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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The Shaved Shih Tzu Effect or The Case for Universal Design for Learning in Everyday Life

Pei Pei 1   In March I brought home a shih tzu puppy! 

Included in the care of a shih tzu is grooming.
Pei Pei 2 The first time went well. Pei Pei 3


Pei Pei 4But it grew out quite quickly.  

It was time to take her back and I had a few other requests.  

Just a bit of a change.  
Not much really... just keep the hair around her nose and mouth a bit shorter this time.
Not so much mustache and beard.  

So, I took her to her 6 week appointment and I think I said just that.


Pei Pei 5

Obviously I had failed in communicating my request.  I was disappointed.  In my mind, I blamed the groomer.  How could they have done this?  
They took my puppy away.  As I looked at my poor hairless baby, I reflected.  How could I have made myself clearer?


This reminded me of when I would fail to teach something I was really passionate about, like weather.  I would stand up in front of the class and give
some of the best lectures of my life.  Full of energy, (hand motions are required) sound effects, (boom, crash, swoosh, zoom!) engaging anecdotes
(hold the camera still and be quiet)!  Then I would give my students a lab that I thought they were totally prepared for and some would be, but most
wouldn’t.  I would be disappointed.  Why didn’t they learn?  


We forget all the work that we have already done in our brain that we take for granted.  I have taken numerous courses and had several extensive field
experiences.  I have read and internalized all of the information that I will be providing them.  I designed the entire experience.  No wonder I would succeed.  
So how can we be better guides for those who have not had this experience? Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


Universal Design for Learning tells us that if we want our students to understand and embrace what we are teaching we need to employ multiple means to:

  1. Engage them - interest them in the activity.
  2. Represent the information to be absorbed - facilitate different modes of communication to create understanding.
  3. Action and Expression - allow for different ways to show that they comprehend the information.

So, let's UDL my next grooming appointment:


Step 1:  Engagement - Upon entering the new groomer I will show them pictures of my dog before and after our previous appointment.  We will brainstorm
ways that she could look cuter than she did following that last appointment.  They will gain ownership of her hair care and connect with past knowledge
of shih tzu hair appointments.


Step 2:  Representation - I will offer alternatives for auditory information.  I will show them pictures of other shih tzus that I feel are very cutely groomed.  
I will clarify vocabulary such as “teddy bear cut” and “beard and mustache” through pictures and physical manipulation of the areas prior to cutting.


Step 3:  Action and Expression - I will break the assignment into manageable chunks.  We will begin with trimming around her eyes and trimming her ears.  
Once I am confident that we are communicating well I will continue with graduated levels of support to work towards a full grooming experience.


When we look at what we could have done, it is easy to see what we should have done. UDL is great in that way. We look at the barriers and the ways
that things could go wrong and place options into the lesson plan that take those barriers away.

For more UDL fun you should tune in to our Twitter Chats on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm. #patinsicam We always have great discussions peppered with
interesting points of view!

Until next time! Pei Pei 6

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Rachel Herron
Great Blog, Sandi! I love the tie in here...and, of course, the adorable pics!
Monday, 21 November 2016 11:33
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Improving Outcomes

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

There were eight students. Seven boys, 1 girl.

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

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

I said yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot thank you enough.
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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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Tutoring teaches me some lessons!

I have had the pleasure of tutoring a young man in mathematics for the past 4 years which I’ll call “George.”  George is in the 7th grade and we have been working together since he started having trouble with math in the 3rd grade. 

We have had many challenges over the last four years.  One of our first challenges was communication with his math teachers.  We have had teachers respond very quickly and we have had teachers not respond at all.  Some teachers posted assignments and due dates online and others did not.  The lesson I learned about communication is it is a key element in helping students succeed.  It was extremely difficult for me to assist George in succeeding without communication.

puzzle

The next challenge we faced was my own challenge of having preconceived notions of how math facts should be learned.  I, like many other teachers, believed using your fingers to count should be avoided.  George struggled mightily and I could see him practically hiding his fingers under the table so he could use them!  This opened my eyes and I changed my course of action.  As well as I also remembered I had used my fingers for years to learn my multiplication factors of 9.  The lesson I learned about pre-conceived notions is to throw them out, each student will learn in their own way!

fingers


We were also faced with the challenge of when to use a calculator.  George had so much homework not just in math, but in all subjects, so we decided that using a calculator would be highly beneficial.  His math homework was exceptionally repetitive and there were so many problems to complete.  I would have George complete the first few without a calculator to make sure he understood how to complete the problems.  Then I would allow him to use the calculator to save valuable time.  This also taught him calculator skills which he did not have.  In addition to we talked about the importance of being able to solve problems without a calculator, but also discussed how using a calculator could help him focus on problem- solving.  I explained to him these skills would be highly valued when he entered the workplace where using a calculator isn’t considered cheating.  The lesson I learned about calculators is the use of a calculator is a skill and we need to teach this skill.

