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Mar
08

Just One Emotional Connection


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Feb
28

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

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


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

road 2125828 960 720 2
There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

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

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

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

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Feb
27

Is it Thursday yet?

If you have read any of my other blogs I have focused on my grandchildren, and this one is no different.

My oldest granddaughter, Mackenzie (Kenzie) now 5, has been having some sleeping issues. My daughter, Emily, had recorded her snoring in her sleep and shared it with their pediatrician. The pediatrician was very concerned as it was very well pronounced and indicated that her airway was being compromised by her tonsils and adenoids.

Kenzie was referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and it was confirmed that both her tonsils and adenoids needed to be removed. Kenzie listened to the diagnosis and the recommended procedure.

Emily and the doctor discussed with Kenzie what would be best for her and what it would involve. Kenzie was on board and wanted to know when they could be removed. The procedure was scheduled two weeks out.

Now one should remember that Kenzie just turned five and is in preschool. Time concepts at her age are days of the week, months of the year and the next holiday to celebrate. So, saying two weeks was still somewhat abstract to Kenzie.

On their way home Kenzie asked if her tonsils would come out tomorrow. Emily explained that it would be on Thursday in two weeks. At that point Kenzie asked, “The next day then?” It began to sound like the proverbial, “Are we there yet?”

When they got home, Emily made a countdown calendar to help Kenzie with the timeframe, so she would have a better understanding of how many days would come and go before the procedure.

From that day on Kenzie was treating her upcoming procedure as if it was a holiday to celebrate. Her anticipation of what was going to happen was almost truly unnatural.

As adults, we know what is involved and some know firsthand what this experience is like. My youngest daughter, Sarah, had her tonsils removed at the age of twelve and post-surgery was tolerable but still somewhat uncomfortable. My personal thoughts were, “Oh child you have no idea…” but Kenzie was so excited to share that this was about to happen.

A couple days before the surgery, Emily tried some of the post-surgery foods with Kenzie. Jell-O, pudding, ice cream and popsicles and Kenzie had no issues with that. The night before everyone was given their designated duties; Mimi and Pappy Pa were instructed to take care of Ethan, our 2-year-old grandson.

Kenzie had her special pajamas and off to the hospital they went. Emily would send pictures and a timeline as to what was happening and Kenzie was still all smiles.

The procedure went well and when Emily and Jamie went back to recovery, Kenzie was sitting up as if nothing had happened, all smiles. For any parent, the last thing we want to do is see our children in discomfort, but that wasn’t the case so far.

Kenzie setting in a chair giving a thumbs up.

Fast forward 4 days and really nothing has changed except for the snoring. Kenzie has not had one complaint to speak of, which is quite a relief to all of us.

There is something to be said about the attitude one brings to the table and how we perceive what it is we expect. Kenzie’s lack of knowledge as what to expect was natural. What helped her to be prepared was the information and honesty about what to expect in real terms and that in the end, the outcome would be in her best interest.

So, what does this have to do with education or anything remote? On the verge of any testing, what can parents and teachers do to help prepare their child or student for any anxiety that might confront them?

PATINS hosts a PATINS/ICAM Twitter Chat on Tuesdays at 8:30 EST. (#PatinsIcam Chat) to tweet and chat about topics that pertain to education. It just so happens that the Tuesday of this blog the topic dealt with creating and maintaining a positive test environment.

It paralleled what we experienced with Kenzie to a degree regarding preparation and expectation.

Below were the Twitter questions for the chat. I am not going to address the questions but through Kenzie’s experience, it’s food for thought.
  1. Why is creating a positive testing environment important?
  2. What behaviors can be seen when a student struggles with test anxiety?
  3. What strategies do you use to create a calm and positive atmosphere?
  4. How can students support one another when it comes time to testing?
  5. What are your favorite apps or extensions to support students who may be feeling anxious?
  6. How can you gain parent/guardian support for creating a positive perspective of testing at home?
  7. What strategies and accommodations have you been implementing throughout the year to improve your students' confidence and access to the curriculum, thus improving test scores?
  8. How can goal setting factor in to helping a struggling child feel successful with ISTEP?
  9. Does teacher stress feed into student anxiety about a test? How do you take care of yourself?
  10. How are you going to celebrate this round of testing being over?
Kenzie would say pudding, popsicles and ice cream for this one!

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Feb
24

A Matter of Trust


My five-year-old grandson, Rhett, was spending the night with me recently. Upon waking up the next morning in his bed, I heard his little voice say in the darkened house “Miss Kaylan?”. 

You see, Miss Kaylan is his Preschool Teacher. 

Preschool teacher Miss Kaylan with 5-year old grandson Rhett
As I trekked down the hallway to greet Rhett to the new day, I was touched that he chose to call out for his teacher rather than Momma, Daddy or Gigi (that’s me!). He obviously was disoriented waking up in the dark and trusted that Miss Kaylan was there to lead the way for him to a safe place, a comfortable place. 

Teachers are leaders. 

Why would anyone want to be a teacher, anyway? Some seek the position because they enjoy the control of the classroom that almost certainly accompanies. Others become teachers because the rewards seem attractive. Still others accept a role of teacher out of a sense of duty, obligation or pay it forward mindset. 

