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Dec
12

The One Question I Ask All Students

What is the most interesting thing you learned?

Why is this the one question I ask all students? It seems simple at first, but this question alone has given me vivid insight into who my students are at their core while sneakily working on enhancing language skills. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Build rapport. Instead of relying on the "About Me" worksheets students fill out once in July or August, you can keep the lines of communication open between you and your students all year long. We all know what's cool one minute, is out the next anyways.

2. Work on skill deficits. With this one question alone, SLPs (and anyone working in the school) can help foster social skills, correct use of conjunctions, and expanding verbal/written sentence length. For social skills, students can work on turn taking, topic maintenance, asking follow up questions, perspective taking and reading nonverbal cues. For example, "What do you think X found interesting? How do you know?" If students answer with a simple sentence, you can use a visual of conjunctions to prompt them for more information. FANBOYS is always a favorite.

3. Find out what they've truly learned. Wait 10-15 minutes, a class period, or even a day and then ask what they found interesting from an earlier lesson. It may be a small detail you've glanced over that actually piqued their interest while they may have forgotten about information needed for the test. Now, you know what needs re-teaching.

4. Learn more about what engages them and use that information for future lessons. Students may reveal surprising interests such as loving opera music or a passion for tornado chasing. These are two real life interests brought up by my former students and you bet these were incorporated in more than one speech session.

5. There is no "wrong" answer. It's a low stress way for students to participate who may not otherwise felt confident enough to speak up with their ideas. Even if they say nothing was interesting, they can explain why and what can be different next time.  

As you can see, "What is the most interesting thing you learned?" packs a lot of educational "punch" with virtually no material preparation (unless you choose to - this could easily be done on a Padlet, white board, or other discussion format should you like a record of it).

Weave this question into your school day and comment below your thoughts on my all-time favorite question. 




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Feb
28

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.


We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces


I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Mar
08

Just One Emotional Connection


I am a podcast listener. They are great for passing the time when I’m driving, mowing, or out for a walk. “Missing Richard Simmons” was the latest podcast that I checked off of my to-listen list, and I learned some things about him that I found fascinating.


The first fact being that his gym in Hollywood was called Slimmons, which couldn’t be a more brilliant name. For some reason, I really enjoy saying Slimmons. Secondly, to attend a class with him only cost twelve bucks. That’s less than I pay for an exercise class with an instructor far from one of the world's most renowned fitness gurus.

Yet, most interesting to me is a fact that this podcast made clear through numerous interviews with people who know this outspoken, eccentric, lovable man-- he has the ability to create a connection with nearly every person he encounters, and these connections don’t feel fake or false as one may expect when meeting a celebrity; they feel authentic and natural. He became the friend who - from states away - would call to check on your weight-loss progress. He was the friend who made you feel important. The friend who could relate to your story, empathize with you, and validate your feelings. The friend that truly got “it”, whatever “it” was.

His gift for making connections got me thinking about the relationships built between teachers and students. Relationships that have the ability to change the ways students think and perceive themselves.

In fact, I learned from watching a presentation by Dr. Lori Desautels, associate professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, that “resiliency research in children has shown that just one emotional connection with a teacher, a coach, an educator of some capacity can change the architecture of the brain of a student who has suffered from trauma.” Changing it in a way so that the student begins to see themselves as a valued, loved, and an important human being.

I would argue that Richard Simmons’s gift for connecting with individuals can be used as an example for the change that can be effected in our students’ lives when they feel valued and validated. He was able to motivate thousands of people to lose countless pounds and to once again put themselves first in their own lives through the bonds he created with them. We can surely connect with our students in deeper and more meaningful ways, remembering that just one emotional connection with an adult can mean a new, more positive outlook for the student.

Armed with this knowledge, take the time to ask a student how you can help, and listen intently and give the 2x10 strategy a try. Employ available community or school resources like before or after school care, the Boys & Girls Club, Girls, Inc., etc. to support the student. Go out of your way to show that you care and are genuinely concerned for their well being, because you may be that student’s one emotional connection that becomes the game-changer.

Image attribution: Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

Before I was a PATINS Staff member, I was a middle school Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and introduced to the Assistive Technology Lending Library by a colleague. I knew exactly what I wanted to borrow first. An iPad loaded with LAMP Words for Life for a student with a lot to say and in need of a better tool to tell us about all the amazing ideas he had to share with the world.

I started using the loaned device with the student and saw his language and his personality blossom. Once I had a good amount of data to share with his family and school team, I packed up the iPad, completed the loan request evaluation, and it was on its way for another Indiana student to use.

The last time I borrowed from the Lending Library as a SLP with my own caseload was in 2018. To create the infographic below, I spent some one on one time with the AT Lending Library catalog. I discovered ingenious tools that could have been *life changers for many of my former students, like bone conduction headphones, reader pens, and Cling! ARM.

But why hadn't I seen these items before or thought about different ways to use them? I did some research and it turns out there are two reasons, *time and stress. (Learn more in the article "The Science of Creativity"). Being a new SLP, I was low on time, placed plenty of stress on myself, and therefore did not allow much room for creativity.

*I wish I had set aside a little time to search through the catalog to boost my creativity, stretch my professional skills, and be an even better educator. I would follow only two criteria:
  • Learn more about any item which piqued my interest.
  • Brainstorm how I could use the item to benefit the skill development of students at my school.
*Finding creative solutions is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an educator (and in life). Think of the last time you discovered a new tool that made a big impact. How did you feel? Hopeful? Proud? A little relieved?

Right now, uninterrupted time is a luxury, so tuck this idea away for when you need a burst of inspiration. This would be an engaging activity to begin a staff meeting or even for your students to partake in. Who better to know what we need to succeed in school than ourselves right?

The Assistive Technology Lending Library loans out a variety of educational items, even when we’re facing a pandemic. One of the best parts is that the AT Lending Library is a no-cost service. (The PATINS Lending Library is following the strictest protocol for cleaning and disinfecting all loan requests before shipping to Indiana schools.) Here’s a breakdown from the previous school year:

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year.

Toys - 23%

AAC - 15%

AT Hardware - 15%

Hearing/Vision - 14%

iPads - 12%

Switches - 10%

Print/Software - 6%

Mounting - 5%



Toys - Educational toys to support academic skills.

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

AT Hardware - Hardware to facilitate access to Assistive Technology tools.

Hearing/Vision - Devices to support hearing and vision needs.

iPads - iPads for academic and communication apps.

Switches - For environmental and communication control.

Print/Software - Reference guides for theoretical methods, assessment/intervention techniques, and practical tips.

Mounting - Adjustable arms and connectors for improved access to devices.

Peruse the Assistive Technology Lending Library when you have a chance. To view the most results, use a *simple keyword and *always capitalize the first letter. This will return all the items with that word present in the title or description.

Lending Library catalog with

Another way to learn more about the AT Lending Library is to join us at the virtual Access to Education conference in November 2020. You have the opportunity to view new and popular AT Lending Library items paired with practical ideas for your students at the *AT Exploratorium and the UDL Classroom Experience.

How has the Lending Library helped your students recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

At the end of October, I start to see gift guides for anyone and everyone in our lives such as “The Ultimutt Holiday Gift Guide” or “Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie - 20 Unique Ideas.” While I love exchanging thoughtful gifts with family and friends, there is one gift I am valuing more each year - time. Specifically, time to engage in hobbies, time to learn a new skill, time to learn a language, and even time to be bored once in a while. 