This year we were faced with another big challenge.  George has ADHD and takes medicine to help control his symptoms.  He takes his medicine in the morning and by the afternoon it is much less effective.  Unfortunately, his math class is the last period of the day.  This makes it immensely difficult for him to concentrate in the class where he struggles the most, this is not a good combination.  This is the only math class available so there were no alternatives.  Most days I would have to re-teach the lesson as well as having to help him complete his homework.  The lesson I learned about class schedules is sometimes they are not flexible and you just have to come up with solutions!

success

It has been wonderful to see George succeed in math although the road has been long and filled with challenges.  He has taught me as many lessons as I have taught him.
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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.

bike.png

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.

desk.png

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.

path.png

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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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
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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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We All Need to Belong


“Jena, how can you be so happy with your ears so big and flappy?” was one of the questions used by my uncles and their friends to repeatedly tease me as a child. I always took it in stride and laughed it off, because I was young and not really worried about the way I looked.


You see, my elementary school friends had always known and accepted me with my “big ears.” I was on the track and basketball teams, and I was a cheerleader. I had a strong group of friends, and I belonged. I LOVED school and couldn’t wait to start at the end of every summer!

belong

So sure, my ears may have been “big and flappy,” but elementary school life was good! And then...


Middle school happened.

Now my friends and I, overrun by hormones, were funneled into a new school with 3 other elementaries frantically trying to figure out where we fit in this new world. It wasn’t easy (at least for me).

There are two things, a moment and an experience, that stand out in my middle school memory:

One - It was the third day of school in the locker bay. I was heading out as a new boy was coming in. As we passed, he cupped his ears with his hands and blew up his cheeks. He laughed hysterically and told me I looked like a monkey.

Two - I was losing many of my friends. All of these new kids kept swooping in like vultures and taking them away. I thought we were closer than that. Guess I was wrong.

School just wasn’t what it used to be… My sense of belonging had begun to disappear. I no longer fit in the way I used to. Maybe it was because of the way I looked.

So where does this leave me today? How much of an impact did these moments and experiences have on me later in life?

Well, at 14 I had bilateral otoplasty, surgery to pin back my ears. At 15 I found a hairstyle that I felt confident with, because it hid my ears that still stuck out more than I wanted. At 25 I attended an event where I styled my hair in a ponytail for the first time since I could remember. And now at 32 ponytails are part of my day-to-day style, and I no longer fear my ears.

The friends that were so easily pulled away in middle school weren’t meant to be my lifelong friends and that’s okay. Two of my best friends are friends from my elementary school years. The rest of my current friends are those that I choose to surround myself, not people that I’m trying to fit in with.

Generally life is good! I am happy being me! I don’t dwell on these moments and experiences, but rather reflect on them in a way that continually helps me to learn more about myself. My sense of belonging has returned.

So where does this leave you and your work with children?

I think you can begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever felt like YOU didn’t or don’t belong; what was that like?

Do you foster your students’ sense of belonging? Have you ever asked your students if they feel like they belong to your classroom community? To your school community? To the community at large?

How about your students that get pulled out for special services; do THEY feel like they belong when they are being pulled in multiple directions?
I believe that as educators we must take the time to TRULY get to know our students and support their sense of belonging. Additionally, we must be sensitive to the words that we use with our students. The impact, whether positive or negative, may last far longer than you expect.

kids embracing in circle

In the end, we want ALL of our students and the others that we influence to have positive self-images and to know that they belong.



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Glenda Thompson
I'm grateful you "belong" to our PATINS family. This entry was so expressive and visual in my mind. You took me right to that lo... Read More
Thursday, 06 October 2016 11:54
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Just skip to the butterflies

Usain Bolt guiding Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter to train for the paralympics
(Rio 2016 / Alex Ferro)

Have you seen this photo of the fastest man in the world guiding a Paralympian with blindness while training for her own Olympic quest? Usain Bolt showed up for this event not knowing exactly how to guide (he worried he might run too fast--seems legitimate!) But he showed up, nonetheless, to guide Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter competing in the 200 meter run.

