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Nov
30

Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

It is my privilege to have Dr. George Van Horn as my guest blogger this week for: Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion! 



2 signs: perception and reality

I have long believed in inclusion. Inclusion is a school environment that welcomes all and provides what is necessary for all students. But believing in inclusion is not enough. Many people don’t realize that P.L. 94-142 did not create special education, it created general education. In an effort to allow children with disabilities access to the public school system, states and local districts started with the assumption that the environment was focused on educating only students who were already educated in public schools and a system needed to be created. Hence, the creation of general education. Prior to the passage of the federal law, the system educated “all” students. Through P.L. 94-142, “all” was expanded to include children with disabilities. In order to accomplish this, the system in place was kept, named general education, and continued to serve students. However, to educate students with disabilities, a parallel system was created because the existing system was viewed as only being for students without disabilities.

 Mainstream education for all
As time moved on it became clear a separate system for students with disabilities was not effective and the initial solution was “mainstreaming”. Students with disabilities were still a part of the separate special education system, but would “visit” general education classrooms. This practice was useful in introducing general education educators and students to students with disabilities. But, the “home” for children with disabilities still remained the special education classroom and they were not members of the general education environment. This practice led to the next step in educating children with disabilities – inclusion.

mainstreaming and inclusion

Inclusion means all children are members of one educational environment, meaning there are no more general education and special education systems. As I reflect on the many years I have supported inclusion, I have come to the conclusion that in reality what many of us have accomplished is advanced mainstreaming. In most educational environments, children with disabilities are still viewed and treated differently. Many educators continue to struggle with the concept of equitable access versus fairness. Inclusion is not about giving all students the same (fair), it is about providing students what they need to be successful (equitable access). While progress providing equitable access for all students has been made, there still remains two educational systems, general and special. While this is not our goal, it is a step toward achieving the goal of creating truly inclusive educational environments. What’s next?

students working together in a classroom

The barrier that has not been addressed is the need to create education environments that remove barriers and create options for instruction, assessment, and most importantly student learning. Until this occurs, it does not make sense for students with disabilities to be placed in classrooms where failure is probable because we have not changed why we do what we do, how we do it, and what we do. The focus in education needs to shift from the individual as disabled to the environment as disabled. I suggest the framework for accomplishing this monumental shift is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a framework that begins with several assumptions:

  • Variability is the norm
  • Disability is contextual
  • Focus on the learning environment and curriculum, not the students.

Through the use of the principles and guidelines of UDL in designing learning environments, educators can identify barriers and create options for ALL students. UDL is not about some students, but instead, focuses on improving learning outcomes for all students. Educators know that students come in all shapes and sizes. Variability is the norm. We know the students we work with will all be unique. In addition to variability, we also know that all students have strengths and weaknesses depending on the activity. Hence, disability is contextual. Everyone is disabled depending on the circumstances. For inclusion to become a reality, we must create one learning environment for all students that allows the students to choose what option works best given the activity. The creation of an environment where all students have a sense of belonging and ownership is our ultimate destination. While this is not an easy shift, it is necessary if we truly want to educate all children.

image of Dr. George Van Horn
Dr. Van Horn is currently the Director of Special Education for the Bartholomew Special Services Cooperative in Columbus, Indiana. Dr. Van Horn completed both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees at the University of Dayton. He received his Doctor of Education degree from Indiana University with a concentration in the areas of school administration and special education. Dr. Van Horn has been a teacher of students with emotional disabilities, as well as having served as a principal, school superintendent and director of special education. Dr. Van Horn has also been an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC), Manhattan College in New York, and Northern Illinois University. He has consulted with school districts throughout the country in the areas of Positive Behavior Supports, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusion.

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Nov
16

To app or not to app!

Many of you who know me or have heard me present know that I am a very proud mother. I have been trying out Assistive Technology (AT) tools and devices on my daughter since she was in Kindergarten when I first started working for PATINS in 2001. I used her as a test student for Co:Writer, IntelliTools, and many others. After she was old enough to join me for trainings after school she would tag along. It wasn’t too long before she was assisting the participants. Soon after she was up in front and presenting. So, it is not hard to believe that she is now a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for our local school corporation. She recently attended the Access to Education (A2E) 2022 Conference. Afterwards on the ride home she was telling me about her favorite parts of the conference and was throwing out suggestions for my blog. So I suggested why don’t you do it and she did. Enjoy!

Staff

Hello, my name is Courtney LeBarron and I am Sandy Stabenfeldt’s daughter. She is the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) Digital Services Specialist. Recently, I attended the Access to Education (A2E) 2022 Conference hosted by the PATINS Project. Although there were MANY great sessions over the course of the two days, my mind kept going back to one particular session:  “Teaching the Swipe Generation: Carefully Curating Apps for Young Children with Disabilities” presented by Beth Poss. Many, many times throughout my short career, I have been asked, “What is the best app? What app can I use?” Well, that question is way more complicated than it may seem. How old is the student? What are their fine motor skills like? What are your goals for them?

During her session, Beth Poss broke it down in a clear and simple way. She listed the 7 steps of what makes an effective learning app. There were two that really stood out to me. The first one was “Does it meet a developmental need?” and the second was “Does it enhance and encourage interactions with adults or peers?” As a SLP these are the two questions I most frequently ask myself: Can it promote literacy or vocabulary development? And will interacting with this app promote interactions between the communication partner and my student? 

Courtney, Chris Bugaj, and Rachel Maddel

So, the next time you find yourself thinking,"Is this app really effective?" Or you are asked, "What is the best app?", think about these criteria. If you find one that meets the criteria of an effective learning app you can borrow it to try with your student. PATINS lends iPads with apps or they can send apps to iPads that are not managed by the school corporation. If you need help in determining an app to try, please talk to a PATINS specialist. Information about the PATINS lending library is available on their website. Not all technology is bad, and not all is good. It is our job, as educators, to help our students figure it out. 

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Nov
10

A Guide to the Guide

Let's pretend Parents have already been notified that you are preparing to screen your 2nd-grade classroom with a universal dyslexia screener approved and provided by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), see Appendix C, pp. 11-13. You know to do this because you have consulted the 2022-2023 IDOE Dyslexia Programming Guidance for Schools. You know that Indiana schools are required to screen for characteristics of dyslexia in grades K, 1 & 2 because you've had meetings with your corporation's reading specialist, who has been trained in dyslexia, see Appendix A, pp. 8-9. Not only are you required to screen your students, but you are also looking forward to the process because you understand that the results of the screening will yield important information about each of your students.