As educators, we know time is a critical resource. It is always at the top of my speech-language pathologist (SLP) wish list. Alas, we cannot wrap up time and top it with a bow to give to colleagues, but we can gain more of it. This year, more than others, time has been at a premium encouraging me to find creative ways to get everything done. I’ve compiled five reflection questions which have proven helpful to me in gathering up more time. I hope you find these helpful too. 

  • Am I inventing things to do? I heard this on a podcast and it stopped me in my tracks. (I wish I could remember which one to give credit!) As educators, we may think “Of course, everything I am doing directly benefits my students.” While I have no doubt we all have the best intention of doing right by our students, there may be a more efficient way to approach certain tasks. For example, as a SLP, did I really need to laminate every speech therapy material? Absolutely not! I could create or find digital materials, print one time use visuals, or use a page protector. I saved hours each week by freeing myself from the unreliable laminating machine and directed this new found time into analyzing data for better educational reports as well as leading to a better work life balance. A major win for me and for my students!
  • Can I “outsource” part of my work? The students on my caseload very much preferred receiving a pass from the office rather than having me picking them up from their classroom. Nothing hurts your “cool” factor more than a random lady breaking up gym time with your buddies. This left me creating hundreds of paper passes each year until I outsourced this work. In lieu of a study hall, some students were “pass runners” for the office staff during a class period. These helpful students were more than happy to cut the passes for me and one of them even offered to laminate a bunch for me so I could reuse them, saving me even more time!
  • What can I automate? Automation is huge in the business world right now. It is one of the main reasons Amazon can get items to your doorstep in two days. Educators can reap the benefits of automation right now with technology readily available on your devices. Do you need to send reminder emails for IEP meetings? Do you need to collect data and send daily/weekly communications to parents? Do you need to speed up the calculation process for progress reports? Automate it all! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to PATINS Specialists for ideas on how to optimize your work day.
  • How often do I need to check my email/phone? Did you know it is estimated that every time we stop a task to check our email or phone, it can take us roughly 25 minutes to refocus on the task? (View the study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.”) That’s why a seemingly simple task can end up taking us three times longer than originally planned. Also consider this scenario, if you check your work email from bed, on your way out the door, or in the car and then decide you need to be at work to focus on answering it, you are devoting twice as much time to the email reply. To combat these pernicious time wasting habits, dedicate a few times a day when you check your email and voicemail. It’s important this is not the first thing you check though. You want to get your most important tasks on your to do list completed at the beginning of the work day. This new habit has been a game changer for me!
  • How many things can I actually get done in a day? Two. I have averaged it out, and I can get two major tasks done in one day. If I try to do 3 or more tasks, usually I am working overtime or it’s not done well. This realization has been both shocking and empowering. Shocking since I originally estimated I could get five to ten tasks done each day. Two sounds like a low number yet, think about if you completed an entire language evaluation, reported all grades, or developed lessons for the entire week or month in one sitting. Those all require major time commitments and are often completed in smaller chunks throughout time. This information was also empowering because the knowledge of this causes me to be “choosier” about the tasks I agree to and reminds me to reflect again on question one above. Plus, when I happen to get more than two things done, I feel super accomplished!

I believe it goes without saying that the demands placed on educators this year has stretched our time thin. However, we are the only ones who can give ourselves more time. I hope the reflection questions posed help you gather up chunks of time by eliminating, “outsourcing”, and automating tasks to do what you do best - teach Indiana students!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach your work after reflecting on the five questions above. Is there anything you plan to do differently? Are there any other ways you give yourself the gift of time that I did not mention?

Suggested time management focused reading:

40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson

Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam


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Mar
07

...always allow it to teach you

sculpture of a human figure seated cross-legged with hands on knees and a spider plant in a blue pot behind
For several years now, I’ve felt it critical to maintain the notion that, “ I am in charge of and responsible for my own happiness.” In that vein, I’ve spent considerable time and analysis in writing a condensed list of the things that, “Truly Make Daniel Happy.” Along with this list, I have used this as an opportunity to catch myself from blaming others for any unhappiness I might be experiencing. I generally felt pretty good about all of this and would probably say that it offered a solid sense of hope and direction. It can be quite vulnerable to create a genuinely honest list like this, and I was proud of it.

More recently, however, I had someone I strongly respect pose the following question to me, which really challenged my thinking in a way I’d not dealt with before; 

“If your “happy list” were to be considered your list of goals or objectives for the year, what criteria would your Annual Performance Review consist of, and what would your overall performance rating or score for the year be? 

Whoa! What a challenging question! I was rather proud of having identified and listed the things that genuinely make me happy. I hadn’t even considered rating myself on achieving them! Then again, I have worked with educators on writing, supporting, and measuring annual student goals for the past 26 years! Indeed, what would my "happy list" annual performance review look like and how had I never even thought about measuring success on it? Further, if I knew I was going to have an honest performance review at the end of the year on my "happy list items," would it change my actions, or how I used that list as my map/compass during the rest of the year? …most definitely so! 

During that very same week, I came across a student in my evening welding class at Ivy Tech, who was talking with the instructor about the leather-work he does. This caught my attention quickly because this particular student is still in high school. He’s 17 years old, he’s taking evening welding classes, often until after 10pm, and he’s a leather-worker for fun! How cool! I often hear that work ethic, drive, and discipline are lacking in today's youth, but I've come across so many high school students and young adults lately who, quite honestly, have far more of those characteristics than I had as a high school student! I believe it's important to point these students out, support them, and learn from them anytime we can!

photo of the back of a welding a student walking away the point of view, in a welding lab consisting of six or more gas cylinders, welding machines and booths.
About a week before meeting this welding peer of mine, my wife had let me know that the wallet I’d previous gotten her as a gift, was starting to fall apart. Here, I found myself with a young, driven, focused leather-working high school student! It was like a perfect storm of events coming together, so I asked him if he’d consider making a new wallet for my wife. Long story a little bit shorter, Jack produced, with progress pictures and questions about customization during the process, an incredible piece of leather art that I excitedly presented to my wife for Christmas as her new wallet.

Photo of a hand hold up the corner of a piece of leather photo of leather being dyed blue

photo of finished leather wallet attached to car key

As if I wasn't already sure, it was now confirmed that this young leather-working, welding, high school student wasn't quite the same as a lot of other high school students and it was about this time that I asked if he'd consider being a part of my next turn to blog; I was interested in what motivates him, what makes him happy, what drives him to be more, better, different, and satisfied. Specifically, I asked him what he thought about school up through his 17 years and what advice he might offer to other younger students. Jack's somewhat quiet and, in my opinion, very humble, so it took a little bit of convincing... and it is my pleasure and honor to welcome Jack, who is wise beyond his years, to the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

High School photo of Jack with white sweater and gray hat
"Never let school get in the way of an education, but always allow it to teach you"

That is a quote from my grandfather, a teacher, that I've found a lot of value in. Personally, I've experienced frustrations around school, as most students do. However, in creating and keeping a balance of several factors, I've been able to avoid having those frustrations get in the way of my education.

