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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Aug
11

Are You Prepared to Provide AEM (Accessible Educational Materials)? Ready! Set! GO!

Digital Rights Manager

By now most of us know that the 3 categories of a print disability specified by the IDEA are 1.) Vision Impaired, 2.) Physical Disability and 3.) Reading Disability, such as dyslexia. Since technology, teaching strategies, and universally designed classrooms make these disabilities navigable, I prefer to call them differences when possible. The first 2 typically are evident at birth, so the child will enter school with a good deal of documentation of their learning needs concerning the condition. 

The most frequently identified reading difference, dyslexia, is one of the most researched and documented conditions, affecting 20 percent of the population (1 in 5)  and represents 80-90 percent of all learning disabilities. 

Here in Indiana, Senate Enrolled Act No. 217 was signed into law in 2018, which requires Indiana schools to develop and implement specific measures regarding dyslexia. In response to that, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has written and posted several guiding documents to help schools and parents understand and meet the tenets of this law. 

As indicated in the guide entitled Dyslexia Programming Guidance for Schools a parent may request that the student receive a formal educational evaluation from the school. After the evaluation, if it is determined that the student requires special education services to successfully meet their educational needs, then the case conference committee (CCC) will assemble to determine if the student has a print disability, in this case, a reading disability. If the answer is yes, then the student requires accessible formats to access the curriculum. In the Individual Education Plan (IEP) a reading disability is indicated as an SLD (Specific Learning Disability) in the Area of Reading.

The following tips will guide you in serving students who have a documented print disability. Also, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) staff has posted a guide to clarify the AEM  process for the CCC that explains DRM (Digital Rights Manager) and teacher tasks in detail.

  • With the new partnership between the ICAM and Bookshare, ICAM staff can search the Bookshare library and place those requests for you, if a needed title is not in the ICAM repository.
  • For the ICAM to fully support Indiana schools as they meet the AEM needs of their students, all students identified with a print disability must be registered in the ICAM.
  • The PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ICAM services are free to schools and grant-funded by the state. Therefore, by using the ICAM, schools are facilitating the provision of services to Indiana schools by adding to the data that PATINS presents to the state.
  • If you are a DRM, please copy/paste this DRM Badge into your electronic signature to identify yourself as a DRM. Also, enlarge the badge, print and hang it outside your door, then take every opportunity to explain to others about AEM, the PATINS Project (Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students)/ ICAM, and the IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center). Becoming a DRM requires an appointment by a school's superintendent, or their designee, and training.
PATINS Project/ICAM Digital Rights Manager Badge
  • The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 2004 states that accessible materials must be available to qualified students in a "timely manner" which means at the same time their peers receive their learning materials.                                                                                                                                    
  • When to place orders: 
    • For VI orders of hard copy Braille and Large Print, orders should have been placed in April of this year. If you have received orders since then and for any future orders, enter those as soon as you get them. The IERC (Indiana Educational Resource Center) and the ICAM work very hard to help you meet "timely manner",  including for orders placed throughout the school year.
    • For orders of ePub and PDF from the ICAM repository, enter those as soon as possible so we can address unforeseen snags.
    • If you need a title from Bookshare and/or audiobooks from Mackin, you will order those through ICAM Web Ordering, as follows:
      • 1. As a DRM or teacher registered by a DRM, log into ICAM Web Ordering.
      • 2. Choose Make Special Request.
      • 3. Fill in all fields that have an asterisk*, indicate Bookshare or Mackin in the note field, and submit.
If you need assistance at any time, please contact the ICAM Staff. If you would like to become a DRM, we will support you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
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Aug
01

5 Ways to Include Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing using Universal Design for Learning

Inclusive-DHH-UDL-PATINS-Project-Poster-Print-Blog-Banner-1

Welcome back to School! While you are planning your seating charts, prepping lunch option boards, and digital homework options take a peek below at 5 easy tips to make sure you are universally including access to the curriculum and participation for all students in your classroom this year. 

Printable Poster to share at your case conferences and beginning of the year in-services. Thumbprint image of the poster below. Thumbprint DHH UDL PATINS Project Poster

  1. Flexible Seating: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need sight of everyone’s face to follow the conversation. U-Shaped desk arrangements or kidney-shaped tables are best. 
  2. Representing Content: A visual representation (open/closed captions and descriptions) of the spoken language on all media and presentations/lectures are suggested for full access to auditory information in the classroom. 
  3. Small Groups: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often participate and learn from peers best in small groups. Provide device for live captioning software and ear level FM/DM systems to be utilized. Allow students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their group to move to a quiet room or hallway to work to ensure an optimal signal-to-noise ratio. 
  4. Options for Repetition: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often need options for how the information is represented and may need early access to materials before the information is presented in the classroom. Pre-teaching vocabulary and early access to reading materials and media content allow students to participate in discussions.
  5. Expression of Knowledge: Flexibility in the ways that a student who is deaf or hard of hearing can express what they have learned will increase engagement and motivation to participate in activities. Provide back channel or alternative ways to ask questions, visual presentations in slides, google draw, etc. 

If you and your team need suggestions on implementing any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Katie Taylor, PATINS Project’s deaf/hard of hearing state-wide specialist at ktaylor@patinsproject.org.



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Jul
29

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal?

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal? Text Consumption: Are all options created equal? Accompanied by eye, ear, and hand graphics.

Reading or as I like to call it, text consumption, is a large part of many of our lives. People may read textbooks with their eyes. Some individuals may read audiobooks with their ears, and others may read Braille books with their fingers. Text can be consumed for understanding in a variety of ways, but are all options created equal? Please share your opinion in a one-question survey linked at the end of the blog.

Midsection of girl reading Braille book

Over the last handful of years, I’ve reflected on my own text consumption habits. I once only considered myself a sighted consumer of text, with some practice listening to text, I found that I really enjoy auditory reading. I especially enjoy having access to text when I’m driving, walking, or mowing. Not only does it stimulate my brain, it makes the minutes tick by much faster. Plus, I’m grateful that as an adult I have options and can choose how I consume text with no fear of being told that I’m not really “reading” if I consume or read an audiobook auditorily.

Have you ever taken a minute to reflect on how you prefer to access and consume text for comprehension and recall? Some questions to ask yourself.
  1. Do you consume text in different ways? What about your students?

  2. Have you investigated ways to ensure your students have equitable access to grade level text using a method(s) that provides them with an optimal opportunity to consume text for comprehension and recall, especially if they struggle to decode text visually?

  3. Have you ever limited a student’s choice of text only because you believe that their struggle to decode it with their eyes means that they can’t glean any meaning from or find joy in it?

It wouldn’t be fair if I asked you to reflect upon those questions without doing so myself. Though hard to admit, I’d have to answer yes to the latter question during my time in the classroom. My students could only choose library books to read for pleasure from within their prescribed reading level as designated by the STAR program. Ugh, what was I thinking? With the knowledge that I have now, this dreadful strategy likely only caused embarrassment for students that were reading below grade level and barriers to texts that, if offered in an alternate format, could have stimulated imaginations, told meaningful stories, and sparked a love for text.