This recent image in the news encapsulates the vision for educational teams working with students who have blindness and low vision in Indiana schools. We want students to achieve to their highest potential whether their race for the year is to complete AP World History, or learn how to cook some great Indian food like their mom. Many who might guide and teach them have similar worries as Usain, wondering,

“will I go too fast?”

“How do I share visual cues with someone who does not have sight?”

“How the heck does a student with blindness use an iPad?”

Because the particular disability of blindness occurs in such low incidence, many teachers may never have a child with this need in their classroom. Those that do, may never repeat the process. In my experience as a teacher for the blind and low vision, I witnessed a predictable emotional timeline for each school year for staff dealing with this particular new need in their classroom:

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Starting with the initial fear phase, and gradually coming to a settling-in phase, and ending with the this-kid-with-blindness-is-just-a-kid-after-all phase. My career quest has become to find ways to pole vault over those first 6 weeks of freaking out--not an easy task, as folks have deep seated fears regarding blindness. So as fearless as Usain Bolt may seem, his hesitance to guide comes naturally.

The guidelines for being an effective running partner from the AFB (American Federation for the Blind) organization United in Stride apply in many ways to the races we are running with our students toward their educational, social, and expanded core curriculum goals.

Highlighting a few from their website:

  1. Let the runner set the pace.

  2. Communicate often.

  3. Be patient.

  4. Accept correction as a way to improve your guiding skills.

If you read these, and let them sink in for a moment, you’ll realize that they can be further boiled down to: let the runner/student maintain most of the control for the process, and listen to them. Like many other challenges we face with fearing those who have differences from us, the remedy to fear is spending some time with, and getting to know the person. Ask them about their blindness, and the challenges they face, but also ask them about what kind of running shoes they prefer, and what movies they saw this summer.

After making a connection, seek the resources available for answering the questions about visual cues, access, and iPads. In addition to your local teacher for the blind and low vision who will be your point person for accommodating your student’s needs, PATINS has added my position as specialist to help teams sort through, and implement the amazing advancements in technology available for students with visual needs. I’m excited to be your coach for pole vaulting over the fear,  sprinting past the fear,  wrestling fear to the ground (insert your favorite sports analogy here).

We’ve got some exhilarating races ahead of us!


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Simplicity

For Grandparent’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I spent the morning with my grandson, Dean. His first grade class had prepared a song to sing for us. After the musical presentation, they proudly lead all their respective grandparents to prepared artwork and individual lockers. A sense of enthusiasm was evident as the students pulled out their iPads to show the elders all they could do. It was at that point I noticed slight bobbing and cocking of heads accompanied by many uh hums. The first graders were flipping through icons and pausing to stop at one and then another, swiping to the left and to the right. The grandparent’s heads kept bobbing and sounds of the uh hums became more obvious. 

Being one of the senior PATINS staff members, I’ve been around to see technology metamorphoses into a variety of different forms. It started with a handful of cause and effect programs, switch access here and rudimentary AAC devices there. There were big CCTVs and various keyboards. It didn’t seem to change very much over time. However, technology today is expediential in how quickly it is surpassing itself. To me that is mind blowing! 

Perhaps out of comfort or habit, this senior staff member tends to think “old school”. This old dog sometimes doesn’t mind following through with the same old tricks. It might be as simple as needing a piece of paper to physically hold onto...to connect my mind to something tangible. I’ve realized that many things that have become habit for one may not be an easy habit for others. 

I have five young grandchildren and every day they are acquiring knowledge that is new and is truly in its simplest form. I have been fortunate to have acquired a good technology skill set over time and I feel confident in sharing that knowledge with them and with others. In my position with PATINS/ICAM, I receive calls, emails and in person requests for the most simplest things. Often, I remind myself that even what one person sees as simple is another’s struggle to understand or grasp. My takeaway is to never underestimate the simple; it might just be the roadblock that might keep a person from moving forward. 

We live in an age where we experience so much in the digital context. Cell phones, the Internet, news and social media, etc. offers immediate access to content that is at our fingertips. Is that tangible enough for us to absorb in a way that we can fully process all of the content? For some, perhaps not. 


I’ve bounced around some senior insight, but in that moment of watching the head bobbing and uh humming at my grandson’s celebration of Grandparents, a thought crossed my mind. I don’t think it was the confusion of what the grandparents were seeing and hearing with the iPads. I think it was the amazement of what our grandchildren are experiencing. These first graders made their experiences seem so simple…at least to this grandparent!  
Jeff and his grandson
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