Perhaps you have noticed one student who mispronounces multisyllabic words, and you know which student struggles to identify words that rhyme. And because you are very attentive you have seen the student who asks a friend to tie their shoes a couple of times every day and you've observed the one who bumps clumsily into desks as he approaches his seat. You've also seen that he still, at age 8 cannot remember if he goes left or right down the hall to get to the cafeteria. So before you administer the universal screening, you know which of your students have traits and classroom performance that already have alerted you and others who work with them. There is data from previously administered universal screenings. You have written, kept and filed anecdotal notes. You discuss concerns with other educators and special services providers, and the reading specialist. All data is part of each child's story. You are ready to screen.

Post-screening, the parents of the students who were not flagged by the screener will be notified, and regular educational programming will resume for them*. The screener flagged six students in 2nd grade as "at risk" or "at some risk" for characteristics of dyslexia. One of the flags surprises you, the others, you expected. Immediately you notify the parents of the six who were flagged on the screening results, with information on your school's plan for Response to Instruction with a program of Multi-Tiered System of Support (RTI/MTSS) and again, a request for permission. You are prepared to begin the interventions as soon as you have the parent's signature. (So today, as you read this, check to be sure of your school's plan for RTI/MTSS. If you are unsure of who to speak with and what questions to ask, prepare yourself with some talking points. Included with parent notification is a consent request form for a Level 1 diagnostic assessment to test for characteristics of dyslexia. As soon as you receive consent, you will administer the Level 1 diagnostic assessment for characteristics of dyslexia. 

As per the requirement in the IDOE Dyslexia Guidance, the school is approaching the 90th day of instruction this year, so you are right on schedule. Buy yourself some flowers, and keep going. You should be regularly collaborating on behalf of your students with the reading specialist for your school corporation. The data you are collecting, as part of the state's Reading Plan, must be reported to the IDOE every year, and the guide tells you exactly which data to include in your report to the reading specialist, who will compile and submit data for your school corporation to the state.

If any of these 6 flagged students, or any others in your class has a current IEP for a specific learning disability (SLD), there are systems in place to help them. Work through the ICAM/IERC NIMAS CCC Forms to evidence a print disability, in this case, a reading disability. The Case Conference may need to reconvene to fill in forms 1, 2, 3a. Form 4 must be signed by the teacher, reading specialist, school psychologist or any one of the professionals named in this list. Then, determine which books the student needs in an accessible format, fill in form 3b, give the forms to the digital rights manager (DRM) and the student can begin using accessible materials from the ICAM. Very soon. 

If a student currently has an IEP indicating the presence of SLDs, they may not be required to participate in the universal screenings, although it would be helpful to create a full snapshot of the child with their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, you have attended some of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) trainings presented by PATINS staff, and have explored the Virtual UDL Classroom--this will help you plan whole-group instruction as you meet the learning goals of your students with specific needs related to dyslexia, as well as those of your students who were not flagged, the ones who have resumed regular educational programming. Typical students do not require extra support but it may enhance and reinforce their learning.*

It is SO important that we support our dyslexic learners in every way we can. If you are not yet familiar with the IDOE's Guide get in there. SB 217 is a state law now, and lost time never comes back. We just have to keep moving forward. Contact PATINS/ICAM staff on how to get started, or how to keep going. If we cannot answer a question, we will find out who can. Any of the PATINS Specialists can help you with technology, devices and software. Borrow from the PATINS Lending Library. You entered teaching for specific reasons and then realized that teaching is not a destination, it's a journey. Let us support you as you travel. 

My high school English teacher would scold me for using that cliché. Please forgive me.

Thanks so much!

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Nov
01

"A Volcano of Human Potential"

Dormant volcano with the words "A Volcano of Human Emotion"

Early in September, I listened to an episode of the podcast, Hidden Brain, titled, “Why You’re Smarter Than You Think,” and it really stuck with me. In this episode, a man named Scott Barey Kaufman, tells the story of his classroom experience from his youth. As a young student, he felt that he had so much more to offer in class but was being shut out by his teachers who overlooked and dismissed him as a student with a learning disability. In third grade he was made fun of by his peers for being held back. This led Scott to feeling like an outsider or a “freak” as he called himself in the interview.

As an 11-year-old, he was given an IQ test and put into a school for students with special needs. He later returned to public school in 6th grade as a student with an IEP who attended both general and special education classes. At twelve, he learned of the gifted and talented program. Feeling like this could actually be a place for him, he finally inquired into the program in high school. As a 17-year-old, he was told that his IQ (results from a former test as a 8-year-old) was below average, which did not make him eligible for any gifted and talented classes.

Feeling invisible though he knew he had potential, he continued to sit in his special education resource room as he neared the end of high school until one teacher changed the game. This teacher noticed that Kaufman was sitting in this room looking bored, and she decided to directly question him as to why he was there. 

It was at this moment that Kaufman felt seen and validated for the first time. He finally found someone that saw in him what he saw in himself all these years, and this is my reason for writing this blog. 

All it took in his case was for one teacher to see Kaufman for more than the student sitting in front of her; someone to question the norm. The result? A student that moved into more general ed classes, raised his grades from C’s and D’s to all A’s seemingly overnight, joined clubs and groups, and blossomed as a student who loved learning.

I got chills during this section of the podcast when the host, Shankar Vedantam, noted, “And it's almost like this one teacher, in this one moment, it was almost like a light bulb going off in your head, it sounds like.” 

Volcano erupting.

To which Kaufman replied, “It wasn't like a light bulb, it was like a volcano erupting, a volcano of human potential that had been dormant.”

This is a reminder that you can be the force that helps ignite human potential. By presuming competence and believing in a student’s ability to reach and/or exceed your expectations. By looking at students as more than their test scores. By getting to know your students, their interests, and passions. You may not get the acknowledgement for changing the game for a student in the moment, but how great would it feel to learn in five, ten, or fifteen years that you were the person that changed someone’s trajectory for the better; that it was you that made the difference.

If you know someone that has made a significant impact in the life of a student, nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award

Reference:

Vedantam, S. (Host). (2022, June 13). Why You’re Smarter Than You Think [Audio podcast episode]. In Hidden Brain. Hidden Brain Media. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/why-youre-smarter-than-you-think/ 

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Oct
20

Ode to Mrs. Bales

IMG_43822 Letter on notebook paper

One of my most influential teachers died this past summer. Mrs. Bales (Jane Bales Starner) taught English at Manchester high school when I attended in the early 80s. She also chaired the English Department and sponsored the school newspaper and yearbook. 

