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Jan
17

Solving the puzzle!

Some of my favorite things go together so nicely.  Playing tennis on a tennis court overlooking the ocean while a dolphin plays in the background would be my idea of a perfect afternoon!  Another perfect scenario would include me sitting by the ocean reading a mystery novel while a manatee splashed around. Another of my favorite activities is putting together a puzzle with my husband and daughter on our dining room table.  I call it “family puzzling time” and it always makes me so happy to have everyone together completing a puzzle.

As I was contemplating my next blog posting I was thinking about how things fit together. Many times we have pieces of our lives or daily routines that need to fit together to help complete our puzzles.  Thinking about how pieces go together relate to the students I serve as well. Teachers have the complex task of figuring out which pieces of the puzzle fit to best serve their students.  

Each student is unique and will require a different solution.  Some students will need AEM (Accessible Educational Materials) and a technology solution to access these materials. This is where the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) can help. We can provide answers and solutions for your students who struggle with print materials. We can help solve your puzzling student situations.

Do your students need digital text, do they need to access it on an iPad, do they need text to speech? Or do they need audio text on a Windows computer? The different scenarios are endless and the ICAM can help you put the puzzle together.   

If you find yourself with a puzzling case, please do not hesitate to contact the ICAM! Sandy Stabenfeldt (myself), Jeff Bond and Martha Hammond are here to help you every step of the way.


Sandy StabenfeldtJeff BondMartha Hammond


The ICAM webpage is full of great information and resources for you to check out as well.  We have also made some step by step videos to assist you!
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Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

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

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

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

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


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

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

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

So, what have you been waiting to do?

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

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

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Dec
26

A New Year, A New Classroom?

Traditional & UDL Classroom Comparison From a traditional classroom to one that is more universally designed.
For many people, the end of the year is laden with traditions. After all, traditions are inherently part of the many cultures that exist around the world, especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations. They are present in a variety of our routines, activities, and schedules at home, work, and school.

Some traditions evolve over the years, reflecting the change in the times, the environment, or the family, while others remain the same from one year to the next. I like to call the latter, anchor traditions. I believe that our desire to observe these traditions not only stems from the definition that they bring to us as a people, but is deeply rooted in the comfort and familiar expectations that accompany each one.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s within this comfort and familiarity that many traditions, good and bad, persist in our schools and classrooms. It’s natural to cling to what we know and what has always been done, but when does our personal comfort begin to impede the learning experience for our students?

I’d argue that more often than not holding onto what we know to be true in a zone of comfort, holds us back from doing the job we truly want to do as educators. That it keeps us in the mindset of teaching the way we were taught, of putting our academic to-do lists before our students more immediate needs, of being resistant to new ideas, of overlooking the value that each student brings to the classroom, of forgetting why we became teachers in the first place.

In fact, as I reflect upon my own teaching and experience, I can admit that I allowed myself to retreat to my personal comfort zone, teaching the way I was taught and projecting onto my students what I wanted for them without asking them what they wanted for themselves.

Had I known then what I know now, there are steps that I would have taken to shift the focus from my traditional, teacher-centered methods solely created to manage my classroom to a student-centered classroom driven by my students’ individual wants and needs.

But how?

I would have started with relationship building. Not the type of relationship building that happens those first few days of school (and includes the obligatory beginning of the year “get-to-know me” poster activity), but real relationship building. The type that takes time, energy, and sometimes a lot of effort and persistence. The type that begins with allowing every student to enter the classroom with a clean slate and without preconceived notions.

I would have asked my students to share how they prefer to learn, what they believed their strengths and weaknesses to be, what their fears were and always given them multiple ways to respond - verbally, in writing, with pictures, etc.

I would have asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn that year and worked to incorporate their interests into the daily lessons and activities.

I would have asked my students how they were doing and truly listened without judgement.

I would have worked hard to make sure my students knew that I sincerely cared about them regardless of their behavior and even in the worst of times.

Relationship building can be a game changer and is key when it comes to creating a student-centered environment. And though it may be difficult to foster new relationships and leave behind those all too comfortable traditional methods, all it really takes to head in a new direction focused on students is to take the first step. The upcoming new year and semester offers the perfect opportunity to take this step, so will you?

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Dec
19

The Gift of Growth

We welcome a guest blogger this holiday week, Julie Bryant, who is a teacher for the blind and low vision serving in Dubois, Spencer, Perry and Pike Counties. I love Julie’s style: she’s direct, funny and a fierce advocate for her students. I turned her loose to choose a topic, and I’m not surprised that she’s chosen to share stories of her students and their achievements:

Julie Bryant and her husband Bill.
When Bev asked me to participate in the PATINS weekly blog I decided with Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas quickly approaching I felt that it was important to talk about the blessings that being a BLV teacher has afforded me. I am blessed to meet my students when they first enter preschool and remain with them until they graduate high school and if I’m lucky, beyond. I have students that still call me when they have a question, concern, or just need some advice after moving on to college or the workforce. Watching these students grow and blossom is the greatest gift. 


As BLV teachers when our students succeed or fail we feel those joys and sorrows right along with our students and their parents. The technology that we now have for our students has come a long way over the last 10 years that I have been in this position. 

Technology has helped my blind and low vision students feel more like their peers and given them access to more information, books, and careers. My blind students have BrailleTouch devices, MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones that have allowed them to be more independent. 

One of my students in high school wants to be a lawyer and if his ability to argue his case with me daily about anything and everything is any indication of his abilities, I know he will be amazing. He gives Sunday sermons at a small country church once a month (I’ve said for years he should be a preacher!), as he seems to inspire others. He would eventually like to get into politics (ugh), but at least I know he will be an honest and upstanding politician! He is an inspiration not because he is blind, but because he doesn’t see himself as different and gets upset when people treat him with disrespect because he is blind. 

I have a student with low vision who is attending IU. She is part of the IU singing Hoosiers and has an amazing voice. She is also studying to be a psychologist. Being part of this exclusive group was a goal she worked hard to attain and she has a work ethic second to none.

I have tried to impress upon my students that they can do or be anything they want, but they have to put in the work to achieve those goals. Some think I am pretty tough, but if being tough helps my students succeed then I will continue to push my students.
 


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Dec
13

Building Blocks: Virtual vs Real

My oldest grandson, Dean, has taken a real interest in blocks. It’s kind of funny, because as a toddler he really didn’t show that much interest in playing with them. However, at the age of 8 and in the third grade it finally captivated him.

Don’t get me wrong, he has played with a Lego here and there, but it really took off this past Autumn. I couldn’t help but wonder what prompted the interest.

Looking back, over the past year he has been very involved with the video software Minecraft. If you’re not familiar, it is a virtual world where a player or gamer (I’m not sure of the correct term) creates a virtual world out of blocks and a variety of objects and things one can collect.

For his birthday last April, he was all about Minecraft, including a desire to own a Minecraft chest. My wife, Rita (aka Mimi) had been checking Pinterest and YouTube and came up with the idea that I should make him one.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I started the project the week before his birthday. I took ownership of the process and completed the chest.   We filled it with Minecraft little figurines.  Dean was very surprised and grateful… not so much for what was in the chest, but that Pappy Pa and Mimi created it just for him.