Young student wearing headphones and reading a textbook auditorily
After reflecting upon your text consumption preferences and the opportunities that have been afforded to your previous students, how might you change what it means to consume or read text for comprehension and recall in your classroom this year? 

If you desire to make some changes in your comprehension instruction this year but need some support or ideas, reach out to a PATINS Specialist! We are here and ready to work together to ensure each and every student has the opportunity to receive and interpret text for meaning, which is really why we want students to be able to read in the first place, right? 

Are all text consumption methods created equally? Share your opinion in this one-question survey (opens new window)!

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May
28

That’s a Wrap! What’s Next?


IMG 2985

The school year is wrapping up for my children. The hustle and bustle of the end of the school year is an exciting and stressful time for many of us. As we consider the growth and successes of the school year, it is great to also regroup and plan for what is next. One hopes that the skills they have learned up to this point, will prepare them for the next season. 

My oldest son is graduating from high school next week. I am an admittedly proud and grateful mom. The journey from preschool to high school has been so quick and yet so long. We have had no less than one or two yearly IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings since he turned 3 years old. He has had numerous goals met, triumphs, and a few failures as well, but he was steadily learning. It took a village of caring adults to teach and encourage him along the way. We worked so hard at home to make sure he had everything he needed. He had many services for years including occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, special education, instructional assistants, counselors, assistive technology supports, and other service providers along the way. When I say he had a village, I truly mean it! As soon as he gained more skills and became independent, some services were discontinued and new ones were added when we realized there was a new area for improvement. We all worked together and that teamwork is about to pay off. As he wraps up his K-12 career, he looks toward college now.

With one season ending for him, a new season of life is beginning. As we make the transition to summer and prepare to go to college, I hope he remembers what the village has taught him thus far and he will continue to advocate for himself. One part of the village has been the PATINS Project for Assistive Technology support for his providers. As the transitions continue for my children, I am grateful for the village that ensures student success through the educational process. Here's to the next season and new adventures!

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May
04

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

This week's blog is brought to us by our guest blogger and Language First founder, Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL. Kimberly's biography is at the bottom of this blog. 

Educational interpreters are an important part of the educational team and their work in providing language accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students is critical. However, it’s important for school districts contemplating hiring an American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreter for their DHH student(s) to consider a few vital factors. First, what is the language level of the DHH student? If the student has strong signed language skills, they may benefit from having the academic information interpreted into a visual language. If, however, the student has strong oral language skills and minimal signed language skills, then perhaps there needs to be a discussion as to the ultimate goal of having an educational interpreter in the classroom. If the goal is for the student to learn some ASL, then simply being provided an interpreter will not help them acquire a new language. Educational interpreters do not provide language instruction, and it would not be fair to expect the DHH student to attempt to acquire a new language while simultaneously trying to take in academic information. Additionally, having information interpreted into a language they barely know will likely be unhelpful. 

Most crucially, if the student has minimal signed language skills and minimal oral language skills, an interpreter may not be beneficial. In fact, providing an educational interpreter to a DHH child with no complete first language may be more harmful than helpful. As Caselli et al. (2020) assert, there is no evidence that DHH children with language deprivation can overcome their language difficulties from a single language model, even if that model is fluent in the language. School-aged DHH children without fluency in any language will not be able to simply acquire a signed language from an educational interpreter. Rather, they need intensive and purposeful language intervention in their most accessible language as well as plenty of language models and same-language peers with which to interact.

Another important consideration is the skill level of the educational interpreter. In a study by Schick et al. (2005), the authors found that 60% of the interpreters evaluated did not have the skill level necessary to provide DHH students with full access to the curriculum. This may be a result of state-by-state variation in requirements for interpreter skill levels. Many states don’t have standard requirements for educational interpreters, while others have standards that are gravely below the needs of DHH students (National Association of Interpreters in Education, 2021). Thus, it is critical that the school properly vet ASL-English interpreters who may be working with their students by ensuring they have an objective measure of adequate skill level. 

This is vital for a few reasons. First, interpreters themselves may not be able to accurately estimate their skills. This is due to a human cognitive fallacy called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or the tendency for less-skilled individuals to rate themselves as highly skilled, and highly skilled individuals to rate themselves as less skilled. Indeed, Fitzmaurice (2020) found that the least skilled interpreters overestimated their skills, while the most skilled interpreters underestimated their skills. Therefore, a score on a standardized test like the Educational Interpreter Proficiency Assessment (EIPA) can be helpful in offering a more objective evaluation of an interpreter’s skills. Second, less skilled interpreters are less accurately interpreting information for their DHH students (Schick et al., 2005). The lower the percentage of accurately interpreted information, the less access DHH students are getting to academic content. Indeed, Schick et al. (1999) found that “many deaf children receive an interpretation of classroom discourse that many distort and inadequately represent the information being communicated” (p. 144).

Our DHH students need and deserve 100% access to academic information at all times, just like their hearing peers. It is our responsibility to ensure that a.) the student is a good candidate for an educational interpreter (if they are not, other educational placements should be discussed), and b.) that interpreter is highly qualified to provide full language access.

References:

Caselli, N. C., Hall, W. C., & Henner, J. (2020). American Sign Language interpreters in public schools: An illusion of inclusion that perpetuates language deprivation. Maternal and Child Health Journal.  

Fitzmaurice, S. (2020). Educational interpreters and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Journal of Interpretation, 28(2).

National Association of Interpreters in Education (2021). State Requirements for EducationalInterpreters. https://naiedu.org/state-standards/

Schick, B., Williams, K., & Kupermintz, H. (2005). Look who’s being left behind: Educational interpreters and access to education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3-20.

Schick, B., Williams, K., Bolster, L. (1999). Skill levels of educational interpreters working in public schools. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(2), 144-155.


Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL


Kim is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who is committed to educating parents and professionals on the neurological effects of a late or incomplete first language acquisition for Deaf and hard of hearing children. She received her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Gallaudet University in 2012 and is a board-certified specialist in child language (BCS-CL) through the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders.

Kim is also the founder of Language First. Language First aims to educate and raise awareness about American Sign Language (ASL)/English bilingualism and the importance of a strong first language foundation for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. You can find more information on Language First social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and website.

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Mar
24

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person!

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person! Teacher and student smiling at one another. Tech Expo 2022 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. April 14, Carmel IN.

Almost one year to the date, I wrote the blog “PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!” about our second virtual Tech Expo. Fortunately, we are back 100% in-person in Carmel, Indiana for PATINS Tech Expo 2022. We are excited to partner with IN*SOURCE for the fifth time!! It’s quite apparent over 400 of you are looking forward to hands-on time with assistive technology, face-to-face conversations with resource organizations, and fun and networking too!

The presentation schedule has been set with 20 excellent sessions from knowledgeable experts, including representatives from Apple, Don Johnston, Inc (makers of Snap&Read, Co:Writer, uPar), Texthelp, Microsoft, and many more! All sessions will show you how to boost accessibility in your classroom without adding more to your plate and provide valuable information to share with parents/families about their child’s future. Nearly all presentations tie into a big topic for educators - literacy!