Finding something to do that you truly enjoy works better if you're the only one involved. For example;
Finding an activity that you can gradually get better at, can increase your aptitude, and also feed your desire to learn! This is because when school and homework are the only things you do between periods of nothing and spending time on your phone, you're putting yourself in a regressive environment of learning. When you're actively doing or learning something else, it takes you off of your phone and can give you an important break/rest period from focusing on school work. Rest is a critical part of getting better at anything. Once things are learned and taken in, you will find new ways to relate school and work to what you actually enjoy doing more, which can keep you more engaged in everything! Personally, I've found a handful of things to be critically beneficial in my life so far; awareness of time, self-care in the form of sleep/rest, working for money even if it's not your ideal job, allowing myself to read purely for pleasure, and staying focused on the expectations that your teachers and bosses have for you, even if you see little or no value in them at that moment.  

Let's consider picking up a new skill, activity, or hobby. I was drawn to and decided to pursue creating items from leather. To be able to do that, I needed material and I needed equipment, so I needed money. Entering the workforce is something that has filled my time, allows me important connections with others, and is a motivation to strive for excellence in something aside from school. When time is filled throughout the day and evening with meaningful tasks, school work can begin to take on new importance as one may start to see and truly value the limited hours in a day. It can help keep you aware of minutes and on your toes about how you're spending your time. Spending a significant amount of money on something, like your hobby or other passion, is going to keep the motivation cycle going, growing, and evolving into even more dedication, discipline, and eventual pay-off! Another activity that helped me a significant amount was finding a book I liked,
that I didn't have to write about or relate to school at all. Once I started reading my book it made me want to finish my schoolwork as soon as possible so that I could, instead, read my book. Establishing a personal bedtime for yourself is another valuable time management and motivation strategy. Even if the established bedtime hinders schoolwork progression, making that routine a priority proved better, for me, in the long run. With all this being said, one of the worst ways to waste your time in early life is to be negligent about and around school. There are very important opportunities that present themselves at school, but they aren't always obvious. There is bound to be someone in or out of the school system to help you if you present yourself as willing to work and open to help and as someone eager to do well and achieve what is expected from school, even when it's not easy or the most preferred activity.

Clearly not all young adults these days are lacking in discipline, strategies, work ethic, or motivation! In fact, the humans like Jack that I've been fortunate enough to cross paths with over the years have always taught me important lessons, because I always try to remain as open as possible to "not letting education get in the way of
allowing others to teach me!" In fact, I'll be completely honest, I've peeked around my welding booth more than once to ask Jack what settings or techniques he's using on the night's assignment!

Often, the best teachers are continually learning as much from their students, as their students are hoping to learn from the teacher. It's this sort of 2-way street, mutual respect, and shared learning that can truly lead to the most inclusive of learning environments. It's an aspect of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is sometimes easily missed because it's abstract. It's not something we can concretely feel, see, or hear, and it takes a definite vulnerability to embrace. It is, however, very much related to the first and most critical element of UDL... engagement. Remember that without engagement, the other two critical elements of UDL (presentation and expression) are rather irrelevant!

AND... those elements of happiness, success, focus, and engagement that you've identified and deemed critical to your learning spaces; hold yourselves and your students accountable for them! Hold Annual Performance Reviews on them! What data or evidence will be needed to support the annual review of them?

Allow, request, and even fully rely on the PATINS teams to support you in that very way, so that you can support the students you are sharing learning within your daily world. Call on the PATINS Specialists. Utilize our Lending Library. Request Accessible Educational Materials. Implement and support a student reading with their ears, for pleasure as Jack describes, to increase motivation and engagement in academics! Consider coming to our annual Tech Expo on April 20! Registration is open! Register for any/all of our scheduled trainings! Our services to Indiana public educators is always at no cost to you! We're here to help! 


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Mar
23

A Preview of PATINS Tech Expo 2023 with IN*SOURCE

Tech-Expo-2023-thumbnail Tech Expo 2023 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE logo with tablets and robot on table.

The PATINS Project Tech Expo has been a banner event for Indiana educators and families eager to learn about assistive and accessible technologies and services to promote inclusion in the classroom for all students. This coming April 2023 will be our sixth year in partnership with IN*SOURCE!

You can expect 50 exhibitors in the Exhibit Hall which will be available for attendees to chat with from 9 am to 3 pm. View the Preliminary Exhibitor List to help you plan out your day. The final list will be available the week of March 27! 

In addition to the Exhibit Hall, attendees have the opportunity for in depth learning from a choice of 20 presentations held throughout the day. You can see the Schedule at a Glance now. Enjoy sessions from Apple Education, Microsoft and Texthelp, plus many more awesome products, services, and organizations!

For resources for blind/low vision, there are presentations hosted by CViConnect, EYE can see, Inc, HIMS, Inc, Mountain View Low Vision

For Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) resources, plan to attend sessions by Forbes AAC, Tobii Dynavox, PRC-Saltillo. 

If you are looking for disability resources for families, head to the MassMutual, AWS Foundation, Inc, and IEP Technical Assistance Resource Center offerings.

These are only a handful of the awesome presentations on the schedule!

I know it can be difficult for educators to leave the school for a day. Your time at the expo will be well spent. Not only will you gain valuable resource connections and ideas for creating an accessible environment for your students, it is also a no-cost way to earn up to 4 Professional Growth Points (PGPs)!

PATINS Tech Expo 2023 with IN*SOURCE will be entirely in person in Carmel, Indiana. There is free parking onsite!

Be sure to act fast! Registration for a no-cost closes March 29, 2023 at midnight. We hope to see you there!

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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

Death By Paperwork
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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  10089 Hits
Sep
21

Evaluate the Show or Be The Show?


Audio Version of this Blog (10 minutes, 38 seconds)

Lately, several happenings in my life have seemed to converge on this one particular topic that I find fascinating; one cannot actively evaluate the show and be the show at the same time! 

Daniel with a microphone, dressed up, dancing, smiling, singing with his daughter who also has a microphone and is dancing/spinning
When my oldest daughter was about 11 or 12 years old, she and I began taking voice lessons together. Our voice-coach felt it very important that her students perform for real live audiences periodically, and I recall the very first performance she required us to do. She had rented out the entire theatre on Main St., and the place was pretty full! It was a duet that we'd be performing and as it got closer, I was scared out of my mind and body sitting backstage with her! I spoke to crowds regularly for a living, for many years, I did not expect this sort of anxiety! I remember turning to my daughter and telling her, "I think I'm going to puke!" To which she responded, “Well, go out in the back alley and do it, but hurry up!” So, I tried. I was not successful and I came back in and sat next to her again. She said, "Take three slow deep breaths, you won’t be able to see anything except bright lights, you won’t see the people." "Think about the first 3 lines of the song only and then everything will be fine.” The very message she was actually conveying to me, at such a young age, was that focusing on the perception of the performance instead of the performance itself, was counter-productive! 