Dean MC Box

Shortly after his birthday, I asked Dean for a little instruction on Minecraft.   He gave me a tutorial then showed me videos on YouTube where gamers show off their abilities.

This past summer I can’t tell you how many times I observed Dean and his brother Logan watching Minecraft YouTube videos…it seemed endless.

I had mentioned Legos earlier - here at the Bond house, we had a somewhat small collection. Just the right size however for Dean to start “creating” things that resembled Minecraft components.  With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, Rita and I decided to bulk up our Lego collection for the holidays. You know just to give the kids something to do.

Thanksgiving Day we pulled out a box of Legos with over 1500 pieces! All the kid’s eyes lit up especially Dean’s. It was fun to watch all the grandkids AND my son-in-law build their individual creations.

After about an hour or so the interest level subsided, except for Dean’s. He continued to amass several replicas of what he had created in Minecraft. He was as consumed with building with Legos as he was building in the virtual game, and it lasted for hours.

I am not a gamer. I have a Wii but still can’t virtual bowl for squat, so I don’t go to a bowling alley for that reason. However, to watch Dean over the past months translate the virtual reality of his creation into the real world of constructing what he has imagined, has been fascinating and rewarding.

We put a lot of technology into the hands of children. I wonder how many can transfer their virtual experiences into real life experiences?
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Nov
28

This Blog Post is Full of Curse Words

This Blog Post is Full Of Curse Words Icon for various forms of AAC with the large black font reading
About once a month I have to answer a really important question:

“Why is that word on his talker?”

“That word,” is our euphemism for any number of words: body parts (slang and clinical), fart sounds, curse words, words that are culturally irrelevant, childish, or inappropriate for a child [of his age/place where he is/supposed cognitive level]. And someone, somewhere, decided to program it on this child’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device as if encouraging the child to use inappropriate language.

I get it. When I imagined the magical moment of helping a student find her voice with the fancy new Sound Generating Device, I wasn’t expecting her first two-word phrase on her device to be “poop butt” repeated over and over again for the next three days, either.

I get it, I really do! We’re professionals trying to create engaging and enriching environments for our learners and the literacy activity has been derailed because we taught him how to make plurals on his talker and now he loves pluralizing the word “as.”

We admit we’re impressed, but we can’t let that slide.

In moments of “enriched language” that flusters me I take a deep breath and remember:

I am not the language police.

A larger-than-anticipated part of my job has been talking about cuss words. And promoting cuss words. And explaining the functional importance of having access to cuss words. And listening to and programming cuss words into communication devices. And explaining why adults can't delete cuss words and "adult vocabulary" from a kid's voice. And listing all culturally relevant cuss words. And finding good visuals for cuss words.

If my professors could see me now.

So what happens if she talks out of turn, pressing the buttons on her communication app? The same thing that happens to all the other students talking out, of course.

What happens when she won’t stop saying “poop butt”? The same thing you would do for any other child who says it. We don’t duct tape kids mouths, and we don’t take talkers away.

What happens when she uses swear words in class? The same thing that you do for any other student who cusses in class. We can’t forcibly remove words from a speaking child’s vocabulary. We teach, we consider the variables, and we provide natural consequences. We don’t delete words from the communication device.

It is work worth doing, with clear expectations, communication between school and family (and sometimes with the office door closed and the volume down really low as you check to make sure “#$!@” is pronounced correctly). The communication device is a voice, not a school textbook or a representation of just the words you hope or anticipate they’ll use today. It’s their access to their human right to communicate, and sometimes communication is colorful, shocking, or uncomfortable.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, with any language you like.*

*natural consequences apply

The icon AAC in my title image is from ARASAAC, a no-cost Creative Commons license resource for symbols and icons to represent all words (even “those words”).
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Nov
15

Everyday UDL

When I heard we could invite a guest blogger, I knew who mine would be from the get-go. Introducing my former college study buddy, roommate for many years, and always my professional/life guide, Sammi Bowyer.

Currently, there are two preschools in Indiana lucky to have her as their Speech-Language Pathologist. Her incredible optimism and #AvidReader* status lend well to providing the highest quality services for our students.

Sammi & Jen standing next to the

*
#AvidReader is someone who loves reading, reads a lot, and isn’t ashamed to flaunt it.  

Now, when you hear Universal design for learning (UDL), do you think, “Great, one more thing I have to do...?” It’s okay if you do. But, before you click out of the page, keep reading. I think you’ll find Sammi’s take a common-sense way to look at the importance of incorporating UDL in the classroom as we empower and show care for all our students.

--

When I think about UDL, I think about the unique interests of my students, how I can teach a concept in multiple formats, and the many ways in which my students share with me what they know. By utilizing UDL, I work to remove barriers so all my students are able to use their unique skill sets as learners and people. My targets for what I need to teach them doesn’t shift, but rather the ways in which they can go about learning and demonstrating their knowledge can.

We use the three principles of UDL, representation, expression, and engagement, all the time in our everyday lives. For example, think about the expression principle the next time you are completing a task at work, researching something new, or offering help to a friend in need. Then, think about all the different ways you might be able to reach your end goal. Chances are that one of those ways will stick out as making the most sense for you, but it might not be the same way that your spouse, your child, your co-worker, or your friend would approach the same task.

When we utilize UDL in the classroom, we are modeling for our students that their ideas are valued.

--

If you want to learn more about how to put UDL into practice in your classroom, I highly recommend registering for Access to Education 2018 by Nov. 21st. Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana Director of Special Education, and Dr. Kelly J. Grillo, 2018 Florida Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Marjorie Crick Teacher of the Year, lead the way with inspiring keynotes followed by great breakout sessions!   

PATINS Project Access to Education 2018

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Oct
26

Our Strongest Parts

orange leaf that has changed color from green with a heart shape missing from it's center
For many educators, it’s about the time of year when the adrenaline of the school-start may begin to wane, the fatigue of many early mornings/late nights is no longer remedied with six cups of coffee, and the compassion poured into every single learner each day has left the drain plug pulled and the tank nearly depleted. 

By this time, you’ve solved many “puzzles,” endeavored WITH kids through all kinds of issues not related to the curriculum, maneuvered strategically to improve access to materials and instruction, skipped lunches, stayed late with struggling learners, and work-dreamt repeatedly about the one or two you just cannot seem to reach YET! 

You’ve probably also noticed that this is the time of year in Indiana when the summer foliage of teeming green has started to convert to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges! Have you wondered why this happens? In parts of the country, like Indiana, where trees are to withstand rigorous and grueling freezing temperatures over winter, they cleverly reduce themselves to their strongest parts!  

The leaves of a deciduous or broadleaf tree contain thin fluids that are susceptible to freezing, making them relatively delicate, weak, and unprotected by the coating of wax that evergreen trees exhibit. These shrewd trees conserve energy, thus preserving themselves, by shedding their leaves! This begins to occur when their chemical light receptors start to detect the change in daylight hours, which can happen with as little as a 30 minute reduction in daily sunshine!