In addition to the presentations, there are over 40 exhibitors available throughout the day! They will answer your questions, provide resources for supporting Indiana students both in and out of the classroom, and introduce you to their transformational products and services. Attendees will not want to miss the live Exhibit Hall to find out how to win educational door prizes from our generous donors!

Check out the presentation Schedule-At-A-Glance and Exhibit Hall List now.

There is still plenty of time in the school year to make an impact on that one student who needs better access to communicate, read, write, and/or socialize. Tech Expo 2022 is the spot to find your a-ha solutions.

Only two week’s left to register for a no-cost ticket. This includes free parking and complimentary breakfast and lunch, plus you can earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)/Contact Hours for attending.

I hope to see you on April 14 in Carmel, IN!


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Mar
09

"There is No Cure for Autism:" A Mother’s Journey with Her Son


Photo of Daniel with student Dylan back in the year 2001

Audio version of this blog
 (8 minutes 35 seconds)


Derek would scratch, hit, scream, and was unable to remain still for more than a fraction of a second at a time. It was May of 2000. It was 22 short years ago and it was the beginning of an experience that would shape the next two decades of both my professional and personal lives and would help to continually reignite the passion in me to keep going in this challenging educational work, year after year. 

I was still an undergrad at Purdue and my side-jobs as a paraprofessional, respite worker, camp counselor, and Big Brothers volunteer all had me so frustrated in the missed potential I perceived in many of the older students and adults I worked with, that I quit all of my part-time jobs and started a behavioral consulting service for young children on the autism spectrum. One of my very first clients was Lianna, the loving, smart, determined, caring, patient, and strong mother of Derek. It is with great honor that I welcome Lianna as my guest blogger this week who graciously shares a portion of her journey! 

Young Derek holding a purple stuff bear
Things were normal until just after he turned two years old. He started displaying some odd behaviors, like staring at his hands and flapping them. If he didn't recognize a person, he would start screaming until the person left. When his dad took off his eyeglasses, Derek would start screaming and it would take a considerable amount of time for him to settle again. There were a lot of behavioral issues, including scratching himself and hitting his siblings because he still couldn't talk. I thought he was just a late talker, and I expressed my concern to his pediatrician, who gave us a referral to a neurologist. At the next doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician gave us the diagnosis of “Severe Autism with Mental Retardation.” That was 1998 and I had never heard of autism before, so I asked his pediatrician what the cure for it was. With a sad face, I remembered what he said to me vividly: “Mrs. Dawson, there is no cure for autism, you have to prepare yourself that your son might live in an institution because he will be hard to handle for you later on.” That was the last time we saw his pediatrician or any doctor.

I immersed myself in finding a cure or at least, how to help improve my son’s berserk behavior. I lived and breathed autism. The Barnes and Noble bookstore became our favorite place to visit until I stumbled upon one particular book on behavior intervention for young children with autism. That book became my bible. Luckily, we lived one town away from Purdue University and I put an ad in the Purdue Exponent newspaper. I started hiring Purdue University Special Education pre-service teachers and Speech, Occupational Therapy, and art students. This is when I met Daniel McNulty, a special-education pre-service student, along with some other bright students who were willing to make a difference in Derek’s life. Daniel McNulty facilitated the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) with Derek when ABA was not even known or accepted in a school setting. It is not easy to implement, especially with a child who lives his own little world. Pulling him out of that world and his autism-related behaviors, I pictured was like pulling him out of a darkness filled with repetitive and odd behaviors. This was not an easy task for Daniel McNulty or for myself. Daniel seemed a miracle worker, rewarding Derek’s positive behavior with popcorn and other tangible items that Derek preferred at the time. He started sitting at the table and doing the short tasks that he was prompted to do, starting with things like clapping his hands, pointing to letter sounds of the alphabet, and identifying colors.

It was a long, dark, difficult road ahead, full of twists and turns. I was a desperate mother who was desperate to give my son the best chances in life that I could! I integrated different approaches, as to not leave any stone unturned. Applied Behavioral Analysis, Auditory Integration training, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and Gluten-free and Casein-free diet. Following his diagnosis, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor who did some biofeedback along with lots of vitamin therapy. It turned out that Daniel McNulty accepted a classroom teaching position in the school corporation that would be where Derek attended Kindergarten through 12th grade, which meant that Daniel wrote Derek's Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and ensured that the appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies were in place! This also meant that Derek never had the same sort of summer vacation as many other kids. His school sent a teacher to our house all summer long for extended school year services to help compensate for the lack of progress during the school year. We were very lucky to be living in a good school district that wanted the best for Derek, as we did. 

Derek standing in wrestling stance, facing an opponent in high school wrestling

Fast-forwarding through substantial behavioral therapies and other educational services, and never-ending hope, high expectations, and perseverance; Derek graduated last year with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology at the age of 24 from one of the best engineering schools in the country, Purdue University. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but somehow, we managed to get through them, one by one, and to conquer that uphill battle. I always told Derek that he was a warrior and I called him Victor. From the background, in the stands, I always cheered him on with “Go, Victor!” I'm sure some people thought I must have had two sons out there! Derek always asked me why I called him Victor, especially when he was wrestling (his favorite sport, which he was great at, and perhaps channeled some of his aggression onto the mat). I told him I called him Victor because he is my warrior and while this road is full of barriers, he will be victorious. I told him he is one in a million and he is very lucky, that not all kids with autism are afforded the opportunity to overcome their challenges and function independently as he does. I thank God, that I met his angels like Daniel McNulty, Shelly K., and Betty R., who introduced me to a holistic approach to autism. Without these people who helped pulled him out of the dark, he probably wouldn’t be living independently now. 

Derek sitting in Purdue University cap and gownDerek standing in front of a massive Caterpillar dump truck
Autism is not a life sentence as I once thought it to be and as our pediatrician made it out to be. It may not be an easy journey and there will be times of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but those make the victories that much sweeter as well. Derek is now working in engineering for Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, and lives independently out of state! When I talk to Derek on the phone now, he complains that he has a lot of meetings and big projects at work. I just smile in deep gratitude for that, and in my mind, I scream, "yes, Victor!

Derek standing with his mom, Lianna, in front of the Purdue Engineering fountain
For all the parents, family members, and educators that are a part of the critical team supporting a "Victor," do not give up. You are probably the strongest advocate and the biggest voice for your children. There is hope!  Derek is the living proof of it. Seek out resources and help, as it's out there for you! Search for Daniel McNultys, the Shelly K's, the Betty R's, and the many tools and resources that are available through organizations like PATINS

Derek's IEPs always included accommodations for text-to-speech (TTS), word-prediction, graphic organizers, reduced verbal instructions, extra time, and additional non-verbal prompts when needed, and others! While some people viewed these accommodations as "cheating" or "lowering expectations," Derek's amazing success as a young adult and highly productive professional member of society is proof that these accommodations actually facilitated setting and achieving incredibly high expectations for a once young, non-verbal, physically aggressive child who was not able to focus!" 


