"Crazy"


Charlie Brown and speech bubble with the words good grief
 


OK, so, I missed my blog deadline this time around and it made me think of how crazy our lives can get. I am not so sold on the benefits of multi-tasking. So here is a YouTube link to Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy". At the bottom, I included a copy of the lyrics from the St. Elsewhere Album. It’s really fitting for all of us, I believe. Parents, educators, students, administrators, support staff. Craziness is for anyone who is putting themselves out there to make our world a better place.  


Feel free to slow down and take 5 minutes to enjoy a song not usually connected to what we do, and is inspiring in its own way!

As we all strive for control over our lives, it seems many of us (attempt to) do this through schedules. In our paperless office, I find I still need the print version of a calendar to ground me on a daily basis.

Here is a little of what I have learned over the years:

Digital calendars/schedulers:
  • Great for portability
  • Great for ease of adjustability
  • Easily searchable, depending on how it was set up
  • Easy to set repeating appointment
    • And my favorite
      • Great for color coding/categorizing
  • Downside:
    • Too easy to misdate or delete something
Paper calendars/schedulers/appointment books
  • You can see what you erased!
  • Easier for me to see a week at a glance.
  • I am able to glance at weeks more quickly.
  • Easier to quickly glance on the road.
  • I can make notes right on the document.
    • including…my mileage
  • Downside:
    • If you leave it at home, you are sunk.
Conclusion:
  • There is no one system that works for me and believe me, I have been looking for a long time.
  • About the time I think I have a good system, I find it may be perfect on a desktop, but not on a mobile set up.
  • Or it was better with a previous email system, but not a new one.
  • Or a new data collection system changes my personal coding system.
And it is all good!
OK, anything useful here?
  • First of all, we all have to work with the materials at hand and the resources available.
  • Decide how to visually organize your life and go from there.
  • We also look at ourselves or who we are considering. 
  • So this is where the feature match comes in. 
    • I can be pretty flexible with some basic features and allowing myself to print out a working calendar document. 
    • Anything else is just crazy!
Choices:
  • These are more schedulers than organizers, but the list might get you thinking. These are a drop in the bucket I currently have eleven in a folder on my phone that I have explored.

Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy"

"Crazy" St. Elsewhere Album Lyrics
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh

Credit AZLyrics 

Thanks! Julie

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Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


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Getting Lost and Found in Translation

For several hours I was lost in Paris. I was in my early twenties and the world was just starting to expand for me. I had frequently been lost in America, lost in England and lost in my own world, but all of these places shared one commonality...they were places where English was the predominate language. However, THIS moment I was lost in France, only armed with the phrase “Le garçon stupide!” which translates roughly to “The stupid boy!” I began to panic.

That day, I found out that part of getting by in another country was being nice enough to the people there to get them to speak English. It almost seemed as though everyone knew English. Kindness elicited a heavily accented response, sometimes broken, sometimes flowing, in my own language. How lucky I was that they were willing to help an American girl with mascara tears running down her face.  

During those hours of being lost, I discovered a huge difference between this country and mine. My country is landlocked for miles with people who mostly speak the same language and have the expectation that others will learn the language as well. The concept that people living in states as close to me as Kentucky or Illinois would speak different languages is mind boggling. People growing up in France probably learned English, German and Spanish in order to communicate with the people right next door.  

Many years later in America I faced the obstacles of speaking a predominant language and teaching students who did not grow up speaking English. My first year of teaching high school in Chicago found me in a school where 87% of the 3,000 students who attended came from Spanish speaking homes. When I moved to Assistive Technology several years later, I worked with a group of children who had moved from a 16th century agrarian farm setting to the third largest city in America. How was I going to speak to the children? How would I communicate with their families? Software and translators were present, but not mainstream and very expensive. How would I meet the needs of people who could not use kindness to have someone help them in their own native tongue? No amount of “kindness’ on their part would be rewarded by my speaking a language that they understood back to them.