As downcast as the long winters here can tend to be at times, I do find a genuine appeal in how and why our trees transform themselves in order to focus on their strongest parts! Trees slowly let go of their leaves through the magnificent display of Fall color that we are beginning to see, in order to direct their energy to their trunks, stems, branches, and bark to weather the cold winter! Brilliant! 

I wonder if we might take a lesson from our Indiana trees? I wonder about my own “toughest parts” and which parts of myself I might be able to temporarily let go of in order to conserve the energy that is available and focus on my foundational structures. What parts of yourself are your strongest and most resilient? What might you be able to let go of, in order to grow those strongest parts of yourself? What about your students…what could be set aside temporarily, in order to focus time, energy, and resources on the strengths of each student? 

As educators, we tend to also be perfectionists and we strive to address so many things with our students all at once, that we sometimes create our own greatest barriers. Perhaps, letting some "leaves" fall off that continually distract from the more important tasks at hand could lead to more of the outcomes we seek. What if we let go of a student’s phonetic decoding skills temporarily in order to feed his intense interest in science or history and we let the student drop his phonics “leaves” temporarily in order to focus on his strength of reading with his ears? What if we permitted a student to drop her handwriting “leaves” and begin to use text to speech or a keyboard, instead of continuously losing points on writing assignments? When we introduce a new piece of assistive technology or a new format of specialized educational materials; what if we allowed the student to temporarily drop the “leaves” of the content itself, while familiarization occurred with the tool? Focusing on learning the tool at the same time as learning the content is often just too much! 

Sometimes, it’s simply too much! There’s just too much that requires ours and our students’ finite energy and in order to continue to thrive (or begin to thrive) we have to let go of some “leaves” and focus our resources on strengths and we have to facilitate a means for our students to do the same! What are your “leaves” that you can drop temporarily? What are the things in your classroom, your school building, your district, that might add beauty, but could be dropped for a little while in the interest of refocusing your resources? 

Recently, the PATINS staff made a little time to focus on our creativity through some mindful breathing, stretching, and purposeful discussion around the concept of “sacred rituals” in our daily lives. I dropped the leaf of feeling like I never have a spare 5 minutes in the mornings, regardless of what time I got up. I decided I’d spend 3-5 minutes every morning, making coffee by hand…from grinding the beans, to heating water, and pouring it slowly in a four-step process over the delicious and aromatic ground up beans. That “leaf” of feeling like I needed to get to my emails 5 minutes earlier each morning was a seemingly small one to drop, but it allowed me five minutes to focus on deliberately being slow, intentional, aware, and creative. It was a small but important "leaf" to let go of.  

Perhaps, when you identify a “leaf” of your own to let go of, you can feed more energy into finding some colleagues who share your passions, frustrations, and struggles… your personal learning network! While there are so many ways to go about this, I want to make sure you’re aware of two great ones!

Tuesday evenings, at 8:30pm EST, PATINS hosts a Twitter chat where we post questions and have a discussion around them for a half-hour! In fact, last week’s chat was all about “Preventing Teacher Burnout!” Join us this next Tuesday evening, we’d love to have you. Simply search Twitter for the hashtag, #PatinsIcam! You can also reach out to any of us and we’d love to help you get set up to participate! 

I also want to make sure you’re aware of the rapidly approaching PATINS Access to Education 2018 State Conference! This is a GREAT opportunity to connect with others! We have over 40 concurrent sessions and two great keynotes! The full schedule is posted and registration is open! Drop a few “leaves” and allow yourself the time and opportunity to focus your energy into growth with us on November 28 and 29!
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Nov
01

Hopscotch Moments

I wrote a blog post last year titled, Happy Birthday to… Me? There I described my difficulty in answering on the spot questions about myself…to the funny (not funny) moment of actually making up my birthday date after going numb from a simple question, “Kelli, when is your birthday?” You’ll have to read it to believe it.

This past summer, I had the professional development opportunity to spend a week at Camp Yes And at Indiana University learning the art, skill and the power of improv to support social and emotional learning for students on the autism spectrum. This is on the spot responding at it’s finest, which the idea made my heart race. Jim Ansaldo, Ph.D. from the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and heads Camp Yes And states: “Improv is not about being funny, it’s about being you.” It was intensive, meaningful instruction in the morning and then immediate implementation with students with autism in the afternoon.

3 people sitting on chairs on stage

This type of professional development was out of my comfort zone knowing that I once succumbed to making up my own birthday from fear of being judged of my slow processing. However, I also know that we cannot grow as educators if we remain in our comfort zone. Students deserve the best us and they deserve to know and have the skills to be the best them. Modeling plays a considerable part. Their success often begins with our support so count me in with zero hesitation!

What if you don’t know where to start? Start with finding your tribe. Your tribe does not mean like-minded people. It’s about finding fellow educators who will push your thinking and at the same time support you. Besides your colleagues, PATINS staff is always ready to gently get you out of that comfort zone. Join Twitter and develop your personal learning network. Joining Twitter may even be out of your comfort zone…which means 
do it!
iPad with question mark on screen.

Register for Access to Education 2018 and attend sessions that are geared toward the integration of methods, tools and equitable education for your students. When you come to barriers in education, don’t stop and stare…find solutions. When you are not sure how to do something or working with a student you cannot seem to find that breakthrough, ask for help. All of this will not only impact you but also your students!

As I was typing this blog, I received an out of the blue message from a young lady on Facebook who I have not actively spoken with in probably 21 years. She was in elementary/junior high school at that time. She was one of my “little sisters” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program where I volunteered. Her message states this: “My aunt sent me pictures after cleaning out my grandmother’s place. There was an article about you being the Big Sister of the Year. Thank you so much for helping me at some of the hardest times of my life. My childhood was extremely rough, but you have no idea how you inspired me to have a better life. You helped me break the cycle.”

I had no idea that I had that impact on her after all of these years until 10 minutes into writing this blog. Here I was trying to break my own cycle of my painful childhood by supporting those who were struggling. I was out of my comfort zone then but realized that no change can be made by staying there…just like taking that improv class. We may never hear of the stories of how we have changed a student’s life; however, push your own thinking and remain that expert learner and seek those out of box moments to be the best you…because you indeed can help students be the best them. I was told that we can’t control the lives of our students…but we do have influence.

I LOVE this video and have watched it more than a dozen times. It is worth the few minutes to watch. What would you do? Would you be able to release all inhibitions and play? Get uncomfortable and find your hopscotch moments…and let’s model for our students that it’s ok to be “you.” #KidsDeserveIt

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Oct
11

Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

On July 1, 2012, I became a PATINS Coordinator. At that time we each had our own library of assistive technology and were assigned to assist educators within a certain region of the state. I was fortunate enough to find myself in an office within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Administration Building. The special education department welcomed me and assisted me with my transition from a K-12 educator to a PATINS Specialist. At the forefront of that welcome and assistance was Dr. George Van Horn. So, typical to form, when I asked if he would like to be a guest writer for the PATINS Ponders Blog he immediately agreed to share his thoughts. 


George Van HornInclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

George Van Horn, Ed.D., Director of Special Education, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation


street sign the corner of perception and reality







Image reference


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.