PATINS
1. Lending Library of Assistive Technology 
2. Training and Professional Development Specialists
3. AEMing for Achievement Grant (Open now, Closes May 30th)
4. Statewide Conferences in November and April (Tech Expo Registration Open Now) 


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Feb
27

The Lenses Adjust The View

Photo collage of four pairs of glasses:  paper 3D, yellow lenses in reading glasses, round rimmed glasses and safety glasses


This week I was reminded that the lenses one looks through, adjust your view. Each year, I visit the optometrist to check my eye health and see if the vision in my eyes has changed any in the last year. The results are typically one of 3 things: 

  1. Vision unchanged and no new prescription
  2. Vision improved, new prescription needed
  3. Vision worsened, new prescription needed

I could even consider new or colored contacts, at this annual visit, which adds another type of lens to consider after my annual check up!

While watching a photographer/videographer friend’s YouTube channel, as he was showcasing a Stream Deck for streaming and productivity, I realized the lens I viewed this equipment with had changed over time. Originally, I used a Stream Deck with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) for live streaming, for projects unrelated to school based therapy. Then, I moved to the option of using shortcuts to allow a student to press one button and land on the page they needed during instruction, rather than typing out the most common web pages she needed in class.

After viewing my friend’s video, I am reminded of all the options that are available for productivity and shortcuts that can be set up with a Stream Deck by Elgato. Using a device as the manufacturer intended is great, but what if it can be used to increase productivity or increase access to a student’s curriculum? One tip he reminded me of was that one can set up a group of websites that will launch in one window. Another is that a user can have a direct link to their storage drive or email that would allow the student to already be logged in. As an educator or therapist, do you have students that shortcuts like this would work well for? 

I am thankful for a different lens to view this valuable technology! The PATINS Project Lending Library has both a Stream Deck 15 and a mini available for loan, along with thousands of other resources to help Indiana’s students. Indiana’s educators are able to check out resources for a 6 week loan to gather data and see if the tool is a good fit for the student’s needs.

Myself or any of our PATINS Specialists are available to assist with set up and training for use of a Stream Deck, or any other Lending Library loan that an Indiana educator would like to trial as Assistive Technology or use the view of the Universal Design for Learning lens. Reach out to us today!

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Feb
03

Creating Accessible Learning Environments for All—Questions That Can Guide Our Design

This week I would like to introduce guest blogger, Matt Brenner, District Technology Coach for Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) and SACS AEMing for Achievement grant team member. Each year as part of the grant process, all the teams meet in January to share positive outcomes thus far and goals for the remainder of the year. As the representative for his team, Matt shared four guiding questions they are using to drive their team's and district's discussion on accessibility. Because many other teams were finding the use of these guiding questions to be insightful and inspiring during the meeting, I'm grateful and excited that he agreed to share the four questions in this blog just for you!


Educators have always believed that variability exists between learners, yet our instructional practices do not always address this belief. While this gap between our educational beliefs and our practices was already worthy of attention prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a renewed awareness of it because of the many struggles students, educators, and families experienced during the past two years. These common struggles have created an opportunity for us to re-examine our beliefs, continue to ask questions about our instructional practices, and work together to determine how to make learning more accessible to all students.

Making learning accessible for all is the goal of educators. While accessibility is a simple concept in theory, it can become more complicated as it is put into practice. We need to acknowledge its complexity by modeling the practice of asking questions to gain a better understanding and to frame our conversations about accessibility. This will lead to logical, purposeful, and well-intended discourse to occur and to better outcomes for all of our learners. Let’s explore what questions we can use to guide our conversations around accessibility.

Four Fundamental Questions About Accessibility

  1. To whom are our learning environments truly accessible? A learning environment includes more than just the physical space of a classroom. We need to expand our understanding of both where learning can take place and what needs to be available for learning to take place. A learning environment includes the physical location of the learning, the resources and curriculum available to the students, and the lesson design. Let’s quickly examine a typical curriculum or lesson materials. Most curriculum and educational materials are designed and developed to address the needs of the so-called ‘average student’ and the ‘average brain.’ Through modern educational neuroscience, we have learned that there is no average student, nor is there an average brain. But because the majority of our curriculum and instructional practices are implemented through this lens of designing for ‘the average,’ we unintentionally make learning inaccessible by placing barriers within our environments.  This means that for many of our learners, much of their learning is not accessible because of a barrier that was inadvertently placed within the lesson design. For example, we may introduce a concept to a student and assume that they have the background knowledge necessary to become (and remain) engaged throughout the entire lesson. However, their lack of background knowledge to the topic is actually a barrier to them engaging in the lesson. To reduce that barrier, a teacher can activate or supply background knowledge through providing visuals, demonstrations, or models. By doing so, that barrier has been reduced and students are more likely to engage and persist in their learning. We need to acknowledge that the barriers to learning are not within the learner, but in how the learning environment is designed.

  2. Under what conditions are they truly accessible? Educational neuroscience has also made clear that learners do not have one global, or fixed, learning profile. Instead, they have jagged learning profiles that may shift depending on a variety of factors. Context truly makes a difference. Simply put, what may be accessible to one type of learner in one setting may be inaccessible to the same learner in a different setting. We need to be mindful of this reality as we consider the accessibility of our learning environments. We can design for variability within our learning environment by embracing flexibility in our design. Flexible resources and tools can be used in several different ways to express understanding over the same information. For example, flexible resources are used within a learning environment when a teacher allows students to use a resource in a way that is meaningful to the student rather than requiring the resource to be used in a specific, predetermined way. Based on its inherent flexibility, technology can also offer opportunities for students to make their learning more accessible, regardless of their context. As an educator, it is not as important to know why a particular student would need to experience this level of flexibility; it is more important to offer the flexibility to all your students based on our classroom’s variability and jagged learning profiles so that they can all have access to their learning.

  3. What if we saw accessibility as the ‘main course’ of our design decisions instead of the ‘leftovers?’ Accessibility is often discussed through the reactive response of special education versus the more proactive approach of general education. General education teachers may see it as “one more thing” to worry about or that “we do not have time to worry about making everything accessible.” These are natural responses given educators’ heavy workload and limited time. However, when taking a more proactive approach in our design, we usually discover that “What is essential for some, is useful for all.” If we did a little digging, we would find that there is an inherent, common, and yet incorrect assumption that “general education students” learn similarly to each other. Based on educational neuroscience, we know that is not true because of learner variability. Because of the variability that exists within the “general education” population, there are likely students that could benefit from greater accessibility. By increasing access for our specialized populations, we are actually increasing usability for everyone because so many hidden learning barriers exist in our student population. This subtle, yet profound shift in our design has tremendous implications in improving learning outcomes for all. Accessibility should not be viewed as “one more thing,” it should be viewed as “the thing.” It should be our SWAG…the stuff we all get.