Mrs. Bales was ahead of her time with practices for universal design for learning (UDL). When I walked in for the first day of creative writing, and saw the chairs arranged in a circle, I knew I was not going to be bored in this class. Her level of engagement was high every single day, and she represented the content in a variety of ways to reach more students. One morning, she arranged for a student in a culinary class to fry an egg in our classroom so that we could use all of our senses to describe it. I connected it to what I was learning in biology class by comparing the egg to a spineless sea creature.

Writing on notebook paper.
I remember her having us bring in photos of ourselves as children and writing about that. We read each other’s work and tried to guess who authored the piece. I felt seen and valued, and hearing others’ stories made me feel connected to my classmates. I remember she had us do peer editing before that was widely practiced. I was a strong writer and she affirmed that. But she also paid enough attention to see that I was also a good teacher and told me so. She paired me with students who were struggling. Looking back, I think it was a big factor in my choice to enter education as a profession. 

I remember a project I did for English Literature class where I wrote a ballad, as a way to express what I had learned about this oral poetic tradition. It was about my sister’s recent breakup with her boyfriend. I brought in my guitar to sing it for the class. I was nervous, but my chorus was very simple so she joined in singing which led to everyone else joining in.  

She encouraged us to send entries to writing contests at the state and national levels. I won the Purdue poetry writing contest for high schoolers my senior year, and she drove me to Lafayette for the banquet where I got to hear John Irving read the novel he was writing at the time, A Prayer for Owen Meany. As an Indiana farm girl and first-generation-headed-to-college student, I shook the hand of the Purdue president and felt like I might belong there. 

Jane was on the eccentric side in the best way. Sometimes her lectures would lapse into a stream of consciousness. It kept our 17-year-old collective attention, though, even if we made fun of her in the hallway. She did not lecture often, though, using more active practices to keep us involved.

Challenging vague, boring writing, she kept high expectations for our work. One time she wrote the comment “good” after one of my journal entries, and I challenged her back calling her out on her vagueness. She was amused and took it to heart, and then wrote me back a couple of pages with very specific praise and criticism of my work. I imagine she went to bed late that night after going through a large stack of journals. 

Mrs. Bales did the hard, effective, gratifying work of well-designed instruction. Many teachers do this perhaps without ever labeling it “universal design for learning”. I know that she was active in state teaching organizations, so much of her skill was likely gained by attending professional development, and applying new ideas to her craft. Whatever it was called in 1982, I knew that she cared deeply for her students as individuals, and made the classroom a place for all to thrive.

PATINS is here to help you discover how you’ve been doing universal design all along! We’ll also help you network with other great teachers and find your next best teaching ideas. Check out our training calendar for opportunities to garner new ways to inspire your students. Mrs. Bales continues to inspire me. She showed up in my dreams a couple of nights ago vacuuming under my furniture. Here is a poem in her honor:

My High School English Teacher, Showing Up at 2 a.m.

Why are you here, 
in a dream
after 40 years,
lifting the end of my couch
with superhuman strength?

Vacuum whirring, 
Words stirring.

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Nov
01

The Voice in the Drawer

Red brick background with
Raise your hand if this has happened you.

Actually, don't, because you're probably reading this silently and you'll look silly if you do.

You walk into a classroom or community visit and find your student who uses an Alternative or Augmentative Communication (AAC) system or device doesn’t have it with them. It’s in a cubbie or backpack or drawer. Waiting. Uncharged. In pristine condition. The cellophane might still be on it.

I think if that piece AAC could talk, it would take you by the hand, give you great big puppy eyes and say mornfully, “I was designed to give your student a voice but I’m treated like an expensive paperweight.”

Did anyone care?

My greatest joy of working in education is that we work with people with hearts seven times bigger than the average person. We all care about students, well past our obligated 180 days of contractual caring. We care about their feelings, wants, and needs. We care about them being able to talk.

The issue in this particular situation isn’t usually lack of caring or empathy, it’s a perceived lack of resources. AKA, “It’s just one more thing to remember.” We can empathize with feeling overwhelmed, but not accept that voices are left in drawers.

Here are 5 of my favorite tried-and-true ways to ensure the voice is out of the drawer and in the hands of the students who need it:

1. Do a task analysis of the student’s schedule. Take a look at each period or station of the day and find examples of when teachers and students would use communication. Communication should happen in the bathroom, at math, and in the pool, just like for non-AAC users. Find ways to make those opportunities to communicate accessible through modeling, rich and thoughtful intervention, and access to evidence-based language representation. In other words: there’s no reason why words aren’t available and modeled all day, every day!

2. Provide some supports. Outline in painters tape where the device is supposed to go on a desk to remind staff if that square is empty. Set placemats and inexpensive device holders in key places around the room. Get the student strap or hands-free harness. Get a portable battery pack. Human-made problems (voice in a drawer) have human-made solutions, you just need to find it (or find someone to help you find it).

3. Low Tech with High Utility. Light tech is an easy and cheap way to make sure everyone has access to language. Tape light tech core word boards to key areas like centers, play area, vocational stations, and the bathroom. Give staff miniature core boards on their lanyards or communication supports on their key rings. Wear aprons or core word shirts. Temporary tattoos. Bonus: Hardcore permanent tattoos. Don’t believe your mom, an AAC tattoo is timeless and will look fantastic in your 80s!

4. Come to an understanding: sometimes we need to pause as a staff and deepen our knowledge about AAC best practices. We offer some great services and professional development. Perhaps you didn’t even know what PATINS offers for AAC. Send us an email, we’d love to chat about you’re wanting to do at your school.

5. Last but not least: Does your staff understand WHY we want to design 500+ opportunities to communicate a day? This is my favorite video that captures my why: that our students need words, many words, and words all the time. What is your why? Does your staff know their why?

AAC isn’t another thing to do. It’s the thing we do. We are all responsible for developing communication skills in our students, it’s the bedrock of learning, connection and being human. It is the best work we will ever do, and it does not belong in a drawer.

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Sep
07

Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies

Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies
Do you remember your first year in education? I think on it often lately because I just started with PATINS, my rookie year*. Looking back, my letter to myself on that first day after college would be something like this:

Dear Jessica,
You can still cry every day during the first two weeks of school and it won’t be a reflection of your skill, value, or how much you will love your job. Be gentle on yourself, everyone starts here.
p.s. Stop buying everything in the Target dollar section.