Venn diagram on mainstreaming with 3 areas: general education, special education and high ability. None intersect











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.


Picture shows Mainstreaming with student going into a classroom and Inclusion showing an arrow where students can leave for support and service
Image Reference

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 equity versus fairness. Inclusion is not about giving all students the same (fair), it is about providing students what they need to be successful (equity). While progress providing equitable opportunities 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?

Photo of students in 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.


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Sep
27

Can You Floss?

No, I am not talking about the kind of flossing of your teeth, but one of the new dance crazes brought to us by the popular video game, Fortnite, called “Flossing”.


Have you tried this new dance craze? It looks simple enough with swaying your hips and moving your arms to side to side. However, I have found that it’s a little harder than it looks. After having my college brother-in-law try to teach me how to “floss” move by move, we found out there must be a generational difference in dance move skills! I was still clueless.

I looked something like this (it's okay to laugh with me):                                                                  GIF girl attempting floss danceUntil I caught a step by step tutorial on TV by someone of *cough* my generation I wasn’t able to feel confident I was able to do the fun and simple dance.

With some practice you might look something like this (it's okay to STILL laugh with me!):

GIF girl slowly floss dancing

Ever feel the same with teaching? With Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook we see everyday what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. It looks easy enough but then a feeling of overwhelm seeps in. How do we learn how to do #ALLTHETHINGS with great purpose and intention and do them well?

My suggestion is to try to take a step back, deep breath and take #onething at a time. Sometimes we have to be reminded to take the same advice we give to our students every day. I think a lot of us go to the internet for help…mostly YouTube when we want to see how to do something. Did you know that PATINS has a YouTube channel called PATINS TV and also at-no-cost trainings either in person or virtually via webinar? You can even request a specific training from any of the PATINS Specialists that fits your specific needs. We are here for that step-by-step support to help you feel confident in your daily dance of teaching!

Here is my step by step for “flossing.” Try it with your students for a brain break!

Start with the hips:

picture girl pointing at hipspicture girl with arms straight out to left sidepicture girl with arms straight down by hips

picture girl with arms straight out in frontpicture girl with arms straight out to right sidepicture girl with arms straight down to right side by hips
Don't forget to comment and share your "floss" dance experiences with your students with us! 
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Sep
20

Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

In the winter of 2018 at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, Florida, I attended a breakout session presented by Thomas O’Shaughnessy and Conor Hartigan, two nearly lifelong friends that are also colleagues in the assistive technology department at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Together they presented, “Assistive Technology in Education: An Irish Perspective.”

Their session opened my eyes to the universal struggles that we face as advocates for equitable access to the curriculum in all levels of education, especially when it comes to the implementation of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning.

In the time since ATIA, I’ve remained in touch with Thomas and feel lucky to call him my friend. It’s within this friendship that he so graciously agreed to share some of his higher ed experiences and perspectives from across the pond.

- Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education - written by Thomas O'Shaughnessy

Ireland haThomas O'Shaughnessys changed significantly in the last 25 years. It is now seen as a leader in terms of technology, science and medical advancements and is well on its way to becoming a global technology hub. With a heavy emphasis on education, our universities have developed reputations for developing highly skilled graduates in every area of employment from business, technology and engineering to science, the arts and education. These higher education bodies have developed programmes to accommodate a range of learners from different backgrounds including socio-economic disadvantaged, asylum seekers, mature students and students with disabilities.

While initiatives like the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) in Ireland promotes inclusion for students with disabilities at higher level in terms of an access route, are these students appropriately accommodated in Higher Education?

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education for 2015-2019 in Ireland was designed to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. It discusses the mainstreaming of many supports that currently support this social mix including students with disabilities.

This argues that the current systems are changing and as they further develop we may no longer have a need for specialised supports to accommodate this social mix. Realistically speaking, this is currently still far away from the truth. However, one support that could help alleviate a lot of these issues involved in supporting this social mix is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It is called Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

However, when it comes to UDL in higher education in Ireland, we seem to fall well short of our American counterparts. I’ve been to my fair share of UDL themed conferences (AHEAD (Irish Organisation), ATIA, etc.) to know that the implementation of UDL in a classroom stateside is one thing, the implementation of UDL in higher education in Ireland is entirely another. Principals and school administrators have far more influence at school level than their counterparts in higher education. Teachers can also take control of their set curriculum much easier than academics in higher education.

Unfortunately, we are now in an era where business models drive many universities and other higher-level institutions where research income and reputation (ranking) take precedence over teaching and learning. We see senior academics buying their way out of teaching to further focus on research. Academics that are needed to help drive UDL change, replaced with younger less experienced educators too inexperienced to initiate any change like UDL.

This business shift is coming from the top down, exactly where the adoption of UDL should originate from. However, since UDL often comes with a cost (time, resources, etc.) are higher education institutions interested in driving UDL forward? Are academics for that matter?

When we do see academics engage it is usually when the push comes from the top down or when priorities arise related to statistics on student engagement or student progression. We could begin to discuss incentivising the UDL approach, but should we have to? Are financial and other rewards the only way we can get buy-in?

UDL requires lecturers to allow students multiple means of representation in order to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know and multiple means of engagement supporting how learners differ markedly in how they can be engaged or motivated to learn.

While I’m sure in theory we all recommend this framework, do academics have the resources to support this framework and do they have the multiple rubrics needed to implement it? Would they have the support to inform their department or faculty? A colleague of mine said recently “UDL is great if you have unlimited resources and buy-in from everyone” and for me, this struck a chord.

The biggest problem incorporating UDL in Higher Education is the lack of buy-in from the top. UDL will only ever work in Higher Education by employing a top-down approach where the president/senior academics buy-in from the start and where UDL is mandated into every new academic contract.

Unfortunately, interdepartmental politics, accountability (lack thereof) and attitudes make some initiatives hard to employ at higher level. In my experience most academics still don’t even know what UDL is and unfortunately there are many who simply don’t care – they don’t currently see it as a priority or their responsibility. How do you convince a lecturer to spend three times the time (approximate guess) developing class material to support UDL when nobody is requiring them to? They will almost always argue ‘time and resources’ – I know, I’ve seen and heard it.

I love reading books like Dive into UDL, attending talks by UDL experts like Kate Novak and seeing images like (Em)Powered by UDL. My excitement however quickly dampens when I realise how difficult it is to organise UDL at third level and even, at times, in schools. Who will train the staff, who will pay for this, would the staff attend? (even if it is mandatory) Who will drive it?

We have seen some small shift; University College Dublin is making strides to incorporate UDL in their everyday practices although I’ve yet to see how this is being handled and deployed. In October 2018, The Universal Design and Higher Education in Transformation Congress (UDHEIT2018) will be held at Dublin Castle, it will be an exciting conference that will give a proper insight into the current situation. There will be a focus on the creation of the state’s first technological university - based on the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown.

Apparently all three (yes, I said three) presidents of this new technological university are advocates of UDL and they have put UDL as a cornerstone of this merger. I await this conference with equal scepticism and anticipation. Too often have I attended UDL conferences where the theory didn’t meet the practice, where “UDL practices” were not real UDL practices. Too often have I left more disappointed than when I arrived. I want practical solutions on how it is implemented, not theory on how it could or should work. For me, for UDL to be successful the answer lies with teachers and teacher educators.