  4. What if we viewed greater accessibility as an opportunity for us to raise the bar for all learners instead of lowering it? As educators, our goal is not simply to make information accessible to all learners, but to make learning more accessible. Accessibility is not about lowering expectations, in fact it is the opposite. When we make learning more accessible, that means we are providing learning materials, tools, and environments that make it possible for all students to be challenged to their fullest extent. This is accomplished by allowing students to choose flexible tools within their learning environment that are meaningful to them to express their understanding of the teacher’s learning goals. This will provide students with the opportunity to truly demonstrate what they know within a learning environment with fewer barriers in it. It is essential to know our students, their learning profiles, and our instructional goals so that we can determine when to provide support and when to challenge them. With this mindset, balance, and alignment, we can continue to raise the bar for all of our students by making their learning more accessible.

There is no doubt that every learner learns differently and has different needs. Educators will continue to search for instructional practices that will enhance their ability to reach all learners. As educators we can proactively address those needs by adopting a mindset focused on making our learning environments more accessible to all. If we do this, we will discover and unlock the potential of all our learners.

Resources:

Nelson, Loui Lord. Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning. Brookes Publishing Co, 2021.

Ralabate, Patti. Your UDL Lesson Planner: The Step-by-Step Guide for Teaching All Learners. Brookes Publishing, 2016.

Rose, David H., et al. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002.

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Jan
19

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

20220120-004655frog-dissection-and-iPad-Pro A student with blue plastic gloves completes a frog dissection using an iPad to enlarge her view of the task.

Once upon a time there was a girl in middle school. She was like every other middle school girl, in that she wanted to succeed in school. She was also like every other middle school girl who wants to be noticed but is painfully averse to being singled out. 

Her inner heart cried out, “Look at me!” and “Everyone is staring at me!” at the same time. 

This fairy tale intro is one that I’ve heard throughout my years as both a PATINS specialist and a teacher for the blind before that. Adolescence is hard. Needing to use large print books that don’t fit in a backpack and using a magnifying device to see the board makes it harder. 

Most of the students I’ve worked with have been able to move past the “everyone is watching me” mindset. Once I got a teen girl to use her magnifier because she had a cute student teacher and she could see him in hunky detail with it. Another teen girl used the technology for some mean girl antics, inviting a peer to her desk and zooming in on other peers to make fun of them. This made me cry, not because she misbehaved, but because it was so normal. When you have a disability, feeling normal can be a luxury.

The advent of one to one devices and built in accessibility has been a game changer for all folks with low vision, and especially for the teenage folks feeling all the feels. Now students are able to get digital texts delivered to their devices through the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) and facilitated by their district’s Digital Rights Manager (DRM). And whatever is projected onto the board at the front of the room can be sent electronically to the student’s device. 

All of the platforms continue to race like a fairy tale hero on horseback to outdo each other with built in accessibility features like enlarged/bold format, enlarged mouse/cursor, special color filters for folks with color blindness, and many ways to have text converted to speech with more and more human-sounding voices

I received the cover photo for this blog from one of our stakeholders of an 8th grade girl using an iPad Pro clamped in a stand to enlarge her frog dissection in science class. She wrote, “In observing her during the frog dissection lab it was evident that her confidence and efficiency with the task grew using the tablet clamped to her lab table.” She went on to describe how the student took the lead in the dissection where before she would have been dependent on the partner to report observations. 

This also made me cry because 

  1. A CONFIDENT adolescent is more beautiful than any Disney Princess. 
  2. When I was a science teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind from 1996 - 2000 all we could do was buy the extra jumbo frogs from Carolina Biological Supply. 

This student and many others are benefitting tremendously from new technology. Here’s to their continued success and just the right amount of getting in trouble so that they can live happily ever after. 

Masked female student looking at a frog dissection through an iPad Pro


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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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Dec
01

Small Steps, Big Gains

Screen-Shot-2021-12-01-at-12.35.23-PM creek with stepping stones

QR code to audio versions
QR Code to Audio Version

Artist Name - big-steps.mp3


Have you ever come upon a creek and need to get to the otherside? You think if you make a good run and jump, you can make it. I have done this more times than I can even count. I have made it a few times. However, splash! Your foot lands into the water and soaks through your shoes. You were so close! Now you walk away with soggy feet and potentially miserable for the rest of your journey. 

Now, think about the times when you come across a creek and someone before you has already set out the rocks or logs for you to walk on to get across. Perhaps you find them yourself and make a path on the water. You take your time, hold out your arms for balance and slowly make your way, really thinking of the strategy to make it across without falling into the water. Some of the rocks may have seemed unbalanced but you kept going even if nervous. Maybe you have someone on the other side who reached out their hand for that last jump across. You make it! You celebrate.

Yes, attempting to make the jump seems like a quicker way to get across. However, it is the steps you put down to slowly make your way and perhaps leave steps behind for others that is the most consistent. 

ladder with big steps and a ladder with tiny steps

Steps we need... 

As a PATINS Specialist, I have the honor to work with specific school districts who are recipients of our AEMing for Achievement Grant. Through this grant, school districts assemble a team to develop a sustainable system for the acquisition of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for their students in a timely manner. They are essentially creating a path, much like the rocks and logs, so that all of their teachers can get across and know how to ensure that all of their students receive their needed accommodations. They are setting the groundwork for current and new staff to know the why and how of AEM. Building those steps is key for long term success. 

More steps needed…

Students who qualify for AEM, assistive technology is often an element for access. Which also means there is a need for implementation of new accommodations for students. This could be new assistive technology, new schedules, new devices, new strategies, etc. Oftentimes we get so excited for our students to succeed, we hand over new ways so they can quickly jump into the new...when in reality, it is the steps between that will bring potential proficiency and consistency. Not to mention, those steps create opportunities for our students to succeed. These are all skills that need to be taught. It can be the difference between students embracing their support for learning and students who get frustrated and give up. 

Does your school district have accessibility and AEM policies and procedures in place? If so, do you know where to find them? If you are unsure, have you asked? Do you know what a Digital Rights Manager (DRM) is? Do you know who your DRM is in your district? Are your students receiving accessible materials in a timely manner? Are you intentionally teaching your students how to use their assistive technology accommodations? 

PATINS-ICAM staff can certainly assist you in developing those essential steps to support all of your students. We can help ensure that accessibility is in the forefront from start to finish… Contact us

door opening to stairs

While hoping you have superhero jump strength to jump across any barrier you may cross sounds pretty awesome, it’s when you lay out those tiny steps that can get you to the other side more consistently. A little more work upfront can alleviate so many unnecessary barriers for our students. Our students deserve it. 

While I have zero doubt we will end up with a few more soggy shoes in the future, let’s just be mindful that we will always make sure that those behind us can get across. 

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Sep
10

Perception, Least Restrictive Environment, and Changing A Culture

As humans, we tend to perceive the things we’re already looking for. …the things that we are expecting to see, the sounds we are expecting to hear, and the things we are expecting to feel.