There is nothing wrong with any of these motives. After all, an effective leader quite naturally acquires power and knows how to handle it. And all leaders should be rewarded for their efforts, right? Furthermore, a strong sense of duty compels leaders to do their best. But too much emphasis on any of the three separates the leader from the people eventually…one more motive is essential, and that is service. 

A leader who has a genuine desire to touch people’s lives for the better, to serve that is – one who sees the needs and wants to be part of the solution – empowers others.

My role in PATINS is to support and serve the Staff and our Stakeholders as they lead all students to an accessible curriculum. You can trust that I am behind the scenes purchasing needed items in our Lending Library, purchasing training resources for our Specialists, planning and implementing our next Professional Development Event to enhance knowledge base and support compliance for student success. All the while, working with the PATINS Director to be fiscally responsible with our budget and funding.

May everything you do revolve around service to others. You are a leader.



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Feb
09

Hands Off That Kid!

adult hand holding child's hand with text reading
“Sally can solve addition equations with 100% accuracy when the teacher tells her what the answer is.”

If you read that on your child’s progress report, you might do a spit take, right? For one, Sally didn’t “solve” squat. Why is telling her the answer a measure of Sally’s progress? It’s nonsense! Unacceptable! The lowest of lows in pedagogy!

However, plenty of progress reports have gone out this year with some variation of the following:

“Aiden can request preferred activities from a choice of three objects with maximum physical (hand over hand) assistance.”

How in the world did Aiden request something if staff were the ones grabbing Aiden’s hand and pointing? I ask teams working with students why they are using hand over hand instead of any other number of solutions, and they tend to answer with a combination of the following:

“He has such involved motor issues, he can’t touch it unless we do hand over hand.”

“She won’t pay attention unless we do.”

“He won’t do it otherwise.”

You know what is interesting about those objections? They are about us, the adult, and not about our students. Our students with complex bodies need alternative ways of pointing, not hand over hand. Our students with poor attention need engaging and motivating environments, not hand over hand. If your students won’t do without hand over hand, you doing it for them is not a data point. Our students need to learn, and we simply cannot hand over hand their brains.white text on black background

When we decide not to grab student’s hands, we are making a statement of trust and respect to our students. We model. We wait. We think about our materials, change them so they are accessible. We do any number of things because we are saying:

I will wait. I will not force you to perform at my speed.

I will watch. I will adjust and adapt to be a good teacher and communication partner for you.

I will discover with you. Everyone is engaged by something, and we can never know what you know unless you are engaged, first. We will find those things that work for you.

I will reflect. The data we take will be meaningful and help drive decision making, so you can communicate whatever you want to say, or show what you know.

What are you saying to your students today?

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Feb
04

AT Team Development- Worth the time!

We just wrapped up ATIA 2018 in Orlando. There were so many wonderful sessions and so many great folks to network with. My focus was AT Team Building this year. It strikes me that the issues are the same as always and the individuals faced with solving the issues are the same groups of people. The difference in all these years is that our general knowledge has evolved as has the mass, open accessibility to tools. Maybe it is helpful that our funding is increasingly blended, too, making it more obvious that these kids are all of ours, so more folks are naturally involved in the brainstorming.

Stakeholders are all talking classroom accessibility rather than pulling a student from natural instruction to provide access on a tool so special or expensive it has to be stored in a special "AT room" with security akin to Fort Knox. Talk about leveling the playing field! The Cloud; Access to the Same Curriculum; Getting materials in Real Time; Accountability; Showing what someone Knows; Expecting Achievement; and working with General Educators have all facilitated this growth in Access and Communication. If that is not team building, then I have missed something.  

Bridge builders working together on structure

We still need framework, structure, support, training, modeling and followup as we develop this process. We need to encourage individuals with expertise to blossom, find their niche and shore up the structure for staff and student. The knight in shining armor coming in to save the day never really did work because you are still left with the issues, once the knight leaves.  

Let's work together to Level the Playing field for staff working to find solutions and support each other as we support students. In the immortal words of my daughter, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Let's pace ourselves and dig our heels in for a lot of fun as we lope along! It is a familiar path and now we can slow down enough to welcome friends. With the tools readily available, progress can be seen fairly immediately, so this marathon can be a satisfying journey.

The PATINS website has some suggested structure to get you started. Go to the Julie Kuhn Webpage and look for AT Team Development. Also, I periodically host webinars on this topic and you can always contact me to get started on your own problem-solving and action plan!

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Jan
22

Cabin Fever

Snow, below zero wind chill, drifting, freezing temps, ice, sleet, gloomy days, hats, scarves, boots just a typical January day in Indiana. And in my part of the state add in lake effect snow. Lake effect snow is very unpredictable and is caused by winds coming from the north and sweeping over Lake Michigan and dumping inches of snow in one area. All this can be enjoyable but after a few days of wintery weather and Mother Nature calling the shots cabin fever sets in!

According to dictionary.com cabin fever is “a state characterized by anxiety, restlessness, and boredom, arising from a prolonged stay in a remote or confined place.” January 2018 has certainly provided us with numerous reasons to have cabin fever! A string of sunny days above 32 degrees becomes a wish. And that groundhog had better not see his shadow in February!
bench and bushes in a park near Lake Michigan covered in ice.
Think of our students and the cabin fever they may have experienced this winter. They for sure are ready to embrace some change. They have been stuck in the house. It really has been too cold to enjoy typical winter activities such as sledding, building a snowman or having a good snowball fight.

