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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
29

Tea anyone?

teapot with cup and milk
I’m a tea drinker. I appreciate tea. Tea making has been called many things: a celebration, an ancient rite, refreshment for the stress of life. 


My late grandmother taught me some tea-making secrets, such as knowing that the preparation of the tea affects the taste. Traditionally, the milk was poured into the cup first, then the tea. The taste is much different when you pour the tea first and follow it with the milk.

I always enjoy watching as the tea is immersed in the water. Every inch of exposed tea is saturated. Almost magically, the water begins to change color. First, there are light amber ribbons of tea color. Soon they become larger and deeper. The water is infused with the rich brown flavor. Slowly, the water becomes something new to be savored and enjoyed.

The miracle of a cup of tea reminds me of the way the process of learning can change a life. Like the tea… knowledge, experiences, conquered tasks, access to content, enhanced senses are all part of that process that permeates the very heart of each learner. Slowly at first, growing stronger as we apply what we learn, our lives begin to change…infused with something new…something better.

This week we kicked off our 18-19 AEMing for Achievement Grant recipients, eight new Indiana school districts, as they strive to bring their respective districts into compliance and improve student performance with the assistance of PATINS.

Enjoy a cup of tea this week with me.... cheers!

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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
16

Transition Times

Transitional times, like back to school can bring pleasant opportunities for reflection and change.

yellow Nasturtium flowers in bloom

At my house, the Nasturtiums are in bloom. Nasturtiums are beautiful as a garnish and completely edible with both leaves and flowers giving a peppery flavor.

There are two transitional times of the year for me; the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. Approaching the end of the school year, I always say, “ I have run out of year.” I mentally begin moving on to the next year. I reflect how the current year prepared me for the upcoming school year.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You ahve done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I keep in mind this quote and set my sights on to the next year and a centralized focus. I have my goals, my hopes, and, dreams in place. If I can establish a routine, all the better. If I can schedule ahead, great. My goal is to create usable forms and personal procedures. When I do this, I can be flexible and responsive. I am a happy camper!

coffee mug with the words Happy Camper

If I start the next year all up in the air without a centralized focus, all I will have to guide me is luck and frustration.   I don’t want to live that way.

The word chaos repeated and scattered around a white background

I can only imagine that I am not unique in this. Everyone would appreciate a system that is flexible and responsive to change.


My tips on how to do this:
  • Follow a schedule to keep track of what needs doing and when. What can step aside for an immediate need but not forgotten later?
  • Annual and/or Quarterly planning
  • Monthly chunking
  • Weekly reflection
  • Daily updating
  • Pick a system that is easy to use, intuitive and fits with all the apps and software you use.
  • Use a system that will sync with all the devices you use.
  • Use a system that will provide the accommodations needed.
  • Speech to Text
  • Text to Speech
  • Searchable Handwriting Recognition
  • Handwriting Recognition to Text
  • Use of a stylus
  • Word prediction
  • Alternative keyboards
  • Sometimes free is best. MS Office (Office 365) and Google, have calendar/planner/tasks options. Look for add-ons or extensions to make them more flexible.
PATINS is a great place to find out more. The PATINS Lending Library has organizational tools available that may help. PATINS Specialists can assist with finding your focus. We can help create plans that are flexible and specific. Address your unique details related to organization and executive function. Even set up tracking systems to measure progress.

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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
06

Cats, Students and the Gifts They Bring

Whiska sleeping
Upon our family's return from St. Louis several weeks ago, our indoor/outdoor cat, Whiska, barely rubbed our legs before bolting outside. She excitedly dashed between the yard and the house multiple times as we carried in our luggage before reappearing, yowling with joy, as something tightly clamped in her jaw muffled the sound. Although the commotion was confusing at first, it was soon revealed to be a struggling and squawking bird...a bright red cardinal to be exact. My husband, Bill, who comes from a long line of St. Louis Cardinals fans, looked admiringly at the feline and fowl, commending our huntress for the appropriate welcome home gift. I reminded him that no matter how fitting the offering was, it was still Indiana’s state bird.