Executive functions refer to brain activities that regulate or control cognitive and behavioral processes. It’s responsible for initiating, organizing, and prioritizing what we think about. Subsequently, what we think about is what we tend to perceive. Knowing, understanding, and being aware of this has huge potential implications for nearly everything in our daily lives, including how we teach, how we learn, and the expectations we have for others’ learning.

When teaching new motorcyclists the fundamentals of controlling a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time, safety is up the utmost concern! We actually begin with this very concept of perception. For example, total braking distance is determined by first perceiving that there is a threat, second by reacting to it, and finally by the actual physics involved in stopping the motorcycle. The perception part is overtly critical in whether or not this process will be successful! In that regard, much time and effort is focused on demonstrating how perception improves drastically if the brain has a priority (safety, threats, escape paths). The idea is to see everything but pull out the most significant factors in that moment, quickly, to be processed and reacted to!

Do you see the rabbit or do you see the duck? Both? 

Image of a drawing that can be perceived as a duck or a rabbit

If you only see one or the other, your brain has likely been conditioned, for whatever reason, to search for and perceive that particular animal over the other one. The really cool thing, however, is that you can reshape this! You can train your brain to perceive the other animal and once you do, you won't be able to NOT see them both from that point on! You might also check out this auditory and video version of the old duck/rabbit drawing on YouTube. 

Clearly, this becomes very important as a motorcyclist is scanning the road ahead, traffic to the sides and to the rear in the rider's mirrors. The more potential threats and potential escape paths that the rider is able to perceive quickly, the greater any risk becomes offset by skill and awareness. Personally, I work very hard at getting better at this, both on a motorcycle and in education in general! 

Getting better at perceiving things more deeply and/or in differing ways isn't easy. It requires deliberate focus, continued effort, and dedication. I wonder, a lot, how often we let our initial perceptions about learners settle as our only perceptions about them. For now, let's allow the rabbit to represent the more limiting or negative parts of what we perceive and the duck to represent the other parts that we're not perceiving, yet. 

Back in February of 2019, I wrote about an experience very much related to this, concerning a colleague I was traveling with and the difficulties she was forced to deal with as a result of initial perceptions. How often do we experience a student's IEP and gain a perception that we stick with and subconsciously allow to set the cap on our expectations for that learner? How often do we witness a student in the hallway making a poor decision, or hearsay from a previous teacher, etc., and allow the same thing to occur?

Even further back in June of 2017, I wrote about myself as a younger student and the way I was perceived by many of my teachers. Perceptions that guided what they felt I should be doing differently...how I needed to change...perceptions that clouded them from noticing that I loved to compose, that I loved to draw, that I loved music, that I love motorcycles even then! They just saw the rabbit! I wanted them to see the duck too!

More recently, I've been heard a lot about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and student proficiency. Both of which are highly important factors for consideration in schools! When learners are perceived as one thing, solely by their disability category, their inability to speak using their mouth, or their need to receive information in specialized or accessible formats, for example, they often get placed in more restrictive environments! When this sort of thing happens more than once, a trend begins to form. When that trend isn't deliberately, and sometimes uncomfortably stopped, a culture begins to form. ...a culture of, "this is just the way we do things here," or "we just don't have the resources here to do it differently." When that sort of culture has formed in a place, it really means, "we've decided we're satisfied with only seeing the rabbit, we just can't see the duck in there." This sort of mentality becomes very difficult to change. It requires the strongest, most tenacious, and wise parts of a place, to change.

This involves the combining of one's perception and their brain's executive functions. In other words, if a person maintains the priority to actively seek out certain things within a space or environment, the senses and the mind can process them very quickly and accurately. If an educator WANTS to perceive the capabilities of a learner or the ability to see the duck, they usually will have to seek out training, discussion, debate, mentorship, and collaboration!

This is where organizations like PATINS are so valuable to Indiana's public education. It takes trust, which is built over time! Encouragement, which has to be genuine and timely! Accessiblity and adaptability, which require great skill and practice! All active participants, which takes planning and patience. ...and Goal-oriented experiences, which are purposeful and requires great focus. Those 5 pillars represent, construct, and support everything that the PATINS staff builds, shares, creates, and offers to Indiana public schools, at no-cost to them! The offerings from this PATINS team are no accident! Through hundreds of combined years of experience and genuine passion for inclusivity and progress, we're here for you, Indiana. Reach out to us!! Come to our 2021 Virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now! Sign up for one of our Specialist's MANY GREAT no-cost trainings

Allow yourself to acknowledge that you, maybe, aren't always perceiving the "duck." Possess a desire to perceive more than just the "rabbit," because you trust that it's there. Reach out to others and request assistance in exploring a situation differently, focusing on different parts of it, and enjoy the process, as you begin to perceive so much more than you ever noticed before!

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Sep
02

No More Sticks & Stones

“Ya know, I do not think you are college material. I think your best route is to just find a job when you graduate,” said the educator to a student when asking for advice on how to apply for college.

Does this statement make you cringe? Does it make you upset? Has something like this ever been said to you in some capacity? How did you feel? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.Mad bitmoji imageMany of you have most likely heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For me, that is one of the most untrue statements. I feel like it's merely a way to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. Not only can words hurt, they can truly change the trajectory of one’s life. 

Fortunately, the student that I mentioned above had an excellent support system. While those words did hurt, he was able to use them as fuel to pursue college and graduate. Not all students are so fortunate. Many students have already felt that about themselves their whole school career and those words would only be a confirmation. It makes me wonder how many times that one educator said that to a student, and how many took it as truth and confirmation.

The way we interact and the words we choose with our students can impact their daily outlook, not only academically but behaviorally and socially. 

I work with many students who share with me that they do not want to go to school each day. They do not want to use accommodations they may need in fear of looking different than their peers. I get it. While I am not one of these students, I certainly have experiences that help me relate to those feelings. We can gather experiences of our own to perhaps attempt to be relatable. If we cannot, our students' reflections of themselves can be validated by simply saying, “I hear what you are saying and while I have not experienced that feeling, I believe that you feel that way.” This certainly would never be a chosen opportunity to lower the expectations that our students may have of themselves. 

The student who is yelling, “I hate my dyslexia” after he fails a test, does not need us to feel sorry for him and then lower the expectation of the assessment. He needs time spent helping him understand his dyslexia, making sure he has the accommodations that he needs with accessible instruction. He is the student who does not want to look different from his peers. How can we help him not feel different from his peers? We have conversations about learning differences with all of our students. We immerse ourselves in the principles of Universal Design for Learning and then implement. Need help? Reach out to us!  

Do not underestimate the power of your position as an educator. We are not in the business to “make or break” our students. We are in the business of meeting our students where they are, with high expectations and ensuring equitable opportunities for all, not just some. 

Teach your students how to be champions for themselves. Then, when someone says to your student, “Ya know, I don’t think you can do that.” Their response: “Wanna bet? Watch me.” Teach them how to always bet on themselves. That is always a win.
If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore.


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Aug
06

What is the Goal, Anyway?

What is the Goal, Anyway? What is the Goal, Anyway?