When you bring the definition of cabin fever into the classroom one should quickly realize that the students need some change and variety to mix things up. They need to overcome that “state characterized by anxiety, restlessness, and boredom” found in the classroom. They need to have challenges within their school day to reduce those feelings. Those students need new ways to engage them in the learning process. Learning occurs when the individual is engaged in the activity.

So, take your students minds out of cabin fever mode. Change things up a bit. Provide them the opportunity to learn. Keep them engaged. And just remember each day of winter is just one day closer to Spring!

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Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Jan
18

Returning to Mindfulness and Reaping the Benefits

clementine oranges with leavesSitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the circle rug in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, I learned something new. Maybe it wasn’t completely new, but certainly not practiced consistently in the “rush around world” I seem to be living in.

Ms. Indu, the founder of the school, passed around a little white basket of brightly colored clementines to all of the parent-night attendees. She instructed each person to select a fruit, then encouraged us to examine the smooth texture. She quietly described the hands that planted the seeds...hands that were passed down from ancestors, and ancestors, and ancestors. She characterized the process of love and nurturing that allowed it to grow into a tree. As the fruit ripened, sweet and heavy, she discussed the hands that picked it from the green leaves so high up in the tree. How many hands passed the clementine as it was washed, shined, packed and transported to the grocery store. She detailed the careful stacking of each clementine by a person who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors. She considered the inspection and selection that you, the consumer, went through to bring this delicious snack home.

As the mindful activity unfolded, I watched my husband Bill’s face out of the corner of my eye. He sat, looking at the clementine and listening intently to Ms. Indu speak. I fought back a sudden wave of the giggles as I wondered what this 45-year-old man would do when asked to eat the delicious fruit. Bill is what I would call a “reformed picky eater.” When he was young, he would reject a hamburger if the plate was sprinkled with parsley. Over the past 10 years he has developed into what I would consider a “typical eater” with occasional moments of adventure. One thing, however, that I knew for sure was that he did NOT like clementines. Clementines, oranges, grapefruit, none of them!

I closed my eyes and concentrated on putting the clementine segment in my mouth. Ms. Indu continued to guide us through the mindful activity of tasting the sweetness of the fruit, savouring the tangy yet sweet ...wait...what did I hear? Was that...chewing? Bill was chewing. Eyes closed, intently listening, and chewing. He was not just eating a piece of the clementine, he was eating the entire fruit. Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in this case, turned my “typical eater” into a person who now purchases a bag of clementines every time he goes to the grocery store. He is now a person who carefully stacks the fruit in a blue glass bowl on our counter and enjoys the flavor and benefit of this nutritious snack. That moment of sitting on the kindergarten rug with purposeful and guided thought actually changed his pattern of thinking. I think he surprised himself that evening. He certainly never thought of himself as a citrus lover.

As I processed the mindful activity that led to a pattern change for Bill, I started to ponder school environments, students and how simple mindful activities might shape everyday activities. Research has shown that mindful behavior actually changes the neurological patterns in the brain. Mindful activities can promote goal setting and attainment, overall peacefulness throughout a school day and can be a confidence builder for a student who is struggling.

As a teacher, mindful attention to the day can increase student connectivity and might bring attention to the individual gifts students bring to the table with a reduced focus on those items that seem to be out of our control.

I was recently in a classroom in Greencastle where a teacher of students with Emotional Disabilities was detailing some of the progress the students had experienced this semester. She explained that every morning the students took a moment to reflect quietly on the upcoming day, to process through the daily hurdles and to have a moment to gather thoughts of how to navigate. She attributed much of the success of her students to that carefully planned moment in time, and stated that if something happened and that moment did not occur, the day definitely reflected it. The skill she was teaching did not cost money. A student never had to be without it because it comes from within. It was a life skill that encouraged goal setting and personal growth. What more could we possibly want for our students?

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Apr
19

The Party's Over

 PATINS staff photo with the words keep calm and smile with friends poster

Last week, PATINS hosted a party. Well, not really a party, but Tech Expo 2017… and it had components of a party:

· Invitation and RSVP
· Theme/decorations
· Food
· Lively conversation
· Meeting new people
· Seeing friends/colleagues
· Laughter
· Activities
· Goodie bag/gifts
· Photo opportunities

As the Event & Financial Manager, it is my responsibility to plan the event in a fiscally responsible manner as well as coordinate the efforts of the venue, staff and exhibitors to serve the attendees to the best of our ability.

Looking over feedback that has come back to us, it seems we provided a valuable day of learning and professional development for the teachers, support staff, administrators and parents that were in attendance. For those of you who joined us, thank you! For those of you who didn’t make it, we will offer Tech Expo once again in April 2018 with an Exhibit Hall full of experts in the field of technology and a day full of presentations exploring how to implement those products and services in the classroom.

Daniel has a phrase he encourages us to use as a focal point in our PATINS positions…Faces, tiny little faces. In my position, I do not get out into the classrooms to see the students’ faces, but, I do appreciate having a hand in a successful professional development event, such as Tech Expo, where I am able to see the faces of eager educators taking away new ideas and product supports to their schools where they will undoubtedly increase student achievement.

Lastly, a party is a celebration and Tech Expo felt like that at the end of the day. We can all celebrate when the students we serve succeed in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom!