My first year I introduced iPads to my students. One little girl wanted to know how to share her beautiful “I Love Mommy” themed cookie she made on an app and send it to mom. I told her I didn’t know, so she told me I wasn’t good at my job and her mother enrolled her in another school. I never touched another iPad again.

Haha, just kidding! Kids don’t care if we are rookies (being rookies themselves) and I learned to embrace my rookie-ness. We played on the app a little and decided to snap a picture of it on my phone and email it. Later I learned I could have done a screenshot, but I didn’t know that yet, this was all brand new to me. Multiply that moment by hundreds or thousands and you’ll see a typical educator’s year. Not a semester will go by that we aren’t handed something new: new policy, new responsibilities, new kids, and new chances to be true rookies in something we have never tried. Which new challenges makes us decide to suit up? Which ones do we avoid and sit on the bench, and how will that impact our students?

Andi Stevenson talks about how important it is we embrace being terrible at something new, from her own experience as executive director and rookie ballroom dancer. Rookies, she explains, turn off internal criticism and don’t fall prey to perfectionism. They are supremely empathetic towards others on their own learning curves. Being a rookie stretches mental muscles, making us approach the new and the difficult in different ways.

Sounds like an awesome educator or administrator, doesn’t it? We call those people expert learners, and these are the skills that make successful students.

Andi also speaks to something that has probably haunted all of us at one point: burn out. Being a rookie gives you the opportunity to discover what makes you happy, and that the happiness can’t come from just one source. Staff who pigeonhole themselves into one area, personally or professionally, are staff who don’t stay long in the field. I struggled with major burnout my third year, so I started some rookie tasks in my personal life. I had a milestone birthday this summer, and leading up to that day I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, a bucket list of sorts. There were about 25 things, including:

Bake bread from scratch
Vacation somewhere new in each cardinal direction
Learn how to repair my car
Go back to school
Host Thanksgiving dinner

Some of these things I still do, some not, and some activities I eventually purchased technology to assist me.

You can watch me complete the very last thing on my list, the day before my birthday: basic carpentry. This is the beginning of my budding role as a carpenter. I'm not bad carpenter, or just a woman just playing around with some power tools, but a real carpenter. Just like our students are readers, writers, artists, and citizens. We're all just rookies right now, and given the right tools and instructions, we'll blossom.



My favorite part about education (and PATINS in particular) is that we are big fans of rookies. We have to be rookies every school year in something. Welcome to the team!  PATINS and ICAM have the coaches, the training, and the equipment to help you and ALL your students be rookies of the year. You might say we’re your number one fans.

What rookie adventure are you starting this year? How will you model your rookie mentality to your staff or students?

*warning: overuse of sports cliches
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Dec
15

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

It’s one of most universal pieces of employment advice:
don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.


So, of course, I occasionally dress up as superheros. I own several superhero costumes: Superman, Batman, Pajama Day Girl (I made her up, she’s awesome on weekends). I have a super hero costume in the trunk of my car, nestled alongside my first aid kit, in case of emergencies. Maybe you won’t be surprised to know I’ve used my Batman mask more than those bandaids.Jessica dressed and posing as superman with a red tutu

Sometimes I dress up as my favorite superhero in broad daylight, at case conferences and staff meetings: the field-trip taking, magic bus driving teacher who introduced generations to physics, anthropology, ecology, and more. That redheaded wonder woman took eight students and the class chameleon to places near and far in search of knowledge. She also has the best motto:

“Take chances! Make mistakes! Get MESSY!”

What is not to love about Ms. Frizzle? I adored the books and TV show. She was amazing, I wanted to be in her class AND be her.
Jessica holding her cellphone taking a selfie in a mirror wearing a blue dress with cartoon rocketships
It begs the question: why not aspire to be Ms. Frizzle? We have the career in education, we have the vision for fantastic learning. I have several science themed dresses for any occasion, and the lizard, at least the only lizard I could be expected to keep alive. What are we missing?

The magical bus.

The magical bus of my dreams would fly around the state and help teachers in their classrooms. Any teacher, therapist, or administrator could board-- for free-- and try tools so all their students have access to an education. They pose questions like “do you have something that lets my student access her iPad if she can’t touch it?” or “can I turn my paper worksheet into text and then have that text read aloud?” and we would say “Yes we do, and we will show you how to use it too!”

Our magical bus would always be accessible. Not just physically, but digitally. We could instantly connect to administrators and therapists and teachers for training and exploration wherever they are. Or in their PJs, maybe on Tuesday nights at 8:30 EST.

We design to remove the barriers for all our students so they can take authentic chances and learn from their mistakes and get messy. We share tricks and tips from educators who have been there. We would celebrate them, cheer their successes and research and problem solve the roadblocks.

We would bring our volcano drawings to life and explore and explode brains. We would help teams create opportunities for communication where none may have existed. We would go where no educators had gone before. Students who never thought they were "smart" would find tools that would change their minds. We would change lives.

I would submit my request for a magical bus, but I know what the answer will be:

Jessica, thank you (again) for your request for a magical bus. We wanted to remind you that not only do we not have any magical buses, everything that you are asking to do with said bus, we already do at PATINS. Please stop asking.

So while we are not Ms. Frizzle (although we can try!), we do have quite a bit of friendly magic at our fingertips whenever we need it.


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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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  8963 Hits
May
18

Nerd

Nerd
My father once lightheartedly referred to me as a “geek” when I was eleven. I burst out crying in shame. Through my tears, I was able to defend myself:

“I’m not a geek. I’m an imaginative nerd!”

And I am.

The Merriam-Webster still defines nerds as "an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits."

Ouch. I'd challenge anyone to see the positive and powerful side of that definition.


I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek that’s ever aired. Even the cartoon series. I attempted for a week to live and cook as if in the 1880’s (not any other decade, I researched). I love computer games, paper crafts, tabletop gaming, and the construction and design of roller coasters. I tried to code my own breed of digital dog to live on my computer before my parents relented and got us a real dog. My dad will list this as one of his proudest moments as a parent, although my digital frankendog only had a body and a strange floppy nose. There was not a single person in most of my childhood that liked anything that I liked, so I learned the life lesson of needing to a) expand my interests if I wanted to keep friends or b) be an ambassador of my favorite things. Thanks to my nerdiness, I have made a career out of it: have you and I talked about how AAC can change a child's life? Many of you have nerded with me about language and access!


I haven’t always wanted to be a nerd. Teenage years were rough, and there were some awkward moments, even as a self-assured adult, when colleagues would voice grievances such as:

“He’s fourteen years old, he needs to gain interests in age-appropriate things. No one’s going to want to talk about Disney princesses when he’s an adult!”