Our daughter shrieked as she accidentally let the pair into the house and we scrambled, blocked and finally ushered both gift giver and gift out of our home. Whiska communicated through a series of guttural declarations and yips across the screen door that separated us, looking from us to the now inanimate creature on the step, her confusion apparent to those of us standing in the kitchen. Bill praised her for her generous token, and I grabbed the disinfectant cleaner.

As I wiped down the floor, cabinets and walls, I pondered my reaction as a vegetarian and pacifist to the frequent lifeless bodies left on our breezeway step. Countless bunnies, tiny shrews, and a wide variety of birds were out next to the newspaper to greet us many mornings. Sometimes an unexplained larger, more interesting creature -- like the opossum that was not actually playing dead in our yard -- appeared. The mysteries of our slightly feral and fierce feline were vast. Somehow I managed to view her with wonder instead of disgust, cleaning up her sometimes messy contributions.

Whiska’s gifts, though non-traditional, were from the heart. Educating myself on what they meant was half of the battle. A quick internet search on The Spruce Pets website for why cats leave dead animals for their owners revealed, “...when a cat brings you an animal they caught, be it alive or dead, they consider you a part of their family.” She considers us part of her clowder.

My mind drifted to the gifts I have received from students over the years, sometimes equally as foreign and in need of translation:
  • The gift of conversation after a student had refused to do so for hours
  • The gift of a paragraph written after the student learned how to use word prediction software
  • The gift of a classroom discussion after the student was shown how to access and read audio text
...the list goes on and on.

Not all gifts that we receive, or give for that matter, are apparent to others. Much like Whiska’s expression of gratitude for the environment we have provided for her, universally designing a classroom to make sure every student feels as if he or she belongs, has been thought of and nurtured can only lead to larger feelings of community and acceptance.

We, as educators, are repaid for this conscious effort through student participation, work completion, further education, boosts in student confidence and smiles...which are my favorite. Thankfully students, unlike felines, rarely give back the gift of a dead bird.

Whiska sleeping on her back

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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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Jun
27

Big Plans, Small Steps and A Significant Shift

picture of water with ripples from a skipping stone

Our goal was to overhaul the traditional approach to teaching middle school math in an attempt to excite students about the subject and engage them in new ways of thinking about mathematical ideas.

It had been Bia’s idea for us to team up in the classroom. We’d worked together before and had dreamed of a chance like this. When Bia asked the principal if the two of us could revise the math curriculum and redesign our teaching practices, the principal said yes.

Whoa. This was a wonderful moment. Also a little terrifying. It was one thing to believe in the work to be done. It was another thing altogether to actually sit down and do the work.

I’ve recently been thinking about that work with Bia. In small but significant ways, I liken the process of our mathematics instructional overhaul to the process of implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Although our focus was specific to the learning of mathematics, the work we did required an architectural redesign and a big mind shift.
 
I wasn’t aware of UDL at that time. Resources such as the UDL guidelines (CAST) would’ve been invaluable.

First of all, just getting started was a big obstacle for me. We relied on guiding principles and research about mathematics education, but began this work primarily with a collection of standards, topics, lesson ideas, and a head full of very strong convictions. The process of sorting out big ideas, key concepts and content standards was painstaking; organizing those things into some kind of cohesive teaching flow felt like an impossible feat.

Secondly, the primary goal of our work was to engage students in mathematics. Thinking about access, what it would mean for all students, how to ensure it, and how to make it the rule rather than the exception was at the crux of all of our conversations. We relied heavily on visual representations of ideas, and problems that were embedded in story. However, it would have been amazing to utilize additional strategies, technologies and materials that help lessen or eliminate barriers to educational content.