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May
05

Making Sense of the New Dyslexia Bill

Last summer, Indiana House Bill 1108 also known as the “Dyslexia Bill”, moved through the House and the Senate then was passed into law by a simple majority. As it was introduced, the bill was worded with directives that were specific and strong. Then amendments were filed and it seemed to me that the explicit language had been removed, so by final passage the bill sounded vague and watered down. I have had conversations with some of you, in this vein, and now I would like to modify that view and explain how my position has evolved.

In Section I, dyslexia is generally defined. The definition is not all-inclusive, but it is solid.

Then, Section 2:

If an education service center offers in-service training or other teacher training programs, the education service center may offer courses for teachers on dyslexia screening and appropriate interventions, including courses relating to a structured literacy approach that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic.

I found it curious that the authors of the bill addressed service centers first. Why not go directly to the classroom? Well, the service centers are a very good path into the classroom. It states that the education service center may offer courses, so ask for them. Member schools administrators should contact your service centers and request trainings, on screening, classroom accommodations, and specialized instruction, for dyslexia.

Be sure to request courses that provide instruction that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic. Because after over 40 years of documented, replicated, published research by the NIH, we know these elements are the backbone of effective reading instruction for those who struggle with learning to read by traditional methods.

Next, Section 3 provides:

A teacher preparation program shall include content within the curriculum that prepares teacher candidates to recognize that a student who is not progressing at a normal rate related to reading may need to be referred to the school's multidisciplinary team to determine the student's special learning needs, including learning needs related to dyslexia

This is a fundamental change. Looking back on the coursework for my teaching certification, the lack of attention given to dyslexia was striking. Now, new teachers will come in much better equipped to identify and serve students with dyslexia, as current service teachers will be leaning into their service centers for support, all to benefit the 1 in 5.

I didn’t like those phrases: “may need to be referred….” and “…related to dyslexia.” But there are other reasons for a student to fall behind in reading, like students who are English Language Learners. Or students who are experiencing family problems such as homelessness, or abuse. All need not be assigned a multidisciplinary team. Other supports may be more appropriate. Perhaps a student cannot decode words because she or he has an undetected vision impairment that could be corrected with glasses. Special education is not the solution to every problem and dyslexia is not every problem with reading. I knew that. Now I get it.

And now I see that my views were the limiting factors here. Indiana HB 1108 actually gives us much space wherein we can follow best practices for our students. 

For instance, the law does not stipulate that in order to provide interventions for dyslexia, that there must be a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. Evaluations can be quite expensive, and schools are not required at this time to pay for dyslexia screenings and diagnosis.

Let's back up a bit to review: a student with a disability is one who has been evaluated in accordance with 511 IAC Article 7, and has been determined eligible for special education and related services, by the Case Conference Committee (CCC). If the student is identified as such, this same CCC will determine which school-provided services will best meet the student’s educational needs. If the CCC agrees that the student presents a print disability, this must be indicated on the IEP. The NIMAS Regulations were added to the IDEA in 2004 for these students, specifically.

The NIMAS Regulations mandate that State and Local Education Agencies ensure that textbooks and related core instructional materials are provided to students with print disabilities in specialized formats in a timely manner. Also remember that a student with a print disability is defined as one who cannot access print in the normal manner (I don’t like that term “normal” but it is used in the NIMAS Regulations, so we reluctantly use it).

If a student has been determined to have a print disability, and is presenting 3 or more of the classic signs of dyslexia, that student is not accessing print in the normal manner, and
 the CCC may indicate the presence of a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction on ICAM/NIMAS Form 4, and on the student’s IEP. In this category of print disability, dyslexia is the most frequently identified, and always has been. Once this determination is made and included in the IEP, the ICAM can begin to provide immediate assistance.

Typically, students with dyslexia prefer digital and audio formats, to print instructional materials. The ICAM is happy to offer two very special partnerships which we are able to share with Indiana schools.  

Learning Ally audio books are human voice recordings of more than 80,000 textbooks, popular fiction titles and classic literature. Previously known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Learning Ally produces high quality audio books that help students increase word recognition, reading comprehension, fluency, and confidence. Important features include text highlighting, audio and speed adjustments, and most recently, a growing library of titles in a combination format, called Voicetext.

Read: OutLoud by Don Johnston, Inc.is a text-to-speech screen reader that provides elements essential for struggling readers: text highlighting, options in font and background color, reading speed adjustments, and a selection of digital reading voices. Don Johnston knows firsthand how frustrating school can be for students with dyslexia, so he and his team continue to design a range of tools to level the playing field for a range of abilities. The ICAM provides the basic software.

We now know that dyslexia presents in levels, or degrees: mild, moderate, severe, profound. Students with dyslexia in the mild to moderate range may find adequate support through one or both of these tools. A student who falls in the severe-profound ranges may need more specialized instruction to go with these tools, and there may come a time when one will need a formal evaluation/diagnosis of dyslexia. However Indiana HB 1108, the NIMAS Regulations of IDEA 2004, and the ICAM can help schools help students, now.

Let’s get started!
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Jan
11

Viral UDL

From the Flu to you!