Lead singer of a blues band in a red dress with Daniel sitting on the drumset in the background      Daniel sitting at a red drumset with his right hand about to hit the ride cymbal and his right hand hitting the snare drum, looking off into the crowd 

Several years later, for my birthday, the amazing PATINS staff arranged to have dinner for me at a historic and awe-inspiring blues music location in Indianapolis, where I was not only treated to great tunes, I was eventually invited onto the stage by the powerful and amazing singer; yes, the PATINS staff repeatedly yelled that I was a drummer and that it was my birthday. Even though I hadn't sat at a drumset in years, I thought, "this will be fun and I'll just have a good time for a few seconds while they sing the birthday song to me." Well, they actually kicked right into one of their set-list songs and I had a decision to make immediately; give this smooth band a beat or don't! I did! I had a blast and was playing my heart out for about 3/4s of the song, when the lead singer turned away from the crowd, faced me, and gave me a nod of approval that went straight to my soul! Yes! ...then, in slow motion, I saw the drumstick in my right hand flying away...away... away...nooooooo! Indeed, a split moment after I received her approval, I started thinking about all the things she might have liked and what I could do next to really make the rest of the song rock, and those thoughts, while in the midst of performing, proved detrimental to my even finishing the song with any amount of dignity at all! This amazing singer stopped the show, turned around, and said, "that's why we hire professionals." We all had a good laugh, but she was right. A true professional separates evaluating from performing. Those two things cannot usually happen simultaneously while upholding optimal versions of either! 

A class of 6 people sitting on motorcycles all facing the same direction and in two lines,  in a parking lot, with all students practicing looking to the left.
Since that embarrassing accidental drumstick toss into the audience, I find myself spending a few weekends a month during the warmer seasons of Indiana coaching new riders to learn and apply the skills necessary to obtaining their Indiana motorcycle endorsement! During these classes, student ability and experience varies significantly, but the one thing that I've found holds absolutely true for all of them is that performance decreases the very moment they start to evaluate themselves and/or worry about my perception of them WHILE they are performing the exercise! This has been true for the brand new rider and for the rider who comes to me with 35 years of experience on motorcycles! I've started to make this a part of the class as well, as it most certainly applies to the pressures felt when out riding on the public roads. 

A concrete cinderblock welding booth with a stool, steel table, foot pedal, TIG welding torch and motorcycle helmet hanging on the wall. close up image of Daniel TIG welding with torch in his right hand and filler metal in his left hand with welding hood and gloves on
Image of one of Daniel's early TIG welds on stainless steel that is rainbow in color that looks like stacked dimes 
More recently yet, I've found myself on Wednesday and Friday nights from 6-11pm, inside a 4' x 8' cinderblock welding booth, trying my hardest to make beautiful welds using an electrode with 100amps in my right hand, feeding a 1/8" metal filler rod with my left hand, and my right foot on a variable control pedal constantly adjusting the strength of the electrical arc that is creating a flowing puddle of molten steel! It's a lot to type and a lot to think about! I find myself making worse and worse welds, the more I try to focus on the things like, "are my hands in the right place for the end of this stringer?" "Did my foot just let off unintentionally?" "Is that my left pinky that's starting to go numb?" "shoot, my teacher is going to point out that underfill for sure." In my mind, the more I tried to notice things like that as I went, the better I would become at improving them. The reality is that the more attention I paid to those sorts of things as I was welding, the worse my welds became! Attempting to critically evaluate, while performing the act, is not productive! 

a right hand on the home row of a mac computer keyboard in black and white
Finally, and most recently, I was having dinner with a couple of professors at Purdue this week, and this very topic came up, coincidentally! It was specific to finger tapping though, and the notion that one can typically tap at a much faster rate when they are not consciously aware of their tapping rate! If you are any sort of a typist using a traditional type of keyboard with your fingers starting on the home-row, etc., you may have noticed that you are able to type much more quickly when you are focused on the content, on the next idea, or on the composition as a whole, than you are when you are actively thinking about trying to type fast! This is the very same principle! One cannot usually type their fastest while they are actively focused on typing fast! Go ahead, give it a try right now! Try focusing entirely on typing quickly and then try typing and focusing on the content and compare!    

Right about now, in the school year, is when things always tended to start to become tiring for me as a teacher. And right about now, as we head into October, is often when things start to feel more burdensome as an administrator as well. I'm not entirely sure of all the reasons for that, but I know that as a state, we are in the midst of many changes, and thus as organizations, school corporations, and cooperatives, we find ourselves in the midst of change as well. Change can be difficult and scary, and sometimes very rightfully so! Regardless, the conclusion I've come to after having done this and gone through many changes for going on 17 years with the PATINS Project, and in consideration of the many other examples in my life ranging from drumming to welding, motorcycling, and singing, is that spending your time, energy, and cognitive power on trying to evaluate and/or guess at the perception of others WHILE trying to perform my best, isn't the most productive.

I can either evaluate the show or I can be the show, but I cannot do both optimally at the same time. 


old photo of Daniel as a 2 or 3 year old, walking in denim overalls with one strap falling off, a tricycle front wheel and a 1980's pickup truck in the background.
So, now, regardless of what it is that I'm tackling, I try to be this much younger version of myself... head down, entirely focused on the task at hand, and trusting that any necessary feedback or evaluation will come from someone else afterward! I try hard to: 
  1. Be prepared. I try to make sure that I ask as many clarifying questions as I can to help myself feel ready. 
  2. Not spend so much time preparing that I'm no longer taking care of my sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nutritional needs. 
  3. Conscientiously pause before beginning.
  4. Take a couple of very slow and deep breaths.
  5. I tell myself that it's OK to feel nervous or anxious and I welcome those feeling and I embrace the energy they can give me.  
  6. Instead of dwelling on everything that MIGHT go wrong, I try to drum up positive energy and remember that my performance will almost always be a diminished version of my best if I am evaluating WHILE I'm doing! 
  7. I trust that people around me will provide the necessary evaluation and then I can start all over, but I know that keeping the evaluative part and the performance part separate will ultimately be the most beneficial! 
  8. I also try to expect this sort of performance from those I'm interacting with! “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39)
In your work with Indiana students and educators; try focusing on the above 7 steps. Try this concept out with just one small task this next week or over the weekend and see what happens. When it comes to trying to problem solve for a particular student who might be struggling, for example, allow the PATINS staff to be the observers while you dedicate all of your focus on the performance, and trust that we'll provide the follow-up input! Then, you can begin the process of asking more clarifying questions, preparing, embracing anxiety, letting go of trying to evaluate while performing, and just giving it another shot, entirely focused on the performance itself! We can help, but none of us can simultaneously be the show while we're trying to evaluate the show! Make us part of your team for optimal performance! 

Read all of Daniel's Blogs
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  1094 Hits
Aug
15

Fancy Font Over Function; Preparing Your Classroom for All Students!

Whilst engaged in a recent discussion with a dear educational colleague and friend, we unraveled the first days of school. Social media often tends to focus on surface level things that are able to be captured in a photograph or video. Being a photographer and artist, I very much appreciate these things. However, also being a professional educator, I also give caution to other educators concerning the intentionality of deep and thoughtful preparation for meaningful instruction for all students. As Beth Poss, assistant principal and private educational consultant, and I discussed the seemingly alarming rate of this focus on the superficial decorating of learning environments without consideration of students and universal design, Beth requested the opportunity to tackle this important topic through the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

It’s Back to School time! Teachers are busy getting their classrooms ready and school has even started in many districts. And based on the multitude of social media posts I am seeing, teachers are all about having the most beautiful classroom decor, the cutest bulletin boards, and jazzy curriculum resources from the Teachers Pay Teachers. It is easy for new or even veteran teachers to believe that if their classroom decor and resources aren’t Instagram worthy they must be doing something wrong.
The truth is, however, that pedagogy should still be the top priority and that just because it looks attractive doesn’t mean that it is effective. 