To note some specifics about UDL (UDL at a Glance):
  • It’s an approach to curriculum, not a prescribed formula to be followed.
  • It’s about honoring all students and their unique ways of learning and based on brain research.
  • A primary goal is to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students.
  • It necessitates the curriculum be designed for access from the very beginning.
  • The design process must go beyond access to ensure appropriate support and challenge.
These were important tenets of our work as well. UDL speaks to the core of what I believe as an educator and to a vision about how I believe things should work in the world. I think the beauty of UDL is that philosophically it tugs at the heartstrings of every teacher out there, no matter the grade, subject, specialty or circumstance.  

The middle school students (gr 6-8) with whom Bia and I worked were not grouped by age, grade or ability, and inclusion students were a part of each class make up. We wanted to ensure every student would have an entry point to every mathematical task, and that every student would have the means to share his/her thinking about any given task.

Our approach included making subtle changes to the classroom routine and physical environment to give students more choice and responsibility. These changes also enhanced opportunities for small group discussion, hands-on exploration and individual pacing. We implemented contextually rich mathematical investigations that were relevant to the student population we served.

While this was a continually daunting endeavor for us, one thing I can say for sure is that small, purposeful steps make surprisingly huge shifts in the desired direction. Surely the same is true with respect to UDL. The shift will be gradual, but it can happen nonetheless.

A podcast I listen to, “Akimbo” (Seth Godin), is described this way:

"Akimbo is an ancient word, from the bend in the river or the bend in an archer's bow. It's become a symbol for strength, a posture of possibility, the idea that when we stand tall, arms bent, looking right at it, we can make a difference.

Akimbo's a podcast about our culture and about how we can change it. About seeing what's happening and choosing to do something.

The culture is real, but it can be changed. You can bend it."

I love that phrase “posture of possibility.” I love the vision of standing in a "posture of possibility" and choosing to make a difference. Akimbo!


(If you’re reading this, you’re likely already aware of PATINS’ no-cost services, including our UDL support and resources. Let us know how we can help!)

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Jun
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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Jun
15

Next Level Instruction With Captions


speech bubble with 3 dots indicating that text is about to appearA question we frequently get asked at PATINS is, “How can I provide captioned media and content for my students?” We’ve found unique situations within many of these requests. These range from wanting to add captions to the morning high school announcements to providing captioned media 
for a student with this accommodation written into his or her IEP. Often overlooked in each scenario is that captioning has been proven to improve attention and engagement, memory, language acquisition, vocabulary, and level of comprehension for many students, not only those requiring them (Evmenova, 2008).

Thankfully, we live in a quick-changing, digital world that provides us a variety of free tools to generate and curate quality captioned content in an effort to create inclusive, language-rich environments for all of our students.

Let’s start with ways to engage your students. Videos can be a great way to hook your students into a lesson. If you’re starting a unit on fables, try dressing as your favorite character and creating your own selfie video to introduce the new unit with apps like Clips or Cliptomatic, which have the option to automatically add captions as you speak.

Ready to dig further into your lesson? Search for closed captioned videos to support your objectives on YouTube by adjusting the filter after entering your topic. Khan Academy and Veritasium are two YouTube channels that offer captioned educational videos that you may find useful. What if you find the perfect video for your needs, but the captions are non-existant or terrible? Create a free account at amara.org to crowdsource or personally caption videos that belong to someone else.

Now it’s time to give your students feedback on their progress toward the objectives. Using Clips or Cliptomatic, you can record verbal feedback, add the clip to your Drive, grab the shared link, and add it as comment to their digital submission. For a paper assignment, you could shorten the link with a site like bitly.com or tinyurl.com and then write it on your student’s paper. Maybe your students would be amazed if you turned the link into a QR code that you print and include when you return the assignment. Now your students could scan the link with their iOS device camera or an app like QR Reader to find out what have to say about their work.

Do you have students that would benefit from live captions during your whole class instruction? In the latest version of Microsoft PowerPoint and Windows 10, you can activate live captions during your presentations or just simply bring up a blank slide and begin a “presentation” to project the captions onto your screen or wall.

Including captions as part of your daily instruction can greatly increase your students’ access to the content while supporting many functional and academic skills. Furthermore, it shows your students that you are considering and acting upon the multiple ways in which they learn and receive information. Captions are your opportunity to bump up the universal level of your instruction. Because we are here to support you, please let us know if you’d like more information on captioning or would like support with any of these tools or ideas.