Sandi is sitting on her couch with a blanket over her and two dogs on her legs. She is typing on her computer and has her sick table materials beside her.
For the first time in a long while, I am sick. The flu epidemic did not spare me this year. As I sit here with my “sick table” fully stocked with my hot tea, Halls cough drops, Puffs Tissues Plus Lotion and Vicks, and a nasty wastebasket full of used tissues, I find myself thinking about things that are infectious and contagious.
 
Wikipedia tells me that, “In the United States, the flu season is considered October through May. It usually peaks in February.” According to the CDC, this year’s flu strain is the H3N2 virus. The estimate is that the Flu shot is only 30% effective against this flu strain, but you are still urged to get it. The Definition of contagious is to move easily from one person to another.

Influenza Activity Estimates Indiana and much of the nation have sporatic outbreak in October. In November Indiana is still sporatic but other states are showing local activity.  By December all contiguous states show widespread flu reports.
Between November and the end of December, the flu spreads rapidly because we are traveling to see out of town friends and relatives for the holidays. We are leaving our normal geographic boundaries and reaching out to others.

Infectious diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses. Great ideas can be spread that way too. I am getting ready to work with a small team of educators that wants to learn more about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We are going to meet twice a month and discuss how to UDL their classrooms and lessons. We don’t know where this will go, but we are hoping it will become contagious! This is the way PATINS works. Groups of educators step out of their mental geographic boundaries, try something new and share it with their colleagues. The same principles of contagion apply to learning great educational frameworks like UDL as do the flu. The difference is great results for Indiana educators and students.  

I’d love to infect you with the UDL virus! Reach out to me and let’s get some positive educational pedagogy spreading around your school!

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  2781 Hits
Jan
04

The Best Things In Life Are Free

scs
I stumbled upon an old song that Sam Cooke re released in 1964 called, “The Best Things In Life Are Free.”

“Moon belongs to everyone

The best things in life, they're free
Stars belong to everyone
They glitter there for you and for me
They are yours and me

Flowers in spring
The robins that sing
Sunbeams that shine
They're yours and their mine

Love can come to everyone
Best things in life they're free
All of the good things
Every one of the better things

The best, best things in life
They're free”

While the lyrics are very simple, the reflection it gave me as I listened was rather deep. Knowing that research constantly reflects that teachers can be one of the most impactful persons in a student’s life, it made me immediately think about all of our students who may struggle daily; whether academically, socially or emotionally.

I had recently been with a passionate group of educators who were seeking ways to support their students. Together we brainstormed some considerations for appropriate accommodations. Assistive technology tools were introduced to facilitate independent learners and support students on the autism spectrum. Strategies for classroom management and behaviors were also shared. We engaged in conversations about specific learning disabilities and had discussions about accessible educational materials.

So, what does all of that have to do with a song titled, “The Best Things In Life Are Free?” Chance. It all comes down to Chance. It’s free and sometimes...it’s all a student really needs...to be given a Chance.    


Sing it Sam! 


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Jan
03

To Do One Thing Is Also Deciding To Not Do Something Else

Image of a fork in a road with an ominous looking sky above

Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. Likewise, to believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else. This almost certainly seems like a simplistic statement...one that is nearly self-evident. Yet, when one begins to contemplate daily decisions, even routine or minor ones, from this virtually-transposed perspective, things can start to be inspected differently.  

I had a friend once, whom I haven't spoken to in many years. Like most people I have had any length of contact with, he said a lot of things, most of which I do not remember even the notion of. However, one particular statement he verbalized to me nearly 20 years ago, has remained with me, word for word.  

He said, "You are always going down one road or the other with every single decision you make, but never the middle." He continued, "Any time you think you're in the middle, you're actually on one path, but thinking about the other path." He concluded with, "Every decision and every action is either moving you in one direction or the other, but never both directions at the same time." 

He wasn't a really great friend, but I've always remembered these particular words from him. I try to meaningfully and regularly ruminate on the deep implications of their meaning. I was also recently prompted to think of this ever-protruding philosophy in my life in a slightly different way, which I anticipated to be worth discussing here.  

There's a question that tends to get posed consistently, whether I'm providing a training, sitting with my office computer, checking emails from my phone on-the-go, or participating in a meeting. That question has to do with two separate, but very related concepts: ALL students' ability to work toward grade-level standards and which accommodations are/are not permitted on high stakes testing. Conclusively, questions that indicate one belief...one path, which is simultaneously not believing something else, according to this philosophy at hand. 

I pose that these questions represent beliefs, rather than simple factual inquiries. Asking me which shoes I put on this morning, could be a simple factual inquiry. In contrast, asking about allowable accommodations on a high stakes test or how it could be possible for ALL students to work toward grade-level standards, proposes that the inquiry comes from someone who is traveling down the path to the left, while thinking about the path to the right. 

While I cannot fault this, and much could be said at this juncture about the value of reflection while on one path or the other, the actuality of the path that is underway (decisions and beliefs), is that the student who is figuratively walking with the facilitator, is actively traveling on ONE path, but not both at the same time and not the middle. When accounting for the relatively limited time our students have with us, each step taken in one direction, potentially sacrifices steps that could be taken in the other direction.  

By deciding that what ultimately matters, is the allowable accommodations on a high stakes test, one is also deciding that the tools that could engage a student meaningfully for "the other 175 days" of school are of secondary importance. Traveling down this particular path seems to be rather common and also understandable given the gravity of these tests! Yet, allowing this anticipation of the end of the year to decide the path to get there, seems quite counter-intuitive to our ultimate goal.  