My fear that a focus on font over function was taking over Twitter and Instagram moved me to write this guest post for PATINS. So as you gear up for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to help you ensure that you don’t get caught up in the “my classroom must be gorgeous” trend and instead focus on what is best for students.

1. Many students identified with various sensory processing challenges, in addition to many students without, can be easily overstimulated by an over-decorated classroom. Researchers found that increased visual stimulation in classrooms correlated with decreased cognitive performance (Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman, 2014; Rodrigues and Pandierada, 2018). So, keep it simple! Personally, I love this classroom from @thegirldoodles, especially how she sticks to just one set of monochromatic color selections, rather than her room looking like a bag of skittles exploded all over it. It is definitely attractive, projects a positive student message, and there is plenty of blank space. 

photo of a classroom dry erase board, 2 chairs, motivational posters, and cabinet all in monochromatic blue-gray color scheme
2. Classrooms should be student-centered! Leave wall and bulletin board space for student work. When students see their work displayed and their peers as their audience, we promote ownership and greater participation and involvement in their own learning process.  (Barrett, et al., 2015)

3. Anchor charts are most effective when they are generated with students, during the learning experience. So don’t worry about having beautifully hand-lettered anchor charts up and ready for the first day of school. Create these with your students so that they connect personally to the information. They are more likely to refer back to the charts while working if they helped to generate the information on the chart.

4. Consider carefully, your font choices on both classroom displays and printed or digital materials that you design. Are the fonts readable to all the students in your classroom, including those with low vision or dyslexia? If your students are learning to form and write letters, do the fonts you use provide a model for the proper formation? I see many cutesy fonts where letters are a random mix of lower and uppercase or where the”tails” of the  p and g are not below the bottom of the other letters. Cute however, doesn’t really help our students learn how to form letters correctly, and if we are teaching students that lowercase g, j, p, q, y, and are “basement” letters, be sure that they see this in what is given to them or displayed around the room. Additionally, research shows that sans serif fonts are generally more readable than serif fonts. (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2013). What is the difference? Serif fonts have those decorative tails or feet, while sans serif fonts don't and instead are made up of simple, clean lines. You might even check out Dyslexie font or Open Dyslexic, which were both created specifically to promote readability for individuals with dyslexia. Additionally, you might check out the following video and/or this research article, "Good Fonts for Dyslexia.


5.
When downloading teaching resources, check that the strategies and pedagogy behind the resources is best practice. Does it align with your curriculum guide? Is it standards based?  Does it promote the principles of Universal Design for Learning and accessibility? Is it culturally responsive, promote diversity, and free of stereotypes?


One last piece of advice. When you see an idea from a post on a blog (like this one!) be sure to check the blogger’s credentials. Google them, take a look at what they post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram and make sure they truly are someone you would want to take advice and inspiration from! I hope you check me out--find me on Pinterest and Twitter as @possbeth,or on Instagram as @bethposs.
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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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  1819 Hits
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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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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  2558 Hits
Jun
18

Temporarily Abled

Pause your day for a moment and deliberately gather a handful of some things you regularly do every day. Think of some things you do without thinking too much or without putting much effort forth. Making coffee, emptying the mailbox, carrying my own towel to the shower, walking through the front door of the grocery store or doctor's office, carrying an onion from the refrigerator to the cutting board with a knife, are a few such activities that come to my mind. I want you to keep the activities you thought of readily accessible, perhaps, even write, type, or dictate them into a quick note. I'm actually going to ask you to make two lists, so here's a template for you to use, with two columns and some ideas to get started, if helpful.  

visit link for access to 2 column chart for use with this blog
Now, I'm going to make an assumption that many of the readers of this PATINS Ponders blog are educators or other professionals working with learners who struggle with one or more aspects of their daily world. ...some of my most favorite people in the whole world, by the way. I'd like you to now think of why you do this work. Write, type, or dictate the top three reasons you do this work. You've probably stated this many times when people tell you, "I could never do what you do," or "You're a very special kind of person," and then ask you, "What makes you want to do this work?"

Place your second note next to your first note now. Compare them. Do any of the items (activities) from your first list appear, in any way, on your second list (why you do this work)? If they do, you probably already know what I'm going to tell you next! If they do not, stick with me here and let's think about why they should. 

Several years ago, a colleague for whom I have a lot of respect, whispered something to me. She looked around first to make sure no one else was within earshot and still whispered the term to me, "Temporarily Abled." It took me a moment to process her term and while I was processing, she indicated that she was whispering it as to not be offensive to anyone around. At the time I nodded my head as she explained that we're all "Temporarily Abled" in one or more ways, inevitably due to either an accident/injury, disease, or simply due to aging. I've spent significant time thinking about her words since that time and more importantly, why she felt it could be offensive to hear. I do want to say that I understand that disability, for people who have a disability now, is much deeper than using this term or this concept to promote understanding. However, the conclusion I've come to is that there is so much work still to be done for our world to truly be inclusive and there are so many people in our communities who have no idea what that even really means, largely in my opinion, because it hasn't had a personal effect on their life... yet. I do think this matters and I think it has potential for making a difference more quickly, fully and meaningfully including all people in all of our communities, all of the time. 

Moving Image of Daniel riding a dirtbike up steep hill and flipping it over at the top
Seven weeks ago, doing what I love on a steep hill in the woods on my old dirtbike, I completey dislocated my right knee, severing all four ligaments and causing cartilage and meniscus damage. Yes, that's right, the MCL, LCL, PCL, and ACL are all torn! I didn't even know there were so many CL's in my knee! Two required surgeries six weeks apart and 9-12 months of physical therapy certainly have put some things into perspective and strongly reinforced many things I already knew. Several of the people in my personal life whom I consider the smartest, strongest, kindest, and most creative I've ever known, have a disability. From this angle, accessibility and inclusion have been important to me since I was a young boy. However, the inability to walk, carry anything, perform manual labor, sleep normally, etc., these last 7 weeks have reinforced another dimension of my understanding of access and inclusion as well. These personal experiences, while never as meaningful to someone else, are still so important to share. While it may not be your experience (yet), my experiences just might add something to your second list that wasn't there before. 

collage of three images showing three sides of Daniels knee with large surgical incisions and stitches.