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Jun
06

Summer: A Time to Create (and Eat Kohlrabi)

purple kohlrabi ready to harvest in the garden

“Beginnings. I detest them.”


This is the first line I wrote in a journal I kept for my first creative writing class in high school, circa early ‘80’s. I was sixteen, so my first inclination in reading it all these years later is to reach back in time and pat myself on my big, feathered,1981 hair and gently say, “oh honey, turn down the drama.” I was, after all, sixteen, so maybe there was only one setting.

photo of Bev's creative writing journal from 1981
In reading the whole journal entry, I sense that what I was really feeling was fear. I liked writing, and other teachers had told me that I was a good writer, but I was nervous about measuring up for Mrs. Bales, who had a powerful reputation in our school. She was known to be quirky, funny, creative, and to set the bar high. I had even heard that she arranged the desks in a circle on certain days--gasp!

She wrote back to me in the journal feedback, “beginnings can be beautiful and new!” which turned out to be true for her class, where I felt challenged and nurtured as a writer. It was also the place where the seeds were sown for my career in education. Mrs. Bales paired me with classmates who struggled with editing, and pointed out that I was good at helping them without doing it for them.

37 years later, (with much smaller hair) I’m thinking about the beginning of summer, and the beginning of my 3rd year with PATINS.

Summer starting:

  • Slicing the first kohlrabi from the garden
  • Walking through the entrance of the amusement park and deciding which roller coaster to ride first
  • Opening the first page of the book you haven’t had time to read
  • No socks for months and months ahead
  • The garage freezer is full of Klondiketwo rows of sunflower plants in the garden Bars
  • Betting with my husband on the first sunflower bloom
  • Porch swing cinematic view of an Indiana storm bowling in
Beginning a new year with PATINS:
I know in September I’ll be ready for structure again, but for now, bring on the blank pages, the possibilities, the bare feet!

outline map of Indiana with pie stickers placed where Bev has traveled for PATINS and found good pie
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May
24

Navigating around Barriers

Picture of a Road Map
Did you know that the first week of April is “Read a Road Map” week? Given that emphasis, it seems logical to me that the following week should be “How to fold a Road Map” week!
(I sense you are nodding your head in agreement)


Perhaps the advent of GPS will make road maps obsolete someday. One thing is for sure - no matter what form of navigational technology is available in the future, we’ll always need direction in our lives.

Guidance systems are helpful but they don’t remove roadblocks, do they? They DO assist with navigating around obstacles so we can reach our destination.

Picture of a Brick Wall

Education is like that…there may be barriers to the process of learning but there are ways to navigate around or through those barriers so we can reach our goals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. If you need assistance breaking through or navigating around barriers in education for yourself or for a student in your life, contact a PATINS staff member for some ideas.

 

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May
15

A Regular Committee Meeting or an Example of Everyday UDL?

I just spent the evening with a group of friends focused on organizing for a project. We ate a lovely carry-in meal and got down to a business meeting and ended with a group effort on a task to start the project. It was good to catch up with people we don’t see very often, share quite a few laughs and work on a common goal. The entire process lasted about 4 hours, which was longer than absolutely required to get the job done, and to be honest, we were all glad to go home at the end, and we left with a feeling of having done a good thing. For me, it had been a long day, as I left for work at 6:00 am and got back home at 9:00 pm after this meeting. We all have those kind of days if we are involved with children or community activities. It is what makes life rich, if not overdone.

Every time I am with a group of people charged with making a plan of some sort, I am reminded that “decision by committee” can be, and often is, loud and messy. I will admit that I was pushed to my limit with 16 passionate people enthusiastically sharing ideas and thoughts, often at the same time, and there were plenty of sidebar conversations. Loud and messy are good and important in this process. It means the participants are active and engaged. Each personality and style had an opportunity to express themselves and folks who needed to keep things rolling felt comfortable to nudge the group along. Those of us who prefer less noise and more structure were empowered to move things along or refocus the group. It was easy to shift any negativity into a more positive outcome and when the group needed more gross motor activity, the meeting shifted accordingly.