We know that the more actively engaged our students are in a curriculum that is accessible to them, the more accurately we can predict their success on that high stakes test (with or without the tools) and more importantly, their success toward independence as uniquely awesome and creative humans in society.  

When we slow down to think before we take that next step or make that next decision, it is of significant consequence to ponder what we are also deciding not to do... not to believe... not to expect.  

Decide to expect greatness from ALL of your students in ways that you can't even envision yet. Take steps that demonstrate your travel down this path decisively. Seek support, training, and trials of tools, from PATINS. Be aware of what your steps, your decisions, your beliefs also mean that you are not choosing, not traveling toward, not believing in. Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. To believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else.

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Dec
27

New Device?

Recently, I had the pleasure of keeping my cousin for the night, while her mom got a much deserved night off. My cousin is 5 years old and in kindergarten and came armed with her iPad. I kept her busy most of the time, but as we were winding down she decided to play on her iPad. I was curious and watched her interacting with the device.

I noticed right away that although she had many apps on the iPad, there were not many fun, learning type apps. I had recently purchased many puzzles for her and I knew she loved puzzles, so I installed some puzzle apps for her. She was also just beginning to write, so I found some fun tracing/writing apps for her as well.

I mentioned to her mom the next day that I had added some apps and she was very grateful. She said she had meant to take a look at them. Parents have so many responsibilities, so I was glad I was able to provide some assistance. If you have questions or need recommendations for educational/learning-centered apps or software, please contact a member of the PATINS staff. We also have many apps and software titles available to borrow in the PATINS Lending Library.

If your child received a new device for Christmas, please remember there are a number of factors to consider. One consideration I would make would be to be aware and to be involved. Please consider what apps and software are being used on the device. There are many apps and software programs that are both fun and educational.

Another consideration I would make is to have parental involvement with the device. Consider how long your child spends on their device and spend time interacting with them as they play. If they are particularly interested in a certain subject or area, find an app or software program that would interest them. If you have the ability, stream their device to the family television, and “play” together or read a story.

A third consideration I would make is to have clear guidelines for device usage. Will you allow the device to be used during meals, at bedtime, in a room without a parent? Do you have the password for your child’s device? Will they be allowed to use social media? Can they access or purchase apps? Will parental controls be set on the device? Consider a Family Media Contract, there are many available through a Google search.

Lastly, keep in mind that there are many accessibility features available for devices. Apple has many features built-in; you can find these features under Settings, General, Accessibility. You can find accessibility features in Windows and Apple computers as well. If you have any questions about any of these features, our PATINS staff would be glad to assist you!

I hope you have a Happy New Year! 


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  2362 Hits
Jan
13

Can you hear the Echo?

Last summer on our family vacation my daughter brought along her Amazon Echo. She set it up in the main living area and said, “Dad you need to get one of these."

Between my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandkids, it was a fight to demonstrate just what the Echo could do. “Alexa, play Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles." Sure enough the Echo played it and before the song was half over, another request, “Alexa, what’s the temperature?” “Alexa, tell me a joke.”

This went on for about an hour. It was impressive even when Alexa didn’t know the answer or request the Echo said so with, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question." Not many people will fess up to that.

Alexa was busy all week playing music, responding to joke requests now and then and miscellaneous questions to stump the Echo.

When I got home I didn’t rush out to get an Echo although it was tempting. You see I like technology and most of all gadgets, but I looked at the price and thought I’ll give it some time.

Sure enough a few months later my daughter texted me to let me know the Echo was on sale. Temptation took over and I ordered one. It was delivered and I set it up, got it connected to the Internet and started asking requests like I had no idea of facts or music. My wife and I rambled on until we looked at each other and decided we were done…for the moment.

One little caveat about the Echo is depending on what name you give it, Alexa, Echo or Amazon you should be aware that if you are within an ear shout of the device and inadvertently say the name, it will try to answer you. Most of the time it replies, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question”.

Fast forward to before Christmas.

There were a lot of sale opportunities for the Echo models, one of which was the Echo Dot 2. It is about the size of a hockey puck with a small speaker but the price was about a third of the larger Echo. For as much as everyone seemed to enjoy the Echo, I thought I’d get everyone a Dot. It was a stellar idea because everyone liked them, which brings me to the point of this blog.

My son-in-law has a cousin with Cerebral Palsy. She is wheelchair bound and uses a DynaVox device for communication. My daughter asked me if the Echo would work with the DynaVox. If you know me, you know where I went from there.

I don’t have a DynaVox, but I did have an iPad. I pulled it out and installed a simple Text to Speech app and started playing. The first thing that you must do is address the device by name and for me that was ”Alexa." When it lights up it is ready for your request. I typed Alexa and my request, tell me a joke. I took my iPad close to the Echo and tapped Speak and sure enough I got a joke.

I played around many times with different requests and noticed that sometimes the initial “Alexa” command needed a bit more time before the request could be processed, so I added either a comma or two or a Return entry which put a little pause before the request was spoken.

The request should be made with a 5 to 6 second window for the Echo to respond to the request. I have Proloque2Go on another iPad and added an Alexa joke request button to the default  "Joke" folder and it worked as well. Here is a short video of what I did with my iPad and Proloquo2Go sample.