Too often these days I hear “give it to the teachers”, however UDL is one area where I generally think teachers can make a real difference. We need to train (our already overburdened) student teachers about UDL and its importance. Let them incorporate its principles in their class through lesson plans and let them show every student that there are multiple ways in which tasks can be represented, engaged with and completed. Let them see the teacher using it and let it become the norm where when their students graduate they will be able to incorporate multiple approaches to everyday issues. Let them use readily available (what will hopefully become standardised) resources to achieve this. Then and only then will we see a change in attitudes and practices needed to fully utilise the UDL framework.


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Sep
12

When Life Overlaps (With More Life)


two teen girls jumping on a trampoline at the Sharritt's farm
Have you ever felt stretched in more directions than you ever felt possible? This summer was a season of challenging and unexpected beginnings for me, which is kinda funny because in my last PATINS blog, I used the phrase “bring on the possibilities!” (shakes head at 3-months-ago self). Here’s the summary of summer for specialist, flower-farmer, foster mom, and new-grandma Bev:


A challenging beginning for my full time job at PATINS was to create meaningful trainings for ALL educators for the summer of eLearning conferences, given that my specialty area is with blindness and low vision technology. Most of my participants may have one student in their whole career with this disability. I came up with “Close Your Eyes and Imagine UDL” and “Electronic Books for Elementary Students”. Check these out as fall webinars by searching the PATINS training calendar.

More and more, the boundaries of special education and regular education are dissolving into “this classroom works for everyone.” I met many educators who are doing this creative work. They enriched my specialized views with their ideas for taking accommodations traditionally available to students with blindness and low vision and considering how they could help any student.


My part-time summer job as flower farmer became both harder and easier when my Mad Farmer husband Roger, planted 20 new perennial varieties. I loved having a larger variety of textures and palettes when making bouquets, but it also increased the number of times my back had to bend to cut those beauties. We are already negotiating on limits for next year, but I’ve seen some new dirt flying in the perennial field when Roger thinks I’m not watching.

close up of black-eyed Susan flower; black center with gold narrow petals
In late June, we suddenly welcomed two foster daughters ages 11 and 12 into our house. This led to having more than one kind of cereal in our cupboard, and other oddities like an unexpected evening of putting together a trampoline as a thunderstorm approached. The trampoline
does block my view of the perennial field. The volume of life has increased for the Sharritts with this addition of both loud laments/bickering and high-pitched joy/hilarity to our lives.


With great anticipation, I awaited the title of grandma this summer with a due date for Margaret Rosemarie on August 3rd. Then in June, the news that her dad would be a working in Indianapolis, rather than Michigan, threw new possibilities and logistical challenges into the mix. My son-in-law moved in with us to start his job and look for housing (buy more cereal). We worked on squeezing in visits to our daughter while she finished her job, and waited to deliver in Lansing. Then we all waited 9 extra days for the girl while she took her sweet time to make her entrance.

September and structure are my new favorites. I’ve never been more excited for school to start. I’ll be a little sad when the frost comes and kills the zinnias--but only a little. I’d even concede that I’m looking forward to socks again. We’ve all landed softly (or continue to bounce on that trampoline!) after a chaotic summer. The heaviness of the stress when many roles overlapped, eventually found a balance with something lighter. Or I yelled for help, and someone stepped in. Or I just yelled. 

I witness educators being pulled in many directions as well. If it is a season of extremes for you, I wish for you a good team, and a willingness to look for growth in the stretching.



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Aug
23

Labels, Learning Styles and Stars

"Labels, Learning Styles and Stars" on a starry background
How would you label yourself as a learner? Take a moment to think about some words you’d use.

Did you use your astrology sign? No?

When I was in high school my career counselor helped me pick a major. I took some tests which yielded lists of potential careers. Every week I studied them and shrugged.

During our last session, he sighed and said, “let’s check your horoscope.”

We pulled up a list of suggested careers for Geminis and laid my career assessment list next to it. One career showed up on both lists: speech-language pathologist. I never knew that was a thing, but I said I’d try it and I haven’t changed my mind since.

However, I do not recommend the Jessica Conrad Horoscope Method for choosing careers or to better understand your student’s possibilities. There is zero science or rationale behind it. I could have just as easily been an antique dealer. I hate The Antique Roadshow.

Also worth noting: it turns out I’m not a Gemini. This whole time, I’ve been a Taurus.

When the news broke at NASA that the astrological charts were out of whack for various reasons, I was shocked. Go ahead and look at the new suggested dates. If your sign changed, do you feel a pang of denial or disbelief, even if you use it for entertainment? I did. It’s hard to let go of that label.

Humans like labels. We are programmed to like knowing who are “our people” and who isn’t, what we are and what we aren’t. It helps us feel safe, helps us feel like we understand things, whether it’s true or not.

Go back to my first question, how you would label yourself as a learner. Did you use any of these terms:

Visual learner
Auditory learner
Kinesthetic learner

Or something like that? Several years after I picked my career from an astrology website, I was sitting in a class where the lecturer announced in passing “there’s no such thing as a learning style.”

I felt my foundation of identity rock a little when I heard that. Learning styles aren’t real? “Say’s who?” I wondered because I knew that I was a visual learner. I took a little learning quiz once and my teachers reaffirmed it and I felt it deep in my bones. Give me a book over a lecture any day. I was great at understanding graphs. Didn’t that mean anything?

A little digging revealed decades of research reaffirming the truth: our brains are amazing and complex and cannot be categorized with the decades-old hypothesis that I am wired to learn one way and others another. We still have a lot to discover about brains and learning, but the learning styles myth doesn’t hold any water or make any difference in instruction. You can read this analysis for post-college learning, and this meta-analysis summary from Indiana Wesleyan University and the research article published this year from Indiana University. You can also listen to Tesia Marshik’s Ted Talk on learning styles and the importance of critical self-reflection.

It’s hard to adopt that new information in the face of what we feel is correct. Our brains are wired to identify it as a threat, seeing information that opposes our strongly held belief no different than a lion trying to eat us. It’s hard but important! Why bother writing this and debunking the myth? Besides promoting evidence-based practice, bad information hurts kids.

For example, a young me who saw the list of careers like “engineer” and “concert vocalist” under different learning styles and thought they were out of reach. My high school student refusing to give geometry another try because “I’m just not a visual learner.” The guidance counselor who advised my friend to not pursue nursing because there was so much reading and not enough kinesthetic learning for her.

There’s a lot of other labels and titles we throw around:

Stubborn. Sensitive. Flighty. Rude. High-functioning. Low-functioning. Special. Gifted. Delayed. Aggressive. Picky. Not Diploma Track Ready.

All labels we’ve seen passed around a conference table helping us make very big decisions about what that student’s future of learning might be.

I challenge you to pause and wonder, what if the label isn't true?