As I watched this process unfold, it seemed to me that every person there felt safe and comfortable to share and interact. Respect was given to each member who contributed. Interestingly, this was a blend of two separate groups who function very differently from each other and the results were positive.  

Looking around at the tools available to make this work, I saw low tech pencil and paper, notes on a napkin, a sophisticated daily planner, an iPod. We even had a bell as a signal to bring the group back together. Empowerment was evidenced by the willingness to take responsibility for ideas and assignments. Collective wisdom was respected, and new ideas were considered.

This was a great opportunity for UDL principles to be used and, without knowing it, these adult team members took full advantage. Throughout this process, we reviewed the why, the how and the what. For the Why, I saw examples of interest, sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. There is no doubt about the level of engagement in this group. We had a clear purpose and goal. For the How, we demonstrated multiple means of action and expression with lots of opportunity for movement, we worked through a variety of organizational abilities as we had to problem-solve challenges and change course. We provided opportunities to work in a large group, small groups, with a partner and alone. On a practical level, we had a heavy emphasis on auditory as it was a group discussion. Some people had notes from a previous meeting, others had samples and there was a practical task that required problem-solving, manipulation and visual skills, manual coordination and teamwork. Scissors, sticky labels, signage, scheduling, lists and a schematic layout, paper, planners, iPads, smartphones, varied activities, the use of a walker, tables and chairs, and food are examples of universal design that were brought to the meeting.   

The difference in this practical application of an evening meeting and true Universal Design for Learning is that the UDL piece was not planned. Therefore no specialized needs were anticipated, planned for, nor setup with needed materials. What we saw tonight was evidence of how Expert Learners function at an integrated level. Most of us in the group have experienced enough life to know how to meet our individual needs. We were able to locate adaptation in the environment (scissors) to facilitate our work. And team decisions were able to be made with input from multiple individuals.

This was truly a fun experience for me and I had a lot of fun looking at it through the lens of Universal Design for Learning. What would I do in the future to be more intentional? Perhaps provide writing options for those who did not bring any tools/material. Knowing in advance how we can include elderly or mobility limited, or participants with other disabilities. But we also knew we could provide most of what was required because there is a ready supply of alternatives in the building for those who need it and the level of experienced learners we had assembled.

So, what started as another meeting at the end of an already long day, turned out to be a nifty example of the universality of people’s needs and abilities as we work toward a common goal. Quiet, silent classrooms with a teacher providing information via lecture is not always an indicator of an effective learning experience. In reviewing the revised UDL Guidelines 2018 Chart, these expert learners used a variety of means to access knowledge, build upon that knowledge and take these internalized skills to a functional and productive outcome.

Kudos to these participants who demonstrated expert learner skills by integrating purpose and motivation, resourcefulness and knowledge, toward attaining an end result that was strategic and goal-directed.    

Thanks for the fun evening!

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Apr
26

The Summer Job

Spring 1972. As a freshman at Purdue I needed to find a summer job. I had done the fast food thing before college and worked in the dorm dining room all school year. I needed something different and I needed cash. I trekked across campus to the Financial Aid office to check out summer job offerings.

There was a full-time student assistant job available in South Bend about 5 miles from my house. Perfect! Before taxes I would be making $64 a week! (Minimum wage was $1.60/hour back then.) By the end of summer, I would be rolling in the dough!

So, I started working at the Northern Indiana Children’s Hospital in South Bend. The facility was originally built as a polio hospital for children but had morphed into a facility (aka Institution) for children who were developmentally disabled. A place where families had their children ‘placed’ and, in most cases, forgotten. And while it was referred to as a Children’s Hospital some of the ‘children’ had grown up and now were adults and considerably older than me.