In theory, any device that lets the user create phrases like I had done on the iPad and Proloque2Go should have access to the Echo’s ability to respond. Every device is different and there might be some tweaking to do. However, the independent interaction of accessing endless amounts of information and entertainment at the request of the user is worth the effort.

The Echo can also be linked to control environmental devices like lights, switches, thermostat and the list is growing. I am sure this was not my sole discovery, but if it gets the interest of someone else, it has served its purpose. I will work to get this in the hands of my son-in-law’s cousin. Stay tuned.

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Sep
23

Simplicity

For Grandparent’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I spent the morning with my grandson, Dean. His first grade class had prepared a song to sing for us. After the musical presentation, they proudly lead all their respective grandparents to prepared artwork and individual lockers. A sense of enthusiasm was evident as the students pulled out their iPads to show the elders all they could do. It was at that point I noticed slight bobbing and cocking of heads accompanied by many uh hums. The first graders were flipping through icons and pausing to stop at one and then another, swiping to the left and to the right. The grandparent’s heads kept bobbing and sounds of the uh hums became more obvious. 

Being one of the senior PATINS staff members, I’ve been around to see technology metamorphoses into a variety of different forms. It started with a handful of cause and effect programs, switch access here and rudimentary AAC devices there. There were big CCTVs and various keyboards. It didn’t seem to change very much over time. However, technology today is expediential in how quickly it is surpassing itself. To me that is mind blowing! 

Perhaps out of comfort or habit, this senior staff member tends to think “old school”. This old dog sometimes doesn’t mind following through with the same old tricks. It might be as simple as needing a piece of paper to physically hold onto...to connect my mind to something tangible. I’ve realized that many things that have become habit for one may not be an easy habit for others. 

I have five young grandchildren and every day they are acquiring knowledge that is new and is truly in its simplest form. I have been fortunate to have acquired a good technology skill set over time and I feel confident in sharing that knowledge with them and with others. In my position with PATINS/ICAM, I receive calls, emails and in person requests for the most simplest things. Often, I remind myself that even what one person sees as simple is another’s struggle to understand or grasp. My takeaway is to never underestimate the simple; it might just be the roadblock that might keep a person from moving forward. 

We live in an age where we experience so much in the digital context. Cell phones, the Internet, news and social media, etc. offers immediate access to content that is at our fingertips. Is that tangible enough for us to absorb in a way that we can fully process all of the content? For some, perhaps not. 


I’ve bounced around some senior insight, but in that moment of watching the head bobbing and uh humming at my grandson’s celebration of Grandparents, a thought crossed my mind. I don’t think it was the confusion of what the grandparents were seeing and hearing with the iPads. I think it was the amazement of what our grandchildren are experiencing. These first graders made their experiences seem so simple…at least to this grandparent!  
Jeff and his grandson
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  2631 Hits
Dec
18

Unexpected Gifts

Last weekend while out shopping for a perfect treasure to give my husband for Christmas, I wandered into a thrift store and began perusing the book collection. We need another book in our house as much as we need another seashell. Which is to say, not at all. We have a rule now, “bring in 1 book, get rid of 1 book.” No problem. For the book I purchased, I will gladly bring to the thrift store a whole box of books!

The book is The Technique of Teaching, by Sheldon Emmor Davis, Ph.D. (I googled him, he was quite a prolific author in the field of education.) The copyright date is 1922. It’s a small book — 4.5 X 7.5, with a dark blue hardcover. The gold lettering on the spine is no longer readable, except for the word Teaching. I took the book from the shelf and opened it, and I have learned.

The book has seven chapters. Chapter One echoes the title: “The Technique of Teaching”, and is, of course, an overview. The next 6 chapters explain how to teach Spelling, Reading and Literature, Composition and Grammar, Arithmetic, History and Geography. All that in 336 pages!

Because of my interest in supporting students with dyslexia, I wanted to go straightaway to the chapters on spelling and reading. On the way there I came across several important gems: “We are teaching pupils, not subjects.” True. “Learning is attention.” Check. “Emotional response (is) important.” Yes. “Belief in pupils (is) essential.” Wow. I don’t remember discussing teaching in such direct terms when studying for my teaching certification. Are these ideas too obvious to mention?

The Teaching of Spelling chapter still is pertinent to the methods of instruction prescribed for dyslexic learners: systematic, explicit, phonetic, multisensory.

For instance, Dr. Davis wrote, “For clear impression the assignment may require writing words plainly, syllabication, copying in the air and upon paper, pronouncing aloud individually and in concert.” The language is dusty, but concise. He wrote, “The degree to which a given child or class may be visual, auditory, or motor minded we may not know, but the teacher who makes the multiple sense appeal is on safe ground.” Which is an accurate plan for using a multi-sensory approach in teaching spelling.

Under a heading called Repetition with attention, Dr. Davis wrote that since spelling can be monotonous, keep study times short and focused, and use different types of drills to keep it interesting. He spoke of using reasoning to help teach spelling, such as the rules for vowels depending on their positions in words. “One who is led to discover the reason for persisting e in singeing, tingeing, or hingeing is far more likely to be using economy that the child who mechanically masters each word. For he has a key to the situation even when he encounters a word he has never studied.” The spelling of hinging has been changed (Dr. Davis also discusses spelling changes through history), but his method of teaching spelling involves using a tactic that is systematic, examples provided.