So all of this begs the question: if not learning styles, then what? How do we ensure we are reaching all students? PATINS Project highly recommends Universal Design for Learning and the research behind it. We’ve got great resources and specialists who can assist you in designing for all learners in mind.
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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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Aug
03

We are all starfish!

Happy New Year           
Both as a teacher and as a student I have always thought of the days up to the first day of school as the real new year! The countdown is slower, but the ritual of making resolutions is the same.

New ChalkAs a teacher, I would be setting up my room and getting all of my lessons ready to go. I’d go to the office store and the teacher supply store. I would buy new things! New organizers! New pens! New decorations! This year I was going to try this. This year I was going to be ahead of that. Next came THE FIRST TEACHER DAY! It was the only day the entire corporation staff would be together! I would sit beside my best friend and listen to the instructions and pep talks from the superintendent and meet the new additions to the staff. Then back to the building and the principal where we would receive more encouragement and find out what was going to be different this year. It all boiled down to it’s a new year, take the best of the last and make resolutions to grow and improve this year. Think of the students and make this their best year ever.     

Colored Pencils

As a student, it was similar. Off to the store to get new folders, the newest binder/organizer etc. I was ready! THE FIRST STUDENT DAY! Every teacher was new. They all told us how to do well in their class. I was jazzed! I was going to try harder. I was going to pay better attention. I would turn in all of my assignments and I would read harder and read all of the material assigned. I was going to be the student everyone knew I could be! This year was going to be so much better than the last!

Flash forward 2 weeks…


As a teacher, all is going well. The pens are being used, the decorations look great and the organizer is either working or the parts that were have been added to last years model and are helping. I may be a bit behind on somethings, but I feel great and am excited about the year.

As a student, it was similar...to all the years before. I was trying harder, paying better attention, reading harder and organizing all of my material that was assigned, but I was starting to get lost. I know this path and if I can’t figure it out, I’ll get another D in math (just barely). I’ll squeak by in my other classes. I’ll get A’s when I am engaged in the content, I’ll get C’s when I’m not. I’d feel horrible about it, because I hated to let anyone down. I was fortunate. My family didn’t give up on me and neither did I. I would start over every year.

Happy New Year written on a sign behind a plane
As a teacher, I knew that student, just like me, was in my room. I structured my classes around this student. I taught with this student in mind. Soon I met other students, ones that were different than me, but had needs that I could structure into my daily plan that would help them do their best. Every year my methods became more diverse, more engaging, more student-centered. Every new year as a teacher, I tried to work harder, learn more, organize better, so that hopefully I could be the teacher everyone knew I could be.


I wish that at some conference or from some peer I had learned about Universal Design for Learning. The framework would have helped guide me to being that teacher. If you would like to take a try at Universally Designing your curriculum this year, I would suggest the PATINS UDL lesson planner. It is a way to take a long look at all of the thoughtful planning that goes into designing your classroom experience for every student. It shows what it takes to plan for that. Do one full plan and then start to incorporate pieces into your regular planning. Go back again when you are ready and do it for another lesson. Keep pulling pieces into your normal routine. Soon the UDL frame of mind will start to be incorporated into your daily planning. When you think you are doing good, go back for another lesson. Bit by bit, year by year, keep improving. Don’t give up on yourself and surround yourself with peers that won’t give up on you either. If you want more help, I’ll be here! I’ll bring my new bullet journal and erasable pens and we’ll hunker down and work through it together!

Sandi Smith standing on the beach with arms open like a Y and legs spread apartLady Bug on a leaf with the quote,
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Jul
25

Trust + Acceptance = The Moonwalk

I am so excited to introduce my friend, passionate educator and guest blogger, Beth Tharp...

Moonwalking is the most important asset I have as an educator. Scary to consider and not something I have built into my “Back to School” presentation or resume, although maybe I should consider it! As a seventh grade math teacher, moonwalking -- or being cool at all for that matter -- is a mighty stretch. It started as just a #RunningFantasy -- you know, about two minutes into your run when you consider putting your smartwatch on your dog to complete your steps for the day because who would really know? Come on, don’t pretend like you have never considered it. In those moments I turn to music, and Michael Jackson had the answer that day. Divine intervention? Perhaps! And the answer was, I was going to teach myself to moonwalk. So, after hours and hours (which, honestly, stretched into weeks and years) of practicing in my living room, I was a moonwalking fool looking for the right moment to unleash my impressive new skill.

My blaze of glory didn’t happen the way I planned. In fact, ten years had gone by and I had all but forgotten that I even had this hidden talent. The day was just like hundreds of days previous; first period started at 7:45 a.m., students were working on mathematical tasks in small groups, and I was there to facilitate instructional conversations. On this particular day, I had a student who desperately wanted to avoid anything and everything related to math. Task avoidance wasn’t at all out of the ordinary for him. His attendance was spotty at best, and when he did show up he seemed more interested in distracting and antagonizing others than in completing any content related task. When I would try connecting with him, I was met with a wall solidly built on insults and language that would make even the most seasoned sailor blush. He made sure to tell me, and anyone else who would listen, that he
disliked school but that he hated math above all else. I had all but given up on him (a fact I am not proud to admit). That day he was mouthing the words to a Michael Jackson song. If he knew the song, he surely knew the moonwalk. This. Was. My. Moment.

Michael Jackson doing Moonwalk dance

I picked up a pencil, moonwalked to his desk, and placed the pencil in his hand while simultaneously giving him the “shhhh” signal. I immediately regretted my choice, especially when he didn’t smile and instead scowled at me. I had made myself vulnerable and wanted to avoid any contact but couldn’t when the boy stayed after the bell to talk to me. I had already made up my mind he was approaching me to insult me; after all, I had been the target of many of his tirades in the past. I mentally prepared my armor and reminded myself that no matter what he said, it wasn’t personal. But instead of an insult, he said something I never considered would come out of his mouth. “Mrs. Tharp, I never would have thought you could moonwalk. I mean, you’re a math teacher and kind of older. How do you even know that song? Who knew you could do something so cool?” I. Was. Speechless.

I had to hide my cringe at the word “older” and the insinuation that people didn’t know how cool I was (like ice, that’s how cool, in case you were wondering), but in setting my (bruised) ego aside I was able to see he was giving me a compliment. Not only that, I knew he was able to understand how far outside my comfort zone I had traveled, and how weird I was feeling. He met me in that scary place with a compliment and assurance that would give me confidence. It was then realized I often asked him to travel to that scary place and I did not meet him with understanding and assurance. That realization made my soul hurt. I was sacrificing connection for content, and I realized that in order for him to absorb any content, he needed me to empathize with the fear of feeling vulnerable. I was dead wrong; this was and should be personal.

This is the part where I would love to tell you from that day forward this boy came to class every day with a positive attitude and ready to learn. I would love to tell you that he emerged as a leader and made great academic and social gains. I would love to tell you that this one moment was so profound it changed the course of his life forever. These are the moments we go into teaching hoping and dreaming to achieve. But I can’t tell you those wonderful things because that isn’t what happened. It wasn’t a profound moment where he suddenly loved math and all things school. Instead, it was a subtle shift in trust -- almost imperceptible to those outside his small circle. He still struggled in math and told everyone he hated it, but he now made sure to add that it wasn’t my fault, and that he knew I really understood him and I was there for him. He was now able to be vulnerable and would try new tasks without shutting down before even starting. He was able to feel understood, a feeling he had never before experienced at school.

