Failing Forward

Bev Sharritt using a Braille Note Touch
As the specialist at PATINS for Blind/Low Vision, I work with Braille, and its evolving technology. In an exercise in review (and humility), I decided to type this blog on one of the Braille devices that we provide in our lending library. Here is my first line attempt:


“My blog is due throughursday so i geed to startd.”

Hmmm, probably need to brush up on my Braille skills as I head into the school year towards training sessions with teachers for the blind and their students. Definitely a wobbly ride after a summer of staying off the proverbial bike, but after a few more sentences, words were flowing more smoothly, at a creeping rate of about 25 wpm.

The device, a Braillenote Touch, is a Braille note taker created to fuse with an Android Tablet so that a student who uses Braille as a primary literacy media can access anything their sighted peers can access.

Watch me work at my speed on the device.

Watch more proficient users on the same device.

I learned to read and write Braille back in 1996 from a delightful teacher named Margaret, who had taught for many years at the Indiana School for the Blind. I struggled with e’s and i’s while writing Braille because they are mirror images of one another like b’s and d’s are in print. Margaret helpfully admonished, “You go up the hill and down to hell,” describing the orientation of the dots in “i” and “e”. I think of her every time my fingers pause at these litters, I mean, letters.

I read Braille as a visual code, rather than a tactile code, as do most sighted folks. The course I took taught the complete literary Braille code in one semester, and after this, I could read my students’ work, and compose documents on a mechanical Braille writer for them to read. It was much easier than I anticipated--mainly learning an alphabet code ala Kindergarten plus punctuation, plus 250 or so contractions (like learning stenography), but, nevertheless, accomplished in a single semester.  

If you’re looking for a fun brain challenge, the app Braille Tutor is free, and will guide a sighted user through the code. Many folks look at others using Braille as “amazing” or “inspirational”, but they just learned to read like the rest of us, one letter, word, and corrected mistake at a time. If you’ve learned all the ins and outs of that current game on your device, I’m sure you can learn Braille.

When I go back to typing in Braille, using 8 keys, my muscle memory kicks in, for the most part, but I am wretchedly slow, and the letters that were difficult for me before remain hard. It really is like riding a bike, but y’all could probably walk beside me and keep up, and I definitely should wear a helmet. Throughout my years of teaching, the more I used it, the faster and more proficient I became.

Even more than reigniting the synapses in my brain reserved for Braille, this exercise reminds me of the need to consider that the learners (students and teachers) that I’ll be working with are ready to fail and ready to achieve. As C.S. Lewis put it:

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”  

How are you setting up your learning environments for failure this year? How will you create situations where students will struggle? How will you model reframing a failure into a learning opportunity? Here’s a list of resources to spur you on to failure.

I’m going to break out the Braille device once a week. I kind of like the word “throughursday” that came out in my first attempt. Sounds like the day you need to struggle through to get to Friday.

Wishing you all a year full of epic failing forward opportunities!



Rate this blog entry:
3
566 Hits
2 Comments

Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
Rate this blog entry:
0
478 Hits
0 Comments

The Best Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All students, not just some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let PATINS help with your best next step!

Rate this blog entry:
1
671 Hits
0 Comments

"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

Rate this blog entry:
0
932 Hits
1 Comment

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.


Rate this blog entry:
0
763 Hits
0 Comments

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.  


Rate this blog entry:
0
1404 Hits

It's a crutch!

Admiral Ackbar Meme It's a Crutch!“It’s a crutch!  If we let students get by with listening instead of reading, how will they ever learn to read?”  This or some similar phrase has been heard or said by many of us.  One word in that quote jumped out at me.  Crutch.  When did that become a negative word?  It’s a noun, not an expletive! What is so bad about a crutch?  Crutches allow people to walk unaided who would otherwise need assistance.  If a student has a broken leg do we want them sitting around doing nothing until it heals?  What if it doesn’t heal?  Is that it?  Are we going to tell them to sit there while we place things across the room for them that they need and then fail them for not getting up to get them?  The organization
Crutches 4 Kids describes the reason for their work, Crutches help children access school giving them the opportunity to learn and become productive members of their communities..  Their slogan, “A Pair of Crutches Changes Everything” is just as applicable to us as educators.  

Using assistive technology to read digital material to a student has many titles.  Among a few are: Audio Supported Reading, Auditory Learning, Text to Speech and Reading by Ear.  What this refers to is having the words read out loud with the support of highlighted text.  crutch2.0

There is a history of Audio Supported Reading use in conjunction with braille to increase the speed and accuracy of reading in students who are blind or have low vision.  New research is beginning to show similar results for students who are struggling readers.  By scaffolding a student’s ability to decode difficult words they become capable of decoding the meaning behind the text faster.  This leads not only to greater comprehension but increased concentration and motivation.  Through the use of
Don Johnston’s uPAR testing software some of the PATINS AEM Grant Teams were also able to see a change in the comprehension level of their students over time who had access to Audio Supported Reading as a part of their reading support.  This is so exciting!  

Let’s talk UDL!  What was once a negative is now a positive.   In the past it has been hard on teachers and students when assistance has been given to one student but not all others.  Who hasn’t heard, “Why does he get that and I don’t?  I want that too!” and “I don’t want to look different.”  Audio Assisted Reading has many plusses for all!  For instance:  You want to assign your students research on the process of presidential elections.  The articles on the internet will contain words that not all good readers will understand.  This is the point of learning.  It is supposed to contain some things that are new to you!  By using a text reader for some of the more difficult words, a student can avoid skimming over them and missing the deeper understanding of the topic.  I used it to read the CAST article cited below.  It helps me concentrate and read slower so that I can focus on the content and meaning instead of just finishing the article.  I also used it to read this blog post out loud to me to help proofread.

Research:
The following article is a good beginning for understanding the basis in research and Education Law for the use of Audio Supported Reading:

Another good read on this subject can be found in this 4-part article. http://www.readspeaker.com/does-text-to-speech-technology-help-students-learn/


Some of my favorite crutches are:  

There are many more, including some that come standard as a part of the computer or tablet!  

Some internet sites have it built in.  Look for symbols like these:
button for text to speech button for text to speech button for text to speech


Rate this blog entry:
2
2074 Hits

Copyright 2015- PATINS Project