In Chapter 3, “The Teaching of Reading and Literature”, Dr. Davis begins to discuss phonetics in a substantial way, with examples of learning activities that at first sound archaic, until I began to understand their brilliance. For example, the teacher or students might create a tool called “winding the clock.” A phonogram (ick, ock, ore) is placed in the center, think of the point where the clock hands connect, then 12 consonants or consonant blends are placed instead of numbers, for students to make real or nonsense words. As Dr. Davis points out, the student should meet the sight words first: “After the pupil know at sight can, man, hand, and others of the same family, it is not difficult to focalize his attention upon the phonogram, an.”

Does this book utilize explicit instruction? Absolutely. The author describes how to make different types of card decks, and how to use them. His methods and activities, or “devices” are easy to understand, often with practical advice: Use of Objects and pictures. “Use of objects is one of the surest ways of introducing the ideas for which words stand. This is experience gaining rather than reading, but necessary nevertheless.”

This is not a handbook for teaching dyslexic readers, and not once is the word used. If you are an educator you should by now have your own copy of Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, even if you teach content other than reading and spelling. Because as Dr. Davis wrote, “Every group doing written work is a spelling class.” As teachers, reinforce one another, every chance you get.

Indiana now has IN HB 1108, the Dyslexia law, and educators are being called to address the 1 in 5 in meaningful ways. Which means you may be required to attend trainings to help you teach. Hopefully, that will be the case. I have heard the big sigh, and have been told by a few individuals that “This is just too much, with all else I have to do. “I get that.

But help is all around you. There are resources in the PATINS Lending Library: books, software, hardware. The ICAM provides free memberships for your students to receive Learning Ally audiobooks-all they need is an IEP and documentation of a reading disability. There are trainings to attend here in Indiana. You probably have some very good resources in your possession now. Don’t wait to be trained to begin helping struggling readers. Use what you have until you get what you need. Let us help!

Happy Christmas, Everyone!



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  2302 Hits
Dec
14

It's the Thought That Counts

a person's open hands holding a small wrapped giftbox

If you celebrate the holidays that take place this time of year, there’s a good chance gift giving is a part of that celebration.


I love to give gifts. I enjoy it even more when I think I’ve come up with something the recipient might actually like. But I usually find myself slightly stressed this time of year, and frequently at a loss when it comes to determining gifts for the people on my list.

Gift giving will be a different kind of experience for me this year. One reason for this is that my son’s family recently expanded to include three foster siblings, (2 year-old boy, 4 year-old girl & 7 year-old boy) in addition to their 18 month-old daughter.

IMG_7401-1.JPG

While I had an idea about the kind of gifts I wanted to give the them, I had no clear sense about how or where to start. I began thinking about the kids, both individually and collectively. I tried to figure out what I knew about their likes and dislikes, unique characteristics, strengths and challenges, and anything else I had come to understand about them.

I factored in the kinds of experiences I hoped my gift selections might offer, as well as elements I thought they’d value and derive maximum enjoyment from. I tried to take into consideration the physical space of their home and the general environment in which they live and play. I did a lot of Internet searching, asking friends and colleagues, and just plain contemplating.

Looking back, I realize my approach for gift decision-making wasn’t scientific or profound. Yet I also recognize the value of working through the process in the way that I did. It allowed me to identify what was most important about my gift selections.

Ah-ha! The connection.

As it turns out, my gift selection process closely resembles the process I used to go through on a regular basis when creating lesson plans as a teacher. I’d start with the general vision in mind (like the goal, standard, topic), then work through multiple layers of available information until I felt I’d reached as much clarity and discernment as possible. At that point I’d feel ready to turn plans into action.

Lesson designing was always a labor-intensive endeavor for me, as I think it is for many teachers. There is much necessary intentionality of design - planning, research, collaboration, and a great deal of deep thinking.

Deep thinking about:
  • the students - what is known as well as what’s unknown
  • the goals - what is intended, hoped for, expected, assumed
  • the obstacles - what stands in the way or threatens to impede the child or the goal

Now, as educators begin looking ahead to the implications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its numerous endorsements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I am excited about the improved potential impact. This is because UDL guides the process for curriculum development in such a way that
all students are able to access, participate in, and enjoy rich and meaningful learning opportunities.


At the design level within UDL, potential obstacles are eliminated (or at least minimized); the learning environment is set up with everyone in mind; and students’ variability is not only acknowledged, but also honored. There are no average students, no singled-out special cases, and no exceptions to the original plan. A UDL plan for instruction is intended and designed to be fully inclusive.

The lesson design process may continue to be a fairly labor-intensive process, even with the clear principles and supportive guidelines of UDL. But I believe when we’re engaged in deep thinking about the work we do, and about the students we teach, the process will always be a sort of labor of love.

If you’re curious about UDL or ready to dive in, you can access helpful information from the PATINS’ UDL resource page located on our website. There’s even an online tool to help you create your own UDL lesson plan from scratch. Our PATINS blog, as well as our weekly #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat regularly includes great ideas and insights related to UDL. (You can read archived blogs and chats at anytime!)

Finally, whether you’re just beginning or already implementing a UDL approach in your classroom or school, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us to share your UDL questions, experiences and expertise. We’d love to support you wherever you are in the process of ensuring access to the curriculum for all students!

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  1563 Hits
Nov
30

Searching for the Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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