I was silent and embarrassed, because, well…

collage of Jessica with Sleeping Beauty, Jessica and Adam dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Jessica in Minnie Mouse costume with the Beast, Cinderella's Castle with fireworks, Jessica and Adam with Tinkerbelle





If this student lived at my house, that’s all we would talk about! My husband and I make annual pilgrimages to the Cinderella’s castle. We make costumes. We watch Disney movies at least once a week. We’ve rated our favorite princesses and villains and dare you to try to beat us at Disney Scene-It.


Why? Because we’re nerds! We love it; it’s fun. It’s also powerful.

Whenever I felt a little burnt out in my job, I just infused a little of my nerdiness into it and I felt renewed. Dressing like Batman or decorating with Star Wars or making a Pokemon literacy activity: they were talismans in my work and the source of my power to get through a tough day. If I could find the source of my student’s superpower, it was like striking oil. I still have tubs of Thomas the Tank Engine and Indianapolis Colts and country music star, Travis Tritt (that one was hard), materials. They were my magic wands of engagement.

In my old school internship journal, I have about 50 pages of me angsting over one student, “Mike.” To sum up those 50 pages: Mike hates coming to speech therapy and ignores me, head on the table. He doesn’t make any progress. I think he hates me.

One day his teacher mentioned he was making imaginary phone calls to someone named Gary, and the puzzle pieces clicked in my mind. I had found his talisman, the kryptonite to my engagement problem: SpongeBob.

Therapy took a detour to the pineapple under the sea and we were in business. Armed with his nerd power and friends, SpongeBob and Gary the Snail, we were conquering phrases with multiple words! Adjectives! Appropriate turn taking! The entire day (and my opinion about staying in the schools after graduation) had turned around.

Our superpowers come from places unseen: the love of our family, our memories of exceptional experiences or talents, a cartoon that makes us feel happy. In these last few days of school, I hope you don’t lose sight of where your superpower comes from and how you’ve used them for good for so many around you. Wave that nerd flag high.

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  3255 Hits
Jul
09

Is Your Assistive Tech Biased?

Is my assistive technology biased? screenshot of text from phone, sender to PATINS:

Five years ago I was excited to sit at a table with a young Black student and her mother to show her all the things her child using a new robust augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device could do.

She could tell us what she wanted to play with.

She could tell us her favorite color.

When one of her classmates was bothering her, she could tell them “stop.”

She loved it. The school loved it. Mom wasn’t sold.

“It doesn’t sound like her,” she objected.

Both of us knew this student’s mouth sounds were mostly squeals and cries. I opened the settings and showed her the choices: “Ella,” “Heather,” and “Tracy.” We listened to little clips of the computerized voices.

“They don’t sound like her.”

And she was right. There wasn’t a voice that sounded like someone that came from her family or community. Not a single voice that sounded like a young Black person, not on any system I could find. I could program a voice for her talker that sounded just like Yoda from Star Wars right then and there, but a Black American was too far fetched for assistive technology.

Because technology is programmed by people, who all have biases, our assistive technology has biases. And those biases are a danger to the UDL framework we use and in some cases, life threatening.

The speech-to-text software doesn’t work equally across all voices and varieties of English, especially Black voices.

The grammar checker flags non-white varieties of English.

The AAC lacks language from other dialects, cultures, and communities, and if it is there it is labeled as fringe. You want another language? It's available, but no one downloaded the file or attempted a translation.

The visual support makers are absent of vocabulary that is developmentally appropriate for all school aged children, such as words for sexual health, identity, and justice or they are locked behind a wall of “adult only.”

Indiana’s Article 7 Special Education law is explicit on how to figure out if a student can take home their AT:  “On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a student's home or in other settings is required if the student's CCC determines that the student needs access to those devices in order to receive a free appropriate public education” (my emphasis added). 

If your staff refer to a “school policy” or a hoop for families to jump through, such as an after-school training, you’re inviting bias into determining which kids get to talk, read and learn when the school bell rings at the end of the day.

Your word prediction program guesses the words that could follow “He is ___” are: good, smart, and mean, but “She is ___”: crazy, married, and pretty.

As we scrutinize our own biases, inherent tools and instruction we are welcoming into our classrooms and families:

  1. Listen to the people using the technology.
  2. Question your own biases.
  3. Take action. Engage your colleagues in what you’ve learned. Dialogue with the people creating the technology. Good developers are open to constructive criticism from consumers. My word prediction example was immediately discussed and corrected by the company. If they aren’t responsive to your concern about bias within their product, why would you want that in your room?

Our assistive technology has some problems created by humans. Humans can fix it.

Resources and Further Reading

PATINS Lending Library and no-cost training for supporting all students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education for K-12 Educators, Teaching Tolerance

Vocabulary for Socially Valued Adult Roles, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Ableism, National Conference for Community and Justice

AI is coming to schools, and if we’re not careful, so will its biases, Brookings

Don’t Get It Twisted- Hear My Voice, ASHA Leader

8 Influential Black Women with Disabilities To Follow, Disability Horizons


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  4114 Hits
Oct
08

Throw Out Your "Low Tech" Stuff

graph of a positive correlation between AA batteries and potatoes with the title What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

My husband and I have an inside joke for measuring things that can’t quite be measured: the potato.

How much do I love you? 12 potato.

How cute is our dog? 9.5 potato.

How much do we hate fireworks after midnight? 14,000 potato.

It’s silly nonsense but easy to use.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a team about a young student who had complex communication needs. They had tried the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) but the student wasn’t making much progress. I asked why they had started with PECS.

“We use best practice. First, we start with low tech.”

Exactly zero potato of that is best practice.

How does one progress on this imaginary spectrum of technology? Is it when you perform really well or really badly? Did the number of batteries used in the tool correlate with her skills or her needs?

No one could say, but there was an unwritten rule: something had to be proven before you got something “fancy.”

a graph showing a strong positive correlation between

It’s a hard paradigm to change for all us folks born in the late 1900s (ouch): it’s 2020, there is no such thing as a low-high assistive technology spectrum.

Consider this model I adapted from my old notes on aided AAC and other AT:

Low tech:
Cheap, easy to learn, no batteries, minimal vocabulary

Mid tech:
Moderately expensive, needs some training, more vocabulary

High tech:
Expensive, extensive training needed, relies on touch screens technology or other newer technology, lots of vocabulary

The more you learn, the more the above is proven wrong. A PODD book comes in paper with tons of vocabulary and in my experience requires lots of training, a minimum investment of several hundred dollars. We have a library of very limited and inexpensive communication apps we could teach you to use in 10 minutes or less.