Some things I've learned recently and will never forget: 
  1. Automatic or button-operated doors that work are very important. Being non-weight-bearing and havinig to fully utilize crutches, I simply cannot open some doors by myself. While most people are very quick to help, if they are around, I just want to be able to open the door myself! Many places have not had working automatic doors, including the hospital where my surgeon works AND the building my physical therapy is in! 
  2. Knowing where my assistive technology is at all times, that it's close to me, and trusting that other people aren't going to move it, is essential and causes a good bit of anxiety. For me, it's mostly my crutches. I simply cannot move from one place to another without my crutches unless I sit down and scoot. For someone to see my crutches as a tripping hazzard, for example, and move them, is a lot like taking my legs away from me. I compare this to taking away a learners communication device or system for any reason... behavior, battery dead, damaged, etc.  My crutches have become a part of my identity and nearly a part of my body. Moving them or playing with them without talking to me first feels violating. I'm not sure we always keep this in mind when we work with students using assistive technologies. I think that sometimes we feel we're helping by making adjustments or moving things and it might NOT really be a help at all! It might actually change the task entirely. 
  3. High Expectations are essential! Be very critical about ever telling someone that they "can't" or "shouldn't" do something that they want to do! Further, expect that they will do things that they think they cannot! In my case, while I may not be able to carry the onion and knife to the cutting board, I can sure as heck prop myself up and chop it like a pro! ...right along with the peppers, carrots, tofu, and zuchini! I actually love when I'm asked to do things instead of asked what someone can do for me! "Can you come chop this onion." "Can you refill that soap dispenser in the kitchen." I already know that I need many things done for me, but I can totally still do other things and I need to feel needed as well. Let's try to remember this with ALL of our students! 
  4. My "mule pack" is essential to my level of independence. This is a simple and low-tech assistive technology that I greatly rely on. It's a small backpack that I can carry without my hands, that I cram full of as many things as possible allowing me to not have to ask someone else to get them for me. All the things I need daily or that are high on the list of importance, such as my wallet, tools, medical items, snacks, personal care, etc. This allows me to have many of the things I regularly need with me, minimizes repeat trips, and minimizes my reliance on others. 
  5. Steps! There are just some steps that are too high, too steep, or too slippery for me to even consider using.  This means that I have the choice of not accessing that place or sitting down and scooting up or down the stairs...neither allow me to feel dignified or included in that place.
  6. Trust! Whether I like it or not, I simply need help with some things. Our students do too. Having someone you trust immensely is very helpful. Someone you trust to encourage and push you to grow, to assist you minimally enough to preserve your independence and dignity, and to still expect great things from you. This is also exactly what our students need! Thinking about this from the perspective of what I need from my trusted help right now, most certainly provides some guiding mental framework for when I'm the one helping students in the future.  
These are just a small handful of some things that I've realized and/or had solidified for me recently. I'm sure I'll have many more to share. This has truly reinforced the fact that accessibility is so important for everyone, all the time, even if you aren’t one who needs it right NOW. Chances are definitely that you will need something different, something specialized, or just something more accessible at some point in your life, either due to an accident, an injury, a disease, or through aging. The notion that accessibility only matters for a small percentage of “the disabled” is so completely short-sighted and irresponsible to your future self! If, for no other selfless reason, try to keep in mind that the fight for inclusion of all people, high expectations of all people, accessibility to all places for all people is a critical one for more reasons than you might know right now. The loss of or lessing of inclusionary concepts in any amount is a very slippery slope. Work hard, daily, to build a culture of increased expectations and inclusion of all people, never letting that lever tip in the opposite direction. Imagine all the things that are simple for you now that could very quickly and easily be otherwise...what sorts of actions on your part TODAY might better prepare your world for that scenario...what sorts of people would you want surrounding you in that sort of scenario? Speak up when you notice inaccessible entries, public televisions without captions, etc. Learn and become better equipped through the many diverse PATINS Trainings on our Professional Development Guide and our Training Calendar. Trial the many assistive devices available to you, through the PATINS Lending Library!...all at no cost to you, of course! Consider networking and furthing your knowledge-base by attending the FIRST-EVER PATINS Access to Education VIRTUAL Conference this coming November!  



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  3160 Hits
Mar
06

Literacy, Performance, and Well-Being: Realizing Reading, Writing, and Accommodations!

Each year, about this time, educators all over Indiana are likely feeling drained, pressured, overwhelmed, and perhaps worried! I hear so much about state assessment and preparing for it, how it throws off schedules and routines, and how everyone in the building is a bit on-edge. I understand that feeling! I struggle a bit, however, with some of the reasons we allow it to occur. While we don't have a choice in many aspects of high-stakes assessment, we do have a lot of control over the other majority of the school year, which most certainly has an effect on the relatively short assessment portion! 

The things that come to mind are the concepts of literacy, of testing anxiety, and of the general well-being of people. The PATINS Project has a laser-like focus on improving literacy in Indiana PK-12 schools and in order to achieve that, we had to define literacy, which is where my struggles around high-stakes testing anxiety likely begins. The dedicated, passionate, and skilled PATINS team chooses to recognize and actively support the International Literacy Association's definition of literacy: 

"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."

With this definition in mind, the PATINS staff meets every single week as a team to share, collaborate, and ensure that everything we're doing maintains a strong focus on improving literacy outcomes! While this intentional and deliberate focal point of our work is fairly recent, our services have always centered around literacy. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked about an old (2009) article that had been written about me as a classroom teacher, which you can find here, for some additional reading! 


Daniel as a first year teacher playing guitar for students.
Back in 2001, I decided it was time to leave the business I'd started. I had spent the previous 4 years establishing a system of working with very young students on the autism spectrum and had experienced some great success. While a very difficult decision, what I really wanted to experience was my very own classroom of students on a daily basis. So, I took a teaching position in a K-6 classroom with students identified as having "moderate - severe disabilities."  

When I arrived, eager and enthusiastic, I received a warm welcome, but I also received some advice about my students-to-be. I was told that they were non-readers and non-writers and that I would be using a lot of pictures and symbols. Not knowing my students, yet and also realizing that I hadn't ever had any real reading instruction in college, I took this advice. Not only did I take this advice, but I plastered by classroom with pictures I printed out and with symbols of all sorts! Schedules, social cues, tasks related to IEP goals... all pictures and symbols! I covered a 10' X 6' board with tempo-loop and laminated and velcro'd until my poor, raw, aching fingers nearly bled! We used these in my classroom day-in and day-out! 

a sample of Daniels classroom schedule in all text
While I realized that I was no expert in reading and really had no formal training in the science of teaching others to read, I also understood behavior and I understood fairly well, how learners often perceived things differently in their learning environment. I remember sitting back in my chair at the end of one school day, frustrated that my students were paying textbook rental for books that were inaccessible to them, that I wasn't able to work on writing (composing) with my students, and I looked across the room at my giant tempo-loop schedule. I looked at the symbols and it suddenly hit me that some of them, very much, resembled short words from that distance. It stood to reason then, that if that symbol resembled a word and my students were recognizing the meaning of it daily, perhaps they could just recognize words! ...And they DID! What I also very quickly realized and made all of my paraprofessionals and parents aware of, was that my students were not "reading" phonetically. They were recognizing symbols. However, these symbols they were recognizing were now far more functional in the real world than most abstract, stick-figure symbols, that I had to teach the meaning of anyway. Nevertheless, I knew that my students needed more, if they were to become readers (and writers). 

At this point, I implemented a systematic phonics program, but I also implemented word-prediction! Not really knowing how to teach phonemes, nor understanding reading science at the time, I did realize that by removing the barrier of spelling (with word-prediction software), that I could very quickly begin experiencing the ideas, reflections, and questions that were in my student's creative minds! ...thoughts that I often wondered if anyone else ever knew was even in there!  ...stuff we'd never heard come from these kids verbally, that was coming out in writing, because now they could compose without the impasse of spelling or physical handwriting!  Another amazing thing with word-prediction was that my students could hear the computer read their sentence back after they'd punctuated it, which effectively improved their self-editing and perhaps more importantly opened my mind to the powerful idea of them reading with their ears, and thus began text to speech in my classroom for all students, all of the time. They became VERY good and implementing it for themselves when they needed it and choosing to read with their eyes at times when they did not need it. They began leaving my classroom and joining their general education peers for more and more academics, for arts, and music, and on the weekends for birthday parties!  