This student that taught me the greatest lesson I have ever learned as a teacher: content is important, but trust is vital. And sometimes you just have to take a chance and moonwalk.

As you begin this year, find whatever fills you with joy and makes you a little uncomfortable (be it the moonwalk or something else) and let that feeling drive making connections your priority. Fear not, awesome teacher, once you establish connections, content knowledge will surely follow.

Beth Tharp, her husband, and sonBeth's Bio:

Beth Tharp is a 7th grade math teacher at Avon South Middle School. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Education, and a Master’s degree from Ball State University in Educational Leadership. She will begin her 9th year working with kiddos, focusing on Math 7 and Pre-Algebra. She loves trying to keep up with her son and husband on adventures, moonwalking, and completing Tough Mudders with Kelli Suding.
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Jul
19

Developing Professionally is a BIG Deal, Especially with PATINS: BETTER TOGETHER!

The PATINS staff have been BUSY this summer with professional development; providing, receiving, and planning for! The PATINS Specialists have been all over the state of Indiana presenting at and attending the Indiana Dept. of Education’s eLearning conferences all summer! Perhaps you saw our Specialists out there during this wonderful Indiana heat and if you did, I hope you felt welcomed to interact with them! We’ve also been working through a couple of book studies as a PATINS staff that include reflective case studies, Lending Library recommendations, preparation for strategic planning and a slight revamp of this PATINS Ponders Blog as well as our weekly Tuesday night Twitter Chat! Extensive preparation has also been underway for the 2018-19 AEMing for Achievement Grants and the 2018 Access to Education (#A2E) Conference!

SO MUCH to tell you about! While some of this work has certainly been done individually, NONE of it could be accomplished without ALL of us. We truly are far better together! 
photograph of a runny poached egg atop cooked whole asparagus with a fork and knife in the background.

Do you like eggs?” …a line from “Fish In A Tree,” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. A main character, Ally, is brilliant in so many ways and struggles with some things as well. She’s frequently misunderstood and isn’t always able to show her brilliance and compassion in ways she intends.  One day, she asks her new seat-partner about eggs as a way to let her know that she’d like to be her friend and, again, isn’t able to convey her message the way she wanted to. This book is full of Ally’s stories and is a wonderful read! As a K-12 student myself, I could read pretty well. My language arts grades were usually A’s, and I didn’t have to work too terribly hard. However, reading for pleasure…truly enjoying reading for myself and not for a grade, didn’t prevail at all until much, much later in my life. Some person, a specific book, a specific interest being fed, some specific support or encouragement, some unconditional love, might be a big piece of what it takes to offer a student the reason to begin truly enjoying reading for themselves!

photo of 1 cat standing on photo of 2 cat laying on a table with flowers in the background with
Even my kitties are loving the book study! They get a little demanding at times and remind me when it’s time to read! This is one of the two books that the PATINS staff is reading this summer/fall. Part of this book study of ours includes creating education plans for characters in the book, determining potentially appropriate assistive technology for them from our Lending Library, and the creation of informational/persuasive letters with regard to the importance of accessible materials within the classrooms in the book! 

This process benefits our own professional development and practice, but it can also be beneficial to you as practitioners with these “book characters” in your schools every day! We would be so glad to share our collective knowledge, materials, and resources with you! Further, I’d like to encourage you to participate in book studies of your own. This could be with your colleagues, with your staff, or with your friends and families. I’d further like to offer to you book studies in conjunction with PATINS! We would love to assist, guide, moderate, or otherwise help with your own book study! I feel strongly that multiple modes of professional development are essential to the professionals we support, just as multiple modes are important to the students you support. 

As Indiana educators, I’d like for you to consider having PATINS guide a book study for you just as you would ask us to provide an in-person training for you and your team! Just reach out to us and toss out ideas or request suggestions from us! In the same vein, we’re also working on the production of a new and improved brief “menu” of a selection of GO-TO-PD that’s the hottest, latest, and best that we have to offer! Look for this in the early Fall! Of course, we’re also always happy to customize ANY professional development to your specific needs and in the meantime, check out our current offerings on our Training Calendar


I also want to welcome and introduce you to two new PATINS Staff this year! Following the retirement of Jim Lambert, who was dedicated to the PATINS Project for 19 years, I’m pleased to announce that Jena Fahlbush has been selected to fulfill that role! Jena has served us extremely well as our Data & Outreach Specialist previously, and I’m super excited to watch her grow within her new position! Taking over our Data & Outreach responsibilities will be a new person to the PATINS team! I’m also very proud to welcome and introduce Jennifer Conti! Jen comes to us with experience as an SLP and has already put in tons of creative and important work in just her first week on the job! 
PATINS Access To Education Conference Logo
Another part of our hard work over this summer to provide effective professional development includes our world renowned Access to Education Conference happening at the end of November! Having attended many, MANY, professional education conferences across the country over the past 12 years, I say with confidence that our line-up is world-class with a back yard cost and a family barbeque feel! For $100/day, we bring you the best of the best for 2 days of awesome professional development on November 28 and 29! 

I’m proud to announce that our new State Director of Special Education, Dr. Nancy Holsapple (@NancyHolsapple) will be joining us, along with highly sought-after minds of brilliance and compassion like Joy Zabala (@joyzabala), Kelly Fonner (@KellyFonner), Mike Marotta (@mmatp), Beth Poss (@possbeth), Mystie Rail (@atlaak), Cynthia Curry (@clcurry), Luis Perez (@eyeonaxs), Mo Buti (@themobuti), Brian Goemer and many more!  Plus, to jazz us all up and build on our belief that ANYTHING is possible, Dr. Kelly J. Grillo (@kellygrillo) will join us to share her amazing story and it’s one you won’t want to miss!
Pie Chart showing attendees from past 4 years of PATINS Conference: 22% Admin, 21% Teachers, 14% Other, 11% AT Professionals, 32% Related Service

From Indiana’s AEM collaboration with CAST’s National AEM Center to our own AEMing for Achievement Grant districts, to presenting at the OSEP Director’s Conference next week (which I will be Tweeting from), to overcoming some major turns in my personal life, I’ve fully realized that working in passion in all that we do and closing the circle gets us further. I try hard to be an On-Purpose Person and within that philosophy, I ask you all to ask yourselves if you’re feeling energized by the power of others in your life or drained? Are you being pushed in our work to make a difference for families, teachers, and students? I am! Sometimes I’m only firing with one cylinder but, like my 2-stroke motorcycle, a finely tuned and maintained single cylinder 2-stroke can easily make more power than a bike with 2, 3, or 4 cylinders! However, it takes a partner and, often-times, teams to keep that single-cylinder 2-stroke running in a way that really performs. It takes a lot more frequent maintenance than a 4 stroke! I take pride in choosing the path that more is more powerful, and surround myself with the necessary people to keep it running! 
Photo of Daniel racing on a 2-stroke dirtbike

PATINS is pushing boundaries in seeking equity and access for ALL students, and we’re looking for partners in our work to co-create, guest blog with us, co-moderate our Twitter Chats and more, because one thing I know for certain in this work is that we’re better together! Please reach out to us if you are interested in co-blogging and/or co-tweeting with PATINS this year!