I would like to thank Kelli Suding, another PATINS Specialist, for showing me one of the best apps I have heard about in a long time. Google Translate. Google Translate is free, easy to use and has incredible features. The app translates 103 languages. It translates handwriting directly applied to the screen. A person can speak into a microphone and the app translates what is being said in real time. A phrasebook can be programmed to save translated words and phrases for another time. The best feature, to me, is the camera translation. If you hold the camera up to anything written, it translates the image to the desired language. Imagine holding your phone camera up to a direction sign, or document in a foreign country. Imagine changing the language of a document in real time in a case conference for a family who needs the kindness of someone speaking in their native tongue.

Over winter break I met a woman from Turkey who was visiting her son in Manhattan. As we laughed and talked, I watched her wistful smile as she was not able to join the conversation. I realized after I left that I had the key, and immediately sent them the information on the Google Translate app. A week later, I received the best text of the year. Google Translate was a game changer for the entire family. The text recounted how incredible her trip was and the enjoyment she felt as she was able communicate with everyone. She was able to read signs, converse back and forth and gain independence over her vacation. It was almost as if she was kind enough to get someone to speak to her in her native tongue.


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SETT and the Right Tool

Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.57.53 PM I am currently doing something I’ve always wanted to do, I’m flipping a house. I’ve been watching professionals do this for years on TV. I’ve always enjoyed doing things like that. One week I rented scaffolding, repainted a two story great room, stairs, kitchen and bedroom and tiled (for the first time) the kitchen backsplash. I have learned two good lessons through doing these things and I suspect a third.

Lesson #1 - It is all about having the right tool for the task. Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 7.34.21 AM

The available assistive technology is varied and vast. There are as many solutions as there are questions. The trick is not just to figure out the correct solution, but to realize when the question may have changed. I use the SETT Framework by Joy Zabala when trying to help educators and students find the right AT solution.

The SETT Framework works through four specific areas to facilitate choosing the correct solution to fit the problem. SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools. Student, Environment and Task are all considered at the same time in no particular order. These three things are closely connected. Change one of these three pieces and the entire picture changes dramatically. The Tool becomes the answer to this equation.

Student + Environment + Task = Tool

For the past three years, I have been looking at adding an AT tool to our Lending Library. It is a communication device for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was never requested by a teacher for loan and when I discussed it with teachers and my peers, they thought it would be useful in the outside world, but not as much in school. This year, when considering this tool, we framed it in the setting of transition. In that situation a student looking at college and work interviews would benefit from being familiar with this device so that they could carry it with them to facilitate communication. That change of Environment made all the difference. Now it was a good idea to have this tool in the Lending Library

If we change the task, we are looking at an entirely different tool again. Perhaps the task is reading instead of speaking. Same student same challenges different task, different tool. It's all about having the right tool for the task.

Lesson #2 - It is ok to get some help from the professionals.

I’ve busted some pipes, gotten in over my head on electrical wiring etc. My favorite contractor pays for his golf games thanks to me! Here’s where I remind you to email or call us. You knew that. But really, it is what we do, and we all love doing it.

Unlike my contractor, PATINS provides professional help at no cost to you, but you knew that too. The thing is, the other educators, general and special educators, may not. Help them out. Introduce them to us! Bring them to the PATINS Tech Expo on April 12th!

That brings us the lesson I think I'm going to learn...
Lesson #3 - In flipping houses the person who always makes money is the contractor. I’ll let you know. The bathroom is done and the kitchen is ½ way. A contractor is there painting today. We are hoping to be done at the end of the month.


* Shaved Shih-Tzu update:

UDL (Universal Design for Learning) works in this area too!  
Our haircuts are now uniform and cute!Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.58.21 PM
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Happy Birthday to...Me?

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

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

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

Birthday Balloons


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

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

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

Just a few examples to start or continue;

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

  • Have visuals available for responses.

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

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

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How to Write a Solid Lesson Plan


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

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


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

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

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

And so the lesson plan writing began. 