As a result, I also worked out that text and language could be fun, engaging, and musical! We played with my guitar and made up words to made up songs and then wrote them down and discussed them, revised them, and laughed! Yes, we laughed! We had fun with language. We went from using stick-figure symbols to having fun with language.  

I look back and recognize this successful and fun 4-year experience in my classroom as a culmination of having high expectations, implementing assistive technology and accessible materials, and having FUN! ...also known as engagement!

Circling back, I wonder why more case conference committees aren't checking the boxes on the IEP that asks if Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are needed when those two things can lead to such unthought-of outcomes, often at little or no cost. I wonder why, in many places, schedules change and test prep becomes such a focus that the stress and anxiety actually shows on the faces of educators. At the time, my students wouldn't have been permitted to use many of their accommodations on the state's high stakes test, BUT I can guarantee they still would have done better on those assessments with me providing them all year long until then!  

In summary, if you ever find yourself in an IEP meeting and those two questions about Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials aren't deeply discussed, I:  
  1. Encourage you to borrow items to trial (at no cost to you whatsoever) from the PATINS Lending Library.  
  2. Challenge you to initiate those discussions about AT and AEM in the IEP meeting. 
  3. Contact PATINS Staff, even during the meeting, for more information, consultation, and support on AT and AEM! 
  4. Implement something new with ALL of your students THIS NEXT week! It doesn't have to be in an IEP and you don't have to be an expert to try something new! 
  5. Reach out to the PATINS Specialists for specific training and support! 
  6. Come to the (no cost) PATINS Tech Expo on April 9th, to make yourself even more aware of some of the tools, resources, and strategies that are available!  
Photo of Daniel riding a stick unicorn in a literacy phoneme game       Word Play Root Matrix of word parts and phonemes


















Be brave this week... take a deep breath, think about literacy a little more broadly and try to have fun with your students doing something for at least a few minutes every day! It's OK to laugh with them! ...and, I'll leave you with this one fun literacy-based idea. I recently took part, as a volunteer, in a silly activity with respected educational colleagues from around the world called, "Unicorn Poop." Yes, you read that correctly. In this game, I was part of a team, "riding" on a stick-unicorn from one side of the room to the other in order to scoop a plastic spoonful of unicorn poop (skittles candy) and bring it back to my teammate who was making a new word and conveying it to our "teacher" allowing me to claim the unicorn poop on our side of the room! We ended up losing the game by only a half of a spoonful of poop, but I ended up learning so much about teaching reading instruction in the process. We didn't spend any time on letter recognition or even individual sounds. We put BIG words together by practicing understanding of smaller phonemes!
2
  2706 Hits
Aug
08

Stop Teaching "Low Functioning" Students

Stop teaching the low students Magic Ball indicating High. A witch's hat with speech bubble reading,
I half-joke that I’m working my way out of education purgatory, trying to make up for my sins in years past. One particular mistake I made: I let myself believe I could help “low functioning students.” The year I refused to teach “low” kids (and “high functioning” students too!) I started to realize what my purpose was.

I worked in a school that had two self-contained special education classrooms. On paper, it was just Ms. A’s class and Ms. Z’s class, but everyone referred to it as the “high functioning room” and the “low functioning room.” Sometimes the students had instruction together or joined their peers in general education but, in general, the students of the low functioning group stayed in their room and the high functioning students had more chances to be included. The high functioning students sat with assistants and learned letters and numbers and the low functioning students watched the other students work. Maybe we’d stick a switch toy on their wheelchair tray. Yipee.

Why? Because it was The Way We Had Always Done It. You’ll be happy to hear it’s changed.

On the flip side, I had students who were “high functioning.” Teachers were very pleased to have high functioning students except when they didn’t do what the other kids were able to do, or in the same way. Every year, like an unspoken agreement, accommodations were slowly chipped away. “He’s high functioning,” we’d all say. “He doesn’t need a sensory break, or note taking support, or Augmentative Communication. He should be able to do that on his own by now, or else he’d be low functioning.”

“The difference between high-functioning autism and low-functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low-functioning means your assets are ignored.” - Laura Tisoncik

Once I was asked to observe “Cory.” Cory was a youngster who enjoyed trampolines, letters, and car commercials. He needed constant supervision, plenty of breaks, and explicit directions and support for academics, leisure, and daily living skills. He frequently hit the person nearest him, although staff could not pinpoint as to why (no FBA completed). He had no way to independently communicate. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried but what they had tried wasn’t working, so they stopped. He did have two little symbols taped to his workstation: “more” and “stop” that were used to direct his behavior.

His teacher met me at the door and gestured to where he was “working” (10+ minutes of redirection to sit in a chair with some math problems attempted in between). I asked what would be helpful to her as a result of our consultation.

“As you can see, we’ve tried everything,” she exclaimed, gesturing to her lone visual taped to the desk. “He’s just too low.”

It took me a while to pick apart why this particular visit weighed on my soul. I had been that person and I knew the ugly truth: as soon as we start saying students are “low” we’ve haven’t described the child, we’ve described our own limitations in believing in kids.

The terms “low functioning” and “high functioning” are not professional terms. They have no place in an educational report, school policy, or conversation. They are born from poor understanding, frustration, and/or a misplaced desire to categorize students by how high our expectations should be. Who gets to be high functioning? Who gets to be low? Did you mistakenly think (as I did) that researchers set an agreed-upon standard or that there was a test or some type of metric to determine what bin of functioning we all belong in? Perhaps there was a Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat of Functioning?

"...‘high functioning autism’ is an inaccurate clinical descriptor when based solely on intelligence quotient demarcations and this term should be abandoned in research and clinical practice." (Alvares et al, 2019)

In absence of a Magic 8 Ball of Functioning, I challenge you to stop teaching “low functioning students,” erase the phrase from your vocabulary, and start wondering “what do we need to be successful?” Describe the supports your student needs, the skills they are working on, the behaviors and interests you’ve observed. What do you need to do differently? Tell me about your student, not the expectations people have formed. At PATINS we have not met, in our entire combined careers, students who were too anything to learn. There is always a way, and we can help.

What ever happened to Cory? I haven’t heard back from his team since then. It still makes me sad, because I know that as long as one of the most meaningful adults in his life thinks of him as “too low,” not much will change.

You will not regret ditching those words. Your students will remember you for it. You have nothing to lose but functioning labels.

They weren’t helping anyone, anyway.
2
  6387 Hits
Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

Thanks for sharing the lies you used to believe and found a way to dismiss, Rach! Have you heard of Rachel Hollis? She published a book this year that has gone viral called, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.” Have you read it? If you haven’t, I recommend the great and easy read!

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

Now, it's our turn to share and help others dismiss the voice inside their head. One lie that I used to believe for a long time is the one regarding age. Growing up we all experienced those moments when our parents told us, "You can when you're older," or "You’ll understand when you're older". Leaving you to always long for just the right moment “when you're old enough” for whatever it is.

Now that I am older, it has morphed in my professional career that has left me longing until “I have enough experience to write that book, or present on that topic, or to do exactly what I think I have always been meant to do". Always being told that you need to “put in your dues” and then it will be your turn. Suddenly, I realized that I am longing to do the things of the “experienced” and waiting for “someone” to tell me “it's time”. Do you find yourself waiting for permission or asking for someone else’s approval for that gutsy move to get ahead in your career? One of Rachel Hollis’ quotes from the book is,


“No one can tell you how big your dreams can be.”