We have apps and extensions that are free or built into any cheap smartphone that can read text aloud, is this “high tech” AT better or worse than the "mid-tech" text scanning pen or the "low tech" sheet overlay? The number of batteries it has will inform you about as well as my potatoes.

What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

PATINS Specialists can help you discover several frameworks and assessment tools that help teams keep the focus on what is important: your student receiving an equitable and accessible education. Our no-cost consultation services are always available for our Indiana public PreK-12 schools with a focus on best practice, sound evidence base, and effective ideas. We'll even loan you tools to try from our no-cost Lending Library and be available every step of your student's trial.

When we focus on our student’s needs and the features of the tools, our IEPs and supports become better. We are able to figure out which things our students have outgrown, we are quicker to identify what isn’t working and why. When we use a common language of tool features, our students learn to advocate for themselves more effectively and our conversations with other team members become more productive.

Do not throw out your "low tech" stuff. Throw out the low/high technology spectrum labels and embrace tool features so your students can address the barriers in their world. You’ll be a better professional for it.

I’m 400 potato certain.

1
  3185 Hits
Apr
08

Employee of the Year

Employee of the Year Cheesy 1990s school photo featuring a cream colored chihuahua looking off in the distance as the misty backdrop set against a neon laser background, with another picture of the same chihuahua in the foreground looking at the camera with

I had a student we’ll call Todd. Todd’s favorite things were the zoo, reading animal books, and quizzing people on their animal knowledge. One of my favorite days working with him started with a very rough morning with a writing assignment.

“It’s a letter to anyone,” his teacher explained. “We’ve been at this all morning and he only has one word written.”

Todd looked crestfallen. After animals, pleasing adults was one of his favorite things. His teacher knew that if Todd hadn’t started something, it wasn’t because he was “stubborn” but he struggled to get started with new tasks and needed another way to approach it.

We went back to my "speech room" and looked at the blank paper. I had lots of tools at my disposal: adapted pencils, keyboards, voice dictation software, wiggle seats, kits and binders of visual supports for writing, and of course I had free access as an Indiana public school employee to the PATINS Lending Library to borrow whatever I thought might help Todd. I thought of my tools, I thought of Todd and what he needed and remembered his special nerd power.

“Do you want to write a letter to a dog?”

Todd nodded, still a little hesitant after an hour of trying to write and nothing coming out.

“You could write to my dog, if you wanted. She would write you back.”

“You have a dog?!”

So I told him about my chihuahua, Winnipeg. Winnie was abandoned on the street in Indianapolis and we adopted her. She loves blankets, snuggles, and sandwiches. I had a hunch she loved reading and writing letters.

Todd immediately scribed five sentences (one of his accommodations, since tools like speech-to-text software were not accessible for him), and put the periods and capitalization in himself:

Dear Winnie,

Don’t eat all the treats. Why are you a little dog? You are a good loving dog. Play tug of war with Mrs. Conrad. Don’t wake your dad Winnie.

Love,

Todd

It may never make it into a library or be critically acclaimed, but it is one of my favorite written works a student has ever produced. I felt like Winnie earned Employee of the Year that day. Relationships paired with the best ways for access wins every time.

Some of our pets have put in more hours and done more service to humanity in general and Indiana students specifically than they’ll ever understand. They’ve been especially treasured and faithful companions this past year, while we spent way more time on “their” home. They are therapeutic little creatures who remind us to enjoy simple pleasures, take care of ourselves, maybe take a nap in the sun sometimes.

If you’d like to see some of our PATINS pets, I created a short quiz. See if you can guess what pet belongs to which staff member!

Todd got his letter from Winnie the next week, and he was rightly suspicious:

“Did she write this by herself?”

“Good question, what do you think?”

“She can’t use a pencil.”

“No, she can’t.”

“But maybe you can scribe, like how you do with me.”

“I think that’s a great idea.”

I'd love to hear about your pet and the little acts of service they do for you, your family, or students!

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  978 Hits
Apr
07

Who's Afraid of AAC?

Who's Afraid of AAC? When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

Somehow being an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) specialist with PATINS has put me in the position of listening to the confessions of school staff:

“I’m not good with technology.”

“They didn’t teach any of this when I was in school.”

“AAC is not my thing.”

It’s usually said in a hushed tone when they think no one else is listening.

“I have nothing but good news,” I’ll often say. “90% of what we’re talking about is just good instruction for all students that you already know, we’re just framing it in a new way to support non-speaking students. The rest I’ll put on a cheat sheet, and I find cheat sheets helpful too.”

But what I want to say is “AAC wasn’t my thing either and look at me now!” At one time, out of the things that SLPs had to learn, I would have ranked AAC dead last. Even below the paperwork.

I had “The AAC Class.” In one semester I was to learn everything I needed to know about AAC and I would be set for the rest of my career (haha!). However, there was one little snag: the professor who taught the AAC class took a sabbatical and another staff member was wrangled into covering it so we could graduate on time. This is what I learned that semester:

Nothing.

At least, nothing which was practical or helpful in the real world. I was given my first “real job” caseload with several non-speaking students, a binder for PECS, a Boardmaker CD, and released into the wilderness. My class notes were worthless.

I was in trouble and these students needed something I didn’t have: the knowledge of how to “do the AAC.”

Of course, AAC was definitely not my thing. But it had to be because there was no one else. I adopted a simple plan that has kept me afloat to this day: just keep saying “yes” to every opportunity. Every training and app I could find to practice with, every opportunity to attend or present at conferences and network. None of this came naturally or from a book or college course. Yes, I will pilot it. Yes, I will learn it. Yes, I can teach it. It was just years of chasing ideas and tools for students that made them light up inside when they found their voice. I made mistakes, forgave myself, and tried to learn and do better. Yes, yes, yes.

Exactly none of us started life as “technologically gifted” or imbued with the knowledge of AAC or any technique or educational principles. We all had to start at zero and learn.

When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” I think what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

They are scared of failing. They are embarrassed by the idea of not being enough for the task. They are traumatized and work-worn from so many evaluations and tasks, and worried that their work won’t be enough. 

And you know what every scared person wants?

A friend, a light in the darkness, and some tools.