During the summer that I arrived there was a not so quiet battle going on between the Nursing Department and the Education Department. Education believed that the residents could learn and needed to live in a more home-like setting within the hospital. Nursing believed that the patients needed to stay in metal cribs or hospital beds and continue a diet of gruel served 3 times a day. (A dollop of instant pudding on top for dinner!) Since I needed the cash, I stuck it out at the ‘war zone’ for the summer!

I learned a lot that summer about myself; realization of paths that life could have taken me; about society’s view of individuals who were disabled; and my future. I returned the next summer after turning down a job that paid significantly more an hour much to my parent’s dismay. The battles of the previous summer were now more of a cold war. The facility had a name change. It was now the Northern Indiana State Hospital and Developmental Disabilities Center. Some residents were even attending the nearby Logan Center!

And I went back for two more summers to work with the residents. I spent a lot of time teaching and reinforcing daily living skills. I attempted to give the individuals that I worked with dignity and life experiences that they deserved. I vividly remember riding a Ferris wheel with a young man who was in no way interested in the experience and wanted out. Luckily neither of us fell off the ride!

After teaching 6th grade for a year (an experience that a secondary education major/first year teacher could never be prepared for no matter how many courses one took) I returned to Purdue to get a Masters in Special Education. I would be able to bring some of the summer job experiences into the classroom. And as a part time job I worked as a teaching assistant a Wabash Center in Lafayette (a preschool center for children who were developmentally delayed). It was an interesting and exciting time for Special Education. PL94-142, now known as IDEA, had been enacted a couple years earlier. Parents were elated that their children would be educated in a school. No one cringed when the word ‘advocate’ was used!

In the fall of 1978, with my Masters in hand, I ended up accepting a teaching position with the Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative. My career with NISEC allowed me to work in life skills classrooms as well as in preschool. In the fall of 1999 I transferred into the field of Assistive Technology working part time as an AT Consultant for NISEC and part time Regional Coordinator for PATINS. During my career with NISEC, I advocated for teachers and children by serving as the Union President and served on the AFTIndiana Executive Board. After several years of juggling AT jobs, I became a full time PATINS employee.

Except for the one-year teaching 6th grade my career in education has been in the special education field spent working with individuals to improve their lives; to make sure they have access; to make sure they have dignity and respect; to make sure they can live and learn to the best of their abilities. And during those years I came to admire the dedication of teachers, administrators, related school personnel, and parents. That drive that everyone has to make sure every student, no matter what ability level, has a free appropriate education has been so energizing!

So what started out as a summer job in 1972 has turned into a 46-year career working with individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. But all good things must come to an end. I will be retiring at the end of this school year and that career will formally come to an end. It is a career that I have honestly enjoyed every day! What started off as a summer job turned into a profession.

How I spend those retirement years is uncertain. But it will be difficult for sure to give up the passion that has ignited me for the past 46 years! Who knows I might be one of those folks who shows up as a walk-in at a PATINS event!!!!!! One thing for sure…the alarm clock will be turned off!!!!!!!!

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Apr
25

A Case for Meaningful Context and Unpredictable Connections


This is a story about James. Actually, it’s a story about James and Mr. Tooley; the two of them were inseparable outside of school.


James was in 5th grade when I first met him. We worked together on math concepts once a week after school. We primarily focused on fractions and decimals, which he absolutely detested.

Generally, on Tuesday afternoons, I went to James’ school, where we met in the cafeteria for an hour. A teacher friend had asked if I’d be willing to help James. She said, “He’s such a sweet boy, but struggling in school.”

I agreed to work with James and soon discovered he was absolutely amazing.

As the week of Spring Break grew near, James’ mother, Ruth, asked if I’d be available to work with him over break. So that particular week, I went to James’ home for our math session.

Ruth met me at the front door, “Hi. Before you come inside, I need to ask if you have any problem being around pets.” I said I was fine with pets and just assumed the family dog or cat would greet me when I walked through the door. 

front porch view of door slightly open
 
I wish I had a picture of my face when James came around the corner with Mr. Tooley on his shoulder. Mr. Tooley was James’ pet crow.