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

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

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

female student pressing a big switch to activate a toy


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

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

Trust me, your students will thank you for it.

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Rachel Herron
What a fantastic reminder to think outside the box, collaborate with many and to occasionally step outside of our own comfort zone... Read More
Friday, 27 January 2017 15:49
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How Do We Know What They Know?

A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human and is encouraged to shape his own life. quote by Helen Keller
Following up on Jim’s Santa and gift message, I am reflecting on thoughts of thankfulness and anticipation. This is something for all professionals, educators, staff and loved ones to work together with students. We all have perspectives and skill sets that can make a difference and place a piece of the puzzle where it counts for challenging students to achieve in school. How do we know what they know?

When it comes to children with significant needs, we talk about needs and wants. But what does that really mean? Every year, we write it in goals for them and then we try to measure progress on those goals. Parents hope to know what their child’s wants and needs are, but how do we drill down from such a genuine but general statement to something meaningful for each person involved? How do we get to the richness, the fabric of life? This is truly a challenge and a noble effort. These are open and honest questions intended to go beyond comfort and safety into a different level of challenge for some students. How do we know what they know? In thinking about Christmas or Hanukkah or any holiday that might be celebrated we note a richness of the season. For those who do not celebrate holidays, each day on earth is enough of a celebration. This celebration is found in the seasons, the colors, the brightness, the sounds, the activity, the energy, the countdown, the clothes, the food, the gifts, the visits and the list goes on. How do we tap into this for our significantly or complex or medically involved students? How are they an active part of this cycle of life? How do we know what they know?

Here are some perspectives I’d like to share:
Some of these students are the most medically fragile students to attend school. This is difficult for some educators to balance because the medical status can be very overwhelming and demanding. Balance that with requirements of academic accountability and other limitations and it can seem a bit much at times, especially when various people have different perspectives on what is the right way to do something. We know learning occurs when one is actively involved. So let’s focus on thoroughly and actively engaging complex medical students in learning in the school environment. One little blog cannot possibly cover it all but here are some opening teasers:
  • Provide a schedule of events for each child
    • Engage them visually/auditory/physically with “their” schedule on or near their person within their visual/physical/auditory range.
    • Provide a purpose to every activity
      • You know what you are doing, so clue the student, son, daughter, sibling, in on it as well. It is an easy thing to unintentionally overlook. 
      • This requires full conversations, instead of just a single action or directive.
      • Rather than, “Put the spoon on the table,” explain the activity preferably with steps included, with rich vocabulary, because
    • Students need to know:
      • What are we doing?
      • What comes next?
      • How will I know I am done?
      • Is it worth my time? :)
    • Likely Result:
      • Positive behaviors will improve
      • Communication will increase
  • Home-school connection is important
    • Exact duplication may not make sense because of the two very different environments
      • (I can tell you that what worked for my children at Grandma’s had nothing to do with home life. Haha).
      • But we can usually agree about carryover and consistency and consensus
  • Determine a consistent and appropriate YES response
    • This response should be simple, consistent, not reflexive or not increase muscle tone.
    • Negation is not as critical. A long pause of silence can be a no response. If you can get a consistent "No" response, great.
    • Eventually a Y/N location on a board can be achieved.—even eye gaze.
  • Partner-Assisted Communication can be initiated at this point to engage complex medical/physical/communication students. 
Then communication can go beyond wants and needs and delve into richness of life interactions. Students can have a means of initiation and continuation. Students can have a means of ending a communicative moment. Interests, humor, dislikes, topical interests, preferences, depth, knowledge, background information can be explored or revealed. Once a student has established cause and effect, they have it. That’s it. Move on to something more challenging. If they start to fail at something they have been successful at, consider that the student might be bored or ready to move on. If the student sleeps a lot and it is not necessarily a medical or schedule issue, it may be boredom or a statement of negation. This is the potential for our students. Getting to the solution may not be fast, and there are a lot of factors that get in the way of progress for some students, yet knowing that we can all work together. Positioning, access, language, range, breathing, working around seizures. All this is a challenge. I will admit that some students are very difficult to figure out, yet overall let’s agree to raise the bar high, get excited about the seasonal offerings of variety and assume they are waiting for us to get on board with engagement, action, expression and multiple means of representation.