At PATINS we have lots of those. Did you know that if you are an Indiana public PreK-12 staff member and one of our events on our training calendar isn’t at a time that works for you or your team, you can request it at another time? If you were hoping to talk about that topic but wanted 1:1 personalization or a deep dive into a special topic, we can set up that consultation at no cost to you or your district.

In particular, for those who are ready to say “yes” to trying out AAC tools and techniques, we have a process just for that. For a no-cost PATINS AAC Consultation, please fill out this referral for each student. This 2 minute video is a brief overview of our process.

The scariest thing that could happen is doing nothing.

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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
1
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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  573 Hits
Oct
31

Just Leave The Light on 10 Minutes Longer and Watch the Door!

Image of porch with spider webs, dragon, and big spider
This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk.  The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp.  The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work! 

With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the 
PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on!  Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting.  She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat.  Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm.  Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back.  Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy.  At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me!  I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle!  Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story!  In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening. 

She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”  

Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch.  Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.  

Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important.  However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different.  Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face.  One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word
-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class.  ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.  

Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important.  …and I will agree to a very large extent.  However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier.  Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes.  …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment. 

As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference.  While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course.  For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working.  We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving.  We stay still.  We turn the light off early.  

The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort.  I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy!  After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings.  If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support. 

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
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Aug
09

How PATINS Project Saves My Roman Holiday

Two females and one male posing for a picture in a cobblestone piazza in Rome, Italy. In the background, a white marble obelisk with two statues of males in traditional Roman attire.

“Come si dice…?” (How do you say…?”) My most used Italian phrase, right after “No, non grazie” because a local is offering me a third serving of salty prosciutto and I can feel my arteries clogging just by looking at it.


We had prepared for months to immerse ourselves in the Italian culture. We would be spending two weeks with my husband’s relatives in Rome and Abruzzo. Duolingo was mastered, podcasts were listened to, bowls of Barilla pasta and our sorry excuse for homemade sauce were eaten; but all this preparation was no match for the speed and nuances of the language. Since having graduate courses in accent reduction and language development, I knew this would be true to a certain degree. However, I wasn’t prepared for the native Italian speaker, or more accurately speakers, allowing you .3 seconds to listen, translate into English, translate back into Italian, and speak before they assumed "tu non capisci" (you don't understand). I found myself demonstrating all the behaviors I had witnessed in my students learning a second language.
  • I am the student who smiles and says “yes” anytime I am spoken to.
  • I am the student who avoids situations and modifies my actions. 
  • I am the student who is self conscious about my pronunciation and therefore speaks quietly.
  • I am the student who has poor eye contact because I'm scanning the environment for clues.
  • I am the student who hopes no one notices or speaks to me.
  • I am the student who zones out by the time it’s 7th bell (or in my case, by the time tiramisu hits the table).
One day, while my family chatted over porchetta sandwiches,I clung to a translated pamphlet about another intimidatingly beautiful building. You would have thought I was immersed in its history, but in reality, I was satisfying a craving for connection to anything in my native language. That’s when I began to reflect on my previous students who were also learning a second language. 
  • Was everyday this difficult for them?
  • How did they strategize around their challenges?
  • How could I have provided more supports in both languages? 
A lot of regret with that last thought. To overcome this feeling, I did what I call “re-lesson planning”. In my new sessions, I paired texts in different languages, introduced Google translate, encouraged Snap&Read, slowed down my speech, repeated information, and added visuals. Ah, perfect! Now, I could enjoy the rest of my vacation guilt free, right? Wrong. That feeling stayed with me, the one that said “What else can I do?”  

Fortunately, I would be returning to my new position as Data & Outreach Specialist at PATINS Project to work alongside a team of experts in access to the curriculum. Their year round trainings, no cost consultation, lending library, and ICAM resources can turn that defeated feeling of "What else can I do?" to "This student has what they need to achieve!"  

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Jun
07

Hammers and Screwdrivers: One Approach to Accommodations and Design

Photograph of Daniel as a child in first grade
"He's so quiet."

"I think he knows the answers, I wish he would just talk more in class."

"He never raises his hand in class." 

"He never volunteers to work at the board." 

"His handwriting needs work."

"He's got a lot of cursive work to improve, does he practice at home?"

"I can't always read what he writes, so he loses points if I can't read it." 

"He's so shy."  

...the comments on nearly every report card I can remember and/or every parent-teacher conference as a young student in school.

I was reminded of these teachers' comments recently during an interaction in a presentation I was facilitating on UDL and then again in a subsequent meeting, during which I was speaking about accommodations. A few notions immediately came to mind: relevancy, universal design, and accommodations.  

Relevancy: When I think about what I've done to earn a living for the past 18 years, I snicker a bit, regarding those teacher's comments.  For nearly two decades I've been speaking to both live and virtual audiences out of my passion for education and to put food on the table. During that same time in my career, I can't recall more than one handful of times I've ever had to handwrite anything for professional purposes, besides my signature of course. The relevancy of what was important to those teachers at the time, and the fact that I lost points for my handwriting, turned out to have very little to no relevancy to my professional life, yet they were items I was being measured against year after year.

The rhetorical question I propose is, "Were those teachers assessing things that were relevant to my becoming an independently successful adult?" Something I talk about nearly every time the topic of education is at hand, is the idea that we frequently measure or assess one component of a task that is impeding the subsequent component, when what's truly relevant is that subsequent component. One of my favorite quotes from David Rose; "Every single test is first a test of engagement, secondly a test of reading, and then perhaps a test on the content itself." 

Universal Design: 
I wasn't shy. I've never thought of myself as shy anyway. I did prefer to speak when I had something to say, not just to demonstrate that I knew the answer. I also preferred to work on my own and in a way, perhaps, different than the way I was "supposed" to work in order to show my understanding. I knew that I despised the sound and feel of pencil lead on paper, and I knew that I could/would have shown a lot more of what I understood had there been a couple other options for responding available to me.


While it's not always easy, we might find out things about some of our students that we didn't know existed by reflecting on our instruction and honestly asking ourselves whether we offer options for students to show us what they really understand.  


A picture of 3 hammers and multiple screwdrivers in a tool drawer
Accommodations
: There are many kinds of hammers and there are, of course, equally varying types of screwdrivers. There are rubber mallets, ball-pein hammers, multi-pound sledge hammers, etc. There are phillips head, flat head, torx, star head, and a multitude of other screwdrivers. I might be really familiar and comfortable with a hammer, or even three different types of hammers, but that doesn't mean that I can use any of those three to drive in a torx head screw. Instead, I might just have to figure out what a torx head screwdriver is, borrow one and then learn to use it.  