I have two sons in lower elementary grades. They started their 2021-22 school year on July 26 this year. I have to brag about their teachers this year! 

Allow me to give some context to what I am going to share about these amazing educators. Something that we learned from the last year and a half is to give grace and be flexible with everyone. We did this because we all felt the weight of what was going on. Though, typically, we need to remind ourselves that we don't know what others are going through and to take a deep breath and allow for some grace and give people the benefit of the doubt. Over the past 18 months and for what felt like the first time, we all realized that we needed to allow for grace and kindness because we were all experiencing, dare I say it, the pandemic. together. 

Ok, now onto celebrating a positive with the aftermath of the pandemic. My boys came home this week with homework packets. We usually meet our nightly homework with whining and not-so-kind words. Most of the time, I think this is true because my boys have difficulty with reading on their own (they both have IEPs), and they can not wait to relax at home after working so hard all day at school. However, homework seems like it's going to be different this year. But why?

Their teachers have extended grace and flexibility with this year’s homework. The homework has great and clear expectations and for the first time, there is breathing room on the due dates and built-in choice. The homework gets sent home at the beginning of the week on Monday and isn’t due until the following Monday.

 As a mother, I am thrilled that we get to have the weekend in case we get too busy during the week. We also know exactly what will be expected of us for the whole week so we can plan accordingly due to the boys' participation in a lot of activities including private tutoring, swimming, hockey, and scouts, just to name a few! 

Another reason why I am so thrilled is the choice and options that are built-in. The boys need to read for a minimum of 60 minutes per week, however, the teachers understand that the reading does not have to be all with the student’s eyes or traditional reading. They built-in choice with options ranging from students reading printed and digital text with their eyes, reading auditory formats through MyOn on their school laptops or through Audible or eBooks on their tablets, and/or parents and other families reading to them. 

After all, what is the goal of reading 60 minutes at home a week? 

What I think we are achieving with this flexible format and giving choice is:

  • Building habits of taking time to read at home
  • Being able to answer questions and discuss what we have read
  • Developing a love of books and reading 
  • Decoding and fluency practice (which isn’t always the only goal!)
  • Building vocabulary
  • others?

Because choice and flexibility were built into this weekly assignment, the boys have embraced that they just need to do a little each day and it's ok if we need to miss a day. We are actually getting the homework done without the tears and frustration of past years. This makes my education-loving heart so happy. 

I have been blown away by the results from this past week. The flexibility of choice of format of reading is making all of the difference for my boys. One day they chose to read 10 pages with their eyes for 10 minutes, and the next day they picked a chapter book on MyOn and read 80+ pages with their ears for 25+ minutes. Regardless of the type of reading, the results were the same - answering questions on their reading log each day. Also, we are achieving my goal, a love for reading! 

This leads me to a question for you all… What is your understanding of the definition of reading/literacy? Check out my colleague, Jena Fahlbush's blog on ways to consume or read text and share your thoughts on options for reading in the one-question survey at the end!

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Jul
21

Making Room for Eureka!

Light bulb with lights inside that look like fireflies

How is your summer going? My kids’ preschool teacher, Mrs. Callahan used to look for scrapes and bug bites to determine if the kids were having a good one--evidence that they were getting outside and having fun. 

After a year plus of COVID griefs, fears and stress, I’m thinking we Indiana educators may need a different measure than how many boxes of bandaids we’ve purchased to determine the quality of our summer. The bumps and bruises on our psyche are evident and it’s time to stay off of the monkey bars for a day or two.

My turn to write the blog for PATINS staff is coinciding with a vacation to Lake Michigan. Our plan was to:

1. Find a place close to the beach.
2. Stare out at the waves.
3. Resist the urge to make other plans

So far, we’ve accomplished steps one and two, but step 3 was derailed by the fact that we forgot a couple of crucial items—I forgot my prescription and the teen girls forgot their bathing suits. So we’ve spent more time in CVS and Meijer than staring at the lake. One of the teens whose birthday is today started throwing up yesterday evening. Our rental is really nice so we may just huddle here with all of the chocolate that we somehow remembered to pack. (Update: she’s recovered on day 2!)

I do not wish a barfing teenager on you at all to force you to slow down, but I do hope that you are making room for some “nothing” time in your summer. Research shows that our brains need down time in order to reset and come up with new pathways. Rest is essential for creativity. I’ve been working on content for new trainings to present for this school year with my focused brain in the past few weeks, but this week I’m letting my diffuse brain take the jet ski handlebars and drive. 

I know when I return to my laptop next week, I'll revise with some fresh ideas.

Are you focusing on your return to the classroom this fall? Take some time to walk, meditate or just stare blankly. If you find yourself mopping a bathroom floor in the middle of the night, prepare yourself for the jolt of creativity that only comes when you make some room for eureka

If your idea keeps floating around and you need some help pinning it down, give one of our specialists a call. Check out our professional development guide or training calendar for opportunities to learn something new. Registration is open for our PATINS A2E state fall conference. At PATINS we strive to practice the UDL methods that we preach and encourage creativity and participation for a deeper learning experience.

We have a wonderful opportunity to frame this coming school year with all of the new strategies we’ve discovered through this challenging time. Join me and the PATINS staff in creating new opportunities for Indiana students.


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  613 Hits
Jul
06

Failing the Stranger Test

Failing the Stranger Test: a communication board, and IEP screen, a Speak and Spell Toy, and a red Failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death

My first year writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) an administrator coached me in “The Stranger Test.” I would argue it was one of the hardest ongoing writing assignments I will ever have: everything you ever learned in graduate school, all the jargon and technical language, hide it. Write and communicate in such a way that a stranger on the street would understand what you mean.

It’s important because in practice, failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death.

A student I got to work with for a few years had moved across the state. I got a friendly email from the new team asking if I could help them out. When I recognized the student, I asked about the  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools that he had been using at his previous  school.

“He has specific AAC tools? All the IEP says is that he gets ‘high and low tech AAC.’

What in the world could that mean?

  1. A picture of snack choices and an eye gaze controlled computer
  2. An alphabet board and an iPad with any random app.
  3. The cases of DVDs from his video collection and the Speak & Spell from my childhood.

All of those would satisfy the legal document. Yet none would match what this student had been using for years, the only way the team had figured out how to help him communicate what he wanted and gave him access to his education.

Why had the IEP been written in such a way that one of our most vulnerable students potentially lost all of his access to language? The most common answer I hear: “I was told not to name the exact brand/type of device in the Assistive Technology box.”

In the words of the greatest movie of 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean, the unwritten rule about not naming brands is “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Individually, with the case conference committee, consider what the student needs and be clear about the features. In some cases, one and only one specific language system or product may meet that student’s needs and it may need to be named. For other students, several options might be appropriate, and then it’s critical to name the features that make that tool successful for that student, and “high and low technology” is not professional vocabulary for a stranger test.