If Stephen Hawking were disabled sooner, would we have known his brilliance? If Helen Keller was left to roam around the table for scraps, would she have been the first Deaf-Blind person to receive a degree in America? If we expect our students to tell us what they know and keep trying to find ways to help them communicate, will they some day?


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Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!

The turkey has been devoured! The belt has been adjusted one notch! The thought of eating leftover turkey at one more meal is nauseating! “Jingle Bells”, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, “The 12 Days of Christmas” and other Christmas music are jamming the radio stations! The annual showing of girl with SantaIt’s a Charlie Brown Christmas” will preempt a favorite show. The Christmas season is here whether we are ready for it or not!

When my children were younger they would pour through catalogs and newspaper inserts to create that perfect wish list. “Don’t worry these are just toys we are asking from Santa!” would be echoed each year. And Santa’s helpers would go from store to store looking for items on the wish list trying to get the best deal. (This was prior to the days of the internet and online shopping.) It certainly wasn’t an easy task the year they wanted Ghostbuster toys! But it was all worth it to see the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child!

Finding the perfect gift for some children can be very difficult and frustrating. Searching the internet has provided some resources to assist in that gift selection. The Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids from Toys R Us not only provwrapped Christmas Giftides toy suggestions but tips for buying toys and safe play tips. Purdue University has a 2016 Engineering Gift Guide that provides STEM related gift suggestions for children. Sensory University provides suggestions for sensory needs. A Day in Our Shoes has toy ideas for ‘kids with autism or developmental delays’. And of course, Enabling Devices has a variety of items that can be considered as potential gift items. Just remember the box the gift came in and the wrapping paper will be one of the most played with item for a few days!!!! Also, One Place for Special Needs provides some very helpful suggestions on visiting Santa, creating holiday traditions and, in general, surviving the holidays.

Naturally, my adult children’s Christmas list has evolved over the years. Items have become fewer. Some items are practical. Some items have become costlier. No longer do Santa’s helpers get newspaper ads with items circled or pictures cut and taped to paper to create a visual list. Now Santa’s helpers hear things such as ‘my list is on Amazon’ and ‘I just added a couple more things to the list’! And to my children’s dismay Santa’s helpers still seem to find ways to deviate some from their list. (And for the record this Santa’s Helper is glad he can shop online!) Enjoy the wonders of the holiday season and enjoy them through the eyes of a child! And, Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!    


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5th Grade, UDL and PLENTY of reasons to be Thankful

"Get out a sheet of paper and put your heading in the upper right hand corner.” This direction was given to my 5th grade class multiple times throughout a school day by my teacher, Mr. Mull. What happened next was a “choose your own adventure.” Could it be a pop quiz? A spelling test? Were we going to be given a topic to write about? Would that topic be The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton? If so, I had my tattered, dog-eared copy available at all times for reference. I usually sat with my fingers and toes crossed hoping that Mr. Mull did not drift toward the record player in the back of the room where “Mr. Numbers,” the recorded multiplication test, lived. I get sweaty and nervous even today just thinking about it.

This process was pretty “cut and dried” in the 80’s. Students pulled a crisp sheet of college-lined, three-holed paper out of their desks and followed directions. No one ever said, “Is there an alternate way I can do this? We BOTH know you can’t read my writing.” No one ever said, “Do you mind if I dictate this? I am a great thinker, but when I start to worry about the mechanics of getting my thoughts down on paper, it never turns out the way it did in my head.” No one ever said, “My hand gets really tired when I write, and it is a really painful task for me. Do you have a way I can type one letter and a word is generated for me to select?” Everyone took out a piece of paper and tried to fulfill the request.  