So, I ask you to ask yourself; have you pushed your own limits to impact our deeply important field? Have you chosen the 2-stroke motor that you know is going to take more maintenance to keep running and then surrounded yourself with a pit crew? I recently asked Dr. Kelly Grillo this same question. Here’s what this year’s PATINS Access to Education Conference day 1 keynote has done just this summer to sharpen her skills and impact our field:

“I was recently appointed to the CEC Leadership Development Committee, I spent two weeks at the University of Florida retooling my research skills in the hard sciences as a teaching fellow at CPET (@UFCPET), I’ve completely redesigned and built a graduate course at the University of Central Florida in secondary methods using Universal Design, I renewed my Google Educators certification, and completed two article submissions on practical ways to implement UDL in K-12 modern classrooms with high-stakes testing. Though modest in most things, I’m bold about student learning and my passion for investment into persons with disabilities is clear.”

We’re lucky to share a colleague like Dr. Grillo at this year’s conference, who is bold and dedicated to all children and to learning. She’s active on Twitter, which is actually where I came across her! Are you connected to a great something, someone, team, or network in this work of ours yet? Join us at this November’s Access to Education Conference and get connected to get pushed!  It’s a Big Deal!


Speaking of Twitter, the PATINS Tuesday night Twitter Chat starts up again September 4 at 8:30pm EST! Join us! AND…something new; the third Tuesday night of each month this year will be a chat dedicated to both the past and the current AEMing for Achievement grant teams! This will be a chat to discuss the general concepts essential to providing an accessible learning environment, but also to discuss the grant itself and to brainstorm with other district teams from around the state who have been through the process! So, Tuesday September 18 will be the first AEMing Grant chat! Mark your calendars! PLUS, if you haven’t been a past AEMing team and haven’t applied yet to be one of this year’s teams, you have 1 WEEK LEFT!  Application is OPEN and closes on July 27!

Professional development is a BIG DEAL and PATINS is here for you! WE are better together!
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Jul
05

Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say!

While I contemplated my blog posting this week with my daughter, Courtney, she mentioned that she had an idea for me to write about. I thought about it for a minute and then I had an idea, why not have a guest blogger! So, the following is written by Courtney; she is currently starting her second year of graduate school at Murray State University studying to be a Speech-Language Pathologist. Surprising, right?

She has been exposed to the fantastic field of Assistive Technology since she was in first grade. I exposed Courtney to various tools and dragged her along whenever I could. Courtney sometimes struggled along the way during her education, but she never gave up and she has always prevailed. I am so proud of her and can't wait until next July when she will finish graduate school and become an SLP! In the field of education and especially in Speech-Language Pathology we are always talking about communication and how communication is key. But often as educators and therapists we find it difficult to communicate with non-verbal or quiet individuals. Why is that?

When working with individuals over the past year I have often stopped to think about this question. When trying to think about ideas for what to do with these individuals, I would think about what I wanted them to say or communicate. However, communication doesn’t work that way. These individuals have independent thoughts and ideas, just like all of us. We ask them countless questions like do you want this or that or need something. But often we don’t step back and think what would they want to say. Our independent thoughts, ideas, and interests drive what we want to communicate about.

Recently, in working with a non-verbal individual I learned that they had a love for all things that play music and songs. This love for music allowed me to find something that they might want to communicate about. So, instead of asking this individual to say what I wanted them to say, I used their love for music to encourage communication. The same concept can be applied to almost any student or client that we can interact with. I think we should spend less time focusing on what we want them to say or communicate with us, and instead, focus on finding what their interests are or what they might want to communicate to us about. I end with this quote because it is what drives many of my passions as a future SLP. “Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say.”

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27

While U Wait : You've Got This

Indiana’s new dyslexia bill will be implemented by the 2019-2020 school year. That will be here soon, you know how time flies. The IDOE is responsible in the bill for an Indiana Dyslexia Resource Guide, that will explain which trainings, screenings, and personnel requirements are approved for Indiana school corporations and charters. This will not be immediate due to personnel changes at the IDOE, and everyone there will be working in overdrive to meet time-sensitive challenges ahead.

While we patiently wait for directives on matters related to IN SB 217, a good plan would be for all educators to use the 2018-19 school year designing best practices for a dyslexia-friendly classroom. Which after all, is simply a student-friendly classroom.

Following are a few ideas to get your wheels turning. These suggestions are based on what we know after more than 100 years of research.
  • Addressing the learning needs of students with dyslexia is the responsibility of all teachers, not just those who teach reading. Communicate with other teachers to be sure you are reinforcing effective classroom strategies.
  • Teaching strategies used with students who have dyslexia will benefit all students.
  • Get in the habit of keeping classroom notes on students. If a child makes errors on the same tasks time after time, write it down. Whenever you notice areas of academic and/or behavioral struggle, make a note of it: who, what, when, why? This will help you determine how to help students. Expect some trial and error.
  • Allow the use of assistive technology for reading, writing and math.
  • Allow extra time. Students with dyslexia use 5 times the effort to decode words than typical readers, and often re-reading is necessary. They may also experience delayed word retrieval. Make time allowances during in-class assignments.
  • Do not over-correct written work. For instance, if there are multiple misspellings, mark only the most important to learn, such as high-frequency words. Too many x’s and circled words feel like so much ridicule to an overwhelmed student.
  • When you want students to read aloud, ask for volunteers. Please do not force anyone to read, or recite facts, or write on the board in front of the class.
  • Do not have students trade papers for grading.
  • In early grades, have a number and alphabet strip taped on each desk. This will cut down on memory work for those who need it, and the ones who do not need it will ignore.
  • Have a digital and analogue clock in your classroom, set together. Whenever you need to point out the time, use both clocks. Students with dyslexia will be able to tell  time with the digital; they will need the analogue to understand.
  • To accommodate differences in language processing speeds, slow down your speech, use basic sentence structures, and pause to allow students time to think. There is a difference between lecturing and providing plenty of opportunities for students to practice listening.
  • When you notice learning differences, look for the gifts. What tasks are he or she especially good at? Be sure they have opportunities to show what they know. Are they artistically or musically or physically talented? Nourish that. Students with dyslexia are fully aware of their reading deficits, you won’t need to point out those.
  • Encourage them to demonstrate their knowledge in ways other than as you typically require. Universal Design for Learning is something worth striving for. So is a student-friendly classroom. 
This intensified awareness of students and enhanced instruction may seem burdensome, redundant and may feel like an added drain on your time, energy, and resources. Which it may be, in the beginning. Perhaps you can also see it as the exciting challenge that it is, and take it on with confidence and enthusiasm. You’ve got this. 

Please contact PATINS/ICAM for further assistance with classroom strategies, creating universally designed lesson plans, using digital and audio formats of textbooks and popular fiction, and information about dyslexia resources. Thanks so much!
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