Prior to meeting James, my experience with crows had been minimal. I didn’t know anything about crows except how they looked and how they sounded. I didn’t care for either. Glimpses of crows picking at roadkill tended to disturb me.

What happened between James and me, once Mr. Tooley (Mr. T) entered the scene was the best tutoring I ever experienced. In the name of full disclosure, James was definitely the tutor; I was his tutee. Mr. T was teacher, friend, and comedian to everyone he encountered.

James used our weekly sessions to teach me all about Mr. T. We never met in the school cafeteria again. He and his entire family thoroughly enjoyed surprising me with Mr. T’s feats of wit or ingenuity.

A favorite family game with Mr. T was Hide and Seek. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was surprised how clever and engaging Mr. T was, no matter what game we played with him.

Coincidentally, with Mr. T’s assistance, James would tackle almost anything academic, mathematical or otherwise. James was completely invested in any activity that involved Mr. T because he was completely invested in that crow.

James had tremendous knowledge of crows and other birds. He also loved to draw. Although his fingers were not formed in the same way as most of his peers, he was able to use any type of drawing tool he wanted in order to accomplish any effect he desired. His artwork, as well as his imagination was remarkable. 

black and white illustration of man lying on stomach reading a book with three crows near him
Over time, James shared incredible stories with me. They all traced back to Mr. T in one way or another. We worked together to bring his stories to life. He wrote, spoke and drew them into life, then revised and retold them all over again.

There were innumerable ways to incorporate mathematics into our time together. James seemed to love them all. He wasn’t frustrated or defeated, even when we worked on fractions and decimals.

He loved to prepare fractional amounts of seeds, nuts and pieces of fruit for Mr. T’s food and then calculate the percentage of each that Mr. T ate. He was also motivated to figure out the annual cost of owning Mr. T, which then prompted him to do a price comparison of cages in order to lobby for a new one.

For James, the context was meaningful, which made the content palatable, even intriguing.

In the end, I’m sure I learned more from James than he learned from me. I’m also sure he impacted my way of thinking more than I impacted his.

My preconceived notions about crows had been based on physical attributes, limited experience and no real knowledge. My preliminary thoughts about working with James had been based on curriculum guidelines, classroom settings and personal agendas.

Sometimes it helps to have another person invite you into new ways of thinking and new possibilities. James (with the help of Mr. T and his family) did that for me.

I didn’t work with James in a classroom setting, but I still think this is a powerful testimony for employing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the classroom.

UDL is not about the wit of a crow or a fifth grader’s distaste for mathematics. But it is about what happens when such things collide into purposeful, accessible and motivating ways, allowing students to flourish academically.

At PATINS, we know it’s darn near impossible to stop students from making educational strides if they enjoy or believe in what they’re learning, and when they have the access and means for this learning to take place.

Give us a “caw” if we can help your UDL plans take flight.

American crow in flight with blue sky background


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Apr
20

Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

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Mar
29

Sometimes it is the little things...

During Spring Break this year, I had the pleasure of traveling to Florida with my daughter, Courtney, and a friend of hers from college. Courtney is a graduate student, studying to be a Speech-Language Pathologist. She wants to work in a school setting eventually when she finishes school. Her friend, Jane, is an undergraduate student studying psychology. She hopes to work as a school psychologist. We had many hours in the car together and we spent some of it discussing education-related topics.

It is still sometimes hard to imagine that my “little girl” and I are now discussing IEP procedures, dyslexia, communication devices, lesson plans, etc. It is so exciting to hear fresh perspectives on these topics from the next generation.

We also discussed the different paths that these wonderful young ladies took to wind up where they are now. Courtney’s path was not an easy one. She struggled along the way but also had many tools and resources to help her along the way. She had teachers who challenged her, she learned organization skills through marching band, and she had a never give up attitude that served her well. Courtney never took the easy path; she decided on a major that was not only difficult but also very competitive.

Although she was not always at the top academically, she made up for it with the little things. She didn’t miss class, she was always on time, she always dressed appropriately, she volunteered at the Speech & Hearing Clinic, and she always maintained a positive attitude. I am convinced that these little things made a huge difference in Courtney’s being accepted into the Master’s program for SLP.