My note paper was always a disaster. I was fortunate enough to be able to hand write assignments, but organization was not my forte. My desk looked like it had been ransacked by gerbils obsessed with building a “dream home” out of shredded tissue. Somehow, my loose leaf paper always seemed to turn gray in my desk, and I often found sheets of paper by closing my eyes and hoping that a fairy godmother had somehow waved a wand over my desk, rendering it organized. Still, I managed to smooth out creased pages, wipe away remnants of melted Hershey Kisses and write my name on the upper right-hand corner with my classmates. I remember my jealous amazement when I looked over at Kimberly B., the queen of unwrinkled paper, adorable handwriting and what-are-we-going-to-learn-next smiles.

Others in the class were lost. Really lost. Mr. Mull was the kind of energetic, dedicated teacher who would have accommodated for any learning difference if he had had the tools or the knowledge in the 80s. He was exactly the kind of person and fantastic teacher who would have embraced the principles of Universal Design for Learning in his classroom and made sure everyone was learning the way that made the most sense.

Today is an exciting era when teachers are starting to arm themselves with this knowledge. So many resources are available for teaching the principals of the UDL framework. Strategies to make sure each student has a personal way of expressing and receiving information are not even expensive. Those who take time for proactive planning can make a huge difference in the learning experiences of children.

As a former classroom teacher, I know how I felt about anything that was presented as “one more thing” added to my heaping plate of tasks to do at night. Now, as a person who trains teachers, I want to say, “But thinking about learning strategies up front makes everything that follows easier and more attainable.” It is definitely a shift in mindset.  

Flip back to my 5th grade class (PLEASE, for my sake, erase Mr. Numbers from the picture all together). Think about what the picture would look like with multiple means of expression and allowances for organization.  

Mr. Mull says, “All right class, get ready to express your viewpoints on The Outsiders.” Students automatically move to their preferred mean of expression. Kimberly B. pulls a fresh, crisp piece of paper from her neatly organized desk and looks at Mr. Mull expectantly. Gretchen W. takes out a small Chromebook with word prediction software already loaded so she can type one letter and have a list of words generate in a helper box. Heidi P. glances at a word wall in the classroom for extra reminders and help. Ann H. moves to her seat, equipped with a ball instead of a chair because she knows she writes better when she can also regulate her movement. Billy C. picks up a thicker pencil that really helps his grasp and allows him to write legibly. Buddy H. pulls out a blank comic strip and begins to draw, since he has found illustration a better way of getting his ideas across. I pull out my laptop and search through my organized folders for a fresh document — sans the Hershey Kiss stains and gray hue.  

On this day of being thankful, I turn my thoughts to the promise of a brighter future for students who in the past have been left in the dust. I give thanks to the teachers across the state who are taking every student into consideration — no matter how much work it is and I am forever indebted to excellent teachers, like Mr. Mull, who shaped my life and learning. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Just Leave The Light on 10 Minutes Longer and Watch the Door!

Image of porch with spider webs, dragon, and big spider
This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk.  The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp.  The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work! 

With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the 
PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on!  Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting.  She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat.  Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm.  Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back.  Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy.  At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me!  I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle!  Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story!  In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening. 

She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”  

Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch.  Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.  

Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important.  However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different.  Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face.  One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word
-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class.  ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.  

Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important.  …and I will agree to a very large extent.  However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier.  Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes.  …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment. 

As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference.  While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course.  For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working.  We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving.  We stay still.  We turn the light off early.  

The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort.  I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy!  After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings.  If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support. 

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive TechnologyAccessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
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Daniel G. McNulty
Thanks, Sharon! What nice things to say and thank YOU for all that you do! Stay in touch with us and let us know how we support ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:02
Daniel G. McNulty
Ahh, YES! I remember ACR prep very well. ... I am so GLAD that your students have you on their side at that case conferences.... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:12
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