As teachers, we frequently instruct utilizing the methods and materials for engagement, presentation, and response that we tend to, ourselves prefer. That's a really difficult habit to break, even for some of the very best teachers. What this can ultimately mean is that we tend to be slightly better than chance at choosing the appropriate accommodations for our students, unless we utilize objective forms of determination.

Finding the right accommodation usually necessitates the systematic and trialing of several different things with fidelity before deciding upon the most appropriate accommodation for that student. This, of course, is dependent on the particular time and setting, for that task at hand. That can seem daunting, to say the least. The PATINS Lending Library is where you can borrow items to trial and the PATINS Specialists who can help you implement those trials.

The next time you might be writing an IEP, struggling with a student, or sitting in a case conference and you want to recommend an accommodation, spend just a few moments considering why you're recommending it. Is it because it's the accommodation that you're most familiar with or that you have at your fingertips, or is it truly the correct accommodation for that student in that environment for that task? Let us help you get your hands on a torx-head screwdriver and perhaps show you some ways it can be used. 



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Apr
05

The 5 Things That Went Right Today: Perspective and Levers

Terrifically passionate people make wonderfully significant and impactful decisions, all the time, every single day. These people are usually deeply emotionally invested in all that they choose to do. Some might consider them “all or nothing” kinds of people. This is exhausting, but it's essential to the learning process! These people are probably the greatest educators you’ve known throughout your life, whether they are “teachers” or not. Ponder upon those particular reverberations in your past for a moment before reading further. Make note of a few of those people. Write them down or sketch their presence on a mental note card. Perhaps, consider sending them a real note of gratitude. Maintaining this level of passion for the learning of others isn’t easy and requires exceptionally purposeful labor.    

Great things…amazing accomplishments, etc., most often happen when phenomena are not typical. Have you ever given someone a compliment in the form of, “Wow, you were so very normal today?”  …probably not. 

I struggle with the K-12 education world at times when it seems to be seeking to normalize students and teachers. Placing educators and students into nicely packaged, designated, little boxes with a label on top, and a set of strict policies, can make some things easier at times, for sure. However, it also asphyxiates creativity and disregards the potential impact of outliers. This leads to frustration and burnout of passionate people.  

In the United States, 8% of teachers leave every single year and less than a third of those are retiring. That works out to about 200,000 teachers leaving the field. The greatest areas of shortage include math, science, bilingual education and special education. The percentage of special educators leaving the field is over 50% within the first 3-5 years of teaching. Additionally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down about 35% over the past 5-6 years. If we could reduce that overall attrition percentage of 8 to 4%, our problem of teacher shortage could be nearly eliminated. 

Teaching is hard! Teaching students who learn differently than we do is even harder! If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve likely heard me talk at some length about “creativity, skill, and determination” all being fluid notions of great importance to successful facilitation of the learning brain. It is my experience that when learning isn’t happening or isn’t occurring at the desired rate, one or more of those three concepts requires some adjusting. I realize this is somewhat of an over-simplification. However, by simplifying a complex equation, we begin to make it understandable and approachable. When we couple this simplified equation of “creativity, skill, and determination” with our belief that all students are capable of learning, we can begin to feel empowered to design a plan of action. We avoid stagnating, which leads to abandonment.  

Creativity, skill and determination are very much interrelated and dependent on one another. In other words, all three usually have to simultaneously exist within a reasonable median on its respective spectrum of potential. Stifled creativity can quickly degrade determination, for example. Lack of skill can make creativity feel impossible. Fading determination can render both lofty creativity and prominent skill ineffective. 

So, how can we begin to be of service to the educators who are working with the learners who often need them the most in order to maintain creativity, skill, and determination? Further, what can we learn from the highly passionate educators who do not become part of the 8% attrition rate in the US? 

How can a student pass an end of course assessment or state assessment, but fail class after class? Is it possible that a teacher can fail a student in a class while that same student actually knows the content material well enough to pass the high stakes assessment? It happens! It’s likely that this same teacher has had a plethora of difficulties to absorb in any given day. Focusing on the perceived misfortunes of the day is easy to do and most certainly punches determination right in the guts, but deliberately turning one’s attention to five specific things that went right that day can happen quickly and most certainly can fortify determination! 

Celebrate the outliers. Administrators can encourage and prop-up educators who substantiate creativity! Administrators have incredible power to do this right in their hands every day! Calculated risks could be weighted with value on teacher observations and evaluations. Teachers can try to avoid making assumptions about expectations for their students until they've tried at least five ways to present the materials to them, to allow them to interact and respond and to engage them. The PATINS UDL Lesson Plan Creator could be a notable place to start!  

Sleeping Cat on a computer keyboard
Research has shown that something as simple as watching kitten videos can cause a rush of dopamine to the brain! Peek-A-Boo Cat is another quick place to start!

 

Similarly, deep interest or passion in other areas can bring about similar reactions in humans. Personally, it’s art, music and motorcycles, in addition to kitties, of course! This biological reaction motivates creativity and can allow the body and mind to refocus on the five things that went right that day, and fuels passion! 

diagram of wheels on a beam mounted with a fulcrum, but at tilt
I used to believe that this allowed me to maintain balance. However, a highly respected colleague of mine has recently lead me to believe something a bit different. When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant. Distinctly passionate and effective people exemplify this sort of continual movement on their levers! 

Gaining skill can promptly fuel both creativity and determination! Did you know that the remarkable PATINS staff are recurrently hosting trainings that cost you nothing? Check out our training calendar and if you don't see exactly what you're looking for with regard to content, date, or time, simply lets us know! We'll get it scheduled for you! The PATINS Lending Library also offers educators a means of implementing creative ideas when funding may not allow it locally. Borrowing from us costs you nothing. We even cover shipping in both directions! 

Determination can wane quickly when an educator feels isolated. I believe strongly in the power of personal learning networks. These can be local or global or ideally, both! Consider joining the PATINS staff along with educators from around the globe on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm EST for our weekly Twitter Chat! Just search Twitter for the hashtag #PatinsIcam! Your own network could build quickly by simply committing to 30 minutes once a week on Tuesday evenings! Correspondingly, the PATINS Specialists are always eager to support determination by joining you right within your classrooms and school buildings! Let us fuel one another's determination! 

Don't allow yourself to be alone if you sense your determination or creativity diminishing! Likewise, if you are feeling creative and determined, but not sure of the skills, resources, strategies, or tools needed to make it happen, remember that the PATINS staff is just a click away! At the very least, make precise note of the five things that went right in your day, every day!  


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