In other words: the language systems of Proloquo2Go and LAMP Words for Life are not interchangeable for many students. The language system that is only available in iOS is not often interchangeable for whatever language system that can be found on a Chromebook. They might both be “high tech AAC” but for many people it’s like exchanging German for Mandarin. That change move might mean the difference between being able to communicate pain, needs, and accessing education and not. It might mean the difference between life and death.

Of course, we at PATINS have nothing but good news:

If you need help, a friendly stranger for your stranger test, PATINS is here with Specialists to assist you in making sure that you accurately describe the features in the tools your team has trialed. If your student has outgrown those tools and you’re looking for something new, we are here for that too!

Also, I have created a list of common feature terminology used in Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools with descriptions of what they mean, a little study aid for your ongoing Stranger Tests.

The hardest writing assignment of your life, the one in which the futures of children rest in the words you choose, is a living, breathing group assignment. Don’t hesitate to reach out if PATINS can help.


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Jun
17

How Do I Get “Buy In”?

How Do I Get "Buy-In"? How Do I Get "Buy-in"? written on chalkboard with pencil, ruler, and chalk nearby.

“How do I get “buy in”?” It's a perennial question many educators ask throughout their careers. How do I get my student to try new assistive technology? How do I change mindsets to create universally designed lessons/environments? How do I encourage caregivers to model and provide a student’s communication device wherever they go?

Much of it boils down to creative marketing, or messaging from multiple sources/formats, and persistence. Here are a few ideas you can seamlessly incorporate into your day to day:

  1. Get your students on board. This has been a time tested proven strategy for me. When I introduced the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) to a class of middle schoolers, teachers were hesitant to adopt another tool. It was viewed as too much of a time commitment for something that may not work. What quickly convinced the teachers to “buy-in” was seeing how their students looked forward to our weekly EET writing sessions and when they independently requested an EET visual support for other writing assignments. The students enjoyed selecting their subject for writing and sharing their interests with the class. Ultimately, their teachers were convinced with impressive writing quality and quantity!
  2. Tie in real-life success stories. Sharing student success stories with your colleagues can help spark “a-ha” moments. If you need a bank of these to draw from PATINS has a playlist of success story videos showing students gaining tools to communicate, improving their literacy skills, and independently reaching higher academic success.
  3. Keep it top of mind. When introducing new tools or ideas, bring it up anytime there is an opening in the conversation. Staff meetings are a great time to connect your ideas to what teachers are already doing. Also, there are many creative ways to share the information such as hanging posters or filling bulletin boards in hallways or common areas for all to see research based strategies. You might even schedule a PATINS no-cost professional development session to help you demonstrate the importance of Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, and Universal Design for Learning.

While you may feel like a broken record for a little while, with creative marketing and persistence; eventually your efforts will pay off as colleagues and families “buy-in” after seeing the benefits for their students!

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May
05

P2: Power of Peers

P2: Power of Peers P2: Power of Peers

Oregon Trail taught me how fun and frustrating it would be to travel in the 1800s, Floppy Disks taught me how to transfer data from computer to computer, Moon Shoes were so neat, Gak Splat was a great game that I played with my brother, Trolls were one of my favorite toys, Nintendo 64 was ultimately better than PlayStation but made our thumbs sore, I learned that Carmen Sandigo was possible to catch, Mavis Beacon taught me how to type, but my peers taught me American Sign Language. 

My peers taught me another language, although they never were in my classroom. Instead, I was a peer that had the opportunity to visit the "hearing impaired classroom" now referred to as “deaf/hard of hearing or DHH classroom”. I would spend the morning with about five other students that used ASL and/or Spoken English to communicate. They had a dedicated teacher of the deaf with a dual license in speech-language pathology and instructional assistants in the room. I was a peer model in their classroom. I would participate in their morning meeting time, practice vocabulary, etc. 

One morning I was with a peer in the class play grocery store learning about shopping and grocery item vocabulary and money. The student I was with was upset due to communication barriers, he used ASL and wore hearing aids. I remember signing with him and all of a sudden it seemed that he started yelling and running around the room. I remember thinking “oh no! I upset him today!” I jumped up to let the teacher know what was occurring and he started to tell the teacher that he was so happy and excited. I remember thinking “what? What is he saying?”  

He was shouting that I was signing to him fully in ASL. He was excited that one of his peers was signing full sentences to him. I was communicating with him in a peer setting like kids typically do. However, he hadn’t experienced that until fifth grade. 

I am not sure where he is today. But that memory is something I think of often when I talk to school districts, educators, families about universal design and the power of peers being with their peers.  My peers changed and shaped my life and my career choice. My peers belonged in my fifth-grade classroom so they could change and shape every peer's life, not just the one peer model in their room. 

What types of programs are you seeing in your school district to ensure all students are with their peers?  If you have a program, research or tools to share consider putting in a proposal for the Access to Education State Conference! We would love to hear your story! Submit your proposal by May 14th

PATINS can help your staff and school teams with professional development in UDL and AEM. Join over 14 school districts next year with The AEMing for Achievement Grant in building your district’s UDL and AEM policy and procedures to ensure all students have access to grade-level curriculum and their peers! The grant application is open to apply now! 

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Mar
25

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates! Tech Expo PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. Virtual 2021. Students and teacher using assistive technology.

Around this time last year, you pivoted with us to the first ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE allowing us to ensure the health and safety of everyone, while also bringing you high quality presentations, resources, and time for connection. It still amazes me how quickly everyone -- attendees, presenters, PATINS/ICAM staff -- adapted for a successful event!

As I am currently writing this, a small part of me is waiting for the frantic rush to get everything into place for the second virtual PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE like last year. I have checked my to-do lists many times, communicated with presenters/exhibitors, and assigned duties to our top-notch PATINS/ICAM and IN*SOURCE staff. Everything is running on schedule and humming along nicely for April 15, 2021. (Knock on wood!) What’s left to do? Get excited!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE has new and improved features and extra perks for the virtual event! With a record number of presentation submissions, we have added 4 additional sessions from amazing organizations dedicated to support students. That’s 24 presentations to choose from to earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)! Due to popular demand, we have divided the sessions into strands to help you determine the best presentation agenda for you. The strands are:

  • Access
  • Advocacy and Social/Emotional Services
  • Communication
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Low Vision
  • Literacy
  • Tech Tools 

Your time is limited and valuable, which may make it tricky to choose only 4 sessions. Even if you are not sure if you can fully commit to attending live, we encourage you to register for no-cost to receive access to presentation/exhibitor information as well as presentation session summary videos for the opportunity to earn up to two more PGPs!

A major upgrade for the 2021 event is the opportunity for attendees to speak with exhibitors live! There are currently close to 50 organizations eager to share their transformational products and services with Indiana administrators, educators, pre-service teachers, families, and advocates. So even if you only have 10-15 minutes to drop in, visit the Exhibitors to learn about products and services which can support your students’ academic, communication, and social/emotional skills.

I hope to see your name come through on our registration list before April 12, 2021 when the form closes.

If you would like to start the Tech Expo 2021 celebrations early with us, download and use one of these free themed virtual backgrounds on your upcoming video conferencing meetings!


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