We all seem to care a little too much about what others are going to say. The truth is if we wait for these moments, we may be waiting our whole lives. Another favorite quote:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

So, what have you been waiting to do?

Maybe you have been waiting to integrate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and technology into your classroom or program? PATINS Specialists are standing by for your email or call for on-site consultation and our *no cost* PATINS Tech Expo is coming up on April 4th to help connect you with the right tools, know-how, and inspiration to make your ideas a reality! Your time is now! Don’t wait to contact us and let us know how we can support you today! {Free Registration for Tech Expo opens soon!}

Don’t forget to like, comment and share this blog and the Tech Expo with your fellow teachers!

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  2756 Hits
Nov
30

Searching for the Why

Recently, I was invited to an evening of wreath-making where I would be making a live wreath in the spirit of the holidays. Upon RSVP’ing to the event, I felt excited yet anxious about a new upcoming experience. Plus, I was acutely aware that I’d only know a couple of the attendees, so I was already feeling insecure about my lack of wreath-making abilities that would be on display in front of people I had never met.  

Making a wreath should be easy enough, right? I mean what all would it really involve? These were questions I kept asking the slightly crafty side of myself in an effort to prepare for what to expect.

Now the time had come; I was working on my wreath. Nervously, I gathered eight bundles of greenery, wondering if I was bundling the greenery in the right way, if I was choosing the right combination of greenery, if anyone was watching me, and if it would all come together.Jena & Bev displayed Jena's completed wreath

In the end, with the support and positive reinforcement of my two friends and a mild allergic reaction to the greenery on my hands, the wreath turned out just fine. I even received a text the following day from a neighbor who said she thought it looked great and wanted one of her own. What a compliment!

On that same day with the wreath hung on my front door, I was having a conversation with a couple colleagues about the underlying reasons students misbehave. This conversation made me think of my recent wreath experience.

Most likely unbeknownst to anyone at the event, I was truly nervous and uncomfortable when I arrived that evening. And if I didn’t have the ability to persist through my anxieties with an understanding that in the end I was likely to be successful and enjoy the experience, I may have taken a spot on the sidelines or possibly shut myself off from this experience altogether without anyone understanding why. This potential misunderstanding could have led me to additional feelings of fear and isolation.

Though this comparison may seem trivial, my experience got me thinking about how as educators with standards to teach, lessons to create, and progress to monitor (among myriad other responsibilities), it is easy to forget that each of our students bring their own sets of interests, anxieties, experiences, traumas, etc. to school each day. It is this unknown, the why, that often materializes as challenging behaviors in the classroom that we cannot fully comprehend.

Then in the moments of challenging behaviors like withdrawal, refusal to complete tasks, and outbursts to name a few, we can be all too quick to react without considering why the student is behaving in that way. Not only can the why be so easily neglected in the heat of the moment, but a search for the answer takes time and resources and can lead to a strained relationship with the student or to heartbreaking answers. This can trigger us to build walls for our own protection, along with the reasoning that we have a number of other students who deserve our time and interest.

Yet, I believe it is necessary that we remain compassionate, knock down our walls, and fervently seek out a deeper understanding of the why behind our students’ behaviors. And because the why can be multifaceted and very complex - while still so integral to our understanding and ability to provide proper support - remember that it’s okay to ask for help.

Seek out the programs, resources, parents/guardians, professionals and colleagues in your building or district, in addition to further training. A collaborative approach will ease the burden and better ensure a thorough understanding of the student’s experiences and needs. For it is in this why, that we have the opportunity to replace these behaviors, empower students with the necessary tools to feel secure and in control, and make the difference that so many of us set out to do as educators.
 
1
  3149 Hits
Jul
28

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.  


0
  4004 Hits
Apr
06

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword
A preschool teacher consulted with me about a student who was struggling with behavior; one of most intense issues she’d ever seen. The little girl would bite and punch and roll on the floor, and it was a full-time job just to keep her in the classroom. She also had a severe communication impairment. She talked and you could understand the words, but there wasn’t any meaning behind them. She couldn’t tell you about her favorite movie or answer beyond a simple question. For four years, every adult and child had to guess what she wanted to say.

“We’ve got a lot of things started, a lot of plans,” she explained, rattling off all our favorite behavior acronyms: FBA, BIP, FERB, etc. The one thing she didn’t say: AAC - Alternative and Augmentative Communication. The student had a severe communication impairment; couldn’t that be a big part of why she’s having behavior issues? Did they consider AAC and giving her a voice?

“But she can talk,” the teacher said. “The issue isn’t talking, she just wants control.”

Before I could jump on my soap box, another preschooler yelled with perfect dramatic timing:

I don't wanna tootie!” edged with the desperation of a preschool boy who would probably explode if he had to eat an animal cracker cookie.

“This is what we have,” said the assistant, pointing to the snack menu visual. He screwed up his face. “Do you want anything?”

“My teez.”

“You have cheese in your lunchbox?” He nodded. “Go and get it.”

And life went on. Crisis diverted! Communication saved the day! And wouldn’t you know, he was awfully and age-appropriately controlling. It’s communication that gets us what we want: acceptance, love, and cheese. Adults are known to throw fits when they can’t communicate their order in a drive-thru. Imagine four years of being stuck in the Taco Bell drive-thru and never getting to talk to someone. You’d want to hit someone too.

In another preschool, I got to observe a program where AAC was wrapped around the entire classroom. Brightly colored AAC boards were taped to the walls and hung from the cabinets. Every kid, whether they needed to use it or not, had a core word communication board at their elbow and so did all the adults. I sat down next to one student, and the teacher smirked.

“I don’t know if you want to sit next to him.”

Oh no, I thought, panicking, Did he have pink eye? Was I going to get pink eye?!

“He’s our typical peer.”

This little guy, brand new to preschool and a little wary of everything around him, was talking with the communication board like he’d used it for a month. He didn’t have a communication impairment, and he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a typical AAC user. But we’ve all seen the new preschoolers cry and shut down at their first-ever activities, and he was using an alternative way of communicating and interacting with his brand new environment and classmates. Maybe he only needed it that day, maybe he’ll never want to use AAC again, but he’ll remember feeling safe and included in preschool from the beginning. Communication, in any form, saved the day.

According to their speech-language pathologist, Jenni, including robust and thoughtful AAC has been amazing:

“They know that they give them a voice… We've had so many days that we've just looked at each other and shouted, "Did you see that?", "Did that really just happen?" It's been so fun to watch these kiddos learn... I can't believe how quickly she is learning. She carries her board around with her like it's a mighty sword.”

So teachers, therapists, administrators everywhere, (I can’t believe I’m saying this): all students must have swords*, whatever sword(s) fit them best. Make sure they have their swords everywhere. Make time for sword practice. Seek sword specialists, talk to other sword users. Don't favor one type of sword over another, because it was never about the sword, but the person wielding it.

Expect swords to be mighty and all students have strength to wield them, and they will conquer dragons.

*the sword is communication, all types of communication, for those who still aren't into my ridiculous analogies


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Jul
07

Universally Designed Blended Learning

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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