Jane’s path was much different, she never received a grade lower than an A. While this is such an amazing accomplishment, it also comes with an added amount of pressure. Again, in my mind, it is the little things that have helped her reach and maintain this plateau. She is organized, punctual, polite, and dedicated.

While their paths were quite different, I have no doubt that both of these ladies will end up exactly where they choose to be. Teachers can have a huge impact on the paths of their students. While academics are important, don’t forget about the little things. Encourage your students to be punctual, organized and to have a positive attitude. A little belief in oneself can go a long way!

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Mar
23

Spring Break...Or Is It?


We have been looking at websites and talking about the sights and sounds of our upcoming trip to St. Louis, Missouri, for several weeks now! Our family is very excited! I have wanted to take our 7-year-old daughter, Zoë, to the City Museum in St. Louis since her first step -- fearing that if I took her too young, I would spend my time looking for her and being worried. If you are not familiar with the museum, is in an old 10-story shoe factory downtown. Floor after floor, kids (and adults) are encouraged to run, jump, climb and dance through tunnels, cave systems and a circus -- to name a few things. There are over 30 slides. I am bursting with excitement!



suspended pathways and structures on the exterior of the City Museum

My best friend and her family suggested that we rent an apartment near the zoo together, and we found the perfect place! It is right off of Forest Park, where the zoo and so many other activities are at our fingertips! We plan to roam the park that contains a pavilion, which was created with proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair! I am a huge roadside attraction person and the park is full of monuments and statues from a giant turtle to an elephant reaching for leaves in the trees. We will be able to take our time seeing a huge waterfall created during the World’s Fair, the art museum and planetarium.

My friend ordered brochures that have a huge kid’s map of the city, and we have watched multiple YouTube videos on what to expect when we ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. We can decide which day might provide the most glorious view of the Mississippi River or the Courthouse greens, depending upon which way we decide to look out.

St. Louis Arch at dusk
If you were my teacher and asked me to talk about my spring break, this is exactly what I would tell you...all of the gorgeous details! I would not hold back on the excitement of what was getting ready to happen! I would unintentionally brag out of sheer enthusiasm for what is going to be the best part about not being in school.

What if, however, you were not going anywhere. What if your family never planned a trip, or had the money to go. What if you got yelled at by your mom if you mentioned doing something over break, or if your parents worked and you were watched for a week by a random family member? What if you were not sure where you were going over break? What if home is not your safe place, and every day you look forward to coming back to school because the stress level seems so much less there? There are a lot of reasons, suddenly, for a student not to want to hear about break and not to celebrate the minutes escaping from the clock as its hands journey toward dismissal.

As teachers, we are born to celebrate the excitement of our students. Sharing what was to come or what happened during a break is part of what has always happened in classrooms. After all, it is fun to talk about these things, for most. Still, imagine for a moment if you dreaded going home for even a night or a weekend and the rest of your classroom was happily counting down to the final bell by crossing off days on a fun calendar? What if your only option during a Language Arts lesson was to write about upcoming plans when it was the source of so much stress? What if your favorite teacher kept on saying, “I can’t wait until next week!” in front of you? How would you interpret that emotion and how it related to you?

As teachers we have to be mindful. I am not sure I processed this enough when I taught my own classroom, but I certainly was attuned to it when I was part of behavioral support team for a small school district. I had many conversations with staff members just making them aware that some students were not celebrating. I saw teachers change their phrasing from “vacation” to “break.” I saw lots of one to one conversations and reassuring moments of us all being back together in a week. I engaged with students who I thought might be worrying and helped them put vocabulary to the emotions they were feeling because it is hard to express things that you don’t have words for.

As school breaks for the spring term, keep these kiddos in mind. They are out there and they are nervous. That does not mean that students are not allowed to express fun times had before and after break, but maybe through more personal conversations and alternative writing prompts and activities that include both vacationers and "staycationers."
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