are at no cost to Indiana public/charter schools & educators. So borrow an item, seek an in-class consultation, submit a request for refurbished tech; you can request services just because! (No IEP required.)

Here are highlights from my own learning opportunities with PATINS-ICAM, but you’ll want to discover these and others on your own:

Let PATINS help with your best next step!

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What We Can Learn Through the Eyes of a Child

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Meet Nora. The most amazing Little on the face of the earth, A.K.A.my granddaughter.

At ten months of age, she is taking on the world around her. Among other things, she is busy exploring her physical environment, deepening her connections with others both socially and emotionally, and encountering the language around her with great zeal.

Like many children, her parents and numerous others have a vested interest in providing her with multiple ways to engage in their world of language and their methods of communication. She is enjoying a variety of experiences that include read alouds, interactive books, rhythm and rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions, physical contact, tactile explorations and more.

As I’ve watched Nora light up with joy when her mother sings songs and chants rhymes with her, my mind has repeatedly gone back to a Hands Land workshop I attended this past fall. The workshop featured American Sign Language (ASL) rhymes and rhythms designed for young children whose native language is ASL. (I do not know very much ASL, by the way.)

The Hands Land ASL rhymes and rhythms are specifically designed to promote language acquisition, phonological awareness and foundation for literacy. During the workshop, we experienced a variety of activities that incorporated story, rhythm, rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions and more. I’m pretty sure I lit up with the same joy I’ve seen roll across Nora’s face so many times.

The value and importance of early and consistent language development is a well-proven fact. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing experience the world through a visual lens; their language is visual and their learning style is visual. As a point of clarification, children who are hard of hearing who use listening and spoken language are still reliant on visual language learning, such as lip reading and body language.

A fully accessible language with which children can interact naturally is vital for every child. The problem is many children who are deaf and hard of hearing have less access to early and consistent language than their hearing counterparts. While children who are deaf and hard of hearing use visual language and visual learning, they may come to school without having had the necessary exposure and access to their natural language and learning style.

According to Marschark and Hauser, in their book How Deaf Children Learn, there is a positive correlation between children who have a strong early language foundation and their cognitive development. The issue of being deaf has no negative impact on cognitive development; rather, it is an issue of not having had enough access to language. The particular background of every child who is deaf or hard of hearing varies dramatically related to how he or she has learned language and how he or she uses language for communication.

This information is significant to me for a number of reasons:

1) It challenges me to think about my own communication methods and the ways in which I interact with the students I encounter.

2) I realize I have much to learn from each and every student regarding his or her particular background with language and his or her use of that language for communication.

3) Even if I know the preferred language and communication method of a student, it doesn’t mean that he or she has had sufficient exposure or access to it.

4) There is joy in the acquisition of language and in being able to communicate with other people. That’s called human connection. I want to do everything within my power to facilitate that kind of joy.

PATINS is here to support you in every way we can. It brings us great joy to make new connections and to deepen already established ones! Give us a call!

* An informative, free online course by Gallaudet University, “Educating Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: A Guide for Professionals in General Education Settings” offers a wealth of knowledge, insights and instructional strategies related to the education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This course served as a key source of information for this writing.



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Taking a Backward Glance Into the Future

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Dear Colleague ** Student ** Letter


 
Dear Shaunteé,

You’ve been on my mind quite a bit lately. I’m writing these words in an attempt to make sense of why that is. It’s been a long time since our paths crossed.

I came to your classroom as a first-year teacher. It was a third grade, full inclusion classroom, with 43 students crammed in the room. You might not remember the first part of the year because you weren’t there very often. It was absolute chaos. I don’t remember much of it myself. The class number adjusted to 35 students by the end of October but there was still plenty of chaos.

As for you, well, you could often be spotted outside the classroom window on your bike, riding furiously up and down the sidewalk. You would ride up close to our classroom window and laugh wildly as if to mock those of us trapped inside the four walls you detested.

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I was told by a few of the more experienced teachers there was “just no getting through to Shaunteé.” They would say to me, “You need to focus on the ones you can help, starting with the ones who actually come to school. Just concentrate on the ones who are teachable.

I knew those words weren’t true. I wanted to be strong enough to fight upstream against that trending mindset. But to be brutally honest, it was usually easier when you didn’t come to school. Even as a new teacher, my observation abilities were pretty astute – our system of school wasn’t working for you.

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You had few connections to anything that happened at school.

Your records branded you as non-communicative, non-verbal and non-performing in most areas. You didn’t use many words but you did communicate your likes and dislikes on more than one occasion. You liked numbers and shapes. You liked figuring things out. You liked riding your bike. You didn’t like being cold. You didn’t like books. You hated sitting at your desk.

I had realized very early on that school was no joy for you, but it didn’t take long before I felt as if I’d exhausted every option for making it better. I fought harder some days than others; sometimes I fought for you; sometimes I just fought not to fight against you.

I know now that so many of the struggles – yours, mine and ours – were struggles that fundamentally shaped my teaching practice. I also know that a portion of those struggles came from me trying to fix you rather than honor you, from focusing more on students blending in rather than belonging, and from valuing an ideal classroom more than an effective learning community.

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The process of looking backward and reflecting on our experience has helped me envision experiences for teachers and students that are more impactful, intentionally designed and thoughtfully executed. As I’ve become immersed in Universal Design Learning (UDL), I’ve figured out why you’ve been on my mind so much. If your school experience had been framed through the UDL framework, you might’ve found more reasons to come into the school instead of riding past it on your bike.

I know UDL wasn’t around when you were in my class so let me explain briefly. UDL is a framework for guiding educational practices that reach all students in the classroom. This framework acknowledges and accommodates the variability of learners; it negates the notion of “one size fits all.” Goals, assessments, materials, and methods are designed with consideration for all learners. The principles of UDL necessitate that students have options and multiple ways to engage, flexibility in the way material is represented and offered to them, and choice when determining how they respond and express themselves.

The UDL framework honors the belief that all students can learn and achieve.

Imagine having options as a kinesthetic learner, allowing you to move and explore the space around you. Imagine having the choice to build, take apart and design things using a variety of textures, objects and mediums. Imagine having access to learning opportunities just like other students. Imagine being supported to express yourself in ways you never thought possible.

Imagine wanting to come to school, and being valued as an important member of the class.

Am I thinking unrealistically or dreaming the impossible?
I don’t think so. And I think you’d agree with me.

Sincerely,
#ThxShaunteé

P.S. PATINS Specialists are here to help you with your big (and small) steps to change the world for your students!
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Daniel G. McNulty
You, Vicki Walker, fully embrace the passion that leads to fundamental changes in the quality of life for the one starfish left on... Read More
Wednesday, 19 October 2016 18:10
Rachel Herron
Vicki, this blog touched on ALL of the emotions that a teacher might have with a challenging student! You are so right...the pri... Read More
Friday, 21 October 2016 10:45
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