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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Taking a Backward Glance Into the Future

Letter.png
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
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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
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Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."

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

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

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

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

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

Boy:  “I feel dumb sometimes.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                game.jpeg

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

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

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


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Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing of boy and girl happy
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Break it… Just Break it.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Universally Designed Blended Learning

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Special Needs featured on the Big Screen!

Disney PIXAR blockbuster Finding Dory opened this week.  If you haven’t had the chance to see this sequel to Finding Nemo, it is well worth your time and admission cost.  It MAY even remind you of a student you know, family member… or yourself!   

Dory The movie is about an adorable, but forgetful, blue tang fish named Dory, a fan favorite character from Finding Nemo.  This sequel clearly suggests that Dory’s short-term memory loss is more than a quirk; Dory has a special need.  It is easy to see that Dory’s special need hasn’t impaired her popularity at all and she is no less lovable with Ellen DeGeneres as the voice behind that cute face.  Dory has a positive attitude despite her challenges.  She identifies her strengths and finds ways to work with them. 

In flashbacks, Dory’s memory lapses are presented as something she was born with and learns to manage.  Her parents build seashell trails to help her find her way home, role play how to engage peers in social settings and tearfully wonder if she will be OKAY on her own.  (What parent hasn’t had that same thought about their child?)  They repeat the phrase “Just Keep Swimming” over and over again so she can hopefully recall that one action in case of danger.  Her ocean buddies have their own sets of challenges:  Destiny the shark has impaired vision, Bailey the whale struggles with echolocation, Hank the octopus deals with anxiety and Nemo has that undersized fin.

Her teacher, Mr. Ray, is reluctant to take Dory on field trips for fear she will wander away from the group.  This is consistent with how some caregivers choose to interact with children who have developmental disabilities.  Instead of providing options and structure that allow kids to function within their abilities, they tend to exclude them from any group activity. 

PIXAR’s willingness to give disability such high-profile exposure is pivotal in the conversation of Special Needs and Universal Design for ALL.  Their message in this movie is acceptance of everyone and their differences.  We see that in the end, it’s not about the direction Dory swims in, or how she gets there – it’s that she just keeps swimming.  It might take her a little longer, but the way she gets there is no less valuable than how anyone else gets there.  

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Glenda Thompson
A good phrase to keep in mind, indeed! I think this movie will open the eyes of many children and adults to the world of adaptati... Read More
Friday, 24 June 2016 12:30
Glenda Thompson
Hey, everyone...Finding Dory passed $300 million in domestic box office sales after just 12 DAYS of release - a pace that could ma... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 11:15
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Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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A Salute to Indiana Educators

This week’s blog edition is dedicated to the Indiana educators.  In reviewing my year, I have logged a whole lot of miles and met with a whole lot of school staff.  It has been GREAT! What an amazing group of folks.  My life is truly richer for these experiences.There has been a number of topics that we have covered.  Much of what we have talked about is how to include all students in the curriculum and I can tell you that is a loaded statement. It sounds simple, but it has a lot of layers when you really look at it.  For some presentations, there is a slide I show of a Venn-type diagram of 6 circles.      Slide03                           I think this describes education today.

1.  I put students in the center.  As educators, we know students really are and have always been the central focus.  
2.  Just above that is a circle of Diversity.  We can all agree there is much diversity found in the classroom ranging from academic abilities to socio-economic, cultural, language, religious, and the list can go on.  As a consultant, I include teachers and staff in the diversity pool and this is something that must be considered for communication and for accessibility as well.  One size does not fit all.  Neither for students nor staff.
3.  So next to children and diversity, we find student achievement.  I list this third, purposely, as we are not dealing with a product here that can be measured in purely economic or statistical terms.  Achievement is very important to be sure.  Educators have always found a way to measure student achievement.  So the fact that we have and need student achievement is a given and absolutely necessary.  The thing is, student achievement is best measured when there is a good match between what the children know, can do and demonstrate with what is expected.  That brings us to the last three circles of the Venn Diagram.  

The Stuff. Instructional Technology (IT including infrastructure), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Assistive Technology (AT)
4.  In the middle we have the Instructional technology provided for all students/staff, regardless of educational placement.
5.  On one side we have AT which is required for students to benefit from their special education where ever it is i.e. general ed class, special ed class. So those make sense and have been around for awhile.
6.  The other player is UDL, which serves as more than a bridge between the two.  It has been called a framework and I look at it as a warm embrace for education.   Purposeful, planned, front-loaded, collaborative. A future blog can go into this in more detail but suffice it to say that UDL brings education full circle, and honestly, I have seen this kind of work in action all around Indiana.

Schools today operate with technology.  They really always have.  It used to be the slate and soapstone, or the vellum and quill, or the #2 lead and paper. Pick your era. There was always a way to use a tool for education, so really, there is no difference now.  The discussion should not be to use technology or not. The question is, "How do children demonstrate what they have learned?"  The discussion should include brainstorming multi-modal ways to engage students, multi-modal ways to present information and multi-modal ways to have them express and demonstrate understanding, while building in layers of increasing independence.  The challenge is on to find out what students know and to find ways to challenge all students.

It has been an absolute joy to meet teachers and educators across Indiana engaged in dynamic ways of reaching students and who seek out more ways to reach children who learn via atypical means and methods.  Keep up the good work